The Best Photography Gifts – Holiday Gear Guide 2010

I regularly get asked for recommendations on what gear people should start out with, use, and upgrade to, so I thought that this year I'd put together a list for the holidays.

Here's my list of recommendations if you're looking for ways to spend your hard-earned money on that best of gifts: photography equipment.

As always, any purchases you make through my affiliate links helps support and bring you features, reviews, and photo tips.

Photo Software

Adobe Lightroom 3 – $169.99

I use Adobe Lightroom 3 for just about all my photo processing needs. For my workflow, there's nothing faster or easier for cataloging, editing, and exporting images. While the first and second editions never quite satisfied my needs for a RAW processor, the new camera profiles in Lightroom 3 have laid to rest for me any concerns about the quality of the files this program is capable of delivering – even when compared to Nikon's own Capture NX 2.

With Lightroom, I'm able to import files, tag, and organize huge numbers of images, as well as apply batch processing to quickly and easily process images. In fact, the retouching & processing tools in Lightroom are so good that I very rarely even open Photoshop anymore for the majority of my work. Furthermore, plugins for PhotoShelter, Flickr, and Facebook make uploading the images a breeze once they're ready to go.

Normally, Lightroom carries a $299 pricetag – and it's worth every penny (it  better be, I paid full price). However, if you don't already have it, now is the time to grab it, because has Lightroom 3 for $199.99 with free shipping. For that math-impaired, that's a fantastic price – though not quite as good as the $149.99 was offering on the Black Friday sale.

Photo Websites & Services


PhotoShelter is a professional photo service that I use for my image hosting, print fulfillment, online storage, and archiving. For me, the beauty of PhotoShelter is that it lives up to the digital dream of a one-upload workflow.

After uploading the final high-resolution file to PhotoShelter, I can FTP it to publications, allow private proofing by clients, offer prints for sale, and link to web-sized versions that I post to my blog. No more sending files in very direction every time I need a different end-use – In short, it makes a digital workflow just about as painless as it can be. For any photographer, PhotoShelter is a tool that can help you grow, reach new clients, and simplify your workflow.

Graph Paper Press

Graph Paper Press is a company that makes great WordPress themes for photographers. In fact, I dare say that they offer some of the very best WP themes out there for anyone. Better yet, GPP and PhotoShelter have great integration, so it's simple to customize a site and build in immediate access to your archives for clients and print sales. GPP is what I personally use to power

UPDATE: The fine folks at GPP are offering a whopping 40% off their annual subscription – just use the coupon code 079C978894 through Monday, November 29, 2010. Worth a shot trying that code even after that date, FYI.


The Big Guns

If you're looking to pull the trigger on a DSLR like the Nikon D7000, Nikon D3s, Canon 5D Mark II, or Canon 7D, or big fat lenses, I suggest heading over to my Gear Guide for a detailed list of the equipment that I regularly use. Or, feel free to hit me up in the comments and I will be happy to give you some buying advice.

P&S Camera

Panasonic LX-5 – $420

The Panasonic LX-5 is a professional's P&S camera – a serious compact, if you will. While it's not as small as the little Canon S95 or as fully-featured as the beefy Canon G12, in my opinion the LX-5 strikes the perfect balance between pro features, great quality, and pocketablility.

I personally have the Panasonic LX-3 and it's a fantastic little camera when I don't want to lug around a full-sized DSLR. The LX-5 takes all the goodness from its predecessor and adds an improved sensor, a more useful 24-90mm range, and improved ergonomics and control with a jog wheel.

Photo Accessories

Black Rapid RS-7 Camera Strap – $59.95

Whenever I'm not using the Double Strap, I use a single Black Rapid strap. For me, the beauty of this strap is that you can wear it multiple ways – sling it across your body or just throw it over your shoulder, you're good to go, ready to shoot. However, what I like best about the Rapid Strap system is that the straps connect to your camera's tripod mount instead of the lugs on top.

While shooting, this translates into a huge benefit, since the strap is completely out of the way on the bottom of the camera. When you're not shooting, the camera simply hangs down out of the way, instead of having to balance from two points of connection as with a conventional camera strap.

