As we get closer to the holiday season, I'm getting more and more requests for photo related gift ideas so I thought I'd put together a guide with some of my top picks.
In the first of two articles, I'll tell you about some of my favorite gifts under $100 that you can get for the photographer(s) in your life. In the second article, I'll tell you about some of my favorite gifts you can make from your photos and give to others.
1. Crystal "Lens" Ball ($17 for the 80mm size) - Let's start with something really fun and also affordable, a crystal ball for photography! "Lensballs", as they are commerically known, have grown in popularity over the last several years. By placing a crystal ball between your camera and your subject, you can capture all sorts of fun spherical images within the glass. It's almost like putting your subject inside a snow globe! These crystal balls are availalbe in a variety of sizes ranging from a small marble size all the way up to large 150mm versions. (Fair warning, the bigger crystal balls can get a bit heavy to lug around all day!) For me, the sweet spot is somewhere around 80mm. Not too large and not too small. And while the original "Lensball"-branded version retails for somewhere around $40-50, you can find an identical crystal ball from Amlong on Amazon for $17. It comes with a small crystal stand you can rest the ball on if you don't want to hold it in your hand. I frequently place the crystal ball and little stand on top of a tripod and then shoot through it. I have purchased several different sizes of the Amlong crystal balls and been completely satisfied with all of them.
While we are on the subject of optical glass toys, you might also consider getting a classic prism for creating rainbows of color in your photographs. Amazon carries this type of prism complete with a screw mount and built in stand for $14.
The last piece of fun optical glass I want to tell you about is called a dichroic prism or RGB dispersion prism and it splits light into its component CMY/RGB colors depending on which orientation is facing the light. $17 from Amazon.
2. Platypod Max ($115) - The Platypod is a unique "tripod" solution for mounting your camera in difficult locations. This metal plate is made of sturdy aircraft aluminum and comes equipped with mounting holes, slots for straps, and a standard screw-mount for a tripod head. It also comes with a set of screw-in feet you can use to level or angle the base. (The feet are rubber tipped or metal spiked depending on which end you put down.) The Platypod works incredibly well if you are trying to get your camera as low as possible without actually setting it in the dirt or water. Many tripods have a limit as to just how low they can go even with the center column inverted or the legs spread out to their widest. The Platypod gets even lower and does so with an incredibly small footprint. The strap slots on the sides make it possible to securely mount your camera on a fencepost, tree, or utility pole. It's also great for shooting in situations where tripods are not allowed or where there just isn't room for a regular tripod. I keep finding new ways to use this thing! The "max" version is designed for heavier DSLRs and large lenses, while the smaller "ultra" version is better suited for compact cameras and lightweight DSLRs.
3. KUVRD Universal Lens Caps ($55 for a four-pack bundle - 2 mini and 2 magnum) - These weather resistent, strechy rubber lens covers are available in two sizes (Magnum size fits 72mm - 122mm lenses, while the Micro fits 54mm - 76mm). The manufacturer claims it will fit 99% of all available lenses. The Universal Lens Cap prevents water, mud, and the finest dust and sand from scratching & mucking up your lens.
I received a set of these as a birthday gift a few years back and quickly fell in love with them. They are now on all my lenses. I like having that extra bit of protection when I put my lenses in a bag or case with other gear or have to set it down during an outdoor shoot. They are easy to put on or take off a lens and the latest version has a small white "X" in the middle that you can color in with a marker to help distinguish each of your lenses from the others. They also come with a lifetime guarantee. Any issues, and KUVRD will replace it for free, forever.
4. EverBrite Red LED Headlamp ($16) - A great gift for any astronomy or night photographer. If you've ever tried to capture the stars or milky way at night, you probably noticed that your eyesight gets better and better the longer you are in the dark. This allows you to see fainter objects in the night sky as your vision adapts to the darkness. But if you turn on a regular flashlight to see your camera settings or the environment around you, you'll lose that dark adaptation immediately and will have to wait for your eyes to adjust again to the darkness. Using a red LED light instead of a white one will allow you to see your camera without ruining your dark-adpated eyesight. There are a number of different red LED lights available, but I like this one because it's in headlamp form which means you can keep both hands free to work the camera. It also has different brightness levels so you can set it to provide dimmer or brighter light.
