Great Gifts for the Aspiring Photographers on Your List

Need to shop for a wannabe shutterbug? We've got you.

Photography gift guide
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
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French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson famously said: “Your first 10,000 shots are your worst.” American photographer Imogen Cunningham echoed him when she declared that her favorite photograph was the one she hadn’t yet taken. That’s because while photography is a visual art, it is also a craft. Enthusiasts and professionals alike dedicate their lifetimes to honing their skills—and this holiday season, you can help them. We’ve pulled together a list of photography gifts for your loved ones that will encourage them to keep practicing photography and expand their ability to see the world from a unique perspective, both with and without a camera.

On this list, you’ll find practical gifts like a camera bag that is both functional and stylish, a lightweight travel tripod, and neutral density filters to help control light exposure in different shooting scenarios. But you’ll also discover gifts that will help aspiring photographers elevate their creativity, learn about photography in fresh and interesting ways, and celebrate their work. Photography is a passionate life-long affair, and the gifts on this list are sure to delight the photographers on your list at every stage of their journey.

Fujifilm Instax Mini Camera
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist/B&H

Most content consumed today is digital, and thousands of digital images flood our phone camera rolls. But in the photographers’ world, analog is still revered; holding a print in hand feels more special than looking at images through a digital screen. This retro-styled instant camera by Fuji will help your photography enthusiast get a credit-card-sized print in hand—fast. It’s also a great addition to their travel photography kit. Instant prints can be used as leave-behind photographs for people they encounter—and take pictures of—on the road.

Custom photo book
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist/Squared

Sure, they’ve got their curated Instagram feed, but have your loved ones seen their work in print? Help your photography fan celebrate their art by creating a premium hardcover photography book or a lay-flat photo album directly from their social media feeds, phone, or laptop. The simple online editor lets you design a professional-looking product in minutes with the help of several templates. In addition to photo books, Squared gift options include wall posters, large-format art prints, photo magnets and stickers, calendars, and more.

Camera bag
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist/Peak Design

While there are certainly techies among the photographer ranks who are focused on the functional performance aspects of camera bags and accessories, many photographers also appreciate stylish design. This Peak Design camera backpack will appeal to both types of photographers. Two flexible compartments inside, plenty of sections to store loose items like SD cards and extra batteries, and thoughtful features like expandable pockets and a single wraparound zipper for fast and easy gear access make it a highly functional camera bag. Meanwhile, its aesthetic design is discreet enough to pass for a sleek city bag, so that your favorite photographer can blend in more easily for those candid street shots.

Photography book
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist/Amazon

Early 20th-century American photographer Dorothea Lange believed that “the camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” To help the aspiring photographers on your list see new, unexpected angles everywhere, pick up a copy of Extraordinary Everyday Photography, a 2012 book by photographers and educators Brenda Tarp and Jed Manwaring. The book’s accessible format and exercises walk readers through the basic principles of working with composition, available light, color, and point of view. Its central thesis asserts that it is the photographer’s eye and creative vision—not the gear—that makes a great image, and it is one of the most important lessons photographers can learn at the start of their careers.

Low-Impact Variable ND Filters
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist/Urth

While gear isn’t everything in photography, having the right kind of gear does help photographers bring their vision to life. These variable ND filters by Urth reduce the amount of light entering the camera, enabling the photographer to create a shallow depth of field effect in broad daylight or use slower shutter speeds without overexposing their images. At its core, photography is about painting with light, and mastering tools like variable ND filters will help your loved ones elevate their creative game. An added benefit: With every Urth purchase, you make a positive impact by helping the brand, a B-Corp, plant a tree in areas of severe deforestation around the world. In partnership with Eden Restoration Project, Urth funds reforestation projects in Haiti, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Nepal, thereby offsetting the carbon footprint of their products.

MasterClass with Petra Collins
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist/MasterClass

For visual learners, a Masterclass photography workshop with fashion photographer Petra Collins can be a great way to learn the basics of gear, composition, and light. Through hands-on instruction by Collins, students will get more comfortable with their camera settings, master composition, understand how to work with both natural light and studio lighting, and practice working with subjects. Collins also teaches fundamental technical skills like setting F-stop, adjusting exposure, mastering depth of field, and editing. The Masterclass culminates in creating an original photo series that will help aspiring photographers develop their artistic vision while getting feedback from their peers.

