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Buying Photography Gear As A Gift Is A Terrible Idea, Here’s What To Do Instead

Photographers are often gear obsessed; while this might make it sound like they’re easy to buy gifts for, photography gear is normally a terrible present. Here’s why and what to do instead.

Photography Gear is a Bad Gift

The photography market is basically made up of a thousand different incompatible standards. Clip A won’t fit on tripod B and X lenses certainly don’t work with Y camera, though Z adapter may make it possible.

Photography gear is also incredibly expensive. Good lenses start at a few hundred dollars and quickly go up to a couple of thousand dollars. Even a decent tripod will set you back $150.

Photographers are also very particular and often have very specific areas of interest. A landscape photographer and a portrait photographer are probably both “the photographer” to their friends and family, but the stuff they covet and what they buy will be totally different.

Combined, these three issues make buying photographers gear an absolute nightmare. Even if you can afford to buy them something, there’s a good chance it won’t work with their existing setup or won’t help them with their style of photography.

Now, there’s one caveat to this. If you know the person you’re buying for well and know a specific piece of gear they want (or they’ve asked for a particular thing) then go ahead, they’ll be delighted. I’m just talking about the kind of aimless buying that’s so common when you have to buy a gift.

Right, now we’ve ruled out gear (for the most part), let’s look at some good photography related gifts you can get them instead.

Some Learning Materials

You can always get better at everything you do and photography is no exception. One of the best gifts you can give a photographer, then, is some really great learning material.

What you go for depends on their level and what area of photography they’re interested in.

A Lynda subscription is awesome for beginners since it covers so many areas. I’m a huge fan of a lot of their courses. Lynda subscriptions start are $29.99 per month and you can buy gift cards for any amount.

If you want something a bit more photo-specific, with more options for intermediate photographers, check out KelbyOne. Plans start at $9.99/month although the only gift option is a $199 payment for a one year subscription.

For advanced or pro photographers, I’d actually suggest skipping the direct learning materials and instead get them a book by a photographer for inspiration. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment ($110) is incredible but anything by the likes of Ansel Adams or Annie Leibowitz will go down a treat. A little bit of research will pay off hugely.

A Creative Cloud Subscription

While Photoshop is the gold standard image editor, Lightroom is actually more popular with photographers. It’s a catalog app, image editor, and much more. Honestly, we think it’s an essential app. The good news is you can get both as part of a Creative Cloud subscription.

This gift goes one of two ways: either they already have a Creative Cloud subscription and you’re going to save them some money with a thoughtful present or they haven’t subscribed yet and you’re giving them access to some killer tools. Win, win.

Adobe doesn’t do gift certificates for some weird reason so you’ll have to roll your own. A subscription starts at $9.99/month.

One quick note. There is an alternative to Lightroom out there called Capture One. If you’re not sure which app they’re more likely to use (fashion photographers lean Capture One, everyone else is normally Lightroom), then sound them out first.

An Oldschool Film Camera

Now I know I said no gear but this is different. Not only are old film cameras affordable, they’re super fun and a great way to really get to grips with how a camera works. Even better, if you buy the right camera, it might even be compatible with their current lenses.

If the person you’re buying for shoots Canon, I’d recommend the Canon EOS 620. It’s the one I use and will work with any Canon lens made since the 90s. I got mine for about $40 on eBay.

For Nikon shooters, check out the F2 or the F3. You should be able to get one for about $100 and it will work with most of their lenses.

With film cameras you also need film. I’d suggest picking up a roll each of Kodak Portra, Illford HP5, and Agfa Vista Plus. Combined, they’ll set you back about $40.

Congratulations, you’ve just one the present awards.

A Photo Trip

Photography is at its best when you’re exploring a new location and you’ve got the time to spend creating shots. The top gift you can get a photographer is something you can both enjoy: a trip somewhere new.

It’s simple to mix photography in with visiting the tourist hotspots. Pick a location that you haven’t been and book flights and a hotel. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a weekend or a week, they’re going to come away with some awesome new photos.

There are lots of incredible locations for photography trips but the top one right now is probably Iceland. The stunning, moonlike landscapes, waterfalls, and crystal clear night sky make thousands of photographers visit every year.

The good news is there’s plenty for everyone. Iceland is the oldest democracy in the world, the hot springs are incredible, and the people beyond lovely.

Obviously, this isn’t the cheap option but, if you’re looking to go overboard, it’s something you’ll both remember forever. And have pictures to show off too.

Buying gifts for photographers is easy as long as you think outside the box and avoid gear that doesn’t work or they won’t use. Have you got any great suggestions?

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like the New York Times and on a variety of other websites, including Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »