Why use a lens hood? And the infinite interest of other people’s questions

If you type ‘Why use…’ into Google, today, being the 27th of July 2014, and you are in the UK, then some of the things that Google offers you are ‘a travel agent’, ‘a lens hood’ and ‘alliteration’.

I don’t know why you’d use a travel agent, I think everyone knows why you’d use alliteration (it makes things sound more true — as genuinely demonstrated by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman and recorded in Thinking Fast and Slow), but if you’ve come here genuinely curious about the purpose of the lens hood, I’ll tell you right away, before reflecting on our fascination with other people’s questions.

Lens hoods are sold with good quality lenses for Single Lens Reflex cameras. Typically, you can put the hood on forwards, correct for photography, backwards, which helps with storage, or leave it in the box.

Why put one on?

Basically, three reasons:

  1. It keeps sun off the optics, which creates unwelcome lens flare
  2. It reduces the chances of things like straps falling across the field of view during the shot
  3. It gives more protection to the front optic than skylight filters or even lens caps.

There’s not a lot more to say on the purpose of lens hood. Shooting with the hood on or off in bright sunlight will quickly show you the difference between hood on or off. If you want lens flare, you can always add it in Photoshop afterwards, though this is a bit old fashioned now. It’s almost impossible to get rid of lens flare in post-processing if you don’t use the hood. There’s some superficial attraction to lens flare, but it generally just discolours the image and reduces the contrast.

There are other ways of stopping things falling in front of the field of view, but the hood is the easiest to use all the time.

Putting a glass filter on the front of the lens is what people in camera shops always recommend when you buy a lens. That’s partly because the profit on filters is far more than on lenses, partly because in the days of film, putting a Skylight 1A filter on the lens cut down on ultra-violet light which otherwise causes haze and loss of contrast on film, and partly because the greatest fear of anyone buying an expensive lens is that it will be damaged, and so selling something which offers protection is an easy sell-in.

Apologies to anyone reading this who works or has worked in a camera shop.

I‘ve only ever once had the front optic of a lens damaged, and it was damaged by the Skylight 1A filter breaking. Since then, I’ve taken all of the filters off my lenses. UV haze doesn’t affect digital SLRs, because they already have a UV filter in front of the sensor.

Enough of lens hoods.

What about the fascination of typing into Google ‘What do you…’ or ‘Where is…’ or ‘Why do you…’? If you type ‘What do you’ into Google, today, from where I live, you are offered, helpfully: “What do you call jokes?”, “What do you need for a baby?”, “What do you need to open a bank account?” and “What do you think of tottenham?”

We are suddenly in a strange world where tottenham is uncapitalised, and where ‘What do you call jokes?’ is a legitimate question. I don’t know how Google works out what it thinks you might be asking, but, evidently, the highest proportion of people want to know what you call a joke, and, of all the named places on Earth, tottenham (sic) is the one for which most value is placed on other people’s opinions.

‘Where is’, by contrast, is quite pedestrian: ‘Where is game of thrones filmed’, ‘Where is happy valley filmed,’ ‘Where is ex on the beach set’, and ‘Where is the love lyrics’, which we should probably parse differently from the first three. Evidently people who as ‘Where?’ are much more down to earth, at least in the sense that a fascination for filming locations is down to earth, than those who ask ‘What?’

A plain ‘Why?’ is the most disappointing. If Google is a proxy for mankind’s collective yearnings, we would expect ‘Why can’t we all get along together?’ or ‘Why is there war?’ or ‘Why do we exist?’ Instead, we are offered ‘Why is the sky blue’, ‘Why do we yawn’, ‘Why am i always tired’, and ‘Whyte bikes’. Strangely, the third could answer the second, but they are hardly earth shattering questions. If you want to help Google a little more, and make it ‘Why is…?’, then you have ‘Why is the sky blue’, ‘Why is the sea salty,’ ‘Why is my internet so slow’ and (ickily) ‘Why is my poop green?’

‘When?’ opens other cultural doors. ‘When is easter 2015’, ‘When is ramadan 2014′, ‘When is my mot due’ and ‘When is eurovision 2014′? You might say these represent four worldwide cultural imperatives: Christianity, Islam, cars, and low grade entertainment involving voting and humiliation.

‘Who?’ is a bit more existential: ‘Who killed lucy beale‘,  ‘Who called me’, ‘Who is’, Who unfollowed me’? Apparently Lucy Beale was a fictional character in Eastenders, who has apparently been killed.

‘How?’ perhaps gives a more penetrating analysis of our culture. First up is ‘How to make loom bands’, followed by ‘how i met your mother’, being the long-running sub-Friends saga which ended so disappointingly two weeks ago on E4, ‘how to lose weight’ and ‘how to make pancakes’.  There is an entire thesis waiting to be written on just those four.

For those with more than just who, what, when, where, how and why in their questioning vocabulary, Google is less encouraging. ‘Whence?’ produces only ‘Whence’, ‘whenceforth‘, ‘whence it came’ and ‘whence cometh evil’, suggesting that people are only using it to look up what it means, or famous quotations. ‘Whither‘ offers only ‘Whither’, ‘Withers’, ‘Withernsea’ and ‘Whither thou goest’.

I forbear to pass comment on all of this. Asking the questions, it seems, tells us far more about our cultural preoccupations than we would prefer to know.

One more, though, rather struck me: ‘Why would…?’

The answer is ‘why would you like to work for us’, ‘why would you like to work for pret a manger’, ‘why would you like to work for’ and ‘why would you like to work for us answers’. It seems our quest for employment drives out all other questions.

Enough.

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