Holiday Gift Ideas for the Aspiring or Amateur Photographer
People with “Gadget Fever” are difficult to buy for sometimes. I’m frequently asked by people what would make a great gift for an amateur or aspiring photographer and while it’s not always that easy. Of course a new camera body or lens is an easy, go-to answer, not everyone has the budget to spend thousands of dollars for a simple gift. That’s why I decided to compile a list of some fun gifts for that gadget geek in your life who is passionate about photography. These are some last minute gift ideas that you can order directly from Amazon.com so you don’t even have to run to the store to try and find any of these cool items! The first thing on my list would be for you to subscribe to Amazon Prime. Amazon.com has the most amazing selection of gear for any level of photographer and frequently you can buy even the most expensive camera equipment from Amazon cheaper than you can buy it from the actual sellers’ website because they offer special promotions to Amazon buyers. Amazon has recently announced that they are pursuing shipping of items to your home via drone technology which would arrive at your front door within 30 minutes after purchase. While that technology is years away, you can get the next best thing. Amazon offers a service for $79 per year called Amazon Prime.
Currently, there are over 15 million products on Amazon.com which qualify for Amazon Prime purchases and I have to say, it’s a pretty awesome service. For this annual subscription you get free 2-day shipping on all Prime items and it seems as though that’s almost everything they carry now. You also get special discounts on products as well and when buying gear, 5-10% off many items makes the membership pay for itself really fast plus you get other goodies such too, such as free access to thousands of movies and other perks. Since I started my subscription three months ago I have become an Amazon addict where I have purchased everything from clothing to books, office supplies to motorcycle parts and everything in between. I even now order our dog food from Amazon as it’s actually 20% cheaper to have it delivered to my house than buying it at Petco. If anything, I’m now keeping my local UPS driver in good shape. A common phrase uttered from my wife every time a new package arrives is “Step away from the Amazon!” 🙂 Seriously though, I’ve bought some pretty heavy equipment and saved a ton of money on shipping (and it’s free 2-day shipping at that!) that I may not have wanted to buy online in the past because of shipping costs. Since I’ve been a subscriber I’ve bought heavy duty light stands, a light boom, backdrop stands and backdrops, a Manfrotto tripod head, all sorts of props for photo shoots, items to use for photo booths, camera batteries and rechargers, AA batteries for my flashes, storage cards, a backup hard drive, and so much more. I even bought one of my Nikon D800 cameras from Amazon and today I just purchased a new camera flash which will arrive at my door in two days. I absolutely cannot recommend Amazon Prime higher. The best part is, you get a 30-day trial of this service absolutely free! To take your free 30 day trial click the link below…
The other great thing about using Amazon is that you can drop-ship your gifts should the person on your Santa’s list not reside near you. You just place your order and enter your recipient’s name and address in the shipping address area upon checkout and two days later, WHAMO, your recipient gets their gift. It’s as simple as that. So here is a list of some great toys for to think about giving this holiday season, even if that giving is for yourself!
Nikon Lens Travel Coffee Mug
On the wall of my office I have a clipboard with a checklist on it of all the gear needed for each shoot I have coming up. On the top of the page I have the client name and below it I have every item of camera equipment I own from camera bodies to batteries. The last thing on the list is “Coffee”. When I need to go on a morning shoot, this is just as important and bringing my camera. Nothing makes me look more awesome than when I show up on a shoot drinking out of a camera lens! This is item is always a conversation piece everywhere I take it and aside from its awesome looks, it actually does a great job of keeping my coffee hot!
There are those times where you just don’t want to carry a tripod on a trip or a hike. Well, these little guys solve that problem but also are huge assets in other ways as well. Not only will these support a medium sized DSLR camera with a zoom lens but they also can help by allowing you to wrap the flexible legs around all sorts of odd shapes. You also can use them for supporting other forms of gear too, such as off-camera flashes. I have four of these Gorilla Pods myself and I’ve used them to attach flashes high up on to a chain link fence, as a tripod where I wrapped the legs around a tree branch, and even once I used one as a handle for a small underwater video camera when I was SCUBA diving in Nassau. These things are just awesome. They come in different sizes depending on the size and weight of your camera. It is has been my experience that you are always better buying the larger ones as if you go smaller you may someday regret not having support for something with more weight.
