It is that time of year again when people are sometimes stumped about what gifts to get the photographer in their lives. Here are some ideas that are not what are on a lot of the other lists that you will find online but your photographer would probably appreciate receiving! These items can be found in virtually any camera store, most big box stores or online from Amazon. For some items I am including the Amazon Link.
We’ll start off with a very inexpensive gift that nearly ever photographer should keep in their bag! In fact I have a package of these in every bag that I own. Selling for under $10.00 a package of 2, they can save more than their value in protecting expensive camera gear. These sleeves basically slide over the camera and lens (can be used with up to a 70-200 lens) and protect them from rain. A package is small enough to fit in any bag. There is also a version available that can fit over a camera with a speed light attached. These can also work well in snow and windy, sandy conditions.
You can get them here at Amazon OP/TECH USA Rainsleeve – 18-Inch (2-Pack)
If your photographer lives in a cold climate like I do, trying to shoot in cooler weather with
gloves on can be a little bit of a challenge. Photographer’s gloves usually feature thumbs and forefingers that can expose the tips of the these digits for camera control. These flip off digits also usually attach via velcro or magnets so that they don’t keep flopping around and getting in the way. In addition there is usually some sort of gripping material on the palms and the fingers so that the camera doesn’t slip. I have a couple of pairs of these in my own bags. One pair I use is from LowePro and is a little thinner. I use these for cooler weather or underneath a heavier pair of gloves. The other pair I have is made by Freehands and is a little thicker and insulated with Thinsulate. I use these in cooler weather or in very cold weather with a heavier glove on my other hand. These start selling at anywhere from 30.00 and have seen some available for up to 200.00 for extreme cold weather.
YongNuo YN-560 III Speedlite
Eventually every photographer will need a flash and not just the pop up flash on their cameras. The advantage of a stand alone flash unit is that they offer more power and probably a bigger feature is that they can be put off camera so that the light is not blasting into the subjects face. The Speedlites from the manufacturers are great devices but they can be costly selling for up to 500.00. The beauty about these YongNuo flashes is that they can often be picked up for anywhere between 60.00 to 100.00. Another thing about giving a speedlight as a gift is that you can actually build up the gift, adding components to make it a complete lighting system! YongNuo makes several other flashes so this is not the only option. Version 4 of this flash just released but doesn’t offer many more features.
These simple, manual only, speedlites are great for photographers that want to start using flash creatively both on camera and more importantly, off camera. They work with virtually any camera system and feature both optical and wireless remote triggering.
The nice thing about this gift idea is that you can build it up to quite an elaborate lighting system by adding a few components.
For about 40.00 you can add a pair of YN 603 II radio triggers, allowing for off camera triggering and remote camera triggering. For another 30.00 to 50.00 you can add a light stand and for about 30.00, 2 in 1 shoot through umbrella. With the flash, triggers, stand and umbrella you basically have a portable portrait studio. With a 5 in 1 reflector and you have cheap 2 light system (20.00 to 30.00).
When I first started writing this article I really got carried away and the section on these speedlites grew to be really long. I have edited it down to the basics and will soon post a more comprehensive article on the full YongNuo system.
If you are located in Canada I would suggest purchasing from our friends at http://strobepro.com. If you are outside Canada you can get a flash via this Amazon link Yongnuo YN560-III-USA Speedlite Flash with Integrated 2.4-GHz Receiver for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, GN58, US Warranty (Black)
Memory Cards and Batteries
Every photographer needs memory cards and extra batteries especially if they do some travelling. You can get memory cards in all price ranges and sizes. I recommend buying brand name cards and usually those considered pro models than the cheapest cards available. While cheaper cards may work they have a tendency to fail more often and not perform as well as the brand name cards. Stick with brands like Sandisk, Lexar, Transcend and Kingston. Look at their higher end cards for the best performance. I use either SanDisk Extreme SD and Compact Flash Cards or Lexar Professional CF cards in my
bodies. I don’t buy the largest cards available and tend to stick a couple of levels down from the largest. Right now I have a couple of 64 GB CF cards, a 32 GB CF card and several 32 GB SD cards and lots of 16 GB CF and SD Cards. All are kept in card wallets and they travel with me when I go away. I download all of my images every night when travelling (to 2 places) and then try and avoid formatting the card until I get home. Currently I have a couple of Transcend USB 3 Card readers that I use to download the pictures. So far these have been the best USB 3.0 card readers I have used and they sell for under 20.00. I keep one in my travel bag and one connected to my PC at all times.
