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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 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. 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 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!

For the Nikon lover, this awesome coffee mug looks just like a 24-70mm lens! Stainless Steel inside and is a LOT cheaper than the real lens, that’s for sure! $14.99


If you or your loved one happens to be an unfortunate Canon shooter, well, there’s luck for you too. 🙂  $18.49



Gorilla Pods

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… 71mhQSGIyHL._SL1500_   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 51aMa99juHL._SL1500_




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.

Fits any camera with a hot shoe including Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Sigma, Panasonic Sony, and others  $11.99





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!

Build your own camera and shoot color or black-and-white film. $17.95 511Ble98q9L




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.

Complete bundle includes the camera, 16GB SDHC storage card, handle bar and roll bar mount. Price: $299 JVC GC-XA2 ADIXXION Flexible Camera Mount: Price $14.33 adixxion mount   Suction Cup Mount. Price: $19.49 adixxion suction cup


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.

Domke 701-83A F-803 Camera Satchel Bag. Price: $99.88 512sNIgkbNL


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.

Professional cleaning kit for DSLR cameras. Price: $14.99 71gYgtQRkYL._SL1500_




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.

OP/Tech 1501372 Neoprene Pro Loop Strap. Comes in 8 different colors. Price: $20.50 41Ra63fuo-L




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.

Las Vegas Then and Now 2012 Hardcover Edition. Price: $14.26


las vegas then and now




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!


gift card-sm


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 or call today to reserve a time to make some memories that will last a lifetime!

Why You Hire A Professional Photographer – Your Photos vs. Mine


This is perhaps my most ambitious blog topic to date. To start the new year of 2012 I wanted to write about a topic to which I’ve been receiving a large number of emails about lately. The most recent of which arrived in my Inbox last month. Melinda from Atlantic City wrote, “Hi Adam. My husband and I are coming to Las Vegas next Spring for our anniversary and I want to hire you to take some photos of us around the Strip while we are there. I’m sold on your work but my husband has said that we have a good point-and-shoot camera we will be taking with us so what is the value of hiring a professional photographer? Please help me sell him on this!”

It’s an excellent question Melinda! While I can go on and on about the technical details of professional equipment and my years of experience in photography, I thought it would be best to actually show you the difference. To do so, I decided to conduct an experiment with the sole purpose of answering this question. To do so I setup a series of photo shoots up and down the Las Vegas Strip, just as I do with the many dozens of couples, birthday parties, and bachelor/bachelorette parties I shoot all year long. This time, I made use of a professional model as my muse.

This is Crystel Rivera. She is a professional model here in Las Vegas and perhaps one of the most talented and professional ones I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. A Las Vegas native, Crystel started go-go dancing in the major casino nightclubs when she was 18 and fell into modeling at the same time. She has been featured in FHM Magazine, on Penn & Teller’s show “BS!” on Showtime, and currently works as a Playboy Bunny at the Palms Hotel & Casino. (At the time of this blog, Crystel is redoing  her website but if you are interested in booking her for an event or photo shoot, you can do so via email at  

To conduct the experiment I would photograph Crystel in different poses in different locations. While I do have lots of high-end, portable lighting equipment which I frequently use on the Strip, I decided to keep this simple and only shoot Crystel with the photographic equipment I could carry in a camera bag.

Here is the fun part of the experiment comes in. I also brought along a small, point-and-shoot camera as well. Specifically the Samsung ST100. It’s an outstanding little camera I bought for my wife and it takes wonderful photos. gives it a 4.5 out of 5 stars and while we paid much more for it over a year ago when it was new, it currently sells for $234.94, making it a mid-priced camera it its class.

Here are the rules I set for this experiment. So that I can remain an impartial person in this test, I handed the point-and-shoot camera  to a complete stranger on the street and asked them to photograph Crystel. These strangers would give her direction to pose and then take as many photos as they liked until they were satisfied with the results. They would take her photo using fully automatic settings in the point-and-shoot, just as the vast majority of people do when they use their own cameras on vacation. I would then go and take a photo of my own of Crystel in the same location but utilize my over 15 years of experience in working with models and using top-notch professional camera gear to get my own result. Crystel was instructed not to add too many creative poses for the different photographers but to take direction from whomever was shooting her to get the resulting photos. So I present to you the side-by-side comparison of both shots in each location. One shot by an amateur with amateur equipment, one shot with a professional with professional equipment. All the "Before" photos were left as-is, as your average person does not have access to advanced retouching tools as I do such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, as well as all the other plugins, filters, and after effect tools. What you will see first is the image captured by the amateur followed by the photo taken by myself and retouched as if it were one of my clients. In some cases you'll see more than one image from me as I was able to get a bit more creative in the results from some locations. Let’s take a look at the results!


























