If you're searching for a gift for a photographer, the answers are honestly usually fairly easy. If there's one thing that holds true about this wondrous picture-taking thing it's that it involves a lot of gear and a photographer who wants more of it.
It's not our fault. It just happens.
Your biggest challenge therefore may be matching up a gift that your favorite photographer wants with what your budget will bear. The sad fact is that photography, as addictive and wonderfully entertaining and creatively fulfilling as it can be, is also a bit expensive. Case in point: I'd introduce you to my disposable income, but it has been invisible since 2005 - right about the time I took my first photography class.
That Canon 5D Mark II may look as beautiful as it undoubtedly is on the B & H Photo and Video Web site, (a good spot to find just about anything any photographer could need) but you may not be interested in spending a month's salary on it, either. In that case, you could do what I've asked my people to do a few times if they really want to contribute to my heart's desire and chip in a gift card towards the exorbitant cost of the latest thing I just have to have. It might seem boring, but if they really have to have it, the help will be appreciated.
Beyond and besides that, there are many options at all price points that make very cool gifts for people who take pictures, not all of whom need or want the highest-end Canon -or Nikon, or Sony, or Pentax - model. Here are a few ideas:
Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize:
The camera bag I have used daily since the summer of 2008 -the Swiss Gear DIANA bag- is actually more like a camera purse. I take my digital SLR everywhere because I shoot all the time and I never know when I'll need it. I wanted something less utilitarian than the average bag, and I found it for $59.99 at Best Buy. It is available for approximately the same price at Amazon.com.
It has several interior compartments for camera bodies and lenses, and side pockets for batteries, cords and memory cards. I have used it daily for more than a year and it is definitely showing its age so I'm in the market for a replacement.
Janine King Designs offers some very attractive handmade options on Etsy. As of today they are still shipping for Christmas.
Help them get out there shooting:
Most photographers can use inspiration and as much as I'm a fan of taking pictures in my own backyard, it's always fun to see and shoot some new sights.
Many metropolitan areas have companies that provide photography experiences at a range of price levels and durations. In the Washington area, Washington Photo Safaris provide opportunities to shoot local landmarks and natural wonders like the annual appearance of the cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin with the guidance of an experienced professional photographer. I went on a group shoot of the monuments and the National Mall when I was taking photo classes. I learned some new things and it was also fun to be out shooting with other people who enjoyed the process as much as I did.
Owner David Luria links to similar programs in Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Ottawa, central Pennsylvania, Baltimore, and San Francisco. I'm salivating over the prospect of the New Orleans Photography Workshop and the Southwest Photography Adventures, but a nice person giving me those would have to throw in some airfare and a hotel room too, so back to the piggy bank I go.
Community colleges and local recreation departments and arts organizations often offer photography classes, so for a longer-term commitment you could help to subsidize your budding photographer's practice of the craft. I have taught outdoor photo classes for women who bring very nice cameras still in the box. Because they fear they won't know how to use them correctly, they sadly do not use them at all. This should not be! It's no use having a fancy camera if you can't turn it on. A class taught by someone who understands the technical side of things can pay off in many ways, not least of which is that a great camera gets out of the box and maybe even off of the automatic setting.
Bonus: students often get access to lab time and more expensive printing and processing equipment than most hobbyists can afford. My community college class got me into a dark room and that's an experience I wouldn't trade for anything in my digital world (except for maybe that 5D up there. Totally kidding!)
Take the Lens Leap:
Not all lenses are crazy expensive and if you want to help your photographer expand his or her skills and/or be inspired anew, a new lens can be even more effective than a camera body. For a reasonable option I'd suggest a 50 lens if your photographer doesn't have one yet. The Canon "nifty 50" - a prime, 50mm/f1.8 lens that retails around $100 most places -is a popular choice that won't break most budgets while it helps to create beautiful portraits.
The Nikon version is just a bit more expensive. And Wikipedia still does my favorite job of explaining what a prime lens does, anyway. It's good to know what you're giving someone, yes?
For a couple hundred more dollars, consider a Lensbaby Composer. Simply put, it allows the user to manipulate focus and the way the lens interacts with light for the kind of photographic fun you sure can buy in a store. Check the Lensbaby gallery for the results, and their Web site for what is turning out to be a dizzying assortment of product options.
With the combinations of f-stop settings and focal lengths on lenses -1.8? 50mm what? - most consumers could use some help figuring out what all this numerical and alphabet camera soup really means. eBay offers a useful SLR camera lens buying guide. Consumer Reports has one too.
Fun Photo Things
Really sticking to a budget? Try a pinhole camera kit, like this one for $21.81 from ToySoup on Amazon.com. It never hurts to shake things up and from what I understand these can make some really cool images.
Someone you love love film? For just a bit more you can give the really cool gift of a Diana -a slightly souped up version of the 1960s medium format camera.
If you're buying a camera for a child - an idea I fully support - there are so many fun options for them, including this nifty Lego 3MP digital camera that I may have to add to my own wish list.
Kaye Swain at SandwichInk.com has some great ideas for grandparents to make photo gift baskets for their grandchildren.
Travel and Leisure made a useful, age-appropriate list of digital cameras for kids.
The Shutter Sisters shared their holiday wish lists here, along with 77 commenters so far - lots of great ideas. I especially like the suggestions of photo books. There are some great suggestions in the comments here on DIYPhotography.net.
Finally, if you need a stocking stuffer or two, it never hurts to have extra memory cards, a spare battery charger or a USB cord. With more point and shoots and digital SLRS coming standard with video, an 8GB memory card is a cool thing to have.
So what did I miss? Anything? Definitely. Like I said in the beginning, there is a lot of stuff and many things involved with living the photographic life. But as someone very smart said to me recently, "If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong," and what is complicated can often be very, very simple. The greatest of pictures still come down to the moment itself and a camera - so if your gift contributed in some way to making that happen for your favorite photographer, you're doing something very right.
Especially if you bought us the camera.
And on behalf of your favorite photographer and all of us who do this crazy thing, I thank you.
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