Black Rapid Double Strap – $129.95

If you shoot with two cameras, you owe it to yourself to buy this Black Rapid strap immediate. It's two straps for the price of – well – a couple of straps, but believe me when I tell you that there is no more comfortable way to carry and shoot with two DSLRs.

No more flailing around with straps twisting on your camera's lugs or straps slipping off your shoulders. The Double Strap is what I use for each and every single concert I shoot when I use two cameras.

Better yet, if you only need to use one strap, the Double Strap can split into two individual straps, which is a great touch.

Flash Accessories

Yongnuo RF-602 Wireless Flash Trigger – $25

With an entry price of less than $25 including free worldwide shipping for a transmitter and receiver pair, the Yongnuo RF-602 flash triggers are the undisputed kings of wireless flash triggers that won't break the bank. You can get sets that work with Nikon or Canon.

I bought a pair of two transmitters and five receivers for the price of less than one single Pocketwizard Plus II. You can read more about these flash triggers in my detailed review.

Phottix Strato Wireless Flash Trigger – $72

If you're looking for a slight step up from the budget Yongnuo RF-602, my first recommendation is the Phottix Strato wireless flash trigger. This unit from Phottix offers a great user interface and build quality at a price that still kills Pocketwizards and competitors.

I've been using this trigger system on my recent shoots; it's fantastic. You can read more about the Phottix Strato in my extensive review.


Fast 50mm prime

In my opinion, every shooter shoot have at least one fast prime. If you shoot a full-frame camera like a Canon 5D Mark II or Nikon D700, either the Canon 50mm f/1.4 or the Nikon 50mm f/1.4, respectively, are great choices. I prefer the extra speed of these f/1.4 lenses over the cheaper f/1.8 lenses,  as well as their improved performance at wide apertures and the better build quality over the slower models.

For anyone shooting an APS camera, I recommend a lens like the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 or Canon 35mm f/2, which will give a perspective close to the classic 50mm range for 35mm.

Color Balancing & Calibration

Spyder 3 Express Monitor Calibrator – $74

For any serious photographer, a calibrated monitor is a must – otherwise, it's impossible to make accurate and meaningful color correction. I personally use the Spyder 3 Pro, but that's only because I work on two monitors. For a single monitor, the Spyder 3 Express offers all the same features.

The process to use the Spyder 3 is super simple – you position the sensor on the monitor, let the included software run a series of diagnostics, and then a custom monitor profile is created and set to the default for your computer. In short, you get to sit back and wait to experience that joyful experience of having a beautifully calibrated monitor with true color and optimized contrast.

Spyder Cube – $45

The Spyder Cube is a neat little accessory – it basically packs every tool you need for accurate white balancing into a tiny cube you can slip into your bag. With different faces for white, gray, shadow, specular, and absolute black points, this is a really useful accessory for any photographer that will fit into any camera bag.

In addition to use as a white balance aid, you can use the Spyder Cube as an exposure guide as well, thanks to the specific values of the gray faces.

My brother Chris bought this for me last year – it makes WB a snap.

General Awesomeness

Wacom Intuos Tablet – $199

I use a Wacom Intuos 4 tablet every day – not just for photo editing, but for pretty much anything that involves moving a cursor around a screen. If you do photo editing that requires precision of any kind, the Wacom Intuos is priceless. For me, the benefits of using a Wacom tablet are increased precision and decreased wrist strain/fatigue, both of which translate into much faster edits.

The Intuos tables come in three sizes – smallmedium, and large. I personally use the medium tablet, which has a working area of 5.5″ x 8.8″, but even the small tablet offers plenty of room. There's also a wireless Intuos 4 tablet in the medium size if you want to go all out.

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I freely share what I can through photography tutorials, my gear guide, and the shooting notes I include in every show write-up and band promo I post. Every time you buy gear through these links, it helps me bring you more features, tutorials, reviews, and photo advice. It helps me bring you the rock show.

And if you do pick up some new gear, let me know – I’d love to hear what you got!

Also, if someone else is picking up your holiday goodies, please send them a link to this page or a link to my Support Page if you want your gift to help me out!