Gift ideas for photographers with too much photo junk

21 Dec
The tripod standing desk, just one way to repurpose an old clunky three-legged friend.

By now you’ve pored over photo holiday gift guides that include everything from that $ 1500 lens no one will buy you to the ubiquitous camera lens mug you already have. Those lists are helpful when you’re searching for gifts for a photographer. But what about the unfortunate people around you, the ones who don’t understand this photo obsession and yet still call you first when they need ‘some pictures taken with a good camera, like the one you have?’ Isn’t it your duty to help them share your love of photography?

Not entirely unrelated, since you did end up buying that $ 1500 lens for yourself after all, perhaps you need gift ideas that don’t cost a lot of money. Well, friend, you’re in luck! Because if you’re like us, you already own scads of photo equipment, most of which is probably in a closet or on a shelf or piled haphazardly in a corner next to five camera bags you’ve used once.

We’re here to help you repurpose those gear gems into gifts that every non-photographer on your holiday list is sure to accept politely (and then ask someone out of earshot if maybe you’ve taken this photography thing a little too far).

That’s no light stand, It’s a coat tree!

Send your rickety old light stands to the hallway, because those coats have to go somewhere.

Everyone can use a good coat tree, but few people want to buy one. Coat trees are some of the most useful and ignored furniture pieces around. All that anyone will see is the bottom two feet. That’s pretty much how we think of light stands, right? So why not turn your discarded stands into coat trees?

Grab a handful of S hooks from the hardware store, pop them into the top of that neglected light stand and viola! You’ve got a useful coat tree that will do more than keep clothes off the floor. To ensure that the gift is ready to serve its new purpose for years, be sure to tighten up all of the knobs and joints and peel off those dingy strips of gaffer tape. At the top of the stand, unscrew the post so the open tube will accept the S hooks. If you’re crafty, you can whip up some alternative hooks using any old Manfrotto posts, clamps or pins.

Chef’s helper

They can always use an extra hand in the kitchen, and with some grip gear they’ll have one!

For the chefs on your list, dig deep into that box of old lighting equipment for some creative helping hands. Join a clamp to a gooseneck or Magic Arm then finish with another clamp or clip and you have a cool kitchen tool that’s as unique as it is useful. When cook books and iPads need holding, it will be there to remind your loved one that you care. For the outdoor grillers on your list, a clamp and arm setup that holds a battery-powered light will keep them cooking late into the night. For the bakers in your life, a small clamp that can keep a beloved recipe card in sight and out of the fray will bring a smile to their flour-dappled face.

Lens-friendly fashions

Turn a few dozen of your tired microfiber lens cloths into useful fashion accessories.

Everyone has lenses that could use some cleaning. As photographers we hoard lens cloths and it’s likely you have more than you need. Repurpose some of those little microfiber squares into useful items with a little needlework, and the bespectacled on your list will thank you every time they clean their specs. Sew several into a soft and colorful scarf or get really clever and stitch one into the inside of a jacket or shirt’s hem for a more discreet approach. If you are up to your neck in lens cloths, go crazy and sew a quilt! No matter how you put them together, anyone who has had to clean their glasses on the bottom of their t-shirt will appreciate your thoughtful gift.

Camera Straps as Fashion

That strap you wouldn’t be caught dead using can become a killer fashion accessory.

Your kids, nieces, nephews, and possibly even grandkids love to repurpose old things into fashionable accessories. If a tangled mess of old camera straps is hiding in your closet, it’s time to turn something you will never use into Instagram gold. Your younger VSCO Girl relatives will absolutely love their CANON EOS 40D camera strap belt with body cap/lens cap buckle! Why not turn those garish Nikon D700 straps into suspenders? And don’t forget the wrist straps: that old Fuji wrist strap will look dope dangling a HydroFlask.

Whatever they come up with as they transform your cast-off camera box clutter, you will surely end up being GOAT – the Greatest Of All Time. But you knew that, right? Yes, you are lit.

Hip Beverage Porter

If it will safely cradle thousands of dollars worth of lenses, it’ll do dandy keeping some beer cold.

Never mind that a soft-goods designer spent days obsessing over the dividers in that old camera pack sitting in your closet. Your hip friend or relative will be overjoyed to see how well your retired camera bag holds a six pack of cold brews and some nosh in style. Those carefully crafted padded pockets will keep the chillest of beverages pleasingly cool as your bud rides their electric scooter or one-wheeled contraption to the beach. Larger camera packs can handle growlers, while those dedicated tripod pockets snugly pack gluten-free baguettes for the trip. Why spring for a $ 200 Yeti cooler when your old Think Tank bag will do the trick?

SAD no more therapy lamp

Any daylight-balanced light table or continuous light can make a SAD person very happy.

For those of us in Northern latitudes, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is no laughing matter. The winter months bring less sunlight and moods suffer. Fortunately, daylight-balanced light sources, especially really bright ones, can serve as therapy for those stricken with SAD. Locate that long-forgotten light table from your film days and dust it off. Peel off any labels that give away its former life and replace them with fun stickers of cartoon suns. Prop it in a corner, turn it on, stare into its captivating glow, and feel the dreariness of winter melt away. You can do the same with any continuous light sources that reach daylight color temperatures (5,000 degrees Kelvin or higher).

