Okay, I'm a photographer and I'll be the first to admit – buying a Christmas gift for a photographer is hard work! It's a famously complicated hobby, for starters, and a famously expensive one, too.
So not only do you have to wrap your head around all kinds of technical jargon but, once you do, you're probably going to be greeted with a price tag that makes your eyes water.
This is the difficult bit. Unless you've got a few hundred bucks lying around for a lens, or a few thousand lying around for a camera, buying somebody the obvious bits of kit is too big an ask. Which means that you're left looking at things like camera lens cleaners – and while they're undoubtedly useful, they're not going to be the first thing a photographer puts on their Christmas list.
I play this game every year with my family (well, twice if you count my birthday) so I've danced this dance before! Here, then, is a list of gift suggestions that I – as a photographer myself – would be absolutely over the moon to receive, from as little as $1 all the way up to $269!
Custom hot shoe cover
When it comes to camera gear, I have a little bit of OCD in me. I can't abide lens caps being put on with the logo upside-down, and I absolutely hate it when cameras don't have hot shoe covers! A lot of cameras these days don't even come with them any more, which is doubly infuriating.
However, this is a gift that's really cool even if the photographer in your life doesn't have a dash of obsessive-compulsiveness. A custom hot shoe cover is a funky and affordable way to add a bit of much-needed personality to a camera.
There are dozens of different kinds, from cute plastic animals to pricey laser-etched brass sculptures. But some of my favorite designs are from Etsy seller JoanMadeGifts, which makes a range of unique, interesting and affordable hot show covers (as well as soft shutter release buttons).
If you're looking for a gift that won't break the bank and is sure to bring a smile to someone's face whenever they use their camera, take a look at JoanMadeGifts' full Etsy collection.
Lensbaby Spark 2.0
It may not be "Secret Santa cheap", but it's very cheap for a camera lens – especially since it's currently slashed to as little as $129 – so you can give somebody a really unique and creative camera lens that they're guaranteed to go out and use!
Lensbaby lenses are an acquired taste, and a lot of photographers simply don't give them the time of day because they have a reputation of being gimmicky. However, the Lensbaby Spark 2.0 is one of my very favorite lenses – and everybody I know who has used mine has had an absolute blast with it!
There's a phrase in the videogames industry when a game is so compulsive, so engrossing, so moreish, that players simply can't put the controller down: these games are called "sticky". And this is the stickiest lens I've ever used! Like all manual focus lenses it's a thoroughly engaging, enjoyable and inspiring experience to shoot with it, free from all the automation and assists of modern optics.
On top of that, it's a special effect lens that requires you to squeeze and pivot and play with the spring-loaded lens in order to focus and position the effect in your frame. Take a look at my review for my full thoughts, and some sample images of the results it delivers. But trust me – it's a lens that any photographer will have a hard time not fiddling with!
Pocketalk Voice Translator
This is a fantastic gift for anyone who travels, but for traveling photographers in particular it's an absolute godsend. The Pocketalk Voice Translator has become an invaluable part of my kit bag, and I recommend it to anyone who travels with a camera.
For example, like a lot of photographers, I shoot street portraiture of folks who have a great outfit, an incredible expression, or who are doing something interesting. Street photographers just snap the scene without asking permission, but those of us who take street portraits like to interact with our subjects, chat to them a bit – maybe ask them to pose a little, or move to a more photogenic part of the location. And this is hard if you don't speak the language!
Using the Pocketalk, you can break through the language barrier and build some rapport – indeed, the device itself is a great talking point! It's an incredible translation tool; you select the appropriate language, speak into it, and a few moments later it translates your words into the local tongue via the built-in speakers (or the included headphones). And yes, it really works! Sometimes it gives a more literal translation than English speakers might be expecting, but you will certainly be understood – and in almost real-time.
Whether you want to ask subjects to pose, chat to other photographers you meet, ask directions to the camera shop if you need a repair, heck – maybe you just love striking up conversations with strangers in foreign countries – I'm impressed with how smoothly the Pocketalk Voice Translator works. It supports 82 languages, has a screen to show a written translation, and packs a camera to provide text translation for words, signs and clear handwriting.
Ever wanted your own, personal camera operator to film you while you're shooting video? That's exactly what the Pivo Max is! I've always been intrigued by these automated panning devices, but I've always been a little skeptical about them. However, when my colleague Rod awarded it 4½ stars in his review, I needed to check it out myself.
I'm really, really glad that I did! As someone who films a lot of content both for YouTube and sites like Digital Camera World, I've always wanted to add a little dynamism to my videos. With the Pivo Max, even when I'm shooting solo with my camera locked down on sticks, I'm no longer limited to static shots – this little thing will track and follow me as I move around the scene.
Simply plonk this little pod on a flat surface or, even better, mount it to a tripod (the official Pivo Tripod works a treat if you don't already have one) and insert your phone into the clamp. Set things up with the easy-to-use app and, hey presto! As well as recording on your phone, you can attach a dedicated camera and lens (up to 2kg) and mount the phone on the hot shoe for tracking purposes.
This little motorized marvel will keep you in frame through a full 360°, which is fantastic if you're shooting content on location at an epic landmark or beautiful landscape, or indoors at a cool venue, and want to show viewers the whole scene around you. My partner is a yoga teacher, and this would be perfect for someone like her who teaches physical classes where you might need to get up and move around to demonstrate. A magic little device for the content creator in your life.
Gift cards (yes, really!)
Real talk: they may feel like the least thoughtful presents, but gift cards and vouchers are the most useful presents you can get a photographer! As noted, it's a notoriously expensive pastime and we're always in need of something.
Whether it's something small like a memory card or a lens cap, or something big like a camera bag or a lens, we always appreciate having a voucher to put towards the next thing we invariably need!
So then, what gift card should you give? Well, Amazon vouchers are the most universally useful since you can get pretty much anything from there – so you really can't go wrong with one of these. However, giving a gift card from a dedicated photography retailer lets your loved one know that you've put a little more thought into giving them something for their special interest.