My 6th Annual Awesome Holiday Gear Guide

It’s here! It’s finally here!

If you’ve been a faithful reader of this blog for the past five years, you probably remember back when it was called my “Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide,”but last year I dropped the Gonzo because, honestly, I really have no idea what Gonzo actually means. However, I know what Awesome means, and that’s exactly what’s in this year’s edition (Yay—-wild cheers ensue!).

I think what makes it extra awesome is that I purposely avoided choosing any really expensive gear for the guide, and instead, I really tried to focus on choosing great value-for-the-money gear. Anyway, the Gonzo is out, the Awesome is totally in, and this year’s guide is packed with some really cool stuff that we absolutely, positively don’t need on any level, but we desperately want nevertheless because that is, after all, half the fun!

The Rules:

These are my self-imposed guidelines for which products make it into the guide. It’s just two rules actually. To be listed here, they have to be: (1) Products that I use myself, and that I absolutely love, and now can’t live without.(2) If a product makes the guide, it has to be one I would recommend to a close friend without hesitation.

With that being said, we’re ready to take the wraps off these year’s Gear Guide picks. Here we go:

ExpoImaging Rogue Universal Gels

I hate cutting gels. I hate messing with gels. That’s why I love these precut, super-easy-to-use, and clearly marked gels for hot shoe flash. Very cleverly and simply designed.

Price: $29.95

ExpoImaging Rogue Grid

If you use hot shoe flash, these little metal grids let you focus the light in a concentrated beam, and like their gels, they are cleverly designed and simple to use. The stacking grid design provides 16°, 25°, and 45° spot lighting control. I use the 25° grid.

Price: $49.95

Nik Software Color Efex Pro 4 Complete Edition

Version 3 of this Photoshop plug-in was my go-to plug-in for effects. I literally use it every single day, and I love it. My one complaint was you couldn’t stack effects—you had to relaunch it every time you wanted to add an effect. Version 4 lets you stack ’em high, but that’s only part of what they added to this major update. They made the best even better! This is many top pros’ secret weapon.

Price: $199.95

onOne Software Perfect Photo Suite 6

onOne has taken all of their amazing apps and tied them together into a suite of very powerful, flexible, and easy-to-use tools that you can access from Photoshop, Lightroom, or as standalone apps. Amazing stuff. The Suite includes Perfect Portrait 1, Perfect Layers 2, Perfect Effects 3, Perfect Mask 5, Perfect Resize 7, FocalPoint 2, and PhotoFrame 4. (Disclaimer: I’m totally biased, as I helped with the development of the Perfect Layers part of this suite.)

Price: $299.95

Topaz Detail 2

If you really want that high-contrast, total compression look for your images, this plug-in (which Calvin Hollywood turned me on to) is really fantastic—and really affordable. I also like Topaz Adjust 4, which kind of a does a similar thing, only different. Luckily, you can download free, fully working demo versions of both and find out which one suits you.

Price: $39.99

Lumodi 14? Soft White Beauty Dish for Hot Shoe Flash

The beauty dish might be the hottest lighting accessory right now. It gives you a really nice, punchy light that’s not as soft as a softbox, but not nearly as hard as a bare reflector. Plus, it’s fairly inexpensive (as light modifiers go). I use the Elinchrom Softlight 80° 17? White Reflector beauty dish on my studio strobes, and I recommended it back in my “4th Annual Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide.” This time I’m recommending a beauty dish made by a company called Lumodi. They make a lightweight 14? version for hot shoe flash.

Price: $65.00


I’ve owned a few different light meters, but this is my favorite. It’s simple to use, and if you have Elinchrom lights, it has built-in Skyport support that triggers your strobes to make getting a reading even easier (though you don’t at all need Elinchrom lights to use it). Plus, it’s the best-looking meter out there (and looks matter to us).

Price: $449.99

Tether Tools

If the photographer on your holiday list shoots tethered, she needs to have some Tether Tools gear. I use their laptop stand (Tether Table Aero), the two-drive holder (Aero XDC Duo) that attaches to the stand, and a handy strap (SecureStrap) that holds my laptop in place. I really love their stuff, and so will the photographer on your gift list.

Tether Table Aero: $175.95–199.95 (stand not included)

Aero XDC Duo: $54.95

SecureStrap: $17.95

Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella

This may be the best value in the entire gift guide this year. The Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella is so huge and creates such beautiful light that, either way, the photographer you buy it for will think you spent a lot more for it than you did. The megapixel race is over. Now, whoever dies with the biggest softbox/umbrella wins.

Price: $99.90


The Olloclip is quick-connect camera lens system for the iPhone. If you buy this for the iPhone-carrying photographer in your life, you will be his hero because this small, slide-on set of lenses is nothing short of brilliant, and it lets you create images with your iPhone you’d never imagine could be done: wide-angle, fisheye, and macro. And the price is right.

Price: $69.95

The Joe McNally Ezybox Hotshoe

This is my go-to softbox when shooting hot shoe off-camera flash. It’s like the regular Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe softbox except that the interior is white instead of silver, so it provides a softer look. First disclaimer: Joe’s a personal friend. Second disclaimer: That’s not why I included it.

Price: $256.00

Think Tank Photo AirStream Rolling Camera Bag

I so love this camera bag. I also have their Airport International Rolling Camera Bag, and it’s great, as well, but it’s not small enough to fit in smaller regional aircraft—but this puppy is. It holds an amazing about of gear for something so small. Love it!

Price: $299.75

The Latest Books from Matt and RC. And Me.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our own books, because they make really great gifts. Matt Kloskowski’s new book, Photoshop Compositing Secrets, is—I truly believe—the best book ever written on the topic. Period. People are losing their minds over this book. RC Concepcion’s book, The HDR Book, focuses on postprocessing in Photoshop, and it’s been a megahit. I have two new books out: Light It. Shoot It. Retouch It. and my Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographers Using Photoshop. My company produced all these books (just so you know), but I asked a random reviewer (my wife) what she thought, and she said, “My husband’s books are awesome. Buy both.” It doesn’t get any more unbiased than that.

Light It. Shoot It. Retouch It.: $44.99

Photoshop Compositing Secrets: $49.99

The HDR Book: $44.99

Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographers Using Photoshop: $49.99 or Barnes & Noble or

Hoodman HoodLoupe 3.0 with the Cinema Strap

If the photographer on your list shoots digital video with his DSLR, he’ll love this strap-on loupe that makes shooting DSLR video so much easier. If this is for a loved one, you might go ahead and spring for the Cinema Kit Pro instead, but they both work really well.

HoodLoupe 3.0: $79.99

Cinema Strap: $19.99

Cinema Kit Pro: $189.99

Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographers Using Photoshop: $49.99

Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter

If your photographer is into long exposure black-and-white images (and it’s a decent bet that she is), then slap one of these puppies on your gift list, and she’ll be shooting at the seaside at 2 p.m. It provides 2 to 8 stops of light control.

Price: $239.99

Westcott Magic Slipper

This adapter lets you use just about any softbox that Westcott makes (and there are plenty!) with your hot shoe flash. This opens up a whole new world of light modifiers for off-camera flash, and the photographer on your gift list will love you for it.

Price: $229.90

Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini Lithium

At 240 bucks, this is one of the more expensive things on this year’s list, but it’s a much cheaper portable battery pack for studio lights than just about anything else out there, so it’s still a great value. It lets you plug regular studio lights into the standard 120VAC plugs right on the top. I’ve used it on location and it works surprisingly well (for the small size and small price).

Price: $239.95

Well, there ya have it folks—this year’s ideas to fill your holiday gear dreams. Shop early. Shop often. ;-)

Hapyy Holidays everyone!

    1. BTW, I am a huge fan of ND filters and have all the B&W ones, but I got a variable Singh-Ray and didn’t like it (the thin version) I sold it. I find them agrivating when your trying to get a specific shutter speed. With the extra glass they also multiply any flare in the shot, but to each his own.

      1. It wouldn’t be appropriate to not see you write the first post, Ken, let alone see you replying to yourself! :D

  1. That’s some purty stuff y’all listed there, Scott! I’ll have to rewrite my Xmas list now.

    Love the ExpoImaging products, btw. I haven’t seen the Rogue Gels before now…very CAKB!

    But why do all your “inch” signs appear as “question mark” signs (see the Westcott umbrella and Lumodi beauty dish descriptions)? Are you typing with your feet again? :)


    1. Hi John,

      That’s your browser not being able to render the character. Try a different browser and you may see them go away. Also this page is not specifying what version of HTML for your browser to use so it is guessing how to render the page. Sometimes it’s doesn’t have a guess so it outputs a “?” for an unspecified character.

      1. Nope. If you view the source, you’ll see there literally are question marks where there should be "’s.

      2. John:

        I tried the page in Firefox (my browser of choice), IE 9, and Chrome….all have the “?” mark in the same spots. Odd that they all render the character the same way. I maintain that Scott typed with his feet (while playing 80’s Hair Band songs on guitar, and yelling at Pete Collins to make sure that his coffee ALWAYS has sugar in it. Just another day at Kelby Media!)



  2. Hey Scott, I’ve recently started purchasing your books and I love them (highly respect your opinion). I’m wondering what your thoughts are on a diffuser like the Gary Fong ones?

    I already have a two light studio setup with a soft box and umbrella, but I don’t have anything going for my SB-700. I’ll probably pick up those gels you recommend, but was still wondering about diffusing products for my speed light.


