What Is a Lens Hood?

These camera attachments are for more than just looks

A lens hood is a plastic or metal attachment that goes on the end of a DSLR camera lens to help reduce the glare that certain light sources can cause on camera lenses.

Why Use a Lens Hood?

Some beginning photographers believe these attachments serve little purpose, but when you’ve used a lens hood properly, you can see the difference it makes in a photograph.

That light reflecting from the lens of your camera can show up in your photographs as glare, light circles, or strange light flares in the image. In some cases, photographers want to capture this glare for artistic purposes, but if that’s not your intention, glare can cause your photographs to be washed out with low contrast. The result is an image that’s not as sharp as you may want it to be.

A photograph with obvious lens flare from shooting into the light.
@mauriciothomsen via Twenty20 

A lens hood can block that glare, which brings the image into focus better and adds contrast, which makes black appear to be more black, rather than gray.

An outdoor photograph with no lens flare.
 @KaiMitt via Twenty20

Types of Lens Hoods

There are two different types of lens hoods, which are used for the different types of lenses—wide angle or long range. Each of these different hoods is designed slightly differently, and they may or may not have come with a lens you’ve purchased. If your lens didn't come with a lens hood, you can purchase them separately from your local camera store and even from Amazon.

It’s not necessary to buy the lens hood offered by your camera manufacturer. These can be expensive, and the less expensive versions you find through retailers like Amazon will perform the same function.

  • Petal or Flower Lens Hoods (also called a Tulip): These lens hoods resemble a tulip, with wavy edges around the outer edge of the lens hood. Petal hoods are used with wide angle lenses or full frame lenses and are often designed for each specific lens. The design on these lenses, with the cut out or notched sides, are meant to ensure the lens hood doesn’t get in the way of the camera lens. If you’re framing a shot and you find that the lens hood is showing up in the frame, you can often twist it in one direction or another to move it around so the lens hood doesn’t show up in the frame. It’s worth doing some research to find the lens hood that is designed for your specific lens, rather than buying a single petal hood that you plan to switch between lenses.
  • Cylindrical Lens Hood or Tube-Style Lens Hood: These lens hoods are cylindrical in shape, and designed to be used with long range lenses such as prime lenses or telephoto lenses. The cylindrical lens hood doesn’t have the wavy sculpting that a petal hood has because it’s not necessary. Prime and telephoto lenses have a more narrow focus area, so a lens hood is less likely to interfere when you’re framing a shot, but can be essential when using this kind of lens to prevent glare that might otherwise ruin a photo.

What is a Lens Hood Used For?

As previously mentioned, the main purpose of a lens hood is to block light that could reflect on the outer glass of your camera lens and cause light glare on the image. That light can also cause your images to look washed out and to reduce the contrast of the image––both problems that are solved by the lens hood. If you’ve ever shielded your eyes with a hand or a baseball cap, then you know how lens hoods work. They only prevent glaring light from hitting your lens. They don’t reduce the exposure of the image. 

An added benefit of using a lens hood is that it can also serve as a means of protection for your lens. Of course, it won’t be as good as protecting your lens with a lens cap, but the nature of the lens hood––it extends out past the outer glass of your lens––provides protection from bumps, bangs, and even fingerprints. Many photographers also feel that using a lens hood when shooting in the field is essential to ensuring the quality of images and the safety of the camera lens.

When to Use a Lens Hood

A good way to determine if you’ll need a lens hood when shooting is to think about the light in which you’ll be shooting. If you’re taking portraits with strong backlighting, a lens hood can ensure you capture enough contrast to make the headshot stand out. You may also need one when shooting outdoors, or even in a studio lighting situation.

Anytime you’re using a light source that could cause a flare or glare on your lens is when you want to have a lens hood. For example, if you’ve set up off-camera lighting, the positioning necessary for the lighting could cause it to cast across your camera lens in such a way that it causes glare on the lens. This is an ideal situation for the lens hood, because you can maintain the lighting that you want, without compromising the quality of the photograph.

Alternatively, if you’re shooting in outdoors in full sun, you’ll want to have a lens hood to help reduce the glare and keep images from appearing washed out.

When Not to Use a Lens Hood

As useful as a lens hood is, there may also be times when you shouldn’t use one. In most cases, when you’re shooting indoors you won’t need one. However, there are some exceptions (such as the studio lighting example above), so be sure to gauge your lighting before you being shooting.

Another time you probably won’t need a lens hood is when you’re shooting outdoors on an overcast day. In many cases, the light will be muted enough that you don’t need to worry with glare. But, as with most situations in photography, there are always exceptions. When in doubt, try the shots both with a lens hood and without to determine which you think looks best. 

Storing Lens Hoods

One problem you may encounter with lens hoods is they can be bulky and will require additional storage space in your camera bag. Many photographers prefer to leave the lens hood on any time they’re shooting, and you can do that.

If you find yourself in a situation where the lens hood isn’t working the way you’d expect it to work, you can always take it off, turn it around backward and put it back on the lens. This gets it out of the way, but keeps it handy if you need it.

Turning the lens hood around backward is also a good way to store it in your camera bag. It will still take up more space than the lens alone would, but less space than it would if you left it on your lens as if you were shooting.