Welcome to the online version of my “14th Annual Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide,” which is featured in this latest issue of Photoshop User magazine.
I know it’s hard to believe I’ve been writing this for 14 years, which must also mean that I’ve apparently amassed a huge collection of stuff that’s now horribly outdated. This is precisely why it’s so critical that I create a new “Holiday Gear Guide” each year, and sell the old stuff on eBay to pay for all my new stuff. It’s a vicious cycle and one that I’m certain drives my wife crazy. But don’t let our holiday gift discord dissuade you from making the same mistake I have, because it’s the holidays and time to unwrap a bevy of spectacular holiday gems that are perfect for the petulant photographer on your holiday gift list.
As always, these items are gifts and gadgets that I use myself, and not only have I fallen hopelessly in love with them, but like a pacemaker or the new chicken sandwich from Popeyes, I also now find it hard to go on living without them. My job here is simple: Transfer my dependence on these items to you this holiday season, therefore completing the circle of life.
Just remember, giving one of these gifts by itself isn’t enough. The real magic of the holidays is when you can use social media to make others feel less adequate by taking cell phone pictures of all the stuff you bought, and all the stuff you got and sharing it online. It’s what separates us from the animals.
These are my self-imposed guidelines for which products make it into the guide—it’s just two rules actually. To be listed here, they have to be: (a) products that I use myself; and (b) if a product makes the guide, it has to be one I’d recommend to a close friend without hesitation (especially if I wasn’t that crazy about this particular friend—more of an acquaintance, really).
Also, to make things easy, we added direct links to all the products I picked so you don’t have to wonder if you’re getting exactly the right one. (Note: Depending on the product, clicking on the links below will either take you to the manufacturer’s website or if the product is available at B&H Photo or Amazon, then clicking on the links will take you to those websites.)
As is my sacred holiday tradition for more than a 14th of a century, I’m breaking things into three distinct categories:
- Stocking Stuffers: But you can use these as actual holiday gifts if this person has ever asked you for a loan.
- Great Value Gear: Stuff that’s a really good deal for the money, so it will look like you spent more than you did, and they’ll think you’re actually a better person than you are. So essentially, these are the perfect gifts.
- Cha-Ching!: Stuff you’d buy for the Disney executive or Wall Street hedge fund manager on your Holiday gift list. These will often require a credit check in advance and putting up some sort of collateral.
PhotoPills (for iPhone & Android)
PhotoPills is the app every landscape, nature, or travel photographer should have. It’s like having your own photo assistant out in the field with all the answers to things such as, “When’s sunrise?” “What time is blue hour?” “How long should I keep the shutter open on this long exposure?” and a ton more. But beyond just numbers, it can do everything from tell you exactly which day and time a full moon will be over a particular mountain or lake you want to photograph, or which direction the sun will be coming from at any date and time in the future. Plus, it has a built-in augmented reality feature that can even superimpose the Milky Way’s position over a scene so you’ll know exactly where to set up and compose your shot. It’s easily worth $100, but it’s only $10. It’s truly a killer app!
Price: Incredible deal at $9.99 (link)
Endangered Beauty by Carol Freeman
The tagline for this book is “Images and Stories of the Rarest Species in Illinois,” but this book is really for anyone who loves great wildlife photography. Carol worked on this inspiring book for more than 20 years, and it’s just stunning from cover to cover. Goodreads calls it “…a glorious tribute to some of the most amazing life on our planet.” For a $50 donation to the Team Green Environmental Network, you not only get a printed edition (180 pages softcover) of Carol’s wonderful book, you also get her printed 2020 calendar as well. So you’re getting the book, the calendar, and donating to a good cause, so there’s something in this one for everybody!
Price: $50 donation (includes both her book and calendar) (link)
A Nice Roll of Gaffer Tape
Buying someone a roll of tape as a stocking stuffer may sound like just one step above a lump of coal, but that’s only because you may not realize the magic and wonder that gaffer tape can bring to the life of a photographer. Developed in Hollywood for use in movies and TV shows, this tape does something very special: When you remove it from a wall, equipment, your mother-in-law, etc., it doesn’t pull off paint (or skin) or leave a sticky residue. That’s why photographers love it—it’s easy to tear, easy to use, and doesn’t mess up stuff when you’re done.
