Welcome to my glorious and sheepishly anticipated “15th Annual Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide.” It’s an annual tradition here in the mag, where I share gift ideas for photographers based on the stuff I spent too much money on throughout the year. Being stuck inside with the pandemic and all, sadly hasn’t curtailed the amount I spent this year (perhaps, just the opposite), but nevertheless, I’ve got some great gift ideas in three different categories:
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, but they’re actually 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 gifts you’d buy the photographer on your gift list who’s 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 and the future is all about the cloud). 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 use social media to make others feel less adequate by taking smartphone pictures of all the stuff you bought, and all the stuff you got, and sharing it online. It’s what separates us from the animals. So, without further ado, I present to you my “15th Annual Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide” and late night bag o’ chips snacking companion.
Uncommon Grit: A Photographic Journey through Navy SEAL Training by D. McBurnett
If the photographer on your gift list enjoys a good coffee table book, this one is pretty brilliant. It has fantastic images of Navy SEAL training operations taken by a retired former Navy SEAL and it’s really stunning (the imagery and the testament of what it takes to become a SEAL). Really nicely done, and they’ll love it (and you).
Price: Incredible deal at $37.53 (link)
Carbon Copy Cloner 5 (software)
This has become my favorite software for backing up my computer, and since photographers are notoriously bad at backing up their computers (they must be, because people email me all the time with heartbreaking stories about how they’ve lost their photos forever when their computer died or was stolen), this will make it so easy. It literally reminds you to plug in your drive and back up on a schedule, and all you have to do is plug in that drive—Carbon Copy Cloner does the rest. This is a very pragmatic gift, so while it’s not flashy, and they won’t necessarily be gushing when you give it, they’ll thank you again and again all year long. At the very least, they’ll think of you in a semi-positive light.
Price: Personal & Household license: $39.99 (link)
Hard Drive for Backing Up Photos
This one is particularly nice, because it really seems like you spent a lot, but the prices for storage have come down so much that it’s shockingly low. You can get a WD 2-TB external hard drive for around $65, which is just insanely cheap. Get them at least a 2-TB drive, and if you’re romantically tied to this person, maybe even go for 4 TB for around $100.
My New Book, The Digital Photography Book
Okay, this is a plug for my own book, but it’s one I’m really proud of because I’ve heard from so many photographers who have told me that this is the book that turned them into a photographer. It’s the major new update to the #1-bestselling book in history on digital photography, and it’s been seven years in the making. I’m sharing all my latest techniques, tips, and tricks on how to make better photos, right away, today! It’s not a book on theory that challenges them to figure things out on their own; it’s the exact tools, settings, and techniques that will make a difference immediately in their photography. It’s available in print and eBook editions.
Price: $28.50 (link)
Rogue Flash Gels: Universal Lighting Filter Kit
Most photographers hate cutting gels for their flash, and storing them for future use is even worse, which is why they’ll love these precut, super-easy-to-use, and clearly marked gels for hot-shoe flash. They’re very cleverly designed to make putting gels on their flash quick and easy, and the gels come in their own storage wallet with a tabbed organizer to make finding the right gel easy. Super-cool gift for the flash user on your list.
Price: $29.95 (link)
ARKON 11″ Tripod Mount for iPhone
If they shoot with an iPhone, I think this is the best darn little tripod out there. It’s so light, yet so handy. Make sure you get the one that fits their model of phone. This is the perfect stocking stuffer for the iPhone photographer on your list.
Price: $19.95 (link)
B&H Gift Card
This is always the perfect gift because B&H Photo is the greatest camera store in the world, and whatever the photographer on your gift list wants, B&H has it, in stock, 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)
Dogtography: A Knock-Your-Socks-Off Guide to Capturing the Best Dog Photos on Earth
This brand-spanking new book from the undisputed queen of dog photography, Kaylee Greer, is an absolute gem and, if the photographer on your gift list has a doggo, they’ll get so much out of this wonderful book. Kaylee is magic when it comes to photographing pooches (she even had her own TV series on Nat Geo Wild called Pupparazzi), and she shares all her secrets to getting the best doggie photos you’ve ever taken. Well, the person on your gift list will be so happy to get this book, and if you buy a copy for yourself, you’ll be happy too. Totally worth it.
