gifts they might actually want

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

Photo: Gisele Tellier/Getty/Getty Images

It’s safe to say most photographers have at some point been gifted a lens-shaped coffee mug. It’s the go-to gift for photographers, but it’s also divisive. Some love it; others truly hate it. Your best bet is to shake things up a little. You know, like a Polaroid. To find out what gifts photographers actually want, we reached out to a group of 22 photographers and photo editors to ask about the camera bags, cord organizers, disposable cameras, photo books, and other photography-related items they have received as presents and loved, as well as their own favorite gift ideas for fellow photographers. Below, 45 of their top 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. Although it’s a little more expensive than other options, it 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 less expensive canvas version available, too.

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.”

Dan Rubin, a photographer and designer, describes Peak Design’s bags as “exceptionally practical” and possessing a “unique modern-tech aesthetic without being garish.” He says these bags are great for photographers who carry multiple camera bodies, because they have configurable dividers, a secure laptop sleeve, and an expandable side pocket for a tripod. Rubin also likes the Peak Design bags’ strap lugs, which are adjustable, like almost everything else on them, allowing you to attach multiple camera bodies to your bag while shooting on the move.

“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

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.” Anthony Lee, a photographer and content creator, says he uses Peak Design for all of his cameras straps as well. “The leash is the smallest and most compact of the lot but will still hold my DSLR without any issues,” he says. He also likes the minimal and high quality feel of the straps: “possibly the best part about them is that you can easily clip or unclip from one camera to another.”

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.”

There’s also this option, which three of the six experts we consulted about the best SD cards recommended. George Muncey, a photographer and the creator of the popular YouTube photography channel, Negative Feedback, says that 64GB is, “the optimum [balance] between price and storage space.”

Lee recommends this Pelican micro case for protecting SD cards or any other small gear like dongles or cables. “I bought a one to store everything in one small, tough, waterproof container for an easy grab and go. It’s a perfect organizational solution,” he says.

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.”

This small electronic flash for your camera or phone comes recommended by photographer Andrew French. “It has accessories such as color gels and diffusions,” he says “It’s a great way to dip your toes into playing with camera flash.”

French recommends this small, continuous light that fits in your pocket. It attaches to most tripods and has built-in magnets so you can quickly stick it to a wall or even the back of your phone for a photo shoot on the go. “It’s great for stills or video, and it won’t break the bank, either,” French says.

Sticking with the practical theme, David Williams, who often photographs for New York 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 favorite of prepper John Ramey, who told us they’re the only batteries he’ll buy), 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.”

“Recently, I have been loving this pouch,” says Boelitz. “I love the matte-black color. It’s great for batteries, memory cards, filters, cables — basically anything. It’s also just a great fanny pack for normal stuff.”

If the photographer you’re shopping for prefers to use their phone rather than a traditional camera, Rubin recommends Moment lenses. “They expand what’s possible for photo and video work,” he says. “I’m especially a fan of the anamorphic lens for providing a cinematic view of the world.”

Film-related gifts to give

Edith Young, 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.).” Harriet also recommends this camera, especially “for weekends when you just want to take pictures casually with a click.”

“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.”

Kyle Depew, the founder of Brooklyn Film Camera and New York City Film Lab, recommends Polaroid 600 cameras, which have a hint of nostalgia and also produce some great images. “It’s the No. 1 camera we sell as gifts. We do full restorations on them and they come with a one-year comprehensive warranty.”

Photographer, Steph Estrada also recommends you pick up some 35mm film, like the Kodak ColorPlus, to add a little character your analog photography.

French recommends you “book a tintype photo session at Penumbra to get a one of a kind photograph.”

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.” 

“A simple message on a canvas bag that is familiar to the old THANK YOU bags seen around our city for years,” says Dominick Lewis, the owner of Photodom a film centric shop based in Brooklyn, New York. “Thanks to the new plastic bag ban this bag is a perfect companion for the everyday photographer.”

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.

“The introverted hoodie is one of our biggest sellers this year,” Lewis says. “It’s for photographers like myself who could talk for hours about cameras if left in a room full of photographers.”

If you know someone who’s obsessed with Polaroid cameras and wants to support a local analog camera shop, Depew recommends this tee with an iconic pocket.

Photography books and magazines to give

I Can Make You Feel Good
$32
$32

“Tyler is a massive talent and is just getting started,” French says. “His work was featured as the first exhibition at the new ICP space this last winter. He has been influencing photographers new and old with his brilliant narratives that have been long overdue.”

Boelitz loves to gift this book, which centers on a young man’s experience in the 2011 Libyan revolution. It’s filled with detailed war-zone photographs, journal entries, and letters written between families and colleagues.

Many photographers we spoke to suggested giving a photo book as a gift, but if you’re not sure of the person’s taste in pictures, or if you think they might like something that’s a cross between a book and an activity, take fine art and commercial photographer Holly Andres’s suggestion and gift The Photographer’s Playbook. “I love this book and find myself repurchasing it over and over after gifting my copies to fellow photographers,” she says. “It’s a collection of insights, observations, and suggestions from some of today’s most compelling photographers — Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Roger Ballen, Katie Grannan, Stephen Shore, Alec Soth, Alessandra Sanguinetti, just to name a few.” The book includes everything from practical exercises to philosophical ones, says Andres, which makes it “a treasure trove revealing secrets and creative tips from the minds of our favorite photographers.”

French also recommends this book, which he calls “one of the top photo books of all time.” With only 83 photos, Robert Frank was able to capture a piece of American history with a distinct vision.

“This is a best-seller for us,” Depew says. It’s perfect for novices or someone who knows about digital photography but wants to dig deeper into the world of analog. “I’ve read it myself and it’s very beautiful and informative,” he says. “It was published just a few years ago and has an excellent modern flavor.”

Faibyshev told us she came across this book after seeing the exhibition upon which it was based at the Museum of the City of New York. Having the book was a way to take home a bit of the show. “It feels like I own the archive of Kubrick’s Look magazine shoots, which are so thrilling,” she says. “His visual humor and precise compositions offer a window into the early signs of his inimitable style.” Even if your photographer didn’t make it to that exhibit, there’s still plenty to enjoy in the book, especially for those who love the city. “You can’t go wrong with this book. I think it would please so many people — photographers, film lovers, and anyone nostalgic for the ‘old New York,’” says Faibyshev.

“I always love giving and receiving books from friends,” says photographer Chantal Anderson. A current favorite is this book, which collects essays by photographers “describing images that never were made,” she says. The book includes contributions from over 60 photographers, including Alec Soth, Deana Lawson, and Mary Ellen Mark.

$19

“For any photographer interested in color theory, this collection of essays by Kassia St. Clair is thoroughly entertaining,” says Anderson. The book includes stories about 75 different shades, dyes, and hues, and it delves into how specific colors relate to fashion, politics, and art.

Casey also likes to give photo books, though she admits “it totally depends on who the person is.” One of her current favorites is Sleeping by the Mississippi, by Alec Soth.

Faibyshev told us she loves art-postcard books; they’re her go-to gift for the person who has everything. “This is an oldie but goodie,” she says. “You can tear them out and hang your very own Weegee artwork on your wall.” This one might make an especially appealing gift for a photographer who loves New York City history.

We here at New York also agree that print isn’t dead, and you can gift a subscription to our magazine, too.

And one gift that gives back

If you want to give a gift that’s both socially conscious and photography related, Harriet suggests making a donation to Girls’ Voices. “They partner with grassroots organizations in local communities across the world to empower young women to tell their stories through photography and film by teaching them the basics of cinematography and storytelling,” she says.

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The Best Gifts for Photographers, According to Photographers