Price: A roll of ProTapes Pro Gaffer Tape (2″ x 55 yards) at B&H goes for $20.59 (link)
Rick Sammon’s Bestselling Book, Photo Therapy Motivation and Wisdom: Discovering the Power of Pictures
Over the years, Rick has written 40 books on photography, and this is his bestselling book ever. Ironically, there’s not a single photo in the book—it’s all words, but powerful words they are. People absolutely love it, and so will the photographer on your holiday gift list. Really great stuff (at a really great price)!
Price: $15.99 (link)
Think Tank Photo Secure Pixel Pocket Rocket (Black)
I love mine because it securely stores all my memory cards, including CF and SD cards, and the design is just right on the money. There isn’t a photographer that wouldn’t love finding this one in their stocking (and if they don’t like it, they really weren’t your friend in the first place now, were they?). Of course, if you really feel close to them, you could always fill those empty card slots with actual memory cards, in which case you should move this entry from Stocking Stuffers to the Cha-Ching! category.
Price: $21.75 (stylist black with gray trim, but also available in bright obnoxious colors) (link)
Platypod Stackable Gooseneck (2-Pack)
If the photographer on your holiday gift list has a Platypod (and if you were really paying attention to last year’s Gift Guide, they do), then what better follow-up gift could there possibly be than the new two-pack of flexible, bendable gooseneck arms. These allow you to mount things such as small portable lights or flashes, or a microphone directly to your Platypod and place them wherever you’d like. The folks from Platypod brought some of these to the PHOTOPLUS Expo in NYC back in early November, and they created a sensation. They not only sold out of every one they had, they even sold their sample. So cool!
Price: $30 (link)
Focus Pyramid: Autofocus Lens Calibration Tool
If you’ve ever heard your photographer friend say something along these lines, “Ya know, this lens used to be really sharp,” then the Focus Pyramid is for them. It helps them use the in-camera adjustment to get their lens back to being super sharp. (Over time, lenses can lose some of their sharpness for a variety of reasons, like being tossed 700 times into a camera bag, or dropped, or being dipped in molasses, etc.) This will help bring it back to its former glory. Plus, it’s very easy to set up and use.
Price: $24.95 (link)
GREAT VALUE GEAR
Think Tank Photo Airport Essentials Backpack
When I was at a workshop up in Canada, one of the participants had this backpack. I fell in love with it, and I ordered one as soon as I got back. It’s just about the perfect size for those times when you don’t want to lug the whole kitchen sink with you (which for me these days is pretty much always). It’s light, so cleverly designed, and still holds a good amount of gear without overloading you. Really well built and thought out. They will super dig it (and super dig you, too!).
Price: $199.75 (link)
B&H Photoo Gift Card
This is always the perfect gift, because B&H Photo is the greatest camera store in the world, and whatever the photographer on your gift list wants, they have it, in stock, ready to ship. They’re the magical unicorns of camera stores. Get them a gift card from here and they’ll follow you anywhere.
Price: Starting at $25 (link)
Westcott X-Drop Vintage Gray Canvas Backdrop by Glyn Dewis
Photographer, retoucher, and KelbyOne instructor Glyn Dewis has really made a name for himself through his inspirational and touching portraits of World War II veterans, The 39-45 Portraits Project. This backdrop was designed by Glyn himself, so you can get the same style portraits with your subjects, even if they weren’t in any world wars.
Price: $119.90 (link)
ON1 Photo RAW 2020 Photoshop Plug-In
The folks at ON1 have been on a roll, and they have fans of their plug-ins all over the planet. Part of the reason is their new AI stuff is pretty incredible. Of course, as the name says, it’s a RAW photo processor, but it’s really so much more, wrapping organization, special effects, RAW processing, and more into a plug-in that your photographer giftee will lose their mind over! It’s really incredible what ON1 has done. You’ll be a champ for picking up this one!
Price: $99.99 (link)
Samsung Portable SSD T5 1TB Drive
This drive is so incredibly small and lightweight, but it holds a freakin’ terabyte of data and it’s faster than a greased pig (and you know how fast greased pigs can be—well, if you don’t, they’re really, really fast). The person you give this to can take their high-res images with them on vacation, and use the drive to back up images, too. These drives are just incredibly awesome. No way they won’t love this! You can even get a 2-terabyte version for around the same size and weight, but throw another hundo on the fire (totally worth it).
