If you’re shopping for a photographer this Christmas, here are my best gift ideas (sorted in order of increasing price):
Michael Freeman’s Photo School Fundamentals: Exposure, Light & Lighting, Composition. Michael Freeman has been writing my favorite photo tutorial books for decades. Even experts will find some inspiration here and the book is also good for experts because experts are often called upon to teach beginners.
CowboyStudio light tent. Camera phones have pretty reasonable macro capabilities. If placed outdoors on a sunny day, this will enable some interesting photos of smaller items. Usually it is better to improve the lighting and background than to get a fancier camera.
Westcott folding reflector is a great way to work with natural light but remove shadows from eye sockets and/or add some warmth to the image.
tripod plates and/or ballheads for existing cameras from Really Right Stuff
Genesis by Sebastiao Salgado, arguably the photo book of the year.
On This Earth, A Shadow Falls or Across the Ravaged Land by Nick Brandt. Amazing books because he used film(!) and short lenses to photograph elephants. It is a totally different perspective than the usual long-lens wildlife photo.
a softbox lighting kit is the foundation of most portrait studios
gift certificate for aerial photography at your local flight school (helicopters are ideal)
A Sony NEX camera is perfect for parents because nearly all of the models have rear LCDs that flip up, enabling eye-level photographs of younger children without the grown-up having to bend down. The kit 16-50mm lens is remarkably compact (it retracts when you shut the camera off) and high quality considering the price. The NEX-6 has an eye-level viewfinder that is useful in very bright conditions. The NEX-3 and NEX-5 offer excellent image quality and are as cheap as $370 including lens. Add a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover camera bag if you’re planning to get additional lenses.
Apple iPhone 5s. The practical capability of the iPhone camera is vastly better than similarly spec’d Android devices. The 5s in particular has some interesting innovations that improve image quality.
Carl Zeiss Optical 8×42 Victory HT Binocular. Photographers love good optics. If your loved one does not have binoculars, these are at the top of almost every comparative review.
Sony a7R (check this review on The Verge). This camera has the image quality of the Nikon D800E, the world’s highest quality conventional camera, but in a point-and-shoot-style “mirrorless” format. The body doesn’t do anything without a lens, so add the Sony/Zeiss 35/2.8 lens. Don’t get this camera if the recipient’s main interests are photographing sports, wildlife, or portraits. For those, he or she will still need a traditional Nikon, Canon, or similar SLR system.
Zeiss Otus 55/1.4 lens for Nikon (also available for Canon). Check the DxoMark review. This may be the best consumer lens ever made and is perhaps the only lens that can bring out the full potential of the Nikon D800/D800E.
Canon 200-400/4L 1.4x soccer mom lens. This is a revolutionary zoom lens for Canon EOS system users. Good for sports and wildlife. Don’t forget the Lowepro Lens Trekker 600 AW II Backpack for when the recipient needs to walk more than 10 feet from the car.
Hasselblad H5D-60 medium format digital camera. Good for studio photography of people and clothing. Budget another $20,000 for a few lenses…
[Comments from readers with better gift ideas would be welcome. Also I wish someone who uses a medium format system would tell me why it is better than a D800!]