5. Hoodman Loupe Viewfinder/Sunshade ($90) - This optical glass viewfinder/magnifier allows you to see the back of your camera's screen even in the brightest daylight. The viewer has a diopter adjustment for correcting focus for your eyesight. (Great for those of us with corrected vision!) It's an essential tool for for exposure and focus checking while in the field, it can help you see if you really got perfect focus on your subject. Comes with a lanyard for wearing around your neck and a case to store it in.
6. Tiffen B&W Viewing Filter ($50) - This monochrome viewing filter is actually for your eyes and not for your camera. The viewer eliminates almost all color from what you are looking at, leaving you with an entirely monochromatic view. (It's actually sort of amber colored and not quite black and white.) This can be an incredibly helpful tool in visualizing how a color scene will be captured in black and white. I first learned about it from the late great B&W photographer Jack Curran who always carried one with him. It's a great way to develop and improve your ability to "see" in black and white.
7. Breakthrough 10-Stop Neutral Density Filter ($109) - This 10-stop ND filter will allow a photographer to capture very long exposures even in bright daylight without being blown out. Neutral Density filters are a bit like sunglasses for a camera. They cut the amount of light getting into the lens without changing the overall color of the picture. (That's the "neutral" part.)This means the shutter can stay open much longer allowing a photographer to capture silky smooth waterfalls or clouds streaking across the sky or car light-trails.
This 10-stop Neutral Density from Breakthrough has almost no color cast at all and is made from very high quality optics and coatings. Available in a variety of diameters, it also comes in a 6-stop and 3-stop model. The filter comes with a 25 year guarantee against defects in the coating or glass.
8. Neewer Dimable LED Light Panel (This item has been discontinued. An updated model can be found on Amazon.) - A powerful, portable, dimmable LED light source photographers can toss in their bag and take anywhere for quick lighting of a subject. Powered by either AA bateries, or can be adapted to work with Pansonic and Sony rechargable battery packs. The light panel has a knob on the side allowing you to dial up or down the overall intensity of the light to get just the right amount of output. The light also comes with two insertable diffusion filters for modifying the light. One is frosted white and the other orange for warming up your subject. This little light is great for photo or video. It can be hand held, mounted on a camera hot-shoe, or on a stand. I use this any time I need to place a light in a small space or when I can't bring along a lot of equipment.
9. 5-in-1 Portable Reflector/Diffuser ($29) - The Swiss Army Knife of portable light modifiers. No photographer should be without one of these affordable, collapsable reflector/diffusers. Use the gold side to warm up a picture. Use the silver to brighten it. The white can be used to reflect light into the shadow areas and the black can be used to block out unwanted light. The translucent scrim/diffuser pane can be used to soften the light. This version even comes with convenient handle grips for easy use by a photographer or assistant. An easy way for a photographer to expand their lighting options massively without spending a lot of money on equipment.
10. Photopills app for iPhone or Android ($10) - If I had to pick a single mobile phone application for photographers, Photopills would be the one. Described as a tool for planning photoshoots, Photopills can give you geolocated information aboud sunrise and sunset, moonrise, and moonset, golden hour and blue hour for exactly where you are or where you are going to be. This allows you to plan what time to arrive, where the sun will be setting or moon rising, and plan your shot with much more precision. There is an "Augented Reality" viewer that will let you see where the various astronomical objects will appear in your scene. The app also includes a host of other useful functions like exposure calculators for using neutral density filters or ones for planning star-trails in astrophotography. There are depth of field calculators, hyperfocal distance calculators, and more. Even ones for doing time lapse. It's an incredibly useful and funcational app. You get a lot of value for $10!
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