With the holiday season fast approaching, it’s a good time to decide what to buy for the photographer in your life (or for yourself). In this guide, I’ve compiled a list of the best gifts for photographers in 2019. The products below are arranged by price – under $20, under $50, under $100, and over $100. I’ve used almost all these items myself and strongly recommend them. The ones I haven’t are on my own wish list this year!
Note that Photography Life is not affiliated with any of these products. All the recommendations below are mine alone, and each item is included simply because I own most of them and have enjoyed using them over the years.
Apps – The Photographer’s Ephemeris and PhotoPills
An easy, unexpected gift for photographers who already have all the equipment in the world is a smartphone app. There are so many available – and many of the best ones aren’t free – so the one(s) you should get depend on the person you’re giving to. One of the best is The Photographer’s Ephemeris ($9), ideal for landscape photographers who want to plan their shot. There’s also PhotoPills ($10) which has several different tools, including a Milky Way tracker and timelapse calculator. Highly recommended.
Vello Mini Softbox – $7.50
A must-have for portrait photographers (and others) is a flash diffuser. At the upper end of the spectrum are large softboxes and umbrellas, but those can be unwieldy and usually stay in the studio. For quicker field work, a smaller flash diffuser is ideal. The Vello Mini Softbox is just $7.50. It fits most flash heads, aside from built-in pop-up flashes. I use mine for macro photography.
Injinji Liner Crew Toesocks – $10
If the photographer in your life does a lot of hiking in search of the perfect landscape, point them to the insane Injinji toe sock liners. I’ll be the first to admit that they look creepy, but I’ll also be the first to say that I have never once gotten a blister while wearing these sock liners (in tandem with a pair of Darn Tough wool hiking socks). This held true even during a nine-day hike in Iceland with two 17+ mile days (27 km). Once you go toe, you won’t go back.
Memory Card Case – $19.89
For photographers with more than one SD card, it’s important to use an organization system to avoid them slipping around in your bag. A good memory card wallet is the trick. Personally, I use one from Ruggard, but it’s not available any longer – the Pelican 0915 seems equally good, and it sells for $19.89. It holds up to 12 SD cards, so it should last for a long time. Many photographers have something similar already, but if you’re buying a gift for someone who doesn’t, this should be at the top of your list.
Titanium Spork with Bottle Opener – $11
Shopping for a hardcore travel photographer and hiker? If they’re already used to eating boil in the bag meals, get them a spork with a built-in bottle opener. It’s not to open bottles (well, it does that too) – it’s to hook the spork on the boil-in-the-bag so it doesn’t fall in. It sounds like a small thing, but when you’re miles away from civilization, the small things matter. Get a couple of your photographer’s favorite freeze-dried meals along the way, and you’ll be a hero.
Raya 5-in-1 Reflector Disc – $19.95
A reflector is one of the easiest ways to add great light to a portrait photo. This 32″ version from Raya is $20, and it has five different panels you can use for different levels of reflection or other effects. There are a number of similar products on the market (the one I have is a slightly larger version from Raya), and they pretty much all work great, so be on the lookout for a good deal. Anyone who shoots portraits should have a pop-up reflector in their bag.
Watson 4-Hour Charger and Rechargeable AA Batteries – $17.95
Studio photographers chew up AA batteries rapidly, so a fast charger and set of rechargeables is essential. The Watson 4-Hour Charger comes with four AAs. Also consider getting a separate AA pack caddy to transport them more easily.
FastRawViewer – $19.99
A huge timesaver for culling through large batches of images – and almost an essential product for photographers who shoot large volumes of photos at a time – is the software FastRawViewer. It sells for $19.99, so it barely makes it in under the $20 mark, but it’s a great value nonetheless. For event or sports photographers, this is an excellent choice. Also see our review.
The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum – $27.37
Just over a third of The Art of Photography is about film photography and printing techniques – yet it’s still my top recommendation for digital photographers. This is the best book on photography I have ever read, and only a few other books are even close behind.
It’s all down to the way Bruce Barnbaum explains composition. It’s a tricky, often vague topic, but he manages to pin it down to more concrete detail than anyone out there, and not with simple generalizations like the rule of thirds, either. If you want to give a gift that really helps a photographer improve their creative skills, this is the way to go.