What We See: Women and Nonbinary Perspectives Through the Lens
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist/Amazon

According to Women Photograph, a non-profit organization with a mission to elevate the voices of women and nonbinary visual journalists, 85% of the world’s photojournalists are men. That means an overwhelming majority of visual reporting worldwide has been historically shaped through the eyes of one gender. The organization’s 2023 book, What We See: Women and Nonbinary Perspectives Through the Lens, aims to flip this bias on its head by highlighting the women behind the lens and showing readers what and how they see. From the powerful portraits of Bolivia’s Indigenous cholitas to explorations of how the Western media portrays Muslim women, 100 photographs in this book represent over 50 years of women’s dispatches around the globe. Your photography enthusiast will appreciate this fresh perspective that champions a more inclusive view of our collective visual record.

Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist/B&H

Some of the more physically demanding parts of the photographer’s job include spending long days out on the shoot, packing and unpacking daily when traveling, and carrying heavy gear for waterfall shots in remote locations. That’s why reducing unnecessary load is a priority for photographers working in the field. Coming in at 2.8 pounds, this carbon fiber tripod by Manfrotto is more lightweight than its aluminum counterparts, which can weigh close to six pounds or more. Yet this tripod is sturdy and durable enough to get all the essential shots for a variety of photographic niches like low-light, Astro, HDR, architectural, self-portraiture, landscape, and more.

Luminar Neo Photo Editor
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist/Skylum

Sometimes, it can be hard for a photographer to capture an image as it appears in their mind. This is where the editing comes in: With clever use of tools like masking, layers, retouching, and more, pro photographers can achieve the results they intended. Mastering these skills has traditionally been tedious and time-consuming, but this new editing software is leveling the playing field for beginner photographers. A host of AI-powered photo editing tools allow Luminar Neo users to add mist or fog to their landscapes, get an out-of-focus background effect for their portraits, add rays of sunshine to otherwise dark images, replace a dull sky, retouch blemished skin, remove noisy backgrounds, add focus to blurred images, and much more—all with a click of a button. The photographer on your list will appreciate adding these powerful tools to their arsenal.

Lensbaby Art Lens
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist/Lensbaby

Using creativity to make a visual record—sometimes true to life, sometimes going beyond it—is part of the fun of being a photographer. The right lens can even transport an image into the realm of magic, pushing the boundaries of creativity. Known for manufacturing award-winning special effects lenses with a bit of a cult following, Lensbaby offers an unconventional way to explore your photography enthusiast’s vision. Their Twist 60 art lens produces a swirling bokeh effect straight out of the camera, creating dreamlike images with a distinct, instantly recognizable look. Other effects include velvety glow akin to medium-format cameras (sans the cost), sweet focus surrounded by super smooth bokeh, and vintage pinhole that creates painterly images.

Photo No-Nos: Meditations on What Not to Photograph book
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist/Amazon

Beginner photographers often tend to get trigger-happy, taking photographs of everything and anything that crosses their camera’s viewfinder. While there is merit in practicing, leaving some subject matter off-camera can be a way to improve photography skills. This is the view adopted by Aperture, a non-profit platform dedicated to leading conversations about photography worldwide, in its 2021 book, Photo No-Nos: Meditations on What Not to Photograph. In the book, some of the world’s most talented photographers offer advice and reflections on how to avoid making cliche, exploitative, or simply boring images. From sunsets and roses to stereotypes and social responsibility, this book will help aspiring photographers on your list to think critically about the message they want to communicate with their work. 

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Yulia Denisyuk is an award-winning travel photographer and writer who turned to travel journalism in 2016 after serving in the US military and working as a Fortune 500 brand manager. Yulia's work appears in The New York Times, National Geographic, TIME, Conde Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, Lonely Planet, and more. Yulia is the founder of NOMⴷD + JULES, a small-group travel company. She’s also the founder of Travel Media Lab, a storytelling and educational platform and podcast. Follow her on Instagram or at her website.