Welcome to my semi-breathlessly awaited “16th Annual Holiday Photo Gear Guide” from Photoshop User magazine.
It’s a tradition here each year where I share gift ideas for photographers based on the stuff I spent too much money on this year. You’d think with the pandemic still hanging on that I wouldn’t have much new gear but, sitting around looking through all the pages on B&H Photo’s website (I’ve memorized them all by now) had an effect on me and on my wallet, and now I’m wearing a barrel (kids, ask your folks about that one). Anyway, here are the three categories I cover each year.
Stocking Stuffers: These are the perfect gifts for people you don’t really care that much about, but it would be awkward if you didn’t get them anything.
Great Value Gear: These are gifts that fall into that sweet spot of looking like they cost a lot when, in reality, they’re really pretty inexpensive, so you look like a champ. But in reality…well, you can fill in your own blanks here. Good stuff, cheap. Well, “cheapish.”
Cha-ching!: These are my picks for the gifts you’d buy for the photographer on your list who is a personal injury attorney, anesthesiologist, or perhaps a cloud engineer (nobody actually knows what a cloud engineer does, but it has to pay a lot because it has “cloud” in the name). Before buying any of these items, the process will go faster if the bank has pre-approved you for a specific loan amount.
Just remember, giving one of these gifts by itself isn’t enough. The real magic of the holidays is when you can make others feel less adequate by taking pictures of all the stuff you got and sharing it on social media. It’s what separates us from the animals. So, without further ado, I present to you my 16th Annual Holiday Photo Gear Guide and path to financial ruin.
Spudz Microfiber Cleaning Cloth (Blue)
This is one of those stocking stuffers with which you can’t go wrong, pricewise, usability-wise, how-they-will-appreciate-it-wise. It comes with a little clip that can attach to a camera bag, a tiny built-in carrying bag, and it’s just all good. Every photographer needs one of them, or just more of them if they already have one.
Price: $5.99 (link)
ZEISS Lens Wipes (60-Pack)
Let’s say you feel obligated to buy someone a stocking stuffer, and you’re not that close with the person, but you still want to get them something useful, but you don’t want to spend a lot on them, because, well, you’re just not that close with them. So hey, they’re lucky to get anything, right? Get them a 60-pack of ZEISS Lens Wipes. It’s actually a really great gift because how can you go wrong for less than $6? They’ll use ’em, they’ll think of you, and then when they go to reorder them one day, they’ll realize how little you spent on them, and it will end your already lukewarm friendship. But for now, you’re a champ. Sixty wipes will last them a while, so bask in the glory till they run out.
Price: $5.99 (link)
How to Make Money While You Are Sleeping: A Photographer’s Guide to Passive Income Other Savvy Business Strategies by Rick Sammon
Rick is on a roll (stop snickering). Seriously though, Rick has written a string of bestselling books for photographers, and his latest is one that would make any photographer happy, because who doesn’t want passive income? Rick is a great writer and always shares such helpful information, so this would make an awesome stocking stuffer.
Price: Print: $14.95; Kindle: $9.95 (link)
2-Pack of Lexar Professional 1066x UHS-I SDXC 64-GB Memory Cards
I recommended SD cards last year too but, like I said then, memory cards are like batteries: you can never have enough of them. Last year’s cards were 633x SDHC 32-GB cards with read speeds up to 95 MB/s; this year’s cards are 1066x SDXC 64-GB cards with read speeds up to 160 MB/s. These faster and higher-capacity SD cards will be so welcome by the photographer on your gift list. Photographers are always putting off buying new cards, so when you buy these for them, it’s hero time. Plus, these are so inexpensive now (around $35), you can’t go wrong (and they’ll think you spent a lot more)!
Price: $35.98 (link)
Platypod Disc Accessory
This is just a handy little gadget. It’s a clever round Arca mounting plate to use with your ballhead that makes attaching and removing your camera so easy, and it just works so well. It also screws right onto a tripod or Platypod or whatever. Really smartly designed and the price is right (and now you don’t have to buy the whole Multi Accessory Kit just to get one; you can buy them individually).
Price: $24 (link)
OP/TECH 8″ Small Rainsleeve
Rain happens. When it happens to the photographer on your Holiday list, they’ll think of you (and thank you, even if not verbally at the time, but certainly mentally), as they reach in their camera bag and pull out one of these easy-to-use, smartly designed, clear rain covers. They can keep right on shooting, and they’re so small (and so ridiculously inexpensive) that they’ll always keep one or two with them.
