Open Session Dates

Below are the current open dates for familyengagement, and maternity photo sessions for this season.  This list will be updated as dates are booked up.  Please check back frequently for updated availability.  

The best time for portrait photography is the hour or two before sunset.  The sunset time changes throughout the year.  Use this tool to determine the sunset time for a specific day.  We'll of course work around schedules and bedtimes.  

Newborn photo session availability is NOT included in this list.  Please ask how newborn sessions are booked.  

It's possible that there are other open dates not on this list.  If none of these work for you, just let me know and we'll see what we can work out.  

OPEN DATES

Tue 9/26
Mon 10/2
Wed 10/4
Tue 10/10
Tue 10/17
Sat 10/21
Tue 10/24
Thurs 10/26
Wed 11/1
Sat 11/4
Sun 11/5 (Eagles game at 1)
Sun 11/19

Capturing Candid, Natural Portraits

When I ask my clients why they chose me as their photographer, I would say that about 75% of them respond with some variant of the following statement: "Your photos just seem so candid". Sometimes they use other words like natural, unposed, real, etc... Since I've been giving away all of my secrets in these blog posts, I figured I'd write a post on getting that candid feel.  

While some lifestyle photographers spend the whole day with their clients and capture truly candid moments, I don't.  My shoots are usually between 1-2 hours.  The whole idea behind a photo shoot is that we're gathered to take photos, which is the exact opposite of capturing candid photos.  So, it's always a challenge to at least make the photos feel candid while still directing the session.  Here are some tricks I use to get that feel:

Interaction

This one is probably the most obvious, but it's important.  I simply have the clients interact with each other.  Laugh at each other, tickle each other, piggy back rides, picking each other up, etc...  Give them a little direction on what to do, and let them try it on their own.  For example, I might tell both parents to tickle and look at the child.  While the post is a little staged, the photo still looks natural because of the interaction.  

Laughing

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One of the easiest tricks to use is to tell my clients to laugh.  Not a fake little chuckle, but a real belly laugh.  Usually, it's a bit awkward at first, but once they get into it then it's pretty easy.  I find that in most cases, I find I end up capturing the best photos right after the laugh is finished but they still have a genuine smile.    

Motion

Give them a little direction to do something that puts them in action.  For example, have them walk down a path and look at each other (perhaps laughing), or maybe have kids hold hands and jump.  

Downtime

Don't stop shooting during breaks.  While you might not always end up with a gem, we're using digital cameras these days, so we can just delete the bad ones.  

Give Less Direction

Sometimes I find that the best option is to just keep my mouth shut.  Let the clients get into a pose that feels comfortable to them, let them interact with each other, and of course, let them be themselves.  

Play Games

With kids (and sometimes adults), it's fun to get them to play games with each other.  Perhaps have the child "sneak up" on the parents to surprise them.  Or maybe have children tell secrets to each other.  Usually, the best part of these shots is the reaction right afterward.  

A thought experiment about the future of Photography

Today I had a thought experiment and I figured it would be interesting to share.  Right now, there are some really promising photography technologies in their infancy.  Some of the technologies I’m seeing are. 

  • Machine learning for camera settings (Arsenal)
  • Frame selection from video capture
  • Photo selection via machine learning
  • Machine learning photo editing
  • Matching a photo style based on another photo
  • Automated portrait retouching. 
  • Faux depth of field

Right now, all of these technologies are pretty much disconnected, but it’ll be interesting to see how things shape up when they all come together in one intelligent platform.  I could envision a future where someone shoots a video, the camera dynamically adjusts the capture settings to take the optimal photo, the camera selects the best frame from the video, and then the photo automatically gets processed with the optimal settings according to the users taste.  It seems like this is all just mimicking what pros already do, so I’m not sure how much it would revolutionize our photos, but it might make things more efficient in some areas.  It seems like this does have the potential to give amateurs and non-photographers the tools to make some great photos with minimal effort.  The next 10 years or so should be an interesting time in photography. 

My favorite Philadelphia area locations for family portrait photography

Before I get to the locations, I feel like I should mention a few things.  First, I'm located in