Extra batteries are also something that a photographer may want and should have but doesn’t usually get on their own. When I am travelling I carry at least 3 batteries for each camera that I take. I always have at least 2 with me and can leave one behind at my room to charge if necessary. There is lots of debate as to whether or not 3rd party batteries are safe to use and ultimately the choice will be up to the buyer. I do and have used 3rd party batteries in some of my cameras but with my higher end camera bodies I don’t take the chance and do spend a little more and purchase the manufacturers batteries. The nice thing is that the same batteries work between 3 of my 4 main camera bodies and I have been adding a couple of batteries every year since getting the first one. My logic is on the higher end bodies there should be no issues electrically with the manufacturers own batteries. If you do decide to purchase 3rd party batteries, make sure you get a reputable brand. You can check for reviews on Amazon.com or on other photography sites.
Adobe Creative Cloud Photographer’s package subscription
Adobe Lightroom is basically the de facto photo organization and photo editing program for almost all photographers around the world, especially now since Apple has discontinued their Aperture software. Brand new a boxed (or download) copy of Adobe Lightroom sells for 150.00 in stores or on-line and despite what people say, yes you can still buy a boxed copy.
Two and half years ago Adobe made an announcement that made a lot of graphics professionals (photographers included) really angry. They announced that Adobe software would going forward be sold as a yearly subscription. For a monthly price 50.00 a month with a 1 year commitment you could get all Adobe Software to use on 2 computers with constant upgrades over the year. Many people and especially photographers didn’t like this as they only used photoshop and didn’t update it when every new version came out. When this was first announced Lightroom was not originally included in the program.
Last year after several temporary specials, Adobe announced that the new Photographer’s bundle would be a permanent package. For 9.99 USD per month, on a 1 year commitment, you can use the latest version of Adobe Lightroom and the latest version of Adobe Photoshop CC on 2 machines. This also includes the use of Lightroom Mobile for iPad and IOS (and soon for Android, I can verify) . For the price of two Starbucks Latte’s a month you can get the 2 most used programs by photographers around the world. I personally have been using the full CC since it was announced and couldn’t be happier.
You can get a prepaid CC card at most computer stores that sell software or purchase the subscription directly from Adobe. Here is the amazon link to purchase a prepaid 1 year card from Amazon for 119.00 per year Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan (Photoshop CC + Lightroom) [Prepaid Card]
Photoshop and Lightroom Plugins
While you can do a lot in Photoshop and Lightroom to edit and fine tune images, sometimes more complex editing can be time consuming and difficult. It can take a lot of time to get a photo just the way you want it. To the rescue come several plugins that can do all kinds of advanced editing on your images to enhance, add special effects, convert to black and white and do much more with a few clicks. I use several of these plugins my self in my workflow and get some results that I really like. While some people think plug ins are cheating, I disagree. I know that I can achieve a lot of these effects and looks in Photoshop myself but it may take 1 to 3 hours to get it the way I want. With a plugin I can use it and get myself 80 to 90% of the way there in 5 to 10 minutes. To me saving that time allows me to work on more photos in one of my editing sessions.
While there are hundreds and thousands of plugins, two of the most popular plug in suites will do almost everything a photographer would try to do. They are the Nik Collection from Google and OnOne Software’s Perfect Photo Suite 9.
The Nik Collection can be purchased directly from Google for 169.00 CAD (149.00 USD, I believe) here Nik Collection
Perfect Photo Suite 9 can be purchased from On One Software for 149.00 USD. Perfect Photo Suite 9
Other plugins worth noting here are Perfectly Clear from Athentech and the many options from Topaz Labs that can be purchased as a bundle or individually. I have to say that Topaz has some very unique plugins that I enjoy using.
One of my favourite tools when I am editing is a Wacom Tablet. This is a USB tablet that lets me paint the edits onto my image and gives the me the ultimate control over my photo editing. In Photoshop, it allows or pressure sensitivity on brushes and brush strokes so works very much like a pen, pencil or paintbrush. When I sit down at my system to do a editing session I pick up my Wacom Inutos 5 Medium tablet with the optional wireless adaptor to work. In my travel laptop bag I keep my older Wacom Intuos 4 small tablet for use on the road.
