3 Steps to Better Pictures – Without Changing a Single Camera Setting


*Author and House of Rose Contributor – Jessica Philippo, from One July Living.

How to Take Better Pictures Without Changing a Single Camera Setting


My very first DSLR was purchased in anticipation of a big family vacation a couple of years before my daughter was born.  I remember opening the box, pulling out that impressive piece of electronics, and thinking to myself – “NOW I’m going to take AMAZING pictures!”

Like many others, I quickly found myself overwhelmed because:

  • Holy moly there’s a lot of buttons!
  • The last time I read anything as thick as that camera manual was when I read Twilight (sad but true).

But, I tucked it into my suitcase and assumed it would just click for me on the trip (pun intended… I love a bad pun joke, don’t you?).

It was an amazing trip, but the pictures didn’t seem to be THAT much different than the photos I had taken on my far less expensive and far less “fancy” point and shoot camera.   After my trip, my new camera lived in the back of the closet and made rare appearances for the standard holiday or birthday photo opp.

And then July 1, 2010 happened… the day that my beautiful daughter was born.  In an instant, photography took on a whole new meaning to me.

I wanted to be able to capture more than a snapshot.  I wanted to remember what it FELT like to be a mom.  To look at those big blue eyes the first time she called me “mama”.  To remember the way the light hit her eyelashes when I snuck into her nursery early in the morning.

And so my photography journey began.  Two and a half years later, I am now the girl behind the camera at One July Photography.

I’m so excited to be a contributor at House of Rose Blog and will be sharing photography tips and tricks EVERY MONTH to get you on the path to using your DSLR as a tool to capture images you’ve dreamed of!

Let’s jump right in, shall we?  Remember how I mentioned my desire to capture my daughter in her nursery? These two pictures were taken days apart – same toddler, same nursery, and same exact time of day.   So what makes these two images different?

How to Take Better Pictures - More Than a Snapshot

The top was taken with a point and shoot camera in Automatic mode with the flash turned ON.

The bottom image was taken with my DSLR in manual mode using only natural light from a nearby window.

Here’s a hint – the real difference between these two images is NOT because #2 was taken with a “fancy” DSLR camera!

Of course using a DSLR is part of the equation to taking memorable pictures, but it’s only part of the equation. The real differences are found in several key areas that we will explore throughout the “More than a Snapshot” series.

  • Switching to MANUAL mode on your DSLR!  (Get out of automatic mode and fast!)
  • Understanding Exposure
  • Lighting
  • Composition
  • Focus
  • Depth of Field
  • White Balance

Sound like a bunch of photography jargon?  I promise that if we bite off one piece at a time, that you will be taking pictures you love in no time!

But before we start unlocking the secrets of your DSLR, here are three easy steps you can do to immediately start taking better pictures. Ready?

1.  Change your perspective.

2.  Turn off the lights.

3.  Be aware of your surroundings.

How to Take Better Pictures - Change your Perspective

I’m talking get on your belly, climb atop a piece of furniture – whatever you have to do!

At my sessions I’m usually crawling around in the dirt or standing on top of my step stool.  I’m rarely just standing there! Naturally, most people just stand in the corner of the room and hit the shutter button when they’re capturing pictures of their family. But, if you are always taking pictures from your usual vantage point, your images will lack connection and interest.

This is also called “perspective.” Move around!  Don’t be afraid to get close! You may be surprised by the immediate results!

Useful Tip: When taking pictures of your kids – take the picture at THEIR eye level, not yours!

How to Take Better Pictures - Turn off the Lights

All of the images above were taken indoors, with only light from nearby windows. The truth is, all of those artificial light sources in your home may be detracting from the beauty of your photographs and causing unwanted colorcasts, odd shadows, and alien eyes.

Open up your shades and let all that sunlight stream in through your windows. Natural light will not only help you get more beautiful and natural skin tones, it will also give your photos lovely depth and create natural shadows.

Useful Tip: Turn off the flash on your camera whenever possible! You will see an immediate change in the pictures you take!

How to Take Better Pictures - Be aware of your surroundings

When it comes to the backdrop for your photographs – simplicity usually rules.  Find an uncluttered, light filled area of your home and make the most of it!  The less distractions there are, the more you will be drawn to the subject.

Try your master bedroom!  Bedrooms typically offer quite a bit of natural light.  Images of your kids snuggled up in bed (or jumping like monkeys) will be treasured for a lifetime. Open up those windows, pick up your laundry, and capture that moment!

The same rule applies for taking pictures outdoors!  Start paying attention as you drive around town and drop of your kids for activities.  A corner of the soccer field sprouting wildflowers with soft, golden light before sunset?  A winding path where you go running? Perfect!

Useful Tip: Start paying attention to where the sun is in your home at different times of the day.  Always wanted to capture the memory of your kids baking cookies in the kitchen but it faces East? Plan a morning cooking extravaganza! It’ll be an unexpected surprise for your kiddos and you’ll treasure the memory. Any time can be cookie time, right?

Tune in next month to the “More than a Snapshot” series when we’ll start unlocking all the powerful secrets of your DSLR!

How to Take Better Pictures One-July-Living


*Huge thanks to Jessica for joining House of Rose Contributors! Make sure you head over and “like” her FB page for more photography tips!


  1. says

    I am so excited about this series! My husband and I are looking into our first dslr and I am really nervous about trying to figure it out! This couldn’t have come at a more perfect time! Thanks Mandy and Jessica!

  2. Amy says

    I am so excited about this series. I own a Nikon D7000 we bought a year ago. We really wanted to capture great pictures on our own of our little boy. I use scene mode a lot because I’m scared of Manuel mode. Thanks for posting!

  3. Angela says

    Great and thanks for doing this series! I will be anxiously waiting for the next one because THIS IS ME. I have a brand new Canon Rebel T3, two big ‘ol lenses and no idea how to use anything manually and so far, my family/holiday photos really don’t look that much different than my old camera. Can’t wait to learn!

  4. says

    This actually brought tears to my eyes. I bought my first dslr with intentions as you say and then when my daughter was born I really started to take it seriously and now I’m in full swing not only recording those special moments from my daughters childhood but of my friends and family and customers.


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