Nearly every photographer I know has, at some point, been gifted a lens-shaped coffee mug. It’s the go-to gift for photographers, but it’s divisive. Some folks love it, others violently hate them — and either way, it’s a cliché photo gift that you can avoid giving. To find actually useful and unique photo gifts, I asked a group of photographers and photo editors to share the best photography accessories they’ve ever received as presents and their go-to photo gift ideas for fellow photographers. Below, 23 of their favorite photo gifts that’ll suit every type of photographer in your life of every skill level (and are guaranteed to be more useful than yet another coffee mug).
“Cool camera bags that don’t look like camera bags are always awesome,” says Melissa Hom, a staff photographer here at New York. She recommends the brand Ona, which is based in New York and makes all-leather and waxed-cotton messenger-style bags.
Freelance photographer and filmmaker Luke Boelitz swears by his Hadley Pro, in part because it “doesn’t scream ‘camera bag’ to a casual observer.” That doesn’t mean this bag’s impractical, though. The Hadley Pro is “the best camera bag for carrying a DSLR and two lenses, but it’s small enough that even when it’s jammed full of camera gear, it’s not too heavy to walk around with all day.” Boelitz owns the khaki and tan messenger bag.
“I was gifted a Langly bag a few years ago that I really love,” says Amy Lombard, a photographer who’s shot for the New York Times, Vice, and New York, among others. “I use my Langly bag for every shoot — so often that I actually need to order a new one. It’s shockingly roomy, can fit two cameras, two lenses, two flashes, huge bag of batteries, a laptop, external hard drive. It’s traveled everywhere from alien-themed brothels to square dances all across the United States.” It’s also supportive. “With heavier equipment comes shoulder and back pain, and the straps are cushy enough that it softens the blow. It’s terrific if you’re on the go quite a bit, which my lifestyle tends to be.”
Camera Gear and Accessories
“There really are very limited options for elegant camera accessories,” bemoans Lombard. “I know it’s not the point, and, of course, function takes precedence over appearance, but if something has to be on you all the time, it would be nice if it at least looked good!” For a stylish camera strap, she recommends 324 New York. “I have the fire-red one and I think it’s fabulous. So, I’d like to save my other photographer friends from ugly camera accessories and gift them a 324 New York camera strap.”
If their style’s a bit more utilitarian, Boelitz likes this simple-yet-practical camera strap from Peak Design. “The strap is a nice, almost seat-belt material that feels good on your neck and doesn’t get sweaty like thick neoprene straps. The quick connect system makes it easy to take off the camera if you’re using a tripod, and it comes with an extra pair of connector dongles, which are compatible with all the Peak Design straps. I have a bunch of these for all my cameras.”
Hom’s husband bought her a “carbon-fiber tripod, and that was a boon!” Though expensive, the carbon fiber means this tripod is sturdy and can withstand any drops, yet still light enough to carry around to shoots.
If you’re looking for something small, and less expensive than a carbon-fiber tripod, Angela Pham, co-founder of Deitch and Pham, recommends gifting “fast memory cards. Those are the items you always lose, so it’s great to have a good reserve.”
If they need some help with on-the-go cord management, travel photographer Gray Malin told us about this all-leather Dopp kit that does double duty as a toiletry bag and holding place for cords. “What’s great is that it’ll last forever, and it holds everything. Even sometimes I put other things in there, like loose cords. It has a side strap, so you can pull it out and hold it easily, instead of having to hold it like a football.”
Gifts for Film-Photography Lovers
“The best gift you can give to another photographer is a client,” says Pham. But, she adds, “in terms of something more tangible, a great gift would be VSCO Presets software.” These filters can be used in Adobe Lightroom to give digital photos the look and feel of film.
Dan Wang, a professional camera specialist, gives photographer friends gift cards to print-service and photo labs. “For the multitude of images we keep on our phones or the cloud, very few seem to make it to a tactile object. I always feel a bit ‘extra’ giving my own work, so leaving it to their choice helps. Services like Parabo or Social Print offer integration to make the process painless to make something neat that can sit on a coffee table or hang on the wall.”
“Something that I think is super fun are the Instax Wide cameras,” says Heather Casey, a photo editor. “The film is about twice the size of the Instax Minis, and it feels a little more sturdy.”
Edith Young, Man Repeller’s photographer and photo editor, thinks Ilford’s black-and-white disposable cameras are “ideal for scenarios when you’d like to be shooting film but would rather not risk toting your camera around (i.e., if you’re on a boat, if you’re a couple to several margaritas deep, if you are venturing into pickpocket-heavy terrain, etc.).”
Photography Books and Magazines
“The best photography-related gifts I’ve received have been photo and art books,” says photographer Tom Newton, whose work you’ve probably seen on Glossier’s packaging or Into the Gloss. “I got a copy of David Bailey’s The Birth of Cool in high school that I’ll always remember,” and in the intervening years, it’s become his go-to gift for fellow photographers, too.
Casey also likes to give photo books, though she admits, “It totally depends on who the person is.” Some of her current favorites are Sleeping by the Mississippi by Alec Soth, Greg Halpern’s ZZYZX, and Deep Springs by Sam Contis.
The best gift photographer Forrest Aguar ever received was “a Kenzine! My girlfriend (and now fiancée) bought one for me after we saw them at Printed Matter in New York City.” Kenzine is a collaboration between Italian Toilet Paper magazine and the fashion house Kenzo, filled with bright photos and printed in a limited run. “It is a great source of inspiration,” says Aguar.
“I’m a huge fan of print, so I think giving any type of subscription to a magazine or newspaper is a gift that keeps on giving,” says Casey. “Print is not dead!” Her mom got her a yearlong subscription to California Sunday magazine, which she’s been enjoying. “They have some really strong and beautiful photography, and it’s fun because it comes every two months.”
We here at New York also agree that print isn’t dead, and you can gift a subscription to our magazine, too.
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