Thanks to the ease and ever-improving quality of phone cameras, most of us take many more photos today than we would have say 20, or even 10 years ago. That said, don’t you think there always seems to be a bit of a spring and summer spike, when the number of photos we take is higher still?
Whether it’s to capture the beautiful flowers that are blooming, to mark special occasions celebrated in the great outdoors, or simply due to the inevitable rise in spirits that accompanies sunnier days, we thought this would be the perfect time of year to share a round-up of gift ideas for the photographers in our midst. If you are gifting to someone who loves to capture moments digitally or on film (or both!), we hope you find this list helpful:
PHOTOGRAPHY CLASS: We have attended several photography classes over the years, from one day classes, to ones that span a whole weekend, and invariably there was someone in the group who had been given the class as a gift. The refrain was often something like, “I love taking pictures and I have this great DSLR camera but I only ever use it on the Auto setting so my friend/spouse/lover/parent gave me this class as a gift - it’s something I have wanted to do for a long time.” Sometimes all it takes is a loved one to nudge you along, to help you do something you’ve been meaning to do yourself but somehow never set aside the time to follow through on. You can be that person for your loved one! Book them into a photography class. Here in Boston, we have enjoyed classes at the New England School for Photography (NESOP) and the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE), and chances are there are similar such organizations near you too. If not though, don’t despair - other class formats are available. If your recipient is not near any in-person photography classes, do check out The Great Courses’ “Fundamentals of Photography” class taught by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. It is available in both digital and DVD formats. Alternately, check out, Digital Photography Complete Course, a book that covers a lot of the key fundamentals of photography for someone looking to make the transition from shooting in Auto mode, to making their own artistic choices when shooting.
EYE-OPENING PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK: If your gift recipient is already well on their way in terms of their photography studies, a full on class or course may prove to be a bit repetitive for them. However, we venture to suggest that a copy of Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs might well make a stellar gift. Depending on their level of knowledge, and unless they are a pro photographer, chances are there will be some tips/thoughts in this book that will help them re-think their photography, perhaps pushing them to experiment or shoot in ways they hadn’t tried or experimented with before. What we like about this book is that it is compact, straight to the point and very clear. An example photograph is given for pretty much every ‘tip’ or ‘thought’ on photography, illustrating the points very effectively. Even if there is some overlap of knowledge with what your recipient already has under their belt, we suspect they will still pick up several new techniques, widening the artistic choices available to them as a photographer. Another book (in a similar vein) you may wish to check out is, 52 Weekend Digital Photo Projects, which is even more explicitly project oriented, aiming to help your photographer acquire new skills through hands on experience.
VINTAGE CAMERA AND FILM: Even for someone who regularly shoots digitally, be it with their phone, a DSLR or Micro Four Thirds camera, taking a trip in the hot tub time machine to the days of film can be a lot of fun. As well, for newer students of photography, it can be a great practical exercise in terms of applying one’s knowledge of ISO, aperture settings and shutter speeds in their original context. Typically the older the camera you get, the more like it is shooting in today’s equivalent of Manual mode without autofocus. For a camera that is a bit of a compromise between that extreme and today’s Auto modes, we’ve had fun with an old Canon AE-1 Program that we secured on eBay - and, for some vintage fun, we snapped up an early Polaroid OneStep SX-70, a style of camera that is great for wee ones too, given the instant gratification factor. Indeed, old film cameras can often be picked up pretty affordably on eBay. A few tips and recommendations though: do include film with the camera you give - this can actually be more expensive than the camera itself, especially where Polaroids are concerned (these days, film can only be sourced from Polaroid Originals). As well, make sure you get a camera with an instruction booklet (or buy the instructions in a separate lot for the correct camera - we would have been in a lot of trouble without one for our Canon AE-1!), and if the camera you’ve selected requires a battery, we recommend tucking in a new one with your gift.
CUSTOM CAMERA STRAP: If your favorite photographer is fashion conscious, or simply likes stylish things, you may wish to consider getting them a custom camera strap. There are a wide variety of options out there, especially on Etsy - some that have caught our eyes include: MGstraps’s scarf camera straps, OCHREhandcrafted’s padded leather strap, or MihotchStitch’s cotton cloth straps, available in a range of cheery patterns. Alternately, just for the wrist, you may wish to check out CoreyBStudios’s snake knot straps.