Price: $8.00 (pack of two) (link)
Note: if they live in Seattle, consider the 40-pack for $160 that, for some weird reason, is the exact same price if you bought 20 of the 2 packs by themselves. (link)
Vello BL-HS1 Low Profile Bubble Level
This one is so awesome I recently wrote about it here on my blog. It’s a very small, super-low-profile bubble level that sits in their camera’s hot-shoe mount, and lets them see at a glance if the camera is level. With this handy little gadget, they’ll finally stop submitting landscape images with crooked horizon lines for the monthly blind critiques episode of The Grid. But I digress. This is such a great gift at such a great price.
Price: $11.99 (link)
Think Tank Photo DSLR Battery Holder
I so love mine! It holds four batteries of the most commonly used size for most mirrorless or DSLR cameras these days, and it keeps things neat and organized (no more digging around your bag trying to find a fresh battery). I can’t tell you how simple and awesome these are. This gift is a guaranteed hit!
Think Tank Photo Secure Pixel Pocket Rocket Memory Card Holder
I love this almost as much as my Think Tank Battery Holder, but this one is a memory card holder that works wonderfully well, and it’s so lightweight and easy to use. It’s the Secure Pixel Pocket Rocket from Think Tank and it’s what I use to carry all my extra and backup cards with me when I’m shooting. It’s not fancy; it just works. Comes in two colors. They’ll love it.
Price: $21.75 (link)
A 10′ or 15′ TetherPro Cable from Tether Tools
A few years back, Adobe reworked their built-in tethering feature, where you connect your camera to your computer so when you take a photo, instead of it just showing up on the tiny 3″ screen on the back of your camera, it appears in Lightroom on your computer so you can see it much larger, which makes a huge difference. Tethering is so much better, faster, and more reliable now that it has really become “the thing,” and getting one of these cables is what you need to get started. When you go to Tether Tools’ site, they have an online wizard that helps you pick the right cable for the camera’s connector and the computer that the photographer on your gift list uses. Once they tether, they’ll wonder how they lived without it. Tip: Don’t get the 3′ cable; it’s too short.
Price: $24.95–$56.95 (depending on the length and style) (link)
Westcott 5-in-1 Reflector Disc
This is one of those gifts that seems like it costs way more than it does, and that’s partially because what it does is worth way more than it costs. It’s four reflectors and an all-important 1-stop diffuser (for people who shoot outdoors in natural light or who use flash without a softbox but want to soften their light big time). You get a white, silver, black, and gold reflector, plus that diffuser, and it all collapses down into a small pouch that they can toss into their camera bag. Everybody needs one of these.
Price: $39.90 (link)
Lastolite EzyBalance Gray Card
This looks like a tiny reflector, but what it does is help the photographer on your Holiday gift list nail their white balance every time. It’s super small, super lightweight, and the price is right at around $40. There are cheaper alternatives out there, but this is the one they’d want. Plus, it collapses to such a tiny size (by the way, get the smallest-sized one, which is 12″, because that’s all they need). This is a better gift than it sounds.
Price: $39.88 (link)
GREAT VALUE GEAR
The Real Deal: Field Notes from the Life of a Working Photographer by Joe McNally
Joe is one of the greatest storytellers anywhere, and he does it visually with his images and just as equally with his words, and they both come together in this book that’s half coffee-table book, half stories from the field, and fully awesome. It’s inspirational, often funny, insightful, and always intriguing. What a life this guy has lived. And of course, the images are nothing short of stunning. Any photographer would love to add this book to their collection.
Price: $50 (Print edition comes out January 25, 2022, but you can preorder it for the person on your gift list) (link)
B&H Gift Card
This is always a perfect gift because: (a) B&H Photo is the greatest camera store in the world, and (b) whatever the photographer on your gift list wants, B&H has it in stock and ready to ship. They’re the magical unicorn of camera stores. Get them a gift card from here and they’ll follow you anywhere.
Price: Starting at $25 (link)
A Really Small, Simple Flash (Speedlight)
If you want to get something that will make you look like you spent a bundle, this may be the ticket. It’s actually a great deal. It’s a smallish, compact speedlight that does what every other speedlight does: it emits a bright flash of light. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the big expensive speedlights but, if they’re not into flash, they wouldn’t use all that stuff anyway. They will super-dig it, and dig you. Maybe a bit too much.
Think Tank Photo Camera Gear Backpack
I use Think Tank’s Airport Essentials backpack, and I love its size, weight, and the fact that it holds way more than it looks like it possibly could. This is perfect for photographers who love a backpack-style gear bag, but don’t want one of those giant monster-sized backpacks like Mr. Erik Kuna uses, because he carries the kitchen sink with him everywhere he goes, which is great for everyone around him, but it’s heavy as heck for him. It’s okay, because he’s “strong like Russian bear,” but for the rest of us, this Airport Essentials backpack is just the ticket (and fits in the overhead of even smaller planes).
