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Best gifts for photographers in 2020
First, an acknowledgement: this holiday season is unusual. It’s been a grim year to say the least, and it might seem a little frivolous to be recommending gadgets and stocking stuffers when many people are struggling.
The counter-argument is that in these difficult times, creative pursuits are more important than ever. For many of us, photography is therapeutic – something that invigorates us when we’re feeling depleted. If we can assist you in helping the photographer in your life find a little calm in the storm that is 2020, then we’ve done our job.
in light of all of this, most of the gifts in this guide are well under $100, and many of them are geared towards enabling and enriching the experience of photography, rather than just adding to the world’s landfill sites. If you’re looking for camera cufflinks – and we advise against gifting them – you’ll need to look elsewhere.
For outdoor enthusiasts
If you’re shopping for someone whose photography takes them out into the elements, you really can’t go wrong with hand warmers ($24 for 40 pairs). They’re a wintertime wildlife or landscape photographer’s best friend. Plus, they’ll be great for all of those chilly outdoor hangouts with your COVID pod squad.
Outdoorsy types also tend to be early risers, so it’s a good idea to make sure they’re equipped with an excellent coffee tumbler. The Yeti Rambler ($35) is vacuum insulated, dishwasher-safe and uses a magnetic latch for easy opening and closing.
Also consider a membership or annual pass to a nearby park or wildlife preserve. In the US, an America the Beautiful interagency pass ($80) is like a golden ticket – it gets you into federally-managed sites including all national parks and national forests for a year from the time of purchase. Access to some federally-owned land has been tricky this year, but hopefully 2021 will be different.
For indoor enthusiasts
It’s a safe bet that many of us will be spending a lot of time in the great indoors over the next six months. With than in mind, we’ve got some ideas for photo-centric gifts to help curb cabin fever.
This deck of photography-themed playing cards ($35) has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. For starters, they’re gorgeously designed. They also serve a dual purpose with photography tips and techniques printed on each card. And of course, they function as regular ol’ playing cards, which will come in handy when every jigsaw puzzle in the house has been assembled and disassembled again.
Henry Carroll’s Photographers on Photography ($20) is another good bet for photographers of all skill levels and disciplines. It’s a collection of images and reflections on the photo-making process from a wide range of established photographers. It’s more thought-provoking and inspiring, less a technical guide or how-to.
For the truly ambitious tinkerer, consider a Raspberry Pi computer ($35 and up) and interchangeable lens camera module ($50). A helpful companion guide ($14) coaches the user as they build a working camera from scratch. Python coding experience is helpful, but not absolutely necessary – just ask The Verge’s Becca Farsace. And don’t forget a lens: Raspberry Pi offers two compatible lenses to choose from ($30/60).
We’ve recommended an Instax Share instant printer in our gift guides several years in a row now, and for good reason: it’s really good! You’ll find lots of cheaper non-Instax options if you go looking for an instant smartphone photo printer, but you won’t necessarily find the quality of of Fujifilm’s instant prints in the lower priced alternatives. The Instax Share SP-3 ($100) uses Fuji’s slightly larger, more Polaroid-esque square format film. It’s a truly delightful way to share photos.
Capturing great-looking video clips starts with stabilization. The DJI OM 4 ($150) is smartphone gimbal that produces amazing results right out of the box with very little setup (its predecessor, the Osmo Mobile 3 is $30 cheaper and also a good buy while it’s still available). The included tripod accessory will also make it possible to shoot timelapses with movement. For the photographer who’s curious about video, or just wants to try something new, it’s a great low-cost tool that works with the camera they already have in their pocket: their smartphone.
The Lensbaby Omni ($100) is a little sci-fi looking, but hear us out. It attaches to the front of a lens and provides adjustable, magnetic mounts that hold included pieces of glass and objects in front of the lens for creative effects. Resulting images will include dramatic flare and reflections of light in the scene, which make for interesting effects in portraits or landscapes. It’s a fun way to let loose a little more creative energy and capture familiar scenes in a different way. Be sure to purchase the right size Omni – the ‘small’ will fit most standard DSLR kit lenses.
Fun trips to other parts of the world have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop planning or reminiscing about past trips – and that’s part of the fun. Moleskine’s travel journal ($30) is part planner, part memory keeper for short trips and long journeys alike. Sure, it’s a little twee in the year 2020, but sometimes it’s nice to do things with pen and paper and stop looking at screens for two seconds.
When it’s safe to hit the road again, a Tom Binh organizer ($30) is a great tool for packing all of the cords and chargers that keep smartphones and cameras powered. An organized carry-on is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
If it’s that little extra something you’re after, here are a few inexpensive, useful items that you can’t go wrong with. For starters, extra micro fiber cleaning cloths ($10 for pack of two) are always welcome in a photographer’s life, and they’re especially nifty when they fold up into their own storage pouch.
Another helpful item is this photographer’s multi-tool ($10), with a 5/32″ (4mm) allen wrench on one end and a flat-head screwdriver on the other. Between the two, you should be able to tighten or loosen attachments on most camera supports, cages and tripod plates. This handy double-ended tool is attached to a key ring so it’s always close by. What could be handier than that?
Finally, for the family photographer a Shutter Hugger ($20) is a simple-yet-genius way to coax little ones into looking at the camera. These small stuffed animals fit around a camera lens and come in four adorable varieties: monkey, giraffe, dinosaur and Dalmatian. Cute, effective and inexpensive – a true triple threat.