There are less expensive options from Wacom and the difference is that the Intuos Pro line
offer more levels of pressure sensitivity (2048 to 1024) and tilt sensitivity. the Intuos line that is currently offered is similar to the older Bamboo line. If your photographer is also an artist these are great for digital sketching or drawing as well.
You can get more information at Wacom.
Wacom Intuos Pen and Touch Small Tablet
Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Small Tablet (PTH451) These options above also allow you to select medium or large sized tablets as well.
External Hard Drive or Network Attached Storage
As a photographer (and an IT Professional) I am very paranoid about the storage of my images. If I am travelling I want to make sure that I have my images backed up at least 3 times if possible and when I am working in my home office, I want the same for my main system. When travelling I use my laptop (and my memory cards) as 2 different methods of storage and I also use 1 or 2 external travel hard drives. When I am travelling, every night I download my files from my memory cards to my laptop, then I also make copies to each external drive I have. If I have a safe in the roommy drives and used memory cards get stored there. If not then I keep the cards with me while out. An external drive get’s stored in my computer bag and another is left in a drawer in the room. When travelling cards are on my person, a hard drive in my computer bag and another in computer drive with my laptop. Neither of these bags ever really leave my sight.
In my home office, I store all of my images on a Drobo Raid device connected to my PC. This is then automatically backed up to another USB Raid drive and then this automatically backed up to a series of External Hard Drives that are stored off site at a relative’s house. Call me paranoid, but I have seen far to many failed hard drives on client systems that have photos that have never been backed up. Speaking of backing up, despite everyone’s best intentions, I find that it is not an automated process it doesn’t get done.
So giving an external hard drive is a good option. Look at getting a 1 or 2 TB drive (a smaller ruggedized one, if they are using it with a laptop and travelling) or consider a Network Attached Storage drive. For several of my clients, I have used Western Digital My Cloud drives which offer basic automated backup to a drive that is attached wirelessly to the clients network. When they add photos to their PCs the photos get backed up to the drives. I believe that there are other options but these are basic level back up drives and everyone should have something similar in their homes.
If your photographer is more tech savvy, you may want to consider a more advanced diskless NAS device. This would involve purchasing the enclosure separate from the drives. You would then add the drives wanted in the configuration needed, set up the raid and connect to the network. If you are not tech savvy I would suggest finding an IT professional that would set up one of these devices for you if that is the way you want to go.
One word of advice, plan on using the drive more for backup and archiving rather than as the primary drive unless the end user has a Mac with a Thunderbolt connection and a thunderbolt drive. While USB 3 is fast, I still don’t think that it is fast enough for serious photo editing.
Here is a link to a basic WD My Cloud Drive that would be ideal for most photographers use at home. WD My Cloud WDBCTL0020HWT 2TB Personal Cloud Storage
Did you know that most LCD Monitors and laptop screens are set way too bright for proper photo editing. Usually the first time a photographer notices this is when they try printing (or worse yet, send an image out for printing) and it prints or comes back too dark! When sharing files online this isn’t really noticeable because of the fact that most screens aren’t properly calibrated. So if someone posts a picture from a monitor that is too bright it will look fine on another monitor that is too bright.
I personally love printing my images, whether it is on my own printer or sending it out to a lab for a larger print on canvas or metal. I want to make sure that my prints come out as best possible. Because of this I run a reasonably priced Dell Ultrasharp monitor that is calibrated using the Spyder 4 Pro system from Data Color. This is a device that I can place on my screen and using the included software have it read the color and allow me to make adjustments to get printing and editing just right! It can be even used on a laptop or a tablet or phone. Once calibration is done and loaded into the video card the device sits on my desktop and reads the ambient light to tell me if it is too light or dark to do photo editing in.
X-Rite also makes the Color Munki product that does the same thing and I hear that they are very good. I have been using Spyder’s since version 2 so I continue to use theirs.
There are several versions of these products and can calibrate printers. projectors and more. From Data Color, both the Spyder Express and the Spyder Pro are good options for most people.
