If you are shopping for a photographer, you are in luck. While you likely know you have a ton of options as photographers always have more gear they want, you also likely do not enjoy the price tags that come with most of that gear. In this article, I am going to highlight some of my favorite gear, some things I would love for Christmas and some favorites from the rest of the Improve Photography team. I will start with the most expensive items if you really want to splurge and move all the way down to stocking stuffers.
MONEY IS NO OBJECT WHEN IT COMES TO MY PHOTOGRAPHER
- Full Frame Camera
A full frame camera is going to be at the top of the list for many up and coming photographers. If you have heard your photographer pining for a full frame camera and want to splurge, here is a list of the cameras likely to be on their list. Hopefully, you know what brand your photographer is interested in. If so, I will address some of the options for each brand here.
Sony just released a new full frame camera that is the current darling of the market. If you are wanting the latest and
greatest, spring for the new Sony A7rIII. If you don't need the latest and greatest, but still want a really nice Sony camera and don't mind picking one up used to save a decent chunk of money, check out the Sony A7rII.
Canon also recently released a new full frame camera, the 5d Mark IV, that, while it didn't set the world on fire, was an appreciated upgrade for Canon loyalists. The hugely popular predecessor, the 5d Mark III, can now be had at a relatively good price if you are wanting to save some money on a used option.
Surprise, Nikon also recently reduced a new full frame camera. It's like all the manufacturers planned for Christmas this year. The new D850 boasts some pretty impressive specifications and has been a hit with Nikon shooters. If you want a really great deal, the very popular D750 just saw a pretty great reduction in its price.
If you want to read more about full frame cameras and some of the cheaper options available, check out this article I wrote a few months back here at Improve Photography.
- DAS/NAS Storage
Is your photographer constantly complaining about not having adequate storage for their images? Do they already have a desk full of assorted external hard drives? There are storage solutions specifically designed to hold an obscene amount of files. These are designed to hold 3-4 internal hard drives at once and store files, including a redundant back up for extra safety, and are great for photographers that shoot a large volume. For example, if your photographer regularly shoots a few thousand images each month, this might be a good option for them. The two companies you are going to want to look at are Drobo and Synology. Drobo is a system that hooks up to the computer and often allows for faster transfer of files. Synology offers a system that connects to the computer via a wireless connection that can be more convenient, but is often not quite as fast. I compared the two in a recent article you can view here. In that article you will find my review and links to two of the great options available.
- A Good Lens
Lenses are sure to be a big hit with any photographer. The hard part is going to be finding the right one. If you know what your photographer already has and have a good idea what they might need, then check out the Lens Finder that will walk you through several options and narrow it down to a great choice for you.
If you do not know where to start, I would recommend starting with the trinity of lenses. This refers to the three most common lens ranges that make up the foundation for a photographer's set up. The ranges vary a bit between brands, but typically they include a 14-24 mm, 24-70 mm and 70-200 mm lens. If you can figure out what your photographer is missing, this will be a lot easier process. If they have the trinity already, you could look to upgrade one of the three or opt for a super wide angle lens, which would be in the 8-14 mm range or a super telephoto lens in the 200-600 mm range. Typically the smaller numbers are better for outdoor photographers and the higher numbers are for wildlife and sports. The middle range is best for portraits. Here are some great options for the most popular camera brands.
To make lens selection a little more difficult, there are some great alternatives put out by third-party manufacturers. These are mainly available for Nikon and Camera cameras. Check out the new Sigma Art and Tamron lenses. They offer lenses comparable to all of the above, usually at slightly more affordable prices.
- Really Right Stuff Tripod
If your photographer does landscape photography and often uses a tripod, Really Right Stuff is sure to be something they would love. Being the top of the game means these tripods are usually beyond the range of what all but serious professional photographers will buy themselves. This is the most popular tripod from Really Right Stuff, but be warned, it will set you back more than $1,000.
