Do you need an expensive camera to take good family photos?

It’s not the camera, honest!

It seems to be a favourate question asked by families….

“Great pictures! You must have an amazing camera?” or “I need to get a better camera to take pictures like that, what do you recommend?”.

It’s easy to assume you need better equipment to get good family photos that you can be proud of. The reality however is that an entry level DSLR camera (about £350), the sort many families have already, is capable of great pictures; you just need to have a little knowledge of some photography basics and you’ll get greatly improved results.

Recently I had an opportunity to practically demonstrate this; a relative of mine was photographing my kids using a basic DSLR camera like the one in the pic above. He had no photography training and was snapping shots with the camera set to ‘auto’. I thought you might find it interesting to see the difference a little knowledge of photography can make to the quality of family photos; when he finished, I borrowed the camera and took a few portraits myself.

Keep reading to the compare the photos from…

an amateur photographer with an amateur camera


a professional photographer using the same amatuer camera

…you’ll see how the normal family DSLR you have can take really great pics if you know how to get the best out of it.

The disadvantage of leaving your DSLR camera on auto.


An amateur photog with an amateur camera – Amateur Camera: Nikon D80 on ‘Auto’ – Amateur Lens: Nikkor 35mm f1:1.8G DX (Click to enlarge)

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Most families with a DSLR camera will probably take their pictures using the camera’s auto setting. While this makes taking pictures quick and easy, it leaves you with very little creative control over the outcome. With a little understanding of basic photography techniques and some alternative camera setting, you’ll be able to vastly improve your family photos.

The pictures above are what I would call typical family snaps and the quality of them has been limited by:

  • the photographer’s lack of basic knowledge about good light, composition and how to really blur backgrounds to isolate the subject.
  • shooting on ‘auto’ – the camera has incorrectly exposed the pictures, leaving the faces darker than they should be. There is no creative control over the camera’s settings in ‘auto’.

A little knowledge with the same camera.


A pro photographer using the same amateur camera – Amateur Camera: Nikon D80 on ‘Manual’ – Amateur Lens: Nikkor 35mm f1:1.8G DX (Click to enlarge)

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I took the next set of pictures above; they are all straight from the camera without using photoshop to edit them (other than to group them together into one pic). I was using the same amateur DSLR camera, at the same time of day, in the same location. The only difference is I set the camera to manual, giving me full control over the vast capabilities that even basic DSLRs have on offer. Next I applied some basic photography techniques, that any parent can learn, and the result is a much better set of photos (I hope you agree!).

So with the same camera and a bit of knowledge, I have vastly imporved the family photos by:

  • knowing how to find good light to take the picture in.
  • using the camera in manual to give maximum creative control (note how the backgrounds are really blurred and the colour of the photo is warmer – all achieved in camera, not photoshop).
  • applying some basic photography principles to pose and frame the boys in the photos nicely.

This series of photos took just 5 minutes and then the camera was away and family fun continued. Good photos straight from the camera also means less time spent editing them in photoshop to improve them; if you’re anything like me, you already stare at your computer screen too much each day!

I wasn’t try to make the perfect portrait either; I think it’s important for us families to retain some of the ethos of the ‘snap shot’ (in the sense that we don’t ruin family moments by getting too serious about the photography). At the same time though, I’m passionate that families learn they can get better photos with their DSLR cameras; you don’t have to leave it on ‘auto’…why not learn a little bit of basic photography?

Why not learn the basics and get the most out of your DSLR

If this post has inspired you to think more about your own family photos, consider the following…

  • Are you collecting all your memories on just an iPhone (a great camera but it has plenty of limitations and I certainly want more than some Instagram pics to remember my family by)?
  • Why not invest in a DSLR or if you already have one, make a point of getting it out more often?
  • Would you consider learning a little more about photography and your DSLR so you can get photos that capture your family moments, just how you saw them?

A photography course for parents near Harrogate and York

If the points above resonate with you, check out my Portrait Photography Courses for Parents. These 3/4 day photography workshops near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, are aimed at parents with a DSLR but no photography training. Join me and a small group of other parents for a relaxed, practical and information packed day – I’ll help get you off ‘auto’ into the creative world of real photography.

Credits: This blog idea isn’t new – I first saw it from a couple of great photographer’s blogs so go check out Erin Farrell and Vicki Knights.


I’m Peter Marfleet, a Family Portrait Photographer in North Yorkshire who covers the areas of Harrogate, York and North Leeds as well as wider afield.

You can see more of my work by viewing the front page of my blog.

This entry was posted in Photography - Family, Take Better Family Photo Tips.
Peter Marfleet Photography
Peter Marfleet Photography

Hi Debby, sounds like you need to book a holiday up here and stay at the wonderful The Bivouac on a weekend that I'm running a workshop :-)

Debby Marfleet
Debby Marfleet

I could really do with some instruction on how to use my little digital Olympus, which sometimes produces some great photos, but I don't know why or how to change the settings easily! When do you come South next and could you do a detour to the East?!