Either way, you can’t go wrong with these. The larger one sells for $49.95… If you are using a smaller, point-and-shoot style camera (that weighs about the same as an iPhone) then here is the little brother for $18.00
Hot Shoe Bubble Level
Many times reading the level on your tripod is really difficult or perhaps you don’t have the ability to balance your camera in any way so your photos come out crooked. Well, here is your inexpensive solution! This little guy fits in any camera bag, will get you incredibly accurate leveling of your camera regardless of whether you orientate it horizontal or vertical, and is extremely easy to read. Because this mounts to the hot shoe of your camera, it gives you much more accurate readings than the tiny bubble will provide you on even the most expensive tripods. If you are into panoramic photos, this is a MUST for leveling your camera accurately! Last year I did a crazy shoot with a friend in his home studio for a 3D project he was working on. Through the day we were shooting quite the menagerie of models ranging from showgirls to burlesque dancers, celebrity impersonators to doo-wop singers. Between shoots, I put my camera on a tripod and had everyone pose around me in crazy situations so I could do a panoramic photo. I had one model looking down the barrel of my .44 Magnum revolver, three guys in a bar fight, a showgirl drawing a sword while another one was shooting a burlesque dancer. You can even see my friend Adam (yes, a different Adam) smoking a pipe and enjoying a pitcher of beer with his wife, Tai. It was nuts. The truth is, I could never have done this shot if my camera wasn’t perfectly level as I rotated it. You can see the results of this crazy shoot BY CLICKING HERE.
Build Your Own Camera!
We are all used to using cameras but now you can build your own! This awesome twin lens film camera not only works great but is a fun project for the young and old camera enthusiast. This kit allows you to assemble your own working camera in just a few hours with the detailed English instructions and even comes with a 2-year warranty!
JVC Adixxion 2 Camera
I was recently in my local motorcycle store when I noticed a new video camera display next to the register. It was for the JVC Adixxion 2 – GC-XA2. I asked the clerk if he knew anyone who had one and he told me he did. He said he scrapped his GoPro 3+ Black and switched to the JVC and was really happy with his decision. That’s a pretty bold statement, so I went home and researched the JVC and was shocked to hear so many critics saying it’s better than the latest GoPro camera, which has been considered the standard video camera of its kind on the market. Well, that’s about to change. When the GoPro camera first hit the market it set the standard for compact video recording. You could mount it to your car, to your motorcycle helmet, or to just about anything. It was a huge hit, but the latest version of this popular camera, the GoPro Hero 3, is a huge step back. In their efforts to satisfy the “selfie” generation, they aimed the focal plane of the camera to only 4 feet. The previous versions of this camera focused to infinity and the quality of the video was outstanding. Now, the reviews are out on the GoPro 3 and they are not good. Huge amounts of bugs and bad focus issues is causing there to be a big gap in the market. Enter, the JVC Adixxion 2 – GC-XA2. Yeah, it’s a goofy name but this is this is the hottest contender to the GoPro 3. Similarly priced, this high-definition camera takes video to a whole new level. A much simpler mounting system, much more rugged, high impact case, and even submersible in up to 18 feet of water, this camera shoots AMAZING video. Side-by-side comparisons against GoPro cameras have shown the video of the JVC to be much sharper and richer in color. I can go on and on all day about how cool it is to own one of these types of cameras and I’m a huge fan of them but the JVC is my new favorite. I own a GoPro 2 and I’m actually ordering a JVC next month. My main reason is because as much as I like the GoPro quality, I’m very frustrated with how difficult it is to focus the camera. The GoPro 3 has an LCD screen on the back mounted in the same location that my GoPro 2 does (although I had to pay to upgrade my camera to get the viewfinder). The issue is that the viewfinder is on the back of the camera. This might be OK if you are mounting it to a helmet but try and mount it to any kind of odd angle or in an unusual position it makes it very difficult to find out where to focus the camera.Some time ago I shot this video during a 24 Hours of LeMons race:
I remember back when I recorded this video that this was my 3rd attempt. Why? Because it was so difficult to mount the camera to the motorcycle and figure out how to focus it in a way where it wasn’t shooting too much ground or sky. Because the viewfinder was on the back, it made it virtually impossible to see it because of how the camera was mounting to the tank of the motorcycle. I’ve also used the camera on cars on a race track where we mounted it to the roof or one of the bumpers. In all cases, it was impossible to see where the camera was looking because it was difficult or impossible to get to the viewfinder. JVC managed to fix this problem by mounting the viewfinder to the side of the camera. At first this might seem odd but to anyone who’s ever had difficulty using a GoPro you will realize what a brilliant idea this is. Now you can see what you are looking at no matter how you mount the camera. It’s awesome.
Domke Camera Bag
Over the last ten years I’ve gone through more camera bags and cases than I can count. I’ve always had difficulty in finding one bag that suits all my needs when I go on a professional shoot. What has been even more difficult is finding a nice bag to use when I’m on vacation. That is until I came across this awesome Domke camera bag. A friend of mine bought one a few years ago in Los Angeles and when he showed it to me it was love at first sight. The problem was the store he got it didn’t sell them anymore. For months I kept looking in camera stores trying to find it with no luck. That is until Amazon started carrying them. Now, when I travel light, it’s the only bag I use and I love it. I get so many compliments on this bag I can’t even begin to tell you. This small satchel is big enough for a small DSLR camera and two lenses but I use it just to carry my large DSLR and one lens attached plus a few accessories (extra camera battery, extra flash batteries, and lens cloth. The satchel design not only allows you fast and easy access to the camera but you feel like Indian Jones when you wear it.