The photos pretty much explain my point for me. The ones with the Samsung point-and-shoot camera took some fairly good photos at times, but in most cases the images were washed out, devoid of any emotion or depth, or just created bad photographs. I was recently doing a photo shoot for the television show Vegas Strip (seen on TruTV) and I was shooting some photos of one of Las Vegas' Finest for the show. I got some really creative shots with him and his squad car on the Strip and when I showed him what I shot in the camera he said, "Wow, your camera takes really good photos" to which I responded with, "Yeah, and the guy behind it had a little something to do with it too" and we had a good laugh. Part of the reason I wanted to hand the smaller camera over to a stranger on the street was to prove that many people take snapshots whereas a professional photographer with years of experience knows how to take a camera and capture a moment…create a memory as it were.

With the advancements of digital photography, picture-taking is more prevalent in society now than ever before. Chances are that if you probably have a camera in your mobile phone plus an additional camera somewhere in your home. Most people are familiar with posting their photos to Flickr or Facebook nowadays without even a second thought. And while we live in a society of shutterbugs, many people often lose sight in the importance of hiring a professional photographer for their events, their businesses, or even their vacations. I often tell my clients that a person with a cell phone creates a fun photo for Facebook, a professsional photographer creates something to hang on the wall.


Before writing this blog, I sent these photos over to Melinda, the woman from Atlantic City I mentioned in the opening of this blog entry and she showed them to her husband. We are now booked to shoot her Anniversary photos in April. If you are coming to Las Vegas for any important event or even just to capture some awesome souvenir photos on the Strip, email me at or call me directly at 702-204-1740 for questions and availability.

My Suggested Photography Reading List

The last several months I've been teaching several walk-around photography classes for beginners here in Las Vegas. One of the most common questions people ask me is what are some good resources to expand their knowledge of photography, whether it's as simple as taking better vacation photos or how to learn more about the different settings that are in the camera. Over the years, I've collected a wide variety of great photography books, some as old as the 1930s. So I started amassing a list for those interested whenever they asked me but then it's a matter of tracking down the books either online or at the local bookstore which may or may not have them all the time. To make things easier, I started going through my book collection and I've found some of my favorite resources for digital photography. These are books which will not only help those who barely know where the "ON" button is on their camera all the way up to the professional, working photographer.


The first series of books I suggest everyone look into are the Digital Field Guides published by Wiley Publishing. For many years these have been my first go-to books for learning about anything with my camera. While the manual that came with your camera is a great resource for specific technical information, you ultimately want to learn how to apply all that information into taking better photos. These Field Guides are an outstanding companion to your existing camera manual. The best part about them is they really present all the techie, nerdy information and put it into words that anyone can understand. So if you're using any major DSLR camera brand, this should be the first thing you buy for it.


Once you have one of these books specific to your camera, you might want to investigate some of the "Dummies" or "Idiot's Guide" books on photography. Don't be insulted by the name…the books in these series are written by outstanding authors and professionals in their craft. They explain the different common terms in photography such as exposure, shutter speed, ISO, etc. They explain the difference between types of cameras and lenses and give you an excellent starting point to understanding not just how your camera works, but how you can use this information to take much better photos. When you are just starting out in photography, you want to start here.


Once you have started to master the basic understandings of the photography vocabulary, have a good, working knowledge of the basics of photography, then you can start to move up to the more intermediate or advanced books. Some authors/photographers of these to whom I highly recommend are Bryan Peterson, Tom Ang, and David duChemin just to name a few.

Since my list is really rather extensive in all these categories, I'm going to save you a lot of time and give you a link to my personal, suggested reading list. I have personally read all of the beginner, Intermediate and Advanced level books I own all the books in the Intermediate to Advanced level books in my library.

To to go my personal, suggested reading list and order any of the books direct through Amazon, simply go to:

If you have personally read any of these books and would like to provide some feedback here or if you have any great photography books you would suggest, please leave a comment. Also, if you are ever interested in attending one of my walk-around photography classes for beginner to intermediate level photographers here in Las Vegas, please shoot me an email at I teach the classes once a month.