Through the Gadling Lens: great gifts for the travelling photographer

I don’t know about you, but this holiday season has completely gotten away from me (note to self: do not travel again anytime between Halloween and Christmas, particularly if Thanksgiving comes late in the year). We’ve managed to get our holiday decorations up, but we’ve hardly done any Christmas shopping so far, and time is running out and …

… *sigh*.

Anyway, if, like me, you’re starting to run out of time, and you happen to have a photog in the family who likes to travel (or happen to be the travelling photographer, and are looking for some ideas for hint-dropping purposes), here’s a list of some great gifts you might want to consider:
1. A camera bag. Even if your favourite photographer already has a camera bag, trust me, s/he wouldn’t mind another. The trick about buying a good camera bag however, is to ensure that (a) there’s enough padding inside to cushion the camera from any possible impacts, and (b) it doesn’t scream “camera” while walking in crowded public places or airports.

Personally, I enjoy my Crumpler backpack (shown here) — it’s got a padded section for my camera, my laptop, and a bit of room for other things — and it doesn’t look like a camera bag. In addition, Loewpro also has a great selection of camera backpacks and other bags, and some of them don’t look very distinguishable from any other type of non-camera bag.

And for those who use point-and-shoots, there are some great small padded pouches out there for you to toss in your bigger bags, but still keep your camera (or other camera-related stuff) safe. Check out Etsy for handmade, unique options.

2. A small travel tripod. Until recently, I thought of a travel tripod as a sort of gadgety luxury — but last month, when I taking a photograph of the Houses of Parliament in London at dusk, trying to balance my camera on a rain-slicked banister, and petrified the camera would take a tumble into the Thames below, I realized that perhaps a travel tripod might be something great to have at the bottom of my camera bag.

Travel tripods come in all shapes and sizes (and capabilities) — check out Pedcopods and Gorillapods for two more popular versions.

3. Mailable photo frames. This idea actually comes from one of my colleagues, Sarah, at Shutter Sisters — these handy little photo frames that are actually customizable postcards. Says Sarah: “When I was on vacation in September, I sent my daughter Cadence’s best friend custom postcards using the mailable photo frame from Photojojo (I’d print my shots at a local Wolf/Ritz and mail the postcard from wherever we happened to be).”

This seems like a great stocking stuffer for a loved one who is planning an extensive trip in 2009, and is intent on taking a camera along — a great way to receive very personal news from far away, and then display it immediately! Awesome.

4. A subscription to a magazine known for its photography. I don’t mean this in a read-Playboy-for-the-articles way, I’m talking about periodicals that are famous for their cutting-edge imagery and contributing photographers. Shutterbugs are always looking for inspiration, and I, for one, would love a subscription to a magazine like American Photo, National Geographic, or Vanity Fair, to name a few. Figure out what type of photography your loved one is inspired by, and shop accordingly. Not only will the magazine provide some cool ideas for capturing images, your recipient will have some good reading to take along with them on those interminable flights. Bonus.

5. A cool camera strap. Earlier this year, I went on a trip with 12 other women — we all rented a home on the Oregon coast for a 4-day getaway. As it happened, a large percentage of us were photographers — which meant that cameras were everywhere. I have to tell you, whether you’re a Nikon fan or a Canon fan or a whatever-other-brand fan: cameras look a LOT alike. At times it became damned near impossible to tell the difference from one camera to the next — and God help you if you just rested your camera somewhere for a minute. Sometimes I thought I’d never see my camera again.

A few of the more savvy of our group, however, had replaced their camera’s store-issue camera strap with some really distinctive straps, making it easy to spot their camera from 10 paces. When I returned home, I purchased a couple for my own cameras. I think they’d make a unique gift — and as with the camera bags, Etsy is a great place to find some unusual ones.

6. Picture frames. I have to say, I’m awful about displaying my photographs in my own home — yet there’s nothing I love better than visiting someone’s home that has tons of photographs around, chronicling their travels and their lives. If your favourite photographer is similar, why not buy a few cool frames to nudge her into showing her work with pride? And on a related note, consider a gift of this book, with all sorts of great ideas on how to display your photos. I purchased it a couple of months ago, and it’s truly inspiring. I haven’t actually used any of the ideas yet, but maybe if someone buys me some picture frames …

7. Practical paraphernalia. It’s not particularly romantic or clever, but photographers can never have too many memory cards or polarizing filters, batteries or microfiber lens clothes for their cameras — just make sure you know the size of their lenses or the make and model of the specific camera, and go for it. In the alternative, if you’re afraid that all of this sounds far too technical to trust to your own judgment, a gift certificate to a local camera specialty store would always be welcome.

8. Fun stuff. And finally, there are some really cool things out there that a photographer might not think to purchase for himself, but would love to t
ry. Consider purchasing a Lensbaby, a lens which focuses one point of an image, and then warps the outer edges, creating a cool effect (see Willy Volk’s example to the right). Or, how about a super-secret spy lens: this handy contraption allows you to point your camera in any direction, misleading your subject into thinking you’re taking a picture of something else. Fantastic.

And finally, although this is technically not for still photography, it’s unreal how many photographers I’ve spoken to who said they want the Flip Video Camcorder for Christmas. And starting at US$ 149.99, for a camcorder, this is a real bargain.

Happy shopping everyone! As always, keep sending your great questions to, and I’ll try to tackle them in upcoming posts. In the meantime, keep clicking.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
And for more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.