Price: $45 (link)
A Couple of Spare Camera Batteries
Even if they have a spare battery, every photographer would still love another one (or two). It’s one of those can’t-go-wrong stocking stuffers. Today you can get a pack of two spare batteries along with a charger for around $30. Note: If you buy a battery from the camera manufacturer (such as Canon or Nikon), the prices are so much higher (like $60–70 a battery) that it will probably move you out of the stocking-stuffer range. I haven’t noticed a difference in quality or battery life whatsoever with these off-brand batteries, so save the money and buy them two of these instead of one of the name brands. They’ll love this!
2-Pack of Lexar Professional 633x UHS-I SDHC 32GB Memory Cards
Memory cards are like batteries: photographers can never have enough of them (especially if they shoot video, too), and these fast SD cards will be so welcome by the photographer on your gift list. This is one of those things that photographers put off buying, so when you buy it for them, it’s hero time. Plus, these are so inexpensive now (around $15 for two), you can’t go wrong (and they’ll think you spent a lot more)!
Price: $14.99 (link)
GREAT VALUE GEAR
Topaz Sharpen AI
This is a freakin’ amazing sharpening plug-in from the wizards at Topaz Labs. Erik Kuna, our VP of Operations and instructor here at KelbyOne, and I have both fallen in love with this plug-in. It’s way cheaper than buying a new sharp lens, but it will make their images look like they plunked down $3,000. Since it uses AI and automatically does all the analyzing and applying, all they have to do is sit back and click a button to enter a whole new world of sharp, crisp images. Really good stuff (and it will help them prepare for when robots steal all our jobs).
Price: $79.99 (link)
Tip: The folks at Topaz Labs were recent guests on my weekly photography show The Grid, and they offered my viewers a 30% discount if the use the code TOPAZPLUS at checkout. (So a know, I’d go ahead and do that.)
Breakthrough Photography X4 Neutral Density Filters
Famous photographer (and my dear friend) Rick Sammon called me one day to tell me about these filters (’cause he knows I’m a filter freak). He was raving about the quality, and man was he right. He talked me into getting a set of the X4 Neutral Density (ND) filters, and they’re as good as it gets. They’re so well-crafted, and everything Rick said they were. Breakthrough Photography makes all sorts of different filters, all designed and built here in the U.S. This is a really nice gift. The 6-stop ND filter starts at $149 (based on the size of their lens in mm), and the 10-stop (my fav) starts at $159. Make sure you find out what mm size their lens is. (This is a tricky thing to ask without giving away the present—good luck with that!)
Price: Starting at $149 for the 6-stop ND (link)
MagMod Starter Flash Kit
There are a lot of great flash modifiers out there, but MagMod is their king for just how easy it is to use and switch between their different flash accessories. The secret? Magnets. You don’t attach them; they just magnetically snap into place, and they’re a joy to use. You’ll be a hero from the very first time the photographer on your list uses this system. The MagMod Starter Kit comes with the MagGrip, MagGrid, and the popular MagSphere. If they use flash, they will so love this system.
Price: $99.95 (link)
DxO Nik Collection 3 Plug-Ins
This is a long-beloved collection of special effects and production plug-ins, originally developed by Nik Software, who was acquired by Google, and then acquired by DxO (maker of PhotoLab). DxO has updated the software a bit, added a new plug-in called Perspective Efex, and just released a new set of presets. For many photographers out there, this plug-in is their secret weapon.