Almost all the other items on this list are pieces of photography or other equipment, but, to me, this is what is the most important. Get it at Amazon for $27.37 for the paperback (hardcover is actually $1 less, but out of stock at the moment) or at your local bookstore.
Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High Gaiters – $40-45
For hiking, a good pair of gaiters is essential if you want to keep your feet dry. I made a big mistake on my first trip to Iceland by leaving these at home for a snowy hike, and my feet emerged at the end as a sopping mess. I brought this pair – the Rocky Mountain High Gaiters – next time and found them to perform admirably. Men’s and women’s sell for $40 and $45 respectively.
Rogue Gels Universal Lighting Kit – $29.95
With flash photography, the color of your flash generally should complement the color of ambient light, or your results won’t look right. Often, the best way to make this happen is to use colored gels in front of your flash, and the ones from Rogue Gels are great options for the price. I’ve used this exact set for ages, including the color correction filters indoors and the more unusual colors for interesting effects.
Ravpower USB Camera Battery Charger – $23-38
One of the best deals in the photography world is the RavPower camera battery USB charger. On one hand, charging camera batteries via USB is a big deal, and not possible with the native charger for most cameras. Alongside that, this charger ships with two spare batteries for the camera in question, at perhaps the lowest prices on the market for such a thing. Highly recommended. Check Amazon for the one that goes with your photographer’s camera.
Maglite XL200 Flashlight – $35
An under-appreciated part of a photographer’s kit, especially for landscape photography, is a good flashlight. Your photographer will want a light with both a wide beam and a narrow beam, as well as variable brightness. The goal is to find something suitable for everything from light painting to navigation in the dark. I’ve tried several, and my favorite so far has been the Maglite XL200.
DxO Nik Software – $49
One of the best deals in photography software today is the Nik collection, found at Nik’s website here. This is the only third-party software I use so frequently, and it’s a must-have for any photographer who enjoys the post-processing side of things. These used to sell for more than $100 apiece, and now that DxO bought the company, all seven combined are sold for $49.
B+W Kasseman Polarizing Filter – $79.95-99.95
Today, the only brand and type of polarizing filter I would buy is the B+W Kaesemann line. I already have several, and they’ve never let me down. These are incredibly waterproof and high-image-quality filters, with practically no flare or reduced contrast whatsoever. The tradeoff is that they’re expensive – $80 to $100 depending on the size of your lens’s filter ring. If you’re buying this as a gift for someone else, make sure you know how large the filter threads are on all their lenses. Buy the B+W Kaesemann with a filter size that matches the largest threads of all your photographer’s lenses.
Manfrotto Monopod – $49-95 (more for specialized monopods)
Many people who shoot sports and wildlife photos find that holding their camera is a weary task after a long enough period of time. The same goes for video shooters. A monopod is the perfect solution for that, and even a relatively cheap option – something in the $50-100 range – will do a great job. There are so many options on the market right now that it is difficult to choose from, but a good company that I have used in the past for their tripods is Manfrotto. Compare their monopod options here.
Angler Port-a-Cube Light Tent – $65
Anyone who wants to do quick product photos on the go, even for taking pictures of gear they’re selling on eBay, would be thrilled to get a portable studio to help them do it easily. The Angler Port-a-Cube has a built-in LED light at the top, and it’s 17″ across (43 cm), so it works even with relatively large objects. There are other models on the market with more features for more money, but this is a great price for a high-quality portable studio.
Noise cancelling headphones – $51.09
For traveling photographers, especially those who need to fly to a location from time to time, one of the best gifts you can give is a good pair of noise cancelling headphones. They make any flight more enjoyable. I put this in the sub-$100 category, but the reality is that you can buy these at any price from $30 to hundreds of dollars. I use a pair from Sennheiser that has been discontinued; this pair from JVC looks very similar, although feel free to research and find some for whatever budget you have in mind.
X-Rite ColorChecker Passport – $83.99
This is a bit of a special case item, but for portrait and advertising photographers who want consistent color, the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport checker is a very useful tool for dealing with tricky lighting conditions. You can use the ColorChecker to create a custom color profile for your camera, or simply to find the right white balance for a scene.