Price: $199 (1 TB); $299 (2 TB) (link)
The LitraTorch 2.0
This tiny little rechargeable light is kind of like the GoPro of little lights. In fact, it would be awesome with a GoPro camera, or for doing selfies with your phone, or for bright continuous light for iPhone videos. You can even connect it to a drone for drone lighting. It’s waterproof, and you can even mount it anywhere using the Platypod Gooseneck (see above). It just so tiny, and yet it’s surprisingly bright and flexible, plus there are a ton of accessories for it, and it’s pretty cheap. Well, inexpensive anyway.
Price: $90 (link)
Add the LitraTorch Filter set to add lots of colors (includes holders): $35 (link)
A Fine Art print from Bay Photo
You can either get a gift card for the photographer on your list so they can get one of their images printed, or you can give one of your own prints as a gift (which is a very personal gift). Either way, you’ll love the quality of Bay Photo’s Fine Art Prints. Want to give somebody a really memorable gift that’s more than just the product itself? This is it!
Price: 16×24″ Fine-Art Print: $56.40 (link)
Luminar 4 Photoshop and Lightroom Plug-In
This is a special-effects plug-in that just keeps getting more and more incredible! It does everything from replacing skies to adding sunbeams to your photos to retouching skin to any one of a bunch of stuff that’s totally cheating. You’ll be a star for giving this one! You can order version 4 of this bad boy right now and save a few bucks, too.
Price: A killer deal for $99 (this is a special deal that expires soon), plus you’ll get some pre-sets, too (and they’re normally $49 just for the presets!) (link)
3 Legged Thing Ellie PD Universal L-Bracket (Metallic Slate Grey)
This is the updated, newly advanced, “more better” version of their super popular Ellie L-Bracket. When shooting on a tripod, it lets you switch your camera from wide to tall in about two seconds. This is very popular with landscape photographers, who love these to death. The price is right, and it’s available in a lovely metallic slate gray or putrid orange (don’t get it in orange!).
Price: $79.99 (available for preorder with delivery set for the end of November) (link)
XP-PEN Deco Pro Medium Graphics Drawing Tablet
If you’ve always wanted to buy a really nice graphics tablet for your photography friend (a tablet and pen are the pro retoucher’s tools of choice), but the price has kept a good one out of reach; that’s all about to change. Earlier this year I got my hands on the new XP-PEN Deco Pro tablet, and I have to say, I was blown away at the quality for the price. Personally, I like the smaller size tablets (one I can easily fit in my laptop bag or backpack and it takes up less room on my desk), so I’d go with the Small Deco Pro (9×5″), but if you think they’ll want something bigger, go with the Medium (11×6″). They’ll dig the way the double wheel works. Absolutely amazing for the price! (They’ll think you paid way more!)
Price: $74.99 (Small); $90.99 (Medium) (link)
Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ballhead
You might be thinking, “I dunno, Scott, $415 seems like a lot of money for a ballhead,” but I can tell you that’s only because it’s a lot of money for a ballhead. But, at least it happens to be the greatest ballhead in the entire recorded history of ballheads. It’s the single greatest ballhead ever, and you’d be the single greatest gift-giver ever to give one of these to the photographer on your gift list. You’d instantly elevate yourself to “most valued friend or relative.” They’ll cherish this one for many years because it will last forever (even after the Great Gas War of 2046).
Price: $415 (link)
1.4x Lens Tele-Extender
Every photographer wants to get close to the action, and this will help them by taking their existing lens and getting them 1.4-times closer. It’s like getting a longer lens for a fraction of the cost, and as long as you buy a quality extender (and I’d only list quality extenders here anyway), there won’t be any real visible loss of quality. These are so awesome and, after buying a friend one, he’ll look upon you with awe. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but they’ll definitely want to nuzzle you (but I’m not sure that’s a good thing!).
Sony FE 1.4 Teleconverter (for E-mount lenses): $548 (link)
Canon Extender EF 1.4X III (for EF-mount lenses): $429 (link)
Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III (for F-mount lenses): $496.95 (link)
Canon RF 24-240mm F4–6.3 IS USM Lens
This is my new go-to travel/walk-around lens and I absolutely love it! Wider than most all-in-one lenses like this (most are 28mm), it’s very lightweight, beautifully designed, and sharp as the dickens. (See how I worked a Charles Dickens reference in there? I know. It’s a gift.) Anyway, this is one kick-butt lens and now it goes with me on every trip. Perfect for the Canon EOS R mirrorless user on your holiday gift list (plus, the price is actually pretty amazing). They’ll lose their minds when you give them this!
