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Photography gift ideas for this holiday season

Let's face it: buying a photography-related gift these days is a complete pain in the ass unless you really enjoy reading technical manuals and countless reviews by camera geeks.

In that vein, here are some gift ideas for the shutterbug in your life, particularly if that shutterbug is, like me, a photo hobbyist who is just trying to improve his game.

Wireless remote control shutter release. These small devices allow you to take a photo without actually touching the camera. It's great for landscape photography or night photography -- when it's important that the camera, on a tripod, stays still. The Nikon ML-L3 is compatible with many Nikon point-and-shoots and DSLRS. Price: about $20, widely available. The Canon RC-6 remote is compatible with many of Canon's cameras and the price is about the same.

GripTight GorillaPod. This is a nice little tripod that works with all iPhones and some Android phones. It's very useful for taking photos of yourself or other situations when you want the camera to be as still as possible. The cool thing about the GorillaPod is that you can wrap the legs around branches, fences, etc. - - or just use it as a regular tripod. They run about $30.

•A Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density Filter. This one is for serious hobbyists, particularly those into landscapes. The filter is held in front of the camera lens and is helpful in scenes in which part of the frame is very bright and the other part is very dark (example: bright sky over a lake in the shadows). The "three f-stop hard step" version at 4 x 6 inches is the one I have and I'm perfectly happy with it. It's $160 on the Singh-Ray website. Mine also arrived with a helpful DVD explaining how to best use this sucker.

iPhone4S. Who needs a point-and-shoot camera when you can get just shoot photos and process them a ton of fun apps on an iPhone? The cameras on the 4S and iPhone5 are very good and also very similar. I'd try to buy a used 4S from a friend upgrading to the 5 and just use it as a camera and wi-fi device. The 4S starts at $99 through Apple.

iPad camera connector. This little doohickey allows you to download photos from your camera straigth to your iPad, where you can more easily view them and/or process them using a ton of different photo apps available through the iTunes store. The new iPad4 uses this version while earlier iPads use this one. Both are $29 in the Apple Store.

Snapseed. My favorite app for improving photos on my iPhone or iPad. It's simple to use and has a lot of different filters. You can also use Snapseed on your iPad to process photos taken with a point-and-shoot or DSLR. $4.99 in the iTunes store.

•Adobe Lightroom 4.1. One great way to improve photos is to shoot in RAW format. Adobe Lightroom is a nice piece of software for Apple or PC computers that makes it easy to process RAW photos, as well as organize them and send on their happy way to popular sites on the Internet. $149.

Photo Classes. A great way to learn the basics of composition and camera technical skills. In the L.A. area, where I live, Samy's Camera always has classes that are affordable (beginning at $50), such as the upcoming one on night photography. And here's a four-hour "In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams" class offered year-round at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park. If money isn't an issue, the Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop in the Eastern Sierra has multi-day classes led by accomplished photographers that it offers in some of the West's more scenic locales.

•Nikon D5100. I think this is the perfect DSLR for hobbyists -- it's the camera that I own. See my earlier post.

•Nikon 10-24 wide-angle DX lens. This one falls in the "well it's cheaper than a car" category. The lens is best for Nikon DX cameras (like the D5100) and is particularly well-suited to landscapes. The sharpness of images is pants-dropping good! I bought one last summer and got over the guilt of spending $900 as soon as I saw the pics it could crank out. $799 at Amazon, B&H and Adorama.

•A SmugMug membership. SmugMug is a photo-hosting website favored by many pros. SmugMug can be customized and, more important, you can sell your photos from the site with the portfolio option. Here's the rundown on prices. I also have a lot of fun for Flickr -- it's better suited for sharing photos and interacting with other photographers but not selling them for profit. A one-year pro account is $25 and provides unlimited uploads.

•"The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure" by Sean Arbabi. A very handy how-to guide that covers all the basics of the art of photography from composition to lighting. I use this book all the time as a reference guide. $19 at Amazon for either paperback or Kindle e-book.

•A Steve Hymon original print! At the age of 46, the odds of me becoming a famous photographer are tiny! But I'm not going to let stupid little details like that get in the way of some good old-fashioned self promotion! Prints are available in a variety of sizes and at very affordable prices.

To save you the work of clicking through all my photos -- but go for it, if you must -- I've posted a few that may be of general interest to California-lovers:

The Los Angeles skyline as seen from the San Gabriel Mountains.


I call this one "Horse on Mt. Hollywood."
The Mesquite Sand Dunes at sunset on the last day of January, 2011. If you're going to shoot in the dunes at sunset, get there early to find and stake out a spot. A lot of people visit the dunes late in the day and it can be difficult to frame a good shot without people or or their footsteps in the frame. This particular dune is about a half-mile from the parking lot.

The Mesquite Sand Dunes of Death Valley National Park.

To purchase a print, click on the photo and then click on 'buy' at the top right photo of any photo. Prices begin at $1.27 for 4x6 prints. Shocker: you'll get higher quality at higher prices! :)

If you have any questions about my work, please feel free to email me at



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