The inside of the shoulder strap has woven rubber inside so it doesn’t slip off your shoulder and because it doesn’t scream, “TOURIST CAMERA BAG” you are less of a target for thieves as well. From afar it looks almost like old leather but it’s actually a treated and waxed heavy canvas on the outside that has a very cool distressed look about it. The inside is padded with an extra, removable compartment for a second lens.
The Ultimate Cleaning Kit
OK, let’s face facts here that a camera cleaning kit isn’t exactly a sexy Christmas gift but it’s a very well needed one. You would be amazed at how many photographers I know have invested thousands of dollars in gear but never spent ten lousy bucks on equipment to clean it. So, here is your chance to give a well needed gift to the photographer you love. This great cleaning kit has clothes, brushes, and even a blower to help get rid of dust and smudges from all the important gear. So don’t feel like you’re giving the photographer’s equivalent of a pair of socks by getting this for someone, trust me, they really will appreciate this.
Neoprene Neck Strap
I have a closet in my office with containers of different gear that I use for different shoots. One of those containers has not one, but ELEVEN different neck straps I have collected over the years. I have a bunch that came with different cameras I have bought, I have one that was made from the back seat of a 1983 Mercedes Bens, and I even have a sling style camera strap that I will never, EVER use after I saw the attachment screw break on a friend’s camera where I got to see his Canon 7D and 70-200mm lens hit the ground and smash into a variety of different pieces. This is why I always tell people never to use a camera strap that screws into the bottom of your camera because it puts too much stress on one pivotal point that, when it fails, will cause your camera to be destroyed. As In fact, as I wrote this, I just grabbed the strap and threw it in the trash. Buh Bye. So the strap I suggest is the strap I’ve had on all my cameras for the last two years. Not only is it comfortable, doesn’t slip, stays very cool on your neck, and is extremely light weight, but it also comes in a variety of different colors (I prefer the red ones myself). I’ve had this strap on my shoulder and neck even during the dry desert heat of Las Vegas and it always stays comfortable. When I am shooting with a large telephoto lens, battery grip, and flash on my camera, the last thing I want is some heavy and bulky camera strap to get in my way and weigh me down. This neck strap by OP/TECH solves all these problems and the best part is, it’s very inexpensive. It’s the only neck strap I’ve used for yeas and I always recommend it. Best of all, it’s perfect for any size camera both big and small and even has detachable clips. It’s a great gift for sure.
Las Vegas Then and Now
I’m a Las Vegas native and I still remember the summer nights of driving down the bright lights of Fremont Street before it was an “experience”. I was there when they fired off the cannons at the Treasure Island which triggered the Dunes Hotel to implode. I even have some poker chips from the stardust and a deck of cards from the Marina Hotel, which was remodeled and incorporated into the MGM Grand towers. I’ve seen Las Vegas so through some really radical transformations through the years and all if it and more is visually captured in this great book by Su Kim Chung. She has assembled an awesome book of archival photos and diagrams of the old Las Vegas compared with the new. When guests come over my home it’s the first coffee table book the gravitate to and it’s a huge hit with anyone who loves Las Vegas as much as I do. This makes a great gift for yourself or for your friend or loved one who is fascinated with the great history of Las Vegas.
Beginner to Intermediate Photography Classes
This might be the holiday season where you or a friend or loved one gets a new DSLR camera. Maybe you are going to have a New Years resolution to actually learn how to use that digital camera that never leaves the full automatic setting. Well, now is your chance. I have taught literally thousands of people around the world the basics of digital photography and now I can teach you too! I offer my Las Vegas based classes six times a year with the next one being on January 18th, 2014. In this class you will learn:
- What the different buttons do on your camera.
- How to properly expose your photos.
- Understanding how light works and how it affects your photos.
- The best times of day or night to shoot and why.
- How to stay organized with your photography.
- The best ways to capture moving objects.
- How to properly compose a great photo and the “rule of thirds”.
- The basics of using a flash both indoors and out.
- Understanding how to set your camera for different depths of field (how to blur your backgrounds or keep them in focus).
- How to adjust your camera for different lighting conditions
- How your specific camera and lens works and understanding their strenghts and weaknesses.
- Everyday shooting…what to look for and how to shoot it.
- Proper cleaning and maintenance of your equipment and much, much more!
The class will consist of 2 hours instruction in a local photography studio and three hours on location in different parts of Las Vegas. Whether you just got a new digital camera and want to know how to use it or you have always wanted to learn more about photography and how to take better photos of friends and family, this class is for you! As a special added bonus, for the last hour of our class we will have a professional model available to work with you on composition, lighting, and to gain experience in taking photographs of people with an industry professional to help you along the way!
If you are coming to Las Vegas and are interested in getting some amazing photos to remember your trip, I specialize in shooting on the Strip for bachelorette parties, engagement photos, family photos, girls and guys night out, and more! When you want to book a shoot please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call today to reserve a time to make some memories that will last a lifetime!