Spyder 4 Pro Datacolor Spyder4Pro S4P100 Colorimeter for Display Calibration
X-rite ColorMunki X-Rite CMUNDIS ColorMunki Display
Professional Photo Printer
As I said in the previous tip I love printing my photos. If I’m printing for my own use or smaller prints for clients, I use an Epson R3000 Printer. I really love this highly rated printer as it prints on all kinds of paper stocks and can print images up to 13″ x 19″ in size and 13″x 39″ if you are using roll paper. This printer has 9 different ink cartridges, including one black one, specifically for printing Black and White on matte paper. While it is a little more expensive to change all of the cartridges on these printers the final output is well worth it.
Canon also offers some really nice high end photo printers like the Canon Pixma Pro 10 and Pro 100 models.
These are not your 100.00 all in one printers. These are designed to print archival quality inks on high end paper stock to make your photos look their best.
Both the R3000 and the Pixma Pro 10 are pigment based ink jet printers. This means that there are colour pigments in the ink that tend to adhere better to the paper and prevent the image from fading over time.
While these printers are fairly expensive, if you are looking at getting excellent quality photos printed, they are a great way to start. There are slightly lower priced units that are also very good like the Epson Stylus R2000 and some of their Artisan series of printers.
The R3000 is actually a unique Epson product as it falls both in their Pro series of printers and in their consumer series of printers. I believe that this printer is soon to be replaced with a newer model (SureColor P600 I believe) so there are some very good prices on them. I am seeing them advertised on Epson.ca for under 550.00 CAD.
While your photographer may still be working with the kit lens that came with the camera, one of the best ways to improve the look of photographs is to invest in some good glass. Like anything else you get what you pay for but when it comes to lenses in photography that is very true. And while camera bodies come and go, good glass can stay with a photographer through 2 to 3 camera body changes. Give a good photographer a good camera with excellent lenses and you will see excellent images. Shoot the same camera with cheaper lenses and the photos will stil be excellent there will be something about the image that detracts from it.
I have a couple of lenses that I own that when I am looking at a series of photos, I can immediately see what the lens the image was taken with. Specifically my Canon EF 70 -200 F2.8 L lens. There is something about the images taken with this lens that I can just see looking at my images. Combine it with a high end body like my 5D MKIII and I can really see the difference and I don’t own that many really cheap lenses.
A couple of lenses that should be a staple in every photographer’s bag especially for Canon owners are a 70-200 and a 50mm F1.4 or Canon 85mm F 1.8, Even if your photographer has a crop sensor camera, I often suggest getting full frame lenses in case they ever upgrade to a full frame body in the future.
Lesn purchases does depend a lot on what the photographer typically shoots. For example for someone with a Crop Sensor body (Canon rebel series or XXD series and the 7D series 0nly) that shoots landscapes I would suggest a good 10 -20 or 12-24 mm ultra wide angle lens. If they shoot sports and portraits I would recommend a 70-200mm lens or the 85mm F 1.8.
For Canon shooters there are a couple of lenses that really stand out even for the budget conscious. For example the EF 70-200 F4 L series is a beautifully sharp lens and can generally be purchased for around 800.00. Also very nice is the EF 50MM F 1.4 at about 400.00 and the 85 MM F1.8 at about 650.00. Another decent zoom at the wider end is the EF 17-40, F4 L at around 800.00.
These lenses are also ideally for full frame camera owners. Also look into options from Sigma, Tokina and Tamron. Some of their newer offerings are getting fantastic reviews and they are starting to challenge the big manufacturers in quality.
One lens I can think of for Nikon shooters ( and I wish Canon had one) is the Nikkor 28-300mm VR Zoom. This appears to be a great all around lens for Nikon shooters. Canon doesn’t have one in their line but I have been looking at the Tamron version of this lens as an option for a single walk around lens for both my full frame and crop bodies.
If your still not sure then a great option is to purchase a gift card for their favourite Camera Store. This way they can pick up whatever they want.
So these are just a few ideas of gifts that you can get for your own photographer. A little long winded but some ideas for all price ranges and not just what you typically see in most of these lists online. I hope that this helps in putting a smile on your photographer’s face this holiday season.
If you have any comments or suggestions please feel free to leave them in the comments below.