7 clichéd photography gifts to avoid (and what to buy instead)

29 Nov

7 clichéd photography gifts to avoid this season

What follows is a list of seven of the most common cliched gifts likely to be received by photographers this holiday season, based on informal polling around the DPReview office.

If you’re thinking about giving that special photographer in your life one of these items, we implore you, consider our alternatives. No one needs another damn camera lens mug.

Camera lens mug or shot glass

There’s nothing worse than stumbling upon a Canon 70-200 F2.8 for a bargain price in a second-hand store only to discover it’s actually just a stupid mug. Damn you, lens mug. Damn you.

It’s a camera lens – wait, no. It’s a mug! How novel! But the thing is, every photographer on planet Earth already has one of these. And the truth is, most of them are pretty crappy when it coms to their primary function: transporting beverages and keeping them warm. And woe unto you if you leave it in your car cupholder, only to come back and find a brick through your window and your imitation 70-200mm F4L mug missing. It’s happened.

Rather then gift a piece of junk that’ll likely get pushed to the back of the cabinet or end up filled with pens, how about gifting that special photographer some nice coffee, or tea? We’re a hard-working bunch and will likely appreciate the caffeine. Better yet, throw in a decent-quality mug or vacuum thermos. We’ll think of you every time we sip.

Camera or photography-themed clothing

Do you love photography? Great, keep it to yourself! (or at least off your shirt). Also if you need a Pix 2015 Tee, just say the word. We’ve got loads.

I don’t know many photographers that feel a strong urge to walk around in clothing that advertises their profession or hobby. So kindly hold off on buying the cheesy T-shirt with the silhouette of a camera on it that says ‘I shoot people,’ or that other one that says ‘Everyone’s a photographer until…’ with an image of a mode dial set to ‘M.’ We’ll stick to dressing in all black or in geeky photo vests, thank you very much.

But seriously, rather than getting photographers cheesy apparel that’ll likely end up in the donation bin, get us a nice article of clothing, like a soft sweater, a thermal layer, or some camera-friendly gloves to keep warm this winter.

See also: Photography-themed cuff links, lapel pins, tie clips and watches.

Smartphone camera accessories

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather just reach for a Ricoh GR III than carry around the clunk-master above.

There’s a whole market for add-on accessories like lenses and grips, meant to improve the experience and/or output of your smartphone’s camera. The truth is, most photographers would rather reach for a dedicated camera than bulk out their phone. After all, the appeal of the smartphone camera is that it’s always on you because it’s pocketable.

So instead of gifting something that’ll likely get left behind, give that special photographer a smartphone accessory they’ll actually use: a decent USB power pack for charging on the go (and many can often top up the batteries in newer cameras as well). It may be the tube sock equivalent of tech gifts, but it’s an item anyone can genuinely appreciate.

Thrift store camera finds

Sure she looks pretty, but the electronics are fried, the focus ring won’t turn and there’s something strange growing in the viewfinder… not exactly the most useful gift.

Nothing beats unwrapping something like a Yashica Electro-35 and being told ‘I found this at Goodwill and thought of you’, only to find that it has a seized up focus ring and mold in the finder. Here’s the thing: When it comes to shopping for cameras on the second-hand market, knowledge is power and research is king.

While a classic fixed-lens rangefinder sure looks great, there’s a risk that it’s really just a moldy paperweight. Don’t be the person that gifts a moldy paperweight. If you’re serious about getting someone a second-hand camera, awesome! We’ve put together two lists of reliable and affordable film cameras that are easy to acquire used. Check them out here and here.

‘Inspirational’ photo books and/or how-to’s

Skip the lame photo how-to books and cheesy inspirational ones and instead opt for something that shows off a celebrated shooter’s work.

Inspiration is obviously a very important part of the creative process. However, there are a ton of lackluster supposedly inspirational photography books on the market. The same can be said for photography how-to books: there’s a lot of them out there, but many are out-of-date and / or dull.

So rather than pick any old photography-related book, I implore you to do a little research. Find out who that special someone looks up to photographically and purchase a photo book by that person. If you’re unsure who their favorite ‘tog is, put on you sleuth hat and check their Instagram ‘following’ list. Chances are they probably follow some of their favorite shooters. If you’re still unsure, go for a classic like ‘The Americans’ by the late Robert Frank or ‘Street Photographer’ a collection of images by the late Vivian Maier.

A stylish or overly-technical camera strap or camera bags

If you wouldn’t feel comfortable picking out a pair of underwear for the photographer in your life, don’t get them a bag or strap either.

Camera straps come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and materials. Some are woven, others are leather, rope or neoprene. Some offer quick-releases and / or neck-padding and/or length adjustments, others do not. So how do you choose the right strap this season? You don’t.

Photographers are very particular about their straps and trying to pick one out for that special someone is not unlike buying them a pair of pants – only they can tell whether the fit and feel are right. It’s worth noting camera bags and backpacks fall into a similar category of ‘definitely don’t buy unless you’re absolutely sure.’

But if you insist on purchasing a camera strap this holiday season, the Peak Design Slide offers a good balance of features, weight-capacity and price. We’re also fans of CAM-IN’s leather and rope straps.

The photographers’ work printed on something

OK, maybe we’d be happy with a Belvedere mug.

Receiving a personalized gift is nice, but generally speaking, most photographers don’t want to be gifted framed prints of their own work to hang on the wall (we’ll do that ourselves, if there’s a picture we’re particularly proud of), nor do they want their photos printed on items like a throw pillow, a blanket or a coffee mug. It’s a little crass to so blatantly show off your own pictures.

Instead, most of us would much prefer a print of someone else’s work to hang on our walls and inspire us. Legendary photo agencies like Magnum and VII often do $ 100 signed, small-sized print sales. And other famous photographers’ work like the late Ansel Adams can be found for sale directly through their estate’s official website.

In conclusion

Honestly, if you can’t think of anything else, just get us a big roll of gaffer tape.

There you have it, seven clichéd photography-related gifts to avoid giving this year and what to give instead. We hope this list inspires you to better understand that special photographer in your life and their desires. And don’t worry if you’ve given some of these gifts in the past, we all make mistakes. Maybe this year you can make up for it.

To our fellow photographers: If you’ve been on the receiving end of another lackluster photo gift that we missed, let us know in the comments. We’ll add to this article as we see fit.

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