  3. Scott on the Lumodi Beauty Dish. Do you recommend the white or silver? I know you recommended in Light It, Shoot It, Retouch, bare silver for guys and silver with the sock for ladies. The Lumodi sock drops you down 2 stops. Would using the white dish on guys be too soft? or would there be an easy tweak to get you back to the effects of the silver dish in PhotoShop?

    Thanks again for this GONZO post! Also, the Rogue deal this weekend is sweet! My order is already in.

  4. Hey Scott! Thank you for including us in the list! It’s been a FUN year. What a great list, I’ve actually just picked up the OlloClip myself and sent Patrick an email today to tell him how much fun we’re having with it!

    As ever, if you need anything – yell out!

    All the best,
    Simon & the entire thinkTankPhoto team.

    1. I just got my thinkTank airstream to allow me to travel without having to take the big Security bag… carries enough to let me be prepared but fits everywhere!~

      and of course.. the normal thinkTank build quality!

      You were exactly right on this one Scott.. again!

      thanks Scott and thanks Simon!

  5. Scott,

    Great list. Amazingly, I have a couple items on the list. I picked up the ExpoImaging Rogue Grid Kit when you posted that deal several months back (and picked up their Flash Benders at the same time). Love them both!

  6. I’d like to add that in the way of the iPhone lens, these have been getting a lot of talk lately:

    The benefit of the PhotoJoJo ones over the Olloclip is that they don’t need an iPhone outside of the case, and can work with more than just the iPhone.

    I don’t know many people with an iPhone that doesn’t have a case (myself included), so I thought this would be worth mentioning.

  7. Olloclip…, just wanted to say it. It doesn’t connect, but slips over the phone on the corner where the lens is. Some newer lenses, you have to use their case first, then connect their lenses.

  8. Great list as always. I know you use Westcott lights but I would highly recommend the Paul Buff parabolic umbrellas over the Westcott no matter what brand of lights you are shooting. The Buff PLMs are more affordable, have more options (such as the soft silver), can be centered on compatible strobes for better light distribution and their quality is top notch. Paul’s original design of this modifier was outstanding but the design revisions in his second edition really knocked it out of the park! I use mine on just about every shoot.

  9. Hi Scott! Thanks for putting together another great list!

    I attended your Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It workshop in Denver a few months ago, and while I was there I bought your Light It. Shoot It. Retouch It. book as well as Matt’s Photoshop Compositing Secrets book. Both are excellent! I’m putting the Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques book on my Christmas list this year!

    I also wanted to pass along some helpful information to you and your readers who either currently use, or are considering purchasing, a Vagabond Mini Lithium battery pack. As you know, the VML is very difficult to mount to a light stand (the included clamp just isn’t substantial enough). And so over the last several months I have been developing what I consider to be the ultimate mounting solution for the VML and thought you and your readers might want to know about it. You can find out all the details by going to

    Thanks again Scott, and Merry Christmas to you and yours! :)

  10. Hi Scott I was at the seminar on Dec 2nd I wrote down the info on how to get the pdfs for Light It Shoot It Retouch It Live but I got it wrong,could you please sent the right info. Thank You very much David I enjoyed the seminar very much. Hope you had a good time in New York

  11. Ok Scott I just watched Crush the Composition on Kelby Training. The only Christmas gift any photographer needs is a year of Kelby Training. Your seminar is worth the entire price of the subscription. Nothing has impacted my art more than that class.

  12. i have observed that no one has  testing paul.c buff’s einstein or alien
    bee studio flashes. why?i am a nikon user and found that nikon has priced
    themselves out of my budget by raising the price of the sb 910 (sb 910 ….547
    dollars) (einstein … 500 dollars. the improvements that they made to the
    speedlight don’t seem like it was warranted the price increase.

    i also would like to see a comparison  test with speedlights of the radio popper px
    sytem against the pocket wizards. we 
    count on your Professional Opinion on things that we need to buy to further our
    profession . thank you for the things that you have tested or recomended.
    thank you

    keith mcdonald 

  13. I always love to see Scott’s gear lists, and I’ve made a number of great purchases based on his recommendations, but I have to say the Gossen Digisky was one of the worst buys ever. My Digisky developed an issue with the diffusor head just outside of B&H Photo’s 30 day return policy.

    Finally, after much difficulty, got in touch with someone from Manfrotto, the US distributor, who said to send it in to their service department, which I did. Over two months later, still no word and no light meter!

    Just wanted to warn everybody about my issues with this product – buyer beware!

Leave a Reply
Previous Post

Special “This Weekend Only” Deal on Rogue Flash Modifiers (Just For Readers of My Blog)

Next Post

My Top-10 Photography & Photoshop Book Holiday Gift Guide