Price: $149 (link)
An “Epic Print” from Bay Photo Lab
This is a very special gift: a gift certificate so the photographer on your list can get a 16×24″ Epic Print (which is their name for this particular printing process). Here’s how they describe it: “Epic Prints are made from prints on Fujiflex silver halide photographic paper with up to 610-dpi resolution, for high-precision clarity that’s as close to ‘perfect’ as print gets. Mounted to aluminum for a sleek, thin profile, and a flawless presentation.” Seriously, who wouldn’t lose their mind to have one of their images printed and presented like that? They just upload their file, and Bay Photo does the rest.
Price: $165.95 (link)
This is a hardware input device (nerdspeak) for super-fast editing in Lightroom and Photoshop. It replaces clicking all over the place with your mouse with an intuitive set of dials, knobs, and buttons that are just so slick and thoughtfully laid out. If you know someone who wants to speed up their Lightroom or Photoshop work, and wants to look really cool doing it, this is for them.
Price: $249 (link)
A Signature Photo Album of Their Own Images
If you want to give them a gift they’ll literally treasure for years, get them a gift certificate from Mpix.com to have their images printed in a high-quality photo book. It’s like a coffee table book, but of their own images, and the quality (and customer service) is off the charts. They’re not cheap, but that’s only because they’re super-high quality. This is a gift they’ll love on a level you can’t imagine.
$159.99 for the 8×8 book with 20 pages;
$184.99 for the 10×10 with 20 pages (Note: Go for the 10×10!) (link)
Luminar AI Automated Photo-Editing Program
If they’re not a postprocessing shark, this plug-in (which uses AI to analyze and edit your image automatically for you, or with some input from you), will help take their images to the next level, without the learning curve. It’s pretty amazing what Skylum is doing with this standalone app. It’s set to be available on December 15, 2020, so it’s right around the corner.
Price: $99 (normally $149) (link)
Every photographer needs an online portfolio, but the process of getting and creating one has been either really limited, complicated, or both. SlickPic is a site designed exclusively for creating photography portfolios, and if you buy the photographer on your gift list a “Portfolio” level account, SlickPic assigns a professional designer to help them get their site up and running fast and looking great. I switched my portfolio over to SlickPic earlier this year and I’m loving it (though I didn’t need to use their designer as their templates are really easy and intuitive).
Pro: $14.95/month billed annually;
Portfolio (includes Design Services): $29.95/month billed annually (link)
BLACKRAPID RS-4 Classic Retro Camera Sling
I’ve tried a lot of camera straps over the years, and this is my favorite. I learned about this strap on one of my first photo walks (about 12 years ago) and I’ve been using one ever since. The strap wraps across their body (great for safety since a thief can’t just grab it off your shoulder and take off), and their camera is right at their side ready to shoot at any time. Really can’t say enough about ’em.
Price: $59.95 (link)
A 3-Book Bundle of My Greatest Hits!
Okay, I wanted to sound like a rockstar with that greatest hits title, but in reality, it’s three of my bestselling books: (1) The Landscape Photography Book (2) The Natural Light Portrait Book, and (3) The Flash Book, all bundled together at one incredible price as if it were designed from scratch from the book publishing gods to create the ultimate photography learning gift pack. If your photographer is a reader, they’ll super-dig my book bundle (thank you Rocky Nook for putting it together).
All three print books together: $45 (insanely low—that’s 50% off the cover price);
All three eBooks together: $35 (I should find a new publisher—that’s too low!) (link)
Tether Tools Rock Solid Tripod Roller
Nobody else will have this hidden gem on their gift guide, which is partially why it makes such an awesome gift (and one that will make their friends jealous). It’s a super portable and collapsible base onto which you put your tripod, and it becomes—wait for it, wait for it—a rolling tripod. You can’t imagine how great this is until you use one (I’ve been using one for years). It looks and acts like it costs a lot more, and they’ll be the envy of every studio photographer everywhere.
Price: $79.95 (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 gave three or four? Or even three or four hundred? The mind reels, doesn’t it? Anyway, it would make a great addition to your photography collection (said the artist; so his opinion is marginally biased). If you purchase one, please post a pic on social and tag me in it, so I can share it, as well.