If the light table as therapy lamp no longer does the trick for your beloved gift recipient, they can repurpose it as a trendy place to display their craft liquor bottle collection. The uplighting will lend an air of sophistication and style to the expensive craft whiskey that many turn to when winter’s dark chill becomes too harsh.

Read anywhere with a GorilLED-Pod

Print books aren’t dead, and neither is that adjustable-legged piece of sculpture in your camera bag.

We remember when the coolest-looking piece of electronics was the book-mounted reading lamp. (Yeah, we were nerds.) You could read a book late into the night without disturbing others, and the light illuminated just the pages.

Except… the size of the book heavily influenced whether the lamp was too heavy or not. And the light bulbs heated up and burned out quickly. And you had to either string a cord to a power outlet or deal with replaceable batteries. Although we still spy reading lamps sold in discerning mail-order catalogs, we rarely see them in use anywhere.

Clearly, the solution is to uncouple the light from the book. And you no doubt have just the pieces to do it: attach a small LED panel to a flexible GorillaPod tripod and your favorite bookworm can place that light anywhere. Wrap it around a bedpost. Perch it on the edge of a side table. Heck, clamp it to your skull and you’ll be the coolest, most literary miner in history.

Le Tripod Lampe

Nothing says hip more than a tripod working as a lamp.

We know the sad, all-too-familiar sequence of events: You need a tripod, but the initial sticker shock of most models pushes you into the cloying arms of the Best Buy camera section, where tripods can be had for roughly the price of the latest discounted Adam Sandler movie. But hey, it holds a camera, right? Who needs it to be all bougie and carbon fiber?

And then one of the tripod’s legs slowly and consistently loses its fight with gravity. Or it gets dented because you laid it gently on a soft surface. So you buy another, slightly more expensive tripod, that doesn’t quite do the job either. And then you gradually move up to one you’re mostly happy with, having spent far more than you could have spent in the first place.

Call them “shame-pods” or whatever helps you sleep better, but we all have a few old tripods we shouldn’t have bought but we did. Instead of leaning them against a dark corner of your basement, upcycle them into trendy lamps.

Attach a fixture to the top (we’re sure you have some clamps lying around) and a stylish lampshade (lighting umbrella perhaps?), and you’ve got yourself a lamp with photographic character. The warm light it will bring to a friend will help you feel better about buying that piece of junk in the first place.

iMonoPod walking stick

Pair an old monopod with an iPhone mount and you’ve got a walking stick with a kick.

We photographers tend to accumulate monopods as well as tripods. Turns out, those not-so-handy one-footed unstable camera stabilizers make great walking sticks. Throw a smartphone mount on the top and anyone with a decent wireless plan can stream their favorite shows while they rack up some steps. Now the trekking aunt or uncle on your list can keep up with Downton Abbey while strolling their favorite scenic valley. If you really want to up the wow factor, add a Lume Cube or GoPro rig for live streaming fun.

A Three-Legged Table that Stands on Its Own

Did we say “lamp” earlier? Go with a less-complicated option that can hold a beverage.

When you bought that old tripod, you scrutinized the load limit to make sure it would hold a DSLR and a 100-400mm lens. But did you properly factor the weight of a beer, phone charger, and assortment of TV remotes? Attach a plank of wood to an Arca Swiss plate and snap the whole thing to the half-stuck ballhead on the tripod to create a simple side table. As a bonus, you can pop that tabletop off when you need to press the tripod into service. And if your house or apartment’s floor is uneven, no problem: with three legs, a ballhead, and the little level bubble built into many tripods, you can ensure that your drinks stay slosh-proof.

Adventurous Standing Desk

Mount a small table on a tripod for the ultimate adventure desk.

For those who must use computers for work, it can begin to feel like a ball and chain dragging them into lives of sedentary stupor. Standing desks can help, but standing in a cubicle or a basement office is only going to elevate one so far. Why not take the standing desk outside? Way outside! By screwing a base plate onto a simple plywood platform, you can turn any old sturdy tripod into a miracle of modern technology. Be sure the platform or table you create is large enough for the user’s laptop and the tripod reaches the proper height for comfortable use. When you give someone a portable standing desk you give them freedom, and that’s a gift they will never forget. If it turns out they don’t like it, they can always use it as a tripod. Or a tripod lamp!

Repurpose for a good purpose

Being a photographer usually comes with a serious case of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). One of the complications the syndrome brings is a feeling of guilt as you accumulate shiny things and deflate your bank account. The holidays are a wonderful time to rid yourself of some of that guilt and a lot of the stuff you shouldn’t have bought. Think of this time as a kind of GAS therapy, because everyone knows it is better to give than to receive (unless you’re talking about that sweet little prime lens no one will ever know you snuck into your cart).

In this world of digital gift cards and two-day shipping of the newest photographic gear, people increasingly value homemade, analog gifts. And by ‘people’ we mean ‘the folks still on your list for whom you have no idea what to give.’ They’ll surely appreciate the time, effort, and sacrifice (‘if only they knew how much I paid for this originally’) that goes into your upcycled creations.

And if they balk at your offerings, remind them that the holidays are times for selflessness, for bestowing upon them the richness of photographic history and the ongoing lineage of Chinese injection molded design. As the old adage goes, ‘One photographer’s old garbage is… someone else’s new, slightly adapted garbage.’

Happy holidays.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (

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