Price: $899 (link)
Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD Lens
The 85mm range for portraits and weddings is a pretty magical one, with its look and style, along with those creamy out-of-focus backgrounds. The f/1.8 range is also the range I recommend (rather than the heavier more expensive f/1.4 or f/1.2 lenses, because their depth of field is so incredibly thin that if you’re not 100% right-on-the-money with your focus technique, you’ll wind up with a lot of out-of-focus shots). With an f/1.8 like this, you’ll save money, it’s much lighter, and you’ll get a lot more shots in focus. I mean to say, “They’ll get a lot more shots in focus.” You’re not buying this for yourself now, are you? 😉
Sony (no VC) (link)
Profoto C1 Plus (Serious Lighting for iPhone Shooters)
Beautifully designed and built (like all Profoto gear), this super-portable studio strobe (it fits in the palm of your hand) lets iPhone photographers light their subjects like a pro. This is what I’d call the first “serious” flash for serious iPhone shooters, with its soft light and slick design—it’s just so cool! It works with iPhone 7s and up, and you can control the strobe with Profoto’s free app. It has flash and continuous lighting options, and you can even control the light’s color temperature and power output. You can get some nice accessories for it as well, such as gels, a grid, and a dome that snap on its magnetic mount. If your photographers are serious about their iPhone portrait photography, they’ll love this on a crazy level. It’s a can’t-miss gift.
Price: $499 (link)
Tether Tools ONsite Power Bundle
If the photographer on your gift list shoots on location, man are they going to love this! It’s a small, specially designed battery power pack and adapter from the folks at Tether Tools that let you power and charge your laptop, camera batteries, flash or strobes, phone, and most any other USB devices, all while out in the field where you don’t have access to an AC wall outlet. It’s really pretty brilliant, and while I put this in the Cha-Ching! section, the price is actually a bit less than Cha-Ching. It’s more “Cha-Less-Ching” at a little under $270. It’s really well made and cleverly thought out.
Price: $269.98 (link)
STUFF FROM US
One of My Fine-Art Prints
The gallery YellowKorner sells three of my fine-art prints of classic interiors at various sizes (you can get some really nice large sizes) and styles and I, for one, would be honored if you saw fit to give one as a gift. Imagine how tickled I’d be if you gave three or four? Or even three or four hundred? The mind reels, doesn’t it? Anyway, they’d make a great addition to your collection (says the author, so his opinion is somewhat tainted, but correct nevertheless). If you purchase one, please post a pic on social and tag me in it so I can share it, as well.
Price: From $145 (link)
My New Book, The Natural Light Portrait Book
This one is literally on press now and will be available before Christmas. It’s my new book completely focused on how to take really amazing natural-light portraits, and it uses the same style and layout as my Digital Photography Book series: Just one topic per page, so it’s quick-and-easy to digest, and you can turn right to the page you want, for the thing you want to learn, and boom! You’re off and shooting. Be one of the very first to get a copy by pre-ordering now.
Price: $28.83 (paperback); $23.99 (Kindle) (link)
My Other New Book, The Landscape Photography Book
It just came out earlier this year and it’s already in its third printing (meaning, the first two print runs of the book completely sold out). It’s my bestselling book in years, and if the photographer on your holiday gift list shoots landscapes (and at some point, we all shoot landscapes, right?), they’ll get a lot out of this book. Well, so I’ve been told.
Price: $18.27 (paperback); $17.36 (Kindle) (link)
A One-Year KelbyOne “Pro” Membership
You’ve probably heard again and again (or you’re already a member and you know firsthand) about all the incredible 700+ online courses, the online community, the webcasts, the magazines, and the discounts that are part of a KelbyOne Pro membership. Now you can share all that with a photographer you super-dig. It’s only $199 for a year, with full access to everything! They’ll devote the rest of their natural life to let you know how thoughtful, caring, and generous you were to change their life in such a meaningful way. Okay, that’s perhaps a best-case scenario, but I think they’ll love you for it (and so will I).
Price: $19.99/month; $199/annually (link)
A One-Year KelbyOne “Plus” Membership
If they love online training, we have a special membership level that focuses on the online classes themselves (with access to more than 300 courses), but it goes for just $9.99 a month. Give ’em a 12-month membership and they’ll love you all year.
Price: $9.99/month; $96/annually (link)
Well, there ya have it, folks. Remember, it’s not how many gifts you get. It’s about how many gifts you get me! 😉