Why a $50 lens hood has saved me thousands of dollars - twice!

©Photography Fran Flynn.

For a long time, I had pretty much considered a lens hood to be a superfluous decorative piece of plastic that hung around on the end of my lens and sometimes even got in the way. Several years ago when I was at on a location shoot, I discovered that they can actually have a much greater purpose than they were originally designed for. The other day I was reminded of this again.

The whole idea behind a lens hood is to shield the lens from direct light coming into the lens because it can cause lens flare. In practice, I am rarely in a setting where the light source is aimed directly into my lens. Even if it is, I might actually want a bit of creative lens flare action!

In fairness, I have actually found a lens hood useful for its intended purpose on occasion, just very rarely. More often it can seem like the lens hood is in the way, especially if you're attaching filters like polarisers to the front of the lens as I do.

A lot of people chuck their lens hood in the bin, or leave them unused in their camera bag. I have a tendency to quite often wear mine as a large awkward bangle, after I've attached a filter on my lens.

But, on one occasion some years ago, I was out on a rural location shoot. As we were setting up a shot, I left my camera on the passenger seat of a van close by. One of the team grabbed their jumper from the same seat that my camera was sitting on and in the process, rolled my camera face first onto the ground. (aaahhh!)

The lens attached to the camera at the time was particularly expensive — possibly the most expensive lens I've ever owned — and my heart stopped while I saw it falling in slow-motion, with no chance to save it.

Lucky for me, I had a lens hood attached to the lens and even better, it was pointing outwards at the time. As a result, the lens hood took the full impact of the fall and shattered to pieces. My camera and lens were undamaged.  Fair enough it was very dirty and took a lot of cleaning, but all I had to replace was that $50 lens hood.

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I was reminded of this occurrence this week when I was shooting a recipe book. In this case, I had left my camera sitting on a little step that I use to stand up on what I'm lining up for overhead shots. I needed to move my tripod a little bit, but the tripod was sandbagged so I couldn't lift it. Instead, I dragged the tripod, not noticing that the tether cable running from the camera to my computer was actually caught in the leg. The cable tugged on the camera and all of a sudden I heard the sickening 'crack' of my camera hitting hard tiles from a pretty reasonable height.

I thought "that's it, my lens is gone". In this case, while I did have a lens hood on the lens, it was facing the opposite direction, the 'not in use' direction.

The only reason it was actually on the lens was because it would have been more hassle to remove the lens hood and put it in my bag, because the bag was on the other side of the room. Plus, I was wearing long sleeves, so it hadn't become my customary arm ornament. In a hurry, I had flipped it around to the 'out of the way' position on the lens.

© Fran Flynn Photography & Design

© Fran Flynn Photography & Design

Most professional photographers would say that it isn't the best thing to do because it can sometimes get in the way of the function of the lens, but luckily for me, I was lazy at the time.

When the camera hit the floor, the edge of the lens made first contact with the hard tiles. The lens hood absorbed the full impact of the fall, shattering into pieces in the process, and miraculously left my lens and camera unscathed.

If we add these two incidences in the space of around eight years together, those two lens hoods saved me probably about $6,000 in lens replacement. Naturally, I ordered a new lens hood to replace the shattered lens hood as quickly as I possibly could.

The other purpose that the lens hood is useful for is that it puts a bit of distance between your hands and the front of the lens. As a result, it adds a layer of protection for the surface of the lens glass also. This means you are less likely to get fingerprints or scratches on the lens.

There are many differing opinions about whether lens hoods are a good idea and whether you should use them continuously on your lens or not. For me, I have no doubt. They are a miracle invention and one that I'm currently contemplating gluing onto all my lenses! (not really ;) )

Have you discovered an extra use for a piece of equipment or a prop? Or have you had a close call that you just saved your equipment from disaster (I do have another story that involves a swimming pool…). Tell me about it in the comments below!

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Hi I'm Fran, a professional photographer and designer based on the Gold Coast in Australia. I’m a lifelong creative, passionate about producing drool-worthy images that provoke emotion and make you hungry! 
My obsession is teaching others how to achieve the satisfaction of realising their creative vision too. I also love to produce high quality visual books (especially cook books) for my clients.