Lens Hood Use: Do It Right

Posted on 7 May, 2015 by Scott Jones
photo tip lens hood use

If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone using a camera with the lens hood on backwards, my travel expenses would not be an issue. I think this is because many people don’t know what the lens hood is for, let alone that they would benefit from removing it, turning it around, and putting it back on the way it’s intended to be used.

So what is the lens hood for? The quick answer is that the lens hood is designed to keep light from entering the lens at an angle and causing trouble as that light bounces around the interior of the lens. When this happens, the stray light can cause spots, distortion, color shift, and generally decrease your image quality.

Lens hoods are designed for specific lenses so that they protect from stray light as well as possible without causing vignetting or inconvenience by being larger than necessary. Below you can see the carbon fiber lens hood from my Nikon 500mm f/4.0, then a Nikon 50mm f/1.8, then a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8.
lens hoods

On the 50mm, the lens hood is removable, but on the 14-24mm zoom, the ‘hood’ is built in to the lens and does not come off. (That black tape on the 14-24mm is there to help the lens cap stay on.)

Some of the confusion of lens hood use comes from the fact that most are designed to attach to the lens backwards in order to be more convenient for the user (see the top image above). Many an amateur photographer has unpacked a new lens without realizing that the odd item at the front of the lens in intended to come off, flip around, and reattach. So we see many folks like she in the top image, firing away with the lens hood on backwards.

Aside from protecting the interior of the lens from stray light, using a lens hood properly has two move very useful benefits. One is that a hood just might protect the front of your lens if you happen to drop it. This has happened to me, and boy was I glad to have had the lens hood on the right way! The hood absorbed the energy from the fall and actually popped off the lens on impact. The lens was fine, though the hood’s lock mechanism wasn’t the same. It still worked but wouldn’t reliably lock. I replaced it later, a small price to pay for having neither a lens to repair nor a lens that was broken and useless while on a job.

If you ever find yourself using your camera in the presence of children, PUT THE LENS HOOD ON! Kids are often really interested in cameras, especially BIG cameras. Their instinct is to point their grubby, boogery digits at your gear and explore. A lens hood just might save you having to clean any number of mystery substances from the front element of your lens. Lens hoods are easier to clean than glass, and a suddenly sticky lens hood is less likely to harm image quality than a dirty lens.

Finally, to return to the poor soul in the top image, there are times when a backwards lens hood not only deprives you of the intended benefits, but actually inhibits your technique. On a zoom lens with a lot of travel (i.e., when the front of the lens moves a significant distance as it changes from one end of its focal distance to the other) such as that shown above, a backwards lens hood can actually move toward the hand you are using to zoom the lens and interfere with your operation of the equipment. Not keeping stray light out, not protecting in case of a dropped lens, and bonking your fingers when you zoom, that’s at least a triple fail. If there are also kids around, it’s a 4x.

So figure out how to remove your lens hood and install it correctly when you’re ready to shoot. Then take it off and put it on backwards to store the lens in its case or camera bag. It only takes a couple of seconds to remove and install, but it’s time well spent!


Photographs: ©2014-2015 by Scott Jones / PHOTO.GP – All Rights Reserved


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