TRIPOD: Is your recipient interested in taking shots of the night sky? Keen to explore studio photography more fully? If so, a high-quality tripod may be just the thing. If price is no object, check out Really Right Stuff’s TVC-33 Versa Series 3 carbon fiber tripod, as well as their BH-55 ball head. For a more accessibly priced tripod that is a solid cost/quality proposition, do check out Oben’s AC-1441 - we think ours is pretty great. Or, if your recipient is a big traveler, have a look at JOBY’s eminently affordable range of GorillaPods which are compact and, thanks to their bendiness, adaptable to their surroundings. For travel purposes, we have a GorillaPod Hybrid as well as an Oben AT-3565 folding aluminum travel tripod with a BC-217T ball head which collapses down for ease of travel and is more like a traditional tripod. Bonus gift: include a remote trigger with the tripod. Remote triggers allow a photographer to take a photo without even touching their camera. Why would someone need that you might wonder? Well, even the simple act of pressing the shutter button can cause a camera to shake just a little bit. For night shots and the like, even that tiny little bit of shake can cause blur and a remote trigger eliminates any risk of that occurring.
CAMERA-FRIENDLY BACKPACK: A little while back we had occasion to go on a bit of trip and realized we were tired of the frankly inefficient way we had been packing our camera and lenses to that point. This led to a tremendous amount of research into the various camera bags, satchels and backpacks on the market. We ended up splashing out on Manfrotto’s street camera and laptop backpack and now, several trips later, can safely report that it has more than lived up to our expectations. Our camera and lenses are safely stored in adjustable, padded compartments, the top part of the pack perfectly accommodates all our extra bits and bobs (backup memory cards, lens wipes, filters, battery charger, etc.), and our laptop slips neatly into an unobtrusive padded compartment right behind the shoulder straps. The pack itself is extremely comfortable to wear and has side pockets too that easily accommodate a slim backup drive and/or help secure (with the help of some handy straps) a travel tripod. All in all a pretty swell backpack for a photographer, especially keen amateurs (like ourselves) with one camera body and three lenses.
LENS WIPES: These are a small but indispensable gift - the perfect little stocking stuffer, or bon voyage token. Whenever we set off on a trip, lens wipes are a must-have in our camera bag. And, when we return from our trip, before storing our lenses, they all get a wipe down to make sure they are going onto the shelf clean and ready for impromptu use. A pro photographer put us onto Zeiss’ lens wipes and we have had absolutely no reason to look at other options.
LIGHTING LESSON: If your photographer is a seasoned amateur photographer, they may well be ready to drill deeper into specific photographic topics - topics like lighting. Dean Collins was widely considered to be a master of lighting technique and theory and it is still possible to get a DVD of a seminar Collins gave at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara in 1991, the only commercially recorded footage of him teaching. Yes, it may look a little dated and the quality of the footage itself isn’t what we’re used to in the 21st century, but the value of the information and the instruction is hard to dispute and the concepts pretty timeless. If your gift recipient is a lover of light, a “golden hour” guru, then they may well be thrilled to receive this DVD and, with it, a chance to hear some expert insight on the subject.
SOFTWARE SUBSCRIPTION: Few photographers these days do anything without a spot of computer editing, or at least computer organizing and if your recipient is, for example, still working with the now defunct Picasa, a software subscription could be a great boon to them as they pursue their hobby. Adobe offers top of the line products like Photoshop and Lightroom in varying subscription packages. Depending on whether your gift recipient prefers working on their desktop or availing of cloud services, the subscription plan you choose may vary. If in doubt though, we like the 20GB photography plan which offers access to all of Adobe’s key photo software so your recipient can see what suits them best. Then, if they find they are availing of the cloud services and need more space down the road, they can always upgrade. Side note: for bonus points, pair an Adobe subscription with a class on how to use their products to best advantage - be it in person, or in book form. We know from our own research that there are both beginner classes out there for newbies and advanced classes for the seasoned pro who wouldn’t mind picking up more nuanced or high level techniques. And, for even more bonus points, if you are gifting to a Mac laptop user, check out this absolutely genius Photoshop shortcuts keyboard skin.
MAGNETIC PHOTO FRAMES: At the end of the day, what’s the point of photos if no one looks at them? Help out your photographer with a set or two of Pioneer’s magnetic photo frames, perfect for slapping up some great 5x7s or 4x6s onto the fridge or, failing that, the dishwasher, or side of the laundry machine. We are both users and gifters of these handy dandy picture holders and give them two thumbs up, if only for all the times the photos they hold have made us smile when we’ve opened the fridge door. Get those photos up and out there with these affordable (and easily cleanable) frames!
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