Ben’s 2007 Holiday Gift Guide

If someone you know—loved one, co-worker, odd relative—has been seriously bitten by the photography bug and you find yourself stumped for a gift for the holidays, I’ve got some suggestions for you. . All but two are products that I use on a regular basis and would have been thrilled to receive as gifts (feel free to send me the two I don’t have if you’re feeling unusually generous this holiday season… especially the XV-LT).


Photograph America Newsletter
This monthly newsletter focuses on a different landscape shooting location every month and provides details like the best time to visit a location and how to plan your trip to make the most of your photography options. It includes maps of the area and will usually give you advice about how many days to spend and where to be shooting during sunrise and sunset. The best gift would be to buy the full archive on DVD. That way your loved one will have photo-savvy information about over 100 locations at their fingertips.



Photographing the Southwest Book Series

This three-volume set of full-color books is essential reading if you plan to explore Utah, Arizona, or Colorado. It features full-color photographs and great advice for finding unique landscapes to shoot. When purchasing these books, make sure you get the second edition since they feature expanded information and full-color photographs.


WhiBal Card
This little gray card can be inserted into a scene and used to color correct just about any photograph. The key is to get the light that is falling on the subject you are shooting to fall on the WhiBal card. Then, once you get the image into Camera Raw, click on the gray part of the card with the White Balance eyedropper an you’ve color corrected the image. I prefer this white balance aid because it’s made of plastic and therefore isn’t as fragile as most of the other white balance aids and I don’t mind if it gets rained on.


Think Tank Photo Bags
I’ve been using Think Tank’s Modulus belt-based system for over a year now and absolutely love it. I also use their Airport International roller bag and Artificial Intelligence laptop bag and have nothing bad to say about them. Be sure to follow the links above for more info on how I use each of these products.


This hand held GPS can show you exactly where and when the sun will raise and set, even if you don’t know what time zone you’re in. It can also be loaded with topo maps which can help you find your way back to your car after shooting in a remote location or remind you of the spots you found while scouting for locations.


Veraclock Dashboard widget
I use this inexpensive software to plan for future shoots by looking up what the moon phase will be at any particular day and to find out what time sunrise or sunset will be at different locations. It also features a nifty bar thingie that indicates when the sun will rise/fall, when the moon will be visible, and when the three types of twilight will begin and end. That way you can tell exactly when the stars will be visible and when the sky will go from blue to black. Sorry Windows people, this software is for Mac only.


Canon G9 Camera
This is one of only two items on this list that I don’t actually own. That’s because it’s not shipping yet. This smallish camera has a great point and shoot camera for the serious photographer. It can shoot in RAW mode, offers complete control over exposure and even features Auto Exposure Bracketing, which makes it possible to shoot hand held HDR shots. If you know of someone who has an expensive SLR camera, but is always complaining that they don’t have a camera on them every moment of the day, then get them this one. I plan to purchase one along with Canon’s underwater housing to use while snorkeling.


Really Right Stuff L Brackets
I absolutely love the combination on a Really Right Stuff L-bracket on my camera and their quick-release clamp on the top of my tripod. This combination gives you the most stable and solid camera/tripod connection while allowing you to switch from horizontal to vertical orientation in about one second.


Lens Baby 3G
If you know of a creative shooter who doesn’t already have a Lens Baby, then consider adding one to their camera bag. The Lens Baby allows you to shift the plane of focus on an image to create selective focus effects. I use this lens midday when the light isn’t great. It keeps me shooting when many other people have given up.


Photomatix Pro
This $99 software allows you to create some amazing images by taking a three-shot bracket of exposures and merging them into one. You can either create a normal looking photograph or one that looks more like an illustration. For an ideal setup also consider including a pass to my new on-line HDR class where I show how to select good subject matter, setup your camera to shoot HDR, merge the shots and process them into the type of image I often feature on this blog (see example above).


Photography Workshop
Why not send your loved one off to a photography workshop to improve their skills and unwind for a while. There a quite a few workshops available around the country. If you want them to attend one of my workshops, then check out the LEPP Institute in Los Osos, CA, or the Institute for Visual Arts in Maui, HI.


Earth Roamer XV-LT
Here’s the ultimate gift for the photographer who has everything and the gift giver who has a big bank account. The Earth Roamer XV-LT is a four wheel drive RV that would be the perfect vehicle for extended photography trips. Everything in this vehicle runs on either solar or diesel, which means you can survive in a remote area for weeks on end. It has plenty of space for photo gear and even has a roof hatch and two good shooting locations on the roof. If you buy one, be sure to tell Cindy at Earth Roamer that I sent you 🙂  I don’t actually own one of these–yet!