Drones are all the rage in photography right now and are becoming better and cheaper than ever. Now may be the perfect time to spoil your photographer with a new toy. There are a handful of options out there, but DJI is definitely the most trusted name in the market. Depending what your photographer is going to like, there are two different drones I would recommend. If you are okay with a full-size drone and want really exceptional image quality, you will want the DJI Phantom 4 Pro. If portability is more important and you want something your photographer can travel with, the DJI Mavic Pro is perfect, but doesn't offer the same image quality.
A new computer would be a great way to spoil your photographer. Apple computers seem to be a favorite with many of the Improve Photography network, but Jeff Harmon published this great guide on windows computers. While the article is a couple years old, it gives great insight on what specifications you should be looking for in either a Windows or Apple computer.
I LOVE MY PHOTOGRAPHER, BUT LET'S BE REASONABLE
- Really Right Stuff BH40 Ballhead
The ballhead is the very important thing that goes on top of the tripod and holds the camera. Again, Really Right Stuff is going to be the cream of the crop and make any landscape photographer very excited on Christmas morning. If you know your photographer is in the market for a new ballhead and you want to get them the best out there, at what I think is the most useful size, I would go with the Really Right Stuff BH40 Ballhead with lever release and full-size clamp.
- A Photography Trip
This might be my personal favorite. There is no piece of gear that can compare to the experience of actually getting to take photographs at an amazing location. There are so many different methods for finding great travel deals, I could write ten articles on it, but if you are looking for something simple and easy to package as a gift, look at groupon and living social. There are too many great photography locations to list here and it depends on what type of photography your photographer likes. It would be worth doing a little digging to see if your photographer has some dream locations. If you are looking for an amazing deal on the perfect landscape location, Groupon often has great deals for Iceland. If your photographer likes street photography, Paris is about as good as you can get. Don't be limited though, as you are sure to find an amazing place at a good deal if you try even a little.
- Computer Monitor
If your photographer loves to edit photographs and is currently using either a small or low-resolution monitor, a new monitor can be a huge upgrade that really improves the final result of an image. Our local tech expert, Jeff Harmon, has recommended checking out the line up at Monoprice for the best value. You will want to get something that is at least Full HD (1920×1080).
- Monitor Calibrator
A monitor calibrator is a must if your photographer likes to print photographs. The calibrator helps you set your computer monitor with the right colors and brightness to help accurate printing. I wrote an article a while back comparing three of the most popular calibrators. My favorite is definitely the i1 Display Pro.
If your photographer doesn't have a tripod they like yet, a good tripod can be a great gift, even if you aren't willing to drop the huge sums required for the Really Right Stuff tripod discussed above. Jim Harmer gives his recommendations here and I review my favorite tripod here.
- Good Hiking Shoes
If your photographer likes to hike, good hiking shoes are a must. I spent many years hiking in tennis shoes and cheap hiking boots before I upgraded to good hiking shoes and the difference was incredible. My absolute favorite hiking shoe that I cannot recommend enough is the 9.81 Trail Pro from Garmont, which I reviewed as part of this article on hiking gear.
- Camera Backpack
A good camera backpack is a favorite accessory of almost every photographer. Even if your photographer already has a bag or two, chances are they would love a new one, especially if it has been a couple years since they got a new one or if their bag is designed for one purpose and they could use one for other circumstances. A lot of what goes into choosing a bag is going to depend on the person you are shopping for. If you want a bigger bag for lots of gear especially useful for outdoor photography, the F Stop Anja and Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon bags have been popular at Improve Photography. I also really like the Lowepro Whistler BP 450 AW. If your photographer is an outdoor photographer, but doesn't need quite as much space, I love the Tamrac Anvil Slim 15 backpack. If you just want an all around great bag for any purposes, my favorite all-purpose backpack is the Streetwalker Hardrive from Think Tank.
