Purchasing photography gifts can be difficult, especially for serious amateurs, as many prefer to carefully choose each component of their "kit" themselves, but I think there are some possibilities that almost any photographer would say, "Thanks very much!"
I'd stay away from choosing cameras, lenses, tripods, most bags, and software, unless you know of a specific item they want, but have held off for some reason. Instead, look for items which could augment already existing equipment or other items which might help.
I have a few choices below that I think most would find very welcome in a wide price range ($18–$300 or more, if you want to go there).
- This fall I journeyed to Paris. I was well prepared with my Gitzo travel tripod, but some places like the top of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower don’t permit anyone to use tripods or monopods. That’s true at the observation deck of the Empire State Building too. There are many locations like that. Tripods aren’t permitted because they can be an obstruction or hindrance in close quarters with so many people trying to get a great view.
Two wonderful gifts for your favorite photographer could work in the above locations. The Joby Gorillapod ($22–$90 according to the model), and the Visual Departures Steadybag ($18–$67 according to the model) could provide great camera support at tripod banned locations.
For DSLR's, I suggest the Joby Gorillapod SLR-Zoom Flexible Mini-Tripod ($45), or for Point and Shoot cameras, the Gorillapod Original ($22). Their three multi-segmented flexible legs can be formed to grip almost any protrusion; a branch, doorknob, rock, or uneven surface, including iron fence posts like those found at the Arc de Triomphe.
For DSLR's, another suggestion is the Model I Steadybag ($42). The MI Steadybag, filled with polypropylene beads in its waterproof nylon bag conforms to any uneven surface such as the top of the wall at the outdoor observation area of the Eiffel Tower to hold a DSLR steady while shooting.
- If you’ve ever gone canoeing, white water rafting, or hiking through a rain forest, or the Scottish Highlands, you’re aware how all your belongings can get thoroughly soaked while traveling. A great gift for the adventurous travel photographer is the Lowepro Dryzone 200 ($270) waterproof backpack which keeps a photographer’s equipment safe and dry. The Dryzone 200’s fully customizable padded camera compartment acts as a “drysuit” for one’s camera equipment.
- While taking a lengthly trip, everyone with a camera takes many, many photographs. In my opinion, memory cards, are not suitable for long term storage of photographs while traveling. They are too easily corrupted. In addition, I believe travelers should have a backup of their “priceless” images, as for most, it’s unlikely they’ll repeat many trips. The HyperDrive Colorspace UDMA ($300–$600 according to the model) portable, battery powered, external hard drive makes a great gift for any serious photographer. In storage sizes ranging from 120GB to 750GB, the hard drive permits photographers to backup all their travel photos in a small lightweight package. Each photo can be reviewed on the unit’s screen, and has direct input slots for 14 types of memory cards. Backup is easy and fast. When connected to a computer via a USB cable, file transfer is accomplished quickly and easily. For additional information see my review of battery powered portable hard drives.
- While traveling, many take photographs at night of all kinds of sights. The problem we all run into when taking night photographs, even on well lighted city streets, is there isn’t enough light to illuminate all the controls today’s digital cameras, whether Point and Shoots, or DSLR’s. There is a simple solution, but it’s one most of us don’t consider; a small flashlight. The Night Detective Hyper Beam V-60 Flashlight ($55) makes a great gift for photographers. It’s a waterproof LED flashlight. It’s amazingly bright for its size and its batteries should last almost 8 hours.
- Back home after a trip, too many photographers have a difficult time printing their photos. The colors of the print don’t match what’s on the computer screen. The reason is generally the photographer hasn’t calibrated their computer screen. The aim of monitor calibration is to conform it to the same colorspace as one’s camera and printer. That way what you see on your monitor will be the same as your printer’s output. A wonderful gift for photographers is one of the Spyder3 ($99–$249 according to the model) calibration units from Datacolor. They are fast, easy to use and accurate. I use the Spyder3 Elite.