gifts they might actually want

The Best Gifts for Photographers, According to Professional Photographers and Photo Editors

Photo: CBS Photo Archive/CBS via Getty Images

It’s safe to say that most photographers have at some point been gifted a lens-shaped coffee mug. It’s the go-to gift for photographers, but it’s divisive. Some love it, others truly hate it — and either way, it’s a clichéd photo gift that you can avoid giving. To find out what gifts photographers actually want, we reached out to a group of 16 photographers and photo editors to ask about the camera bags, cord organizers, disposable cameras, books, and other photography-related items they’ve received as presents and loved, as well as what their go-to gift ideas for fellow photographers are. Below, 40 of favorite photo gifts that will suit photographers of any skill level (and are guaranteed to be more useful than yet another mug).

Camera bags to give

“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. This one comes in black and brown and is reminiscent of a vintage Coach bag, not the clunky nylon numbers you might typically associate with camera bags. There’s a canvas version available here, too.

If you think the photographer in your life would like a smaller bag for camera carrying, take a note from photographer Dolly Faibyshev, who says she uses several different bags for shoots, none of which are specifically designed for cameras. “For smaller shoots, I’ve been using this Opening Ceremony mini cross-body bag,” she says. “It only fits a lens (or two small primes), plus some memory cards and batteries, but it’s just a cool multipurpose bag that you can get in different colors and fabrics.”

Baggu Fanny Pack
$36

For those who would prefer a fanny pack over a cross-body bag, gift this one from Baggu, which photographer Jacq Harriet says she’s “obsessed with.” Harriet used the bag for traveling this summer, and says it’s roomy enough for chunky 35-mm point-and-shoot cameras, plenty of film, a small water bottle, and a heavy wallet. “It holds pretty much everything, like a Mary Poppins never-ending bag,” she says.

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 it’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.

And Boelitz also likes the all-black Hadley Pro. He calls it “the chic choice.”

“I’m not a fan of big, bulky, expensive camera bags, so I love these little camera inserts,” says David Williams, who often photographs for New York. “I can put my camera and flash in one and throw it in a backpack, tote bag, or even a suitcase for travel.” We think this would make a great gift for the photographer who likes to travel light or would rather use a backpack or tote but needs something to keep the camera safe within it.

“I was gifted a Langly bag a few years ago that I really love,” says Amy Lombard, a photographer who has 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, a huge bag of batteries, a laptop, an 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,” Lombard says.

For the lensman or -woman who’s always on the go, portrait photographer Joseph Balestra suggests this bag from Wandrd. “It’s traveled to so many countries recently with me, and I love it,” he says. “I use it for photography and non-photography trips alike.” It’s ideal for traveling partly because its weather-resistant zippers will keep your gear dry, and it has practical details like expandable pockets for a water bottle and tripod.

Another option for a globe-trotter comes to us from Harriet, who says this one is her go-to for carrying gear on flights. “It perfectly fits my digital kit as well as two or three film bodies and additional lenses,” she says. “Super sturdy and dependable.” She notes that the Air version is lighter to lift, making it easier to stow in an overhead bin than the brand’s original, heavier models. “It also makes you look like a badass,” she adds.

Camera gear and accessories to give

$16

Faibyshev told us this camera strap was recommended to her by a salesperson at Adorama when she was first starting out. “I loved it so much I just bought myself a replacement for my first worn-out one purchased years ago,” she says. “It’s nothing fancy, but the thick, stretchy neoprene absorbs all the shock and keeps my neck and shoulders in good shape throughout the day.” The strap comes in plenty of different colors, too, should you want to pick out a brighter one to gift.

If the photographer’s style is 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,” he says. “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 it’s 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 + Pham, recommends gifting “fast memory cards. Those are the items you always lose, so it’s great to have a good reserve.”

For bonus points, give the memory card in a memory-card case.

If you want to give the gift of peace of mind, nothing says safe and secure files like an external hard drive.External hard drives are one of the least exciting things to spend my money on, but they’re also one of the most essential,” says Faibyshev, who told us she’s “constantly” running out of hard-drive space. “I’ve had luck with Seagate drives over the other brands (knock on wood), and I recently added this one to my collection. It’s a good deal for the size.”

Sticking with the practical theme, Williams suggests this gift, which any photographer will almost certainly use. “Chances are you need batteries for something, so stop them from spending money on new batteries by giving some rechargeable ones,” he says. The Panasonic Eneloop Pro Rechargeable Pack is his favorite, and the batteries come charged and ready to use straight out of the package. Once they start to run out of juice, all you have to do is plug them into the charger that comes with them.

If some help with on-the-go cord management is needed, travel photographer Gray Malin told us about this all-leather Dopp kit that does double duty as a toiletry bag and a holding place for cords. “What’s great is that it’ll last forever, and it holds everything,” he says. “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.”

For a more serious cable-management option, Boelitz recommends this clear-sided pouch from Think Tank, which comes with elastic cable ties to keep cords in order.

Gifts for film-photography lovers

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 in 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.”

Edith Young, Man Repeller’s photographer, photo editor, and a writer-at-large, thinks Ilford’s disposable black-and-white 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.).”

“Something that I think is super-fun are the Instax Wide cameras,” says photo editor Heather Casey. “The film is about twice the size of the Instax Minis, and it feels a little more sturdy.”

If you want to give a photographer a gift that helps them put their — or their photographer friends’ — work on view, Faibyshev suggests these metal gallery frames from Blick. “I use these frames often, for gallery displays and at home,” she says. “The silver and black are especially sleek and super-lightweight, which makes them easy to transport and hang.” They’re fairly versatile, too: When Faibyshev has a print that doesn’t match the available frame sizes, she’ll buy a mat that fits the frame and put it over the print; once the print is framed within the mat, it “still looks great.” 

According to Williams, the photographer who loves that ubiquitous lens mug might also like to adorn a camera bag with some hyperspecific camera-themed pins made by photographer Julian Master. “The enamel pins are really fun,” Williams says.