I have negotiated discounts on many of these products, so be sure to check my new Equipment Discount page before purchasing anything.

Equipment Discounts Added


I’ve added a link at the bottom of the left column of this site for product discounts that I’ve negotiated. I use every product listed. I asked the companies listed for the discounts and do not accept discount offers for products that I do not use myself.

And, of course, this gave me the opportunity to post yet another neon shot that I took at the Neon Graveyard in Las Vegas… I just couldn’t create a post without a visual and I thought this one expresses how happy most people are when they learn they can get a discount on something.

Tips for Travelers


The guys who make the belt-based camera "bag" that I use have released a free pdf titled "Fear For Your Gear" which gives you tons of tips for surviving airline travel with your camera gear. I contributed a tiny bit to Part II of the article. The tips have nothing to do with their bags and are useful for anyone who travels with camera gear.

I’ve been using their Airport International bag (shown above) for all my flights lately and I really like the way it’s setup. The bag is sized to be legal carry-on size for domestic and international travel and I’ve had it on all sorts of planes including the ones that only have one seat on each side of the isle and have have never had to check it. It comes with a security cable that I use to lock the back to stuff at airports, hotels and other locations and a TSA approved combo lock for the main compartment. It also has a great pocket on the front that is designed to handle their Artificial Intelligence laptop case, which makes for fast and easy security checks at the airport since I can have my laptop out in about five seconds and back zipped up in the bag in less than 10 seconds (the laptop bag can even fit inside if you order the low divider set, which I use when traveling internationally). I pack the belt-based system into this bag and then leave the bag in the hotel room or car when I’m out shooting (since all my gear is on my belt). I discussed the exact belt components I use in an earlier post.

If you ever end up purchasing any of their products, be sure to do it by visiting this special page and enter code WS-055 so you can get a free item if you end up spending more than $50.

Belt-Based Camera “Bag”


I briefly mentioned the belt-based camera bag system I use at my Portland Seminar. If you are thinking of ordering any of their gear, consider visiting and entering the following code: WS-055  That will get you a free item if you spend $50 (that includes some of the pouches I list below). I absolutely love this system and find it works a zillion percent better than a backpack (you can pack the individual lens pouches into a backpack or other bag when transporting things and then transfer them to the belt when you go out to shoot. I’ve been using the system for a while and have found nothing that comes close to it. I would rather change camera brands before I’d switch to another bag system… they just did it right.


I use the Lens Changer 50s to hold three of my lenses (the 17-14mm, 24-105mm, and 100mm Macro). I prefer to use the same-sized pouch for these lenses instead of using some of the smaller ones because I can then put any lens into it instead of having to be careful to get the proper lens in the proper pouch. It’s also easier to get a lens with the lens hood into the larger pouch.


I also use the Whip It Out (my absolute favorite product) for my 100-400mm. It allows me to switch to this large lens so faster than it does to use any of my smaller lenses, so the large lens gets a lot more use than when it was stored in a backpack.


If you shoot the 100-400mm (or similar lens) using the tripod collar, then I’d also get the Lens Changer 75. The lens fits into this bag with the tripod collar attached as well as the lens hood so it’s always ready to be used.The Whip It Out fits inside the Lens Changer 75 when transporting the equipment.


I also use a All The Other Stuff bag to old my cable release, extra batteries and other stuff.


All of these bags attach to a Pro Speed Belt, which completes the system. They make all sorts of other bags, so be sure to browse their site to find what will best work for your situation.

New Corporate Web Site


We’ve been working hard on my new corporate web site and am ready to have you take a sneak peek. Please explore the site and give me feedback on the design and content. This site will eventually replace the pathetically outdated one that is currently my corporate home page at Let me know if you find any important information to be missing from the site so we can continue to update and refine the site before making it my official home page.

FYI: I know the background below the site doesn’t perfectly match in some browsers, so no need to report on that.

Free MacUpdate Memberships!

MacUpdate Logo

MacUpdate is a web site that I use to search for software related to any topic (like personal productivity) and to find out what the newest version of any program is. They are offering free membership for 2006 if you sign up in the month of January (it’s usually $20). So, if you’re a Mac user and want to keep your software up-to-date, then go signup.

Via The Mac Observer