Planning ahead is the key to success if you want to give a photograph as a holiday gift.
Photographs you've already shot make easy, inexpensive gifts. All you have to do is give yourself time to have them enlarged and framed. And it's a gift that will last many years. (While you're at it, why not transfer the photos from the shoe box to an album? Edit out those pictures that are out of focus and where your subjects' eyes are closed.)
A photo collage also makes a great gift. The photos might be of the recipient and his or her favorite people or, if the recipient is across the miles, a collage of you and other people near and dear would be even better.
Don't forget those photo greeting cards from your local photo finisher. They make a very personal card with very little effort, but they usually take two to three weeks to produce. Again, plan ahead.
One of my favorite New Year's gifts is a homemade photo calendar. This is for enthusiasts with their own home darkrooms.
Porter's Camera Store Inc. in Cedar Falls, Iowa, is the only store I've found that regularly stocks a supply of Kodalith (high contrast) calendar masks in a variety of shapes and sizes for both horizontal and vertical images. They range from 5 by 7 inches to 16 by 20. For more information contact Porter's at (800) 553-2001.
For those less inclined to do their own photography for holiday gifts, another option might be a portrait shot by either a formal portrait studio or a quickie store or mall studio.
Here is where advance planning really counts. If it needs to be mailed, you might need to schedule to have your portrait taken this week.
Store studios such as those at Sears and J.C. Penney are inexpensive and provide a good product. But don't expect makeup or hair styling or any intricate lighting or backgrounds. To give the photos a holiday flair, dress the part.
You may think you will spend only $14.95, but be prepared to spend as much as $50. They always print a larger number of photographs than your coupon package includes, which makes it hard to walk out the door without all the prints in your hand. Remember, give yourself plenty of time--it will take at least two weeks for them to process and print your portraits. These studios don't take reservations, so plan on waiting. The holiday season is always the busiest for them.
If you're looking for a high-quality photograph, one that you would hang over the fireplace, choose a full-service portrait studio. You'll save time because they make appointments. They can help you with hair styling, makeup, wardrobe and the proper setting and background. The prints will be of higher quality because of the lighting, print making and retouching. Plan on spending between $250 and $1,000.
If you decide to give someone a camera for Christmas, you'll face a multitude of options. The real choice comes between the more expensive 35-millimeter, single-lens-reflex camera and the compact point-and-shoots. But for most on your list, a simple point-and-shoot is best.
Some of the major changes to look for in the 35-mm. SLR include a more streamlined look with built-in strobe, motor drives and various program modes. It's almost impossible to find one that doesn't include automatic focus, exposure and film advance. If you're buying for the hobbyist or a photo student on your list, make sure the camera includes manual settings.
For those just looking to capture a few spontaneous moments with little effort, it's a good idea to pick a 35-mm. compact automatic-everything off the shelf. The prices range from $100 to $300, and the options seem to fit every need. Features to look for include: wireless remote, power zoom lenses, drop-in loading, weatherproofing and dual lens selection.
The best feature to consider is the dual or zoom lens. Having access to at least two focal lengths, such as 35-mm. and 70-mm., really gives your images more variety.
Also consider photographic art as a gift. High on my list is an Ansel Adams print, but a $10,000 price tag certainly isn't realistic. However, it is possible to find many fine works at the $200-to-$500 level by many well-known photographers.
At the Susan Spiritus Gallery in Costa Mesa, for example, you might find a John Sexton, Henry Gilpin or George Tice print. It will be a gift that will go up in value as photography works its way up in the art world.
Contest. A photographic holiday card contest is being sponsored by the Cypress College photography department. The work can be made with any photographic process. The images will be displayed at the Photo Gallery on campus. There are no fees, and participation is open to the public. Deadline is Dec. 15. Prizes will be awarded on Dec. 20. Entrees will not be returned. They must be mailed or delivered to the Photography Department, Cypress College, 9200 Valley View St., Cypress, Calif. 90630. For more information, call (714) 826-2220, Ext. 244.