“Your Family in Pictures” – Book review

“Great photography is all about knowing how to set yourself up for success. When I was a newbie, I assumed professional photographers were like magicians. Their cameras were their magic wands able to capture the most amazing photos at any time of day or night. Years later, I know better.”
– Me Ra Koh

Her first piece of advice every single time? Turn off the flash.

Whether you’re using a point-and-shoot camera or a DSLR, author and photographer Me Ra Koh listed that tip in almost every chapter of her new book, Your Family in Pictures.

It made me smile. I’ve been hearing this the past few years from my daughter Jenna who is a professional photographer herself. She could look at a picture I’d taken and disappointingly say, “Mom, you used the flash again.”

So I’ve stopped using my automatic flash (except in really dark places). And I’ve started looking more for natural light. It’s all about the light, right?

I only take pictures for fun and for memories. I like pictures with people in them the best, but I also love taking nature photos. So although this book is geared toward family photos, there are tons of good tips for photography in general. Me Ra Koh shares a lot about lighting and other factors that go into better pictures. She writes in clear terms, gives practical suggestions, and of course, uses great photos for illustrations.


She’s big on lists (I am, too), so you get a lot of this:

  • 7 spots in your home for great light
  • 10 steps to set up your photos for success
  • 3 ways black and white can transform so-so photos
  • My top 10 times to take candid family photos
  • 5 tips for photographing everyday life

And she does follow through with providing those tips.

For example, under “5 tips for photography family portraits,” the most common question (“What should we wear?”) is answered with this: “Have Mom wear what she feels most beautiful in, and everyone else’s clothes should complement hers.” We all get that . . . because if Mama’s not happy, etc.

She breaks the chapters into these categories. (See the full Table of Contents here)

  1. Setting yourself up for success
  2. Developing a photographer’s eye
  3. Everyday life
  4. Holidays
  5. Family portraits
  6. Tweens & teens
  7. Family vacations & travels

An appendix helps you decide what kind of equipment to buy. I found it helpful information to form my wish list. Koh has also written Your Baby in Pictures and Your Child in Pictures. And if you’ve seen her pictures, you know she knows what she’s talking about.

Here are a few more general tips from Me Ra Koh for photographing most anything.

  • Keep a camera out. The beauty of everyday life most often happens when we least expect it. Keep a camera out at all times and within arm’s reach. This also helps desensitize the family to having their photos taken.
  • Use the camera you have. Don’t have your DSLR nearby? Don’t worry. The iPhone and other smartphones take remarkably good photos. The best camera is the one you have with you.
  • Pretend you only have thirty-six shots. Even though you may have a huge memory card that holds a gazillion photos, do you really want that many photos of an afternoon at the swimming pool? Pretend that you only have thirty-six shots to take, which is equivalent to what one roll of film used to be. If you only have thirty-six shots, you’ve got to pause and ask yourself how you are going to use them.
  • Let go of perfection. A successful photo of cousins ranging from age six months to six years isn’t about capturing perfect little smiles. Not every face may be looking at the camera, but the overall story–that allows for a little bit of chaos–is the family pictures that you will all adore when they are grown and have kids of their own.

* * *

Do you love to take photos too? What’s your favorite thing to photograph? Please share in the comments.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for the review copy of this book

18 thoughts on ““Your Family in Pictures” – Book review

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I’m not big on taking pictures, but before my drawing hand was damaged I made sketches of things that caught my eye. Carried a pad and pencil everywhere I went.

    The drawings are now lost, but perhaps the memory was fixed in the action, and not in their preservation.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh, if I could sketch things. But alas, it’s not a gift in me. 🙂 I think you’re definitely on to something, Andrew: the memory is often “fixed in the action, not its preservation.” I’ve discovered that to be true when I take notes. If I write it down, I’m not as likely to even need the note to read later. But if I don’t write it down, I might not remember at all.

  2. Gina Duke

    I am like you – I think photographers have high-tech secrets that regular folks can’t tap into. Thank you for recommending this book. I just might get it. I bet it would really help a blogger, too! Thanks for sharing! I am your neighbor at Thought-Provoking Thursday.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, Gina, this is a great book for bloggers too. I used to have to ask my daughter when I wanted a special picture to go along with a blog post, but now I’m learning I can just do it myself. 🙂 I still don’t match her work (she’s one of those magicians), but I’m improving, albeit slowly.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      50 pictures a day? I’d consider your wife a pro. She could probably write her own book. 🙂 But yes, she might really enjoy this book like I did. I found it quite helpful and hope I’ll put it into practice!

  3. Debbie

    Lisa, I was glad to read this post. I love to take photos. I’ve been doing it for so many years. Only lately I’ve actually had a few paying opportunities. At our school, some of the parents have seen my photos on our school’s website and year book. And they ask me to come to their homes to photograph their families. Sometimes I feel like I have so much to learn. Thank goodness I have a Nikon camera that we bought almost ten years ago that still works. I would love to get different lenses one day but in the meantime I keep shooting. I will check out this book.

    Blessings and love,

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I know your pictures are already awesome, Debbie! I love seeing what you post on your blog, especially of the things you do with the kids. My daughter started interning in a kindergarten classroom this month, and she took pictures for 100th Day. She absolutely loves it.

      You would probably enjoy the book too. It doesn’t go in-depth with a lot of technical stuff (I wouldn’t have understood that anyway, ha), but it did tell me some new things I could understand. The author gives advice in the back for what lenses to buy next, etc. I think about that kind of stuff now and again, but I’m not quite there yet. 🙂

  4. Barbara H.

    This sounds like an excellent resource. I definitely need plain and simple instruction when it comes to photography. Too often I’ve clicked on a photography site and gotten lost in the vocabulary I know nothing of. I like the tips you shared.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re like me then. You’d appreciate the tips in this book because they weren’t overly technical. I also liked that she kept the purpose in mind of why we take pictures in the first place. It wasn’t all about getting “perfect” pictures, but about capturing moments that we want to remember, real-life stuff, not just studio poses. You’ve got such a perfect little model ready for you! 🙂

  5. Ginger Harrington

    I love photography. I’ve been procrastinating on really learning my husbands DSLR camera. This would be a great book to read. I am fascinated by light, especially the sun. So great to visit you again from Thought Provoking Thursdays!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It took me getting my own DSLR camera before I finally decided to really, really learn how to use it. 🙂 But it’s been SO worth it, even though I’m still a newbie.

      This book won’t teach you about how to use your DSLR camera per se, but it will inspire you to learn more!

  6. Jean Wise

    This sounds like a great book, Lisa. I like taking photos and am always looking for an unique one for the blog. I attended a blogging conference last year and they really pushed the importance of photo and how we are becoming so visually centered. Thanks for sharing some of the tips too. I will check out this book. You are always such a wealth of info!

  7. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! I do like to take photos, but I’m still at the “photographers have magic cameras” stage. Actually, I think my iPhone takes pretty good shots, but I also have a digital.
    This summer we had a family picture taken. My husband and I wore black and white, my son’s family wore blue, my daughters wore orange. It looked great!

    Photos make memories, they make them ‘stick’. I can see why you want to make them count! (And you have a daughter to help you too!)

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree–iPhones can take some awesome pictures, far better than most cameras I’ve owned in my lifetime. ha. And we always have them with us, which is a great plus. I’m so thankful Steve Jobs (or whoever!) thought to combine phones and cameras. 🙂

      I’m sure that orange and blue looked great together–Auburn colors (in case you didn’t know). 🙂 War Eagle.

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