1TB External Hard Drive Backup – $75.99
Every photographer should have a good backup system. It’s rule one. The ideal backup system includes a copy of every photo in at least three locations, one of which is offsite. So, it’s not accurate to say that a single 1 TB external hard drive is a complete system – but I’m recommending one anyway because it’s an important part of a good backup system. There are tons on the market, but consider getting the LaCie 1TB Rugged Drive for $76, which is more protected against bumps and falls than others on the market.
Gregory Baltoro 65 – $220 to $299 (depending on options)
I’ve tried a lot of backpacks over the years, and the best, by far, is the Gregory Baltoro 65. This pack is legendary in hiking circles, and it doesn’t disappoint in the field; I used it on the longest trek of my life and returned liking it more than almost any other piece of equipment I brought along. If you’re searching for a gift for a traveling photographer, and they don’t yet have a large pack for longer hikes, this one is the ticket.
Godox Flash and Trigger – $156
Every flash photographer, sooner or later, needs a way to trigger a flash off-camera. It’s simply the best way to get good light. My recommendation is to get the Godox TT685N flash and trigger, which works flawlessly on practically any camera out there. (Make sure you pick the right camera brand for compatibility if you’re buying as a gift for someone else.) It’s $156 for the set, or $179 for the more advanced trigger.
DJI Osmo Mobile 2 – $119
The first time I saw footage from an iPhone and the DJI Osmo 2 stabilized gimbal, I was amazed at the cinematic appearance – far more than I had expected from a phone. That’s because high-quality video has a tremendous amount to do with camera movement, and the Osmo does a great job of stabilizing your camera (phone). The Photography Life team used this on our trip to Jordan in the back of a pickup truck on a bumpy road, and the results were remarkably smooth. Highly recommended.
Sky-Watcher Motorized Star Tracker – $289
One of the coolest gadgets I’ve tried this year, and an amazing deal at its current price of $289, is the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer tracker. Put it on your existing tripod and ballhead exactly as-is, point it at the North Star (or equivalent in the Southern Hemisphere), and sit back. You’ll end up with crazy sharp photos at night of any celestial object you like, even with a telephoto.
Pixelstick Light Painting Tool – $370
One of the more clever photography products to come out of Kickstarter is the Pixelstick, a giant LED stick that lets you paint massive patterns of light over a scene for fascinating effects. Unfortunately, this is one of the few gift ideas in this list that I have not tried myself – but for genres of photography like advertising and even weddings, this is about as cool as it gets. More info here.
IPS monitor – $180 and up
Photographers should edit their photos on an IPS monitor (see here for why). The one you choose depends on budget and other requirements, but they range from relatively cheap to quite expensive. Our budget pick is the Dell S2715H 27″ monitor, for $180. For a wide-gamut IPS monitor that can display more colors (99% of Adobe RGB), we recommend the BenQ SW240 for $399. If 4K resolution is a priority, we recommend the Dell P2715Q for $409.
If the photographer on your gift list doesn’t yet edit with an IPS monitor, one of these will be a huge boost to their post-processing capabilities.
X-Rite i1Display Pro Color Calibration/Profiling System – $204
Along the same line as an IPS monitor, photographers need to know that they’re editing colors accurately in post-production. The best way to do that is to use a device like the X-Rite i1Display to calibrate and profile a monitor for accurate color. This one is a bit more expensive than other options on the market, but we’ve found it to be the most consistent and accurate available at this price range.
A note to photographers who don’t have a device like this: you’re hurting yourself in the long run, because the colors you’re editing could be wildly inaccurate. Chances are good you’ll need to re-edit many of your photos from scratch.
There are any number of photography products on the market today – no shortage of gifts for the photographer in your life (or yourself). There’s alway the classic photography shirt or camera lens mug if you don’t like the items on this list, or even a B&H gift card, always a favorite of mine!
Hopefully, the ideas above provided inspiration for your shopping. If you have any questions about these gift ideas, or even recommendations of your own, please feel free to leave a comment so other readers hear about it.