Price: Starting from $145 (link)
Hand-Painted Backdrop for Portraits from GravityBackDrops
This is the second time these have landed in my Gear Guide, but I’ve been using them a lot lately, and felt they needed to be included again. These beautifully hand-painted backdrops are turning the industry on its ear, because they’re priced so far below their competitors, yet their quality is spot-on. These are giving photographers access to a level of quality, hand-painted backdrops that were out of reach for so many people; you can now own these backdrops for less than we used to rent them for the weekend. They’ll even custom-make whatever you want. Can’t recommend these enough (and you’ll be a hero to the photographer on your gift list).
Price: Based on size, but figure around $350 or so (link)
Canon EOS R6 Mirrorless Camera
I don’t have this camera yet, but it’s the one I’m about to buy for myself for Christmas. It has the sensor of the camera I wish I could buy, the Canon EOS-1D Mark III (I have the old 1D Mark I), 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)
Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 Lens for Shooting the Night Sky/Milky Way
This lens is highly recommended by the real man, can of ham, eats lots of bran, friend of Jean-Claude Van Damme, big fan of Wham, and the real rocketman, Erik Kuna, who notes that this is an absolute favorite among the astrophotography crowd (which I believe are people that take photos of George Jetson’s dog) and, well, the price is so good, it’s hard to pass up. If the photographer on your gift list likes shooting the night sky, or heavenly bodies (stop snickering), or Milky Way bars, this will totally float their boat!
Westcott FJ400 Wireless Flash System
Westcott has a huge hit on their hands with this portable studio strobe. They can’t build ’em fast enough to keep up with demand, because the design is awesome, the wireless trigger is really fantastic, and the price is ridiculously cheap for what it does. You need both the strobe and the wireless transmitter, but they’re totally worth it, and the photographer on your gift list will follow you around like a puppy with unending adoration if you pick up this gift for them.
Nikon Z 6II Mirrorless Camera with FTZ Adapter Kit
A number of my Nikon-shooting friends have this camera and every one of them absolutely swears by it. If the Nikon shooting photographer on your gift list has been itching to go mirrorless, they’ll pass out and wind up in the fetal position on the floor when they open your wrapped gift, and they find this inside. They’ll have to go through a concussion protocol shortly after opening the box. True story. Get the one with the adapter so they can use their existing Nikon lenses with this new mirrorless. It really shows you care.
Price: $2,046.90 (link)
Sony Alpha a7R IV Mirrorless Camera
If the photographer on your gift list is a Sony shooter (or just wants to be), here’s a gift that will have them exploding into candy like a piñata. It’s the top-selling, most-wished-for, most-longed-for, sexiest (sexiest?) mirrorless camera with incredible specs and a legion of fans around the world. If you want to curry favor with your giftee, be the gifter that breaks the bank and gets them that once-in-a-lifetime gift. (I say that because you’ll never be able to afford things such as food, rent, and air again. You’ll be broke, but you’ll be a broke hero and that’s saying something.)
Price: $2,998 (body only) (link)
STUFF FROM US
Treat Them to a Ticket to Our Online Travel Photography Conference
It’s coming up in January, so the timing is right on the money, and if they’re into taking photos when they travel, they’ll so love this two-day, two track, all-online conference with a who’s who of brilliant travel photography instructors and postprocessing wizards. Plus, they’ll have access to the archive of all the conference classes for an entire year after the fact. These are super popular, and they’ll have a great experience, laugh a lot, learn a lot, and they’ll thank you again and again. ;-)
Price: $149 for a full-access pass (early-bird) (link)
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 more than 300 courses, and it goes for just $9.99 a month or $96 annually. Give ’em a 12-month membership and they’ll love you all year. If you really want to bowl them over, get them a KelbyOne Pro membership; it’s got more classes (800+), 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).
Plus Membership: $9.99/month; $96/annually;
Pro Membership: $19.99/month; $199/annually (link)
Well, there ya have it, folks. Remember, it’s not how many gifts you get. It’s about how many gifts you get me! ;-)
Happy Shopping, Everybody!