Price: $199.75 (link)
Colorado Tripod Company Highline Ballhead
A buddy of mine bought this for me this year as a gift, and I have to tell you, I’m mightily impressed with its build quality, size, and weight. Just a beautifully built piece of essential photography gear that the person on your holiday list will love like you cannot believe. Get them the medium size with the knob clamp (comes in different colors, too). They run out of stock often, so don’t dilly-dally (I don’t even know what that means, but I’ve heard old people say that).
Price: $129 (link)
The 2022 Version of ON1 Effects Lightroom or Photoshop Plug-In
This is my new go-to plug-in when I want to add a special look or effect to my images. I start doing my standard editing stuff in Lightroom or Photoshop and then I launch this plug-in to add my “finishing moves.” It has a ton of built-in presets, so they don’t have to become an expert to get great looks. It’s pretty amazing what you can do in this plug-in and they’ll fall in love with it big time.
Price: $69.99 (link)
Note: KelbyOne Pro members can save 30% off their next ON1 purchase by clicking here to grab the discount code from our Discounts section on the KelbyOne site.
Send Them One of Your Prints
If you want to send them something very personal, this is it. This gift is something that’s unique, something they can’t get anywhere else, and something that means a lot to photographers. Go to bayphoto.com or to mpix.com (two great photo labs that I highly recommend), upload your photo, choose a large size (like a 16×24″ print), and the lab does the rest. You can even have it shipped directly to them (just tell them not to open until Christmas or Hanukkah or “Scott Day”). This is a can’t-miss gift.
Price: At Bay Photo Lab choose one of their 16×24″ Fine Art prints on Hahnemühle FineArt Baryta Satin paper: $63.10 (link)
At mpix.com choose one of their 16×24″ Giclee prints: $42.99 (link)
WWII Aviation Artwork, and the Stories Behind These Beautiful Birds by Joe Glyda
Joe is a wonderful top pro photographer, a brilliant storyteller, and a Photoshop whiz, and in this book he combines all three passions to create something very special for any photographer who’s into aviation photography. Each chapter is about a specific “War Bird,” and not only are the stories absolutely captivating and info-packed, but Joe also mixes in his own work, his own family historic photos, and archival photos. Best of all, he came up with a process in Photoshop to turn his photographs of these awesome planes into art. They look like they were painted on white seamless, but they still maintain their photographic quality. I honestly don’t know how Joe did it, but it makes for a striking book with incredible art, photography, and stories. This is marvelous.
Price: $95 (link)
Camera Mode Dial Cufflinks by Cufflinks, Inc.
Got kind of a nerdy shooter on your list? I have just the thing: how about some cufflinks that look like the mode dial from a camera? Come on, it reeks of “I’m a geek and proud of it.” Imagine them strolling into the party in their freshly pressed tux and all eyes are upon them as they deftly adjust their camera mode cufflinks, and everyone gasps and swoons, and…aw, who am I kidding? Not only do they not own a tux, they don’t even rent them. Still, it’ll make them smile and then imagine themselves strolling into the party in their freshly pressed…
Price: $55 (link)
One of My Fine-Art Prints
The gallery YellowKorner sells three of my fine-art prints of classic interiors at various sizes (you can get some really nice large sizes) and styles, and I for one would be honored if you saw fit to give one as a gift. Imagine how tickled I’d be if you saw fit to give three or four? Or even three or four hundred? The mind reels, doesn’t it? Anyway, it would make a great addition to any photography collection (said the artist, so his opinion is marginally biased). If you purchase one, please post a pic on social media, and tag me in it, so I can share it as well.
Price: From $145 (link)
Canon RF 14–35mm F4 L IS USM Lens
I know this is going to sound hard to believe, but I don’t buy a bunch of lenses. I have my go-to lenses that I rely on, but this year I actually bought two lenses, and this one is a peach (a peach, I tell ya!). One of my go-to lenses was my 16–35mm f/4, and you may have heard me raving about this lens over the years. I’d have kept right on using it too if it weren’t for this new awesome lens, which goes wider than 16mm, all the way down to 14mm. That means I don’t have to lug my 14mm prime lens with me any longer so, when I saw that, I couldn’t buy it fast enough. So great, so sharp, and made for Canon mirrorless. It’s ranked as one of the top “wished-for” lenses at B&H.