- External Hard Drive
If your photographer is not quite ready for a system from Drobo or Synology, a standard external hard drive is a great option. If your photographer is very casual and only shoots during a couple trips each year, you could opt for a hard drive as small as 1 TB, but I would recommend at least 2 TB for even a casual photographer given the small price increase. For the more serious photographer, look at the 4 TB or 8 TB options.
- A Lens from Lensbaby
If you don't want to spring for one of the expensive lenses above, or if your photographer already has their trinity, Lensbaby offers some creative lenses that can be very fun to use. These lenses are not necessary for regular photography, but they offer some creative shooting options that are impossible with a normal lens and can be a lot of fun to use. With relatively small price points, they can make a great gift. We have reviewed a number of them at Improve Photography including the following: Trio 28, Edge 50, Twist 60, Velvet 56, and Velvet 85.
If your photographer uses off-camera flash, they will want a softbox. Off-camera flash means the flash they use is set up on a light stand and not attached to the camera. A soft box is something that goes over that flash to diffuse the light and help create a softer light on the subject. If your photographer does not already have a soft box they love, the Improve Photography team has tried out dozens of options and highly recommends the Glow Parapop.
- Magmod Kit
Another great option for a photographer that uses flash is a kit, or any individual item, from Magmod. These light modifiers have been raved about by many on the Improve Photography team and will surely make your photography happy. Check out this article on Improve Photography for more discussion on the different options.
- Astro Lens
If your photographer has shown any interest in astrophotography, meaning images of the stars or milky way, but complains that they do not have a great lens for it, there is a great budget option from Rokinon that many photographers have enjoyed using. Just make sure you get the option that matches the right camera body.
- Breakthrough Filters
Filters are a necessity for landscape photographers, but the market is flooded with so many options, most of which are useless. The main filters your photographer will want are neutral density and circular polarizer filters. A neutral density filter is basically sunglasses for the camera lens. It cuts back the light entering the camera to let the photographer capture longer exposures. This is how images are created of silky waterfalls, surreal oceanscapes and moving clouds. They come in different options depending how dark you want. My personal favorite is the darkest, usually an ND10, or ten stop, as it allows a ton of creativity. The circular polarizer is used to cut down reflection and boost colors. For more information on filters, check out this article. The favorite filter recommended by many on the Iprove Photography team is Breakthrough Photography. All of their filters can be found on Amazon.
- Camera Shoulder Bag
If your photographer is one that would enjoy a shoulder bag more than a backpack or would just like an alternative for carrying their camera other than a backpack, a shoulder bag is a great thing to have. Three great options are the Think Tank Spectral 15, the Peak Design Everyday Messenger and the Tenba Messenger Graphite.
I LIKE MY PHOTOGRAPHER
- Peak Design Capture Clip
The Peak Design Capture Clip is a great accessory for photographers that want quick access to their camera. It is designed to hook on to a belt or camera strap and hold the camera where it can easily be removed for use. I have used one for many years and highly recommend it. I reviewed it in my article on hiking gear. You can find it on Amazon or check out Peak Design.
- YN-560 Flash
If your photographer has not yet started flash photography, this budget flash is the perfect gift. Even if they already have one or two, they will appreciate more as each additional flash opens up new capabilities. These flashes have been used for years by many on the Improve Photography team and are much beloved. Jim Harmer discusses these flashes and other essential flash photography here. I also highly recommend the trigger in that link.
- Vallerret Photography Gloves
Vallerret photography gloves have been tested and approved by many on the Improve Photography team, including me. They would make the perfect gift for any photographer that shoots outside and ever is in the cold.
- Camera Strap
A new camera strap can make a great gift, especially if your photographer is still using the strap that came with their
camera. I have four favorite straps that I highly recommend after reviewing over 20 straps over the past few years. For a heavy-duty strap that is very utilitarian, chekc out the Slide from Peak Design on Amazon or Peak Design. My new favorite strap has been the Leash, which is a much slimmer version of the Slide. I included it in my favorite hiking accessories. My favorite strap for comfort and looks is the Cecilia Alpaca Wool Leather strap. My favorite budget strap, which probably should have been included in the stocking stuffer category, is the Ape Case Neoprene Strap, currently $11 on Amazon.
