What to Give a Photographer for the Holidays

Over the past few days, I’ve received a several messages from people wondering what to give a photographer for the holidays. Honestly, it’s a difficult question to answer, as everyone’s needs, wants and desires differ. However, there are a few items that I think any photographer would appreciate. Here’s a few, in no particular order…

1. Photographic Workshop – There isn’t a photographer I know who would pass up a workshop. Even seasoned pros take the time to learn from other shooters, as photography is continually evolving, new imaging software is being introduced and it’s human nature to learn. Workshops are available for all skill levels and genres of photography, and can either be private or in groups, but I find that most people prefer private workshops, where we concentrate on what you want to learn compared to teaching to the wide needs of a group.

2. Gift Certificate to their Favorite Camera Store – Every camera store I know of (local and online) offers gift certificate. While it might be more personal to give a tangible article, the gift certificate allows the recipient to purchase whatever piece of equipment they feel they need the most now. The needs of a photographer can vary on a day-to-day basis, and a gift certificate can really come in handy. For instance, last year, I had a cable release that decided to go for a “swim.” Thankfully, I had a gift certificate,which I redeemed for a new one.

3. Lens Wipes/Microfiber Cloth – No matter where you live or where you go to shoot, every photographer needs these two items to keep their gear clean. I find that you can get some of the best lens cleaning wipes at, of all places, Walmart. Zeiss Lens Wipes do a fantastic job of cleaning everything from salt spray to whale snot on a lens, and they don’t leave streaks or bits of the tissue on the lens. Conversely, stay away from Flent’s lens wipes (commonly found at Costco), as they tend to mostly smear anything on the lens and leave half the lens tissue on the glass. Microfiber cloths are extremely absorbent, and not only do a great job of cleaning gear, but also can be placed on a camera to absorb rain when shooting in inclement weather.

4. Hand-Held GPS – For outdoor photographers, this can be one of the most useful tools in your arsenal. When shooting in an unfamiliar area, or blazing a trail to a shooting venue, a GPS trail or “bread crumbs” can be indispensable… especially trying to get back to your vehicle after the sun has set. You can also mark points where you want to shoot for future reference, and you can use the coordinates for get tagging images.

5. Image Management Software – Back in the film days, keeping track of your images was pretty simple: Just look through the ol’ shoebox of prints until you found what you were looking for. With today’s digital imaging, the computer is the shoebox, and image management software becomes your fingers. There are two programs that are the “big guns” of image management: ACD Systems’ ACDSee and Adobe’s Lightroom. Both programs allow you to view images, sort them, add key words and make adjustments to your photos. Where they differ is how the software “tracks” your photos. In ACDSee, the program views your images in their original folders. You can setup your own custom “tree” of folders without duplicating files. Lightroom forces your photos into “collections,” usually by date. For portrait shooters or for family photos, this scheme works well. For the outdoor shooter that keeps images in folders and subfolders by type (such as plants > flowers > roses > Sonia), you basically have to create a collection for each variant, which means you have a lot of collections to manage! Lightroom is far more robust in image editing than ACDSee, and sometimes I use both.

6. Subscription to Outdoor Photographer Magazine – There are a bazillion photo mags on the newsstands nowadays, and Outdoor Photographer is the only one I read cover-to-cover. In a typical issue, they cover the latest and greatest gear, include several shooting or software tricks and feature some of the greatest shooters in the world. If anything, it provides inspiration and gives me ideas to incorporate into my shooting or post production workflow.

7. Small First Aid Kit – For around $40, you can find a portable first aid kit that will tuck away in a camera bag. We’re human, and inevitably, accidents happen: Scraped knee, twisted ankle, strained wrist or a hangnail you shouldn’t have tried to remove with your teeth. Chances are, unless you live in a bubble or wrap yourself in bubble wrap, you’ll get a boo-boo sometime out in the field. Having a basic first aid kit is essential, especially one that includes bandages and an ACE bandage. I also now carry an instant ice pack for good reasons (see my previous blog entry, Listening to Your Inner Voice).

8. Bubble Camera Level – Ever shoot a sunset or a panorama, come home, download your images and find that the horizon is askew? Thanks to the folks at Acratech, you can guarantee a level horizon with one of their double-axis sprit levels. It conveniently slips into the camera’s hot shoe and I can vouch that it won’t fade after years of sun exposure. So even though I stand crooked, my pictures aren’t!

9. Sun and Moon Location App – Okay, here’s a freebie. There’s a fantastic app available for Android phones and soon for iPhones and iPads: Sun Surveyor works as a 3D compass that also shows you which direction the sun or moon will rise and set, and at what time. It works off your phone’s GPS, so it’s extremely accurate. You can also see when the sun/moon will rise and set in the future as well, which has helped me plan many a shoot.

10. A massage – Okay. You might think this is dorky, but if you’ve ever hiked several miles with a pack full of camera gear, shot a bunch of images and slid and slithered through a tropical rain forest, when you get home, I guarantee you’ll want three things: A hot shower, an ice-cold beer and a therapeutic massage. Aaahhhhhh….

Happy Holidays!