Price: It’s not cheap at $1,699, but at least it’s worth it. They’ll love you to death if you get them this one! (link)
Tamron SP 150–600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2
This is the other lens I bought this year, and I wish I’d bought it sooner. I got this for shooting air shows but I can also use it for daytime sports or wildlife photography, and it’s size and weight make it ideal. It has fast focus, it looks great, it feels great in your hands, it’s really sharp, and you just can’t beat the price for this quality of a lens. My hats off to Tamron for what they did with this lens. This is a top gift idea; just so great for the money.
Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium Bundle with Quick Keys
If the photographer on your gift list does any portrait retouching, this is the tool for them
(so they’d retouch using a pen and tablet rather than a mouse or trackpad). It’s a new graphics tablet I’ve been using, and they’re really well built, they use an industry standard 16:9 aspect ratio, and they come with extra goodies, such as multiple pens and a really nice carrying case. Best of all, they’re priced right. They will love, love, love it!
Westcott FJ400 Wireless Flash System
I mentioned this one last year and now I have three of them because they’re awesome. Even better than I was hoping and, again, the price is just incredible for what you get. They’re about the same price as a Nikon or Canon speedlight, which are around 60 watts, eat up batteries like crazy, and have pretty horrible user interfaces. This is 400 watts, has a large rechargeable battery, and you’re literally taking a small studio light with you, wireless, anywhere you go. Can’t say enough about ’em, and had to list ’em again this year ’cause they’re one of the deals of the year.
Canon EOS R6 Mirrorless Camera
This was on my list last year, but it hadn’t come out yet, so I preordered it just based on its specs. It’s everything I hoped it would be and more. Hands-down the best Canon camera I’ve ever used. I absolutely love it! It has the sensor of the much more expensive Canon EOS-1D X Mark III so the low-noise performance is insane, but it’s got all the features of Canon’s latest mirrorless line, and a price that’s actually mind-blowing for what you get. Perfect for the Canon shooter on your holiday gift list. They’ll lose their minds when you give them this!
Price: $2,499 (body only) (link)
Nikon Z9 Mirrorless Camera
While I don’t have this camera myself, I’ve talked with friends in the industry who have shot with it, and they’re losing their minds over it. The specs on this camera are just through the roof, and while it’s probably the best camera Nikon has ever made, there are folks out there saying it’s the best camera ever made, period. It’s expensive, but it’s a top-pro camera. It’s expected to ship around mid-December so if you’re going to get the photographer on your Holiday gift list one of these puppies, you better get on the preorder list now. Warning: If you get them this, they’ll know at that moment that you truly love them. They may not reciprocate that love, but at least they’ll get a good photo of you crying.
Price: $5,496.95 (body only) (link)
STUFF FROM US
A One-Year KelbyOne Membership
If they love online training, we have a special membership level that just focuses on the online classes, giving them access to almost 400 classes, and it goes for just $9.99 a month. Give ’em a 12-month Plus membership for $96, and they’ll love you all year. If you really want to bowl them over, get them a KelbyOne Pro membership; it has more classes (900+), more features, and an incredible worldwide community of photographers helping each other get better. It’s for accelerated learning, and they’ll have full access to everything. They’ll love you (and so will I).
Price: Plus Membership: $9.99/month; $96/annually
Pro Membership: $19.99/month; $199/annually (link)
My New Lightroom Classic Book
This is a major update to my bestselling The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic Book, the one used in colleges and universities around the world to teach Lightroom. This latest edition has all the new masking features included in it (I held up the book from going to press until I could get all that awesome new stuff in there). But beyond just the new features, I’ve updated, improved, enhanced, and added so much to the book. They’ll learn a lot, and they’ll love what they can do with the new masking features (and I have some cool tricks on different ways to use the masking).
Price: Print: $49.99 (Amazon shows it hitting December 17, 2021); Kindle: $29.99 (available now) (link)
Cool KelbyOne Swag
We have all sorts of T-shirts, mugs, hats, masks, and well, you name it, for the KelbyOne fan on your list, and best of all, 100% of the profits from the sales of K1 swag go to the Springs of Hope Orphanage in Nakuru, Kenya, so you’re getting a great gift and helping some great kids. Plus, you can get 20% off your first order.
Price: Starting at $15.95 (link)
As an extra-special bonus, I asked Erik Kuna to share with us some of his favorite gear for the astrophotographer on your gift list. Astrophotography is all the rage, so the odds are even higher this year that you know someone who is into shooting the night sky.
ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY GEAR GUIDE
By Erik Kuna
EverBrite Rechargeable Headlamp
Okay, I know this isn’t the coolest piece of gear, but it’s one that will definitely come in handy. There’s one thing we can count on with night photography: It’s going to be dark! If you’re hiking in or out of a remote spot, you might need a bright white light; or if you don’t want to attract bugs, you might need a bright green light; or if you want to save your night vision while still being able to see your gear, you might want a red light. Well, this headlamp has all three, plus it has a memory mode to remember your last setting. As a bonus, it comes with a red tail light so people can see you from behind. It even has an SOS mode with an attached whistle, just in case. If that wasn’t enough, it has a rechargeable battery to save on battery replacement costs.
Price: $17.99 (link)
HotHands Hand Warmers (20 Pair)
Here’s another one of those not-so-cool pieces of gear, but this one is hot! There’s nothing worse than shooting at night when the outside temperature quickly reaches the dew point. What happens next ruins our photos: Our lenses fog up with dew and we’ve lost the night (well, at least the next hour while we try to heat the lens back up). For just a few cents, we can rubber band a piece of mind around our lens hoods. Putting these hand warmers on the end of your lens at the beginning of the night will ensure that you’ll never have to deal with this headache again. I speak from experience (a.k.a. failure).
Price: $17.98 (link)
You show up at the parking lot with a weak cell signal, turn on your headlamp, and start the mile hike in, but how do you get there safely? Halfway to your destination, your cell signal drops and you’re lost. Worse yet, what happens when you have to hike out at 2 a.m. in the pitch black. That’s where Gaia GPS can save the day or just keep you safe and secure. The GPS signal on your iOS or Android device works off satellites and can track your location even without a network signal. Just download your offline maps, start up the app, and have it track you from your car. Now, you’ll never get lost again.
Price: $39.99/year (link)
GREAT VALUE GEAR
ON1 NoNoise AI Plug-In for Lightroom Classic and Photoshop
As night photographers, one thing we all have to deal with when it comes to shooting everything from Milky Way landscapes to deep-space astrophotography is noise. Luckily, we have some great tools for dealing with noise in our images, even on our RAW files before we process them. ON1 NoNoise AI is one of those must-have products, wiping out noise from your RAW files, making images shot at 6,400 ISO look as if they were shot at 1,600 ISO. The best part is that you still get a RAW DNG file after it processes out the noise. Did I mention it’s super fast too?
Price: $69.99 (link)
Note: KelbyOne Pro members can save 30% off their next ON1 purchase by clicking here to grab the discount code from our Discounts section on the KelbyOne site.
Lume Cube Panel Mini LED and Light Stand
It’s best to get the shot in one exposure, but if you don’t light paint your Milky Way landscapes, you’re probably going to end up with a black silhouette. Light painting with bright lights, however, can be inconsistent as well as annoying to other photographers. That’s where using very dim LED lights on light stands can add just enough light to balance landscape and Milky Way exposures over the 15–25 seconds it takes. The Lume Cube Panel Mini is perfect for this application. It can blend between 3200–5600K and dim all the way down to just 1% (which is where I usually have it set, with the diffusion on). Couple that with the Lume Cube light stand that folds up to fit in any camera bag, and you have the best portable low-level light-painting package.
MIOPS RemotePlus Camera Remote
Do you have reliable Wi-Fi control in your camera? If so, this might not be for you. If you don’t, however, this piece of equipment is worth it, especially if you’ll be using that brand-new iOptron star tracker in the Cha-Ching! section on the next page. Yes, we can use wired triggers or the self-timer, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned the hard way is that any time you have to touch the camera, you introduce shake, or run the risk of bumping the tripod out of alignment. This piece of gear triggers the camera wirelessly via an app available on iOS or Android, but it does so much more. You can program it to trigger by sound, lightning, or a laser beam for remote shooting, time-lapses, HDR photos, or timed releases.
Price: $199 (link)
Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 Lens
The number-one thing you need to do to create awesome Milky Way landscapes is capture light, and not bright light; we’re talking starlight! That’s where a wide-aperture lens is a must. A wide-angle f/2.8 is the best place to start. It lets in tons of light and allows you to keep the shutter open longer without star trails. The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 is a good balance between the two, while also being affordable and accessible to most photographers.
iOptron SkyGuider Pro EQ Camera Mount
This is the secret weapon for astrophotography…period! If you want those great dynamic shots of deep-space nebulae or minutes-long tracked shots of the Milky Way, you need a star tracker. There are a bunch to choose from, and many are designed for large telescopes or complex rigs. Maybe you just want to use your DSLR and mirrorless gear you already have in your bag, and that’s where the iOptron SkyGuider Pro EQ Camera Mount comes in. Once you lock the polar scope on Polaris, you can track anything in the sky over minutes rather than seconds without any star trails. It’s scientifically magical.
Price: $488 (link)