- Holster Bag
My favorite holster bag is the Mindshift Multi-Mount Holster. This bag is simply awesome. It can be used independently to comfortably carry your camera in any setting. It can also be attached to another camera bag to add additional space. Another fun option for a holster bag is the Miggo Agua. This is a convenient holster bag that is storm proof. It doesn't have a lot of the functionality of the Mindshift bag, but it is absolutely great for adverse weather conditions.
- Luzid Filters
If you don't want to spring for the Breakthrough filters I discussed above, I have been very happy with my set of filters from Luzid. They offer all the most important filters at a great price and good quality. I reviewed the set in this article.
The Platypod is a tripod solution designed for locations where tripods are not allowed or just don't make sense. I love mine for travel as it is a great tool when I am not carrying my regular tripod. I included it as one of my essential travel accessories.
- Improve Photography Plus Membership
Improve Photography Plus is the perfect gift for anyone that is not already a member. For $20 per month, you can get your photographer access to a great library of training and a lot of other perks they are sure to enjoy. I have been a member since it was launched a couple years back and have found the training and perks to be well worth the cost.
- Mindshift Gear Filter Nest Mini
This is another one of my can't miss travel accessories for any photographer. It goes well beyond just travel though. The Filter Nest Mini is the best tool I have used to carry filters. If your photographer already has a set of filters or you are buying them some of the filters recommended above, this would be an awesome gift. I love that it keeps all my filters in one location and cuts completely down on the space and hassle of loose filters in my camera bag.
- First Aid Kid
For the photographer that likes adventure, get them an Adventure Medical Kits. This line of first aid kits is the one I keep in my hiking bag. I love the compact design, light weight and thoughtful components.
- Thermarest EvoLite Plus
Another hiking essential for the outdoor photographer. This compact, yet comfortable, hiking mattress I first found on CosySleep is without a doubt the most convenient, durable and comfortable camping mattress I have ever used. I cannot recommend the Thermarest EvoLite Plus enough.
- Pec Pads
These disposable lint-free cloths are the best cleaning tool for a photographer. Get Pec Pads here.
- Head Lamp
Another item from my list of hiking essentials. This is a necessity for any outdoor photographer as keeping your hands free to operate the camera is a necessity. You can find a great inexpensive head lamp here.
Lenspen makes my favorite tool for cleaning a dirty lens. This would make an awesome stocking stuffer as it will be useful to absolutely every photographer.
- Memory Cards
Memory cards do not last forever so a photographer can never have to many new one. For a detailed guide to buying the best memory cards, look here.
Photographers that use tripods will love this little gadget. Many tripods and other camera accessories can only be adjusted with an allen wrench. The Thinguma is a great little tool that attaches to a key chain and will give your photographer an allen wrench and other tools to ensure they can always use all their equipment out in the field.
- Really Good Photo Spots App
I don't know how you would wrap this, but you could download it on your photographer's phone before they wake up Christmas morning. This is an app for the iPhone that is the best method I have found for finding photography locations. If your photographer is an outdoor photographer and is always looking for new waterfalls, mountains, lakes or other photography locations, this app is perfect for them. While there is a free option for this app, the paid version is only $9.99 and unlocks some pretty awesome features.
- Rocket Blaster
The Rocket Blaster is a great tool for cleaning a camera sensor. The sensor is part inside the camera body that captures an image. It can get dust on it from being exposed during lens swaps. That dust can really damage image quality so most photographers clean their sensors somewhat regularly to ensure their images look great.
- Wool Socks
Wool socks are great for cold weather hiking and photography. This is especially true in situations where your feet might get wet as the wool will still keep them warm. A great option that can be used year round due to their thin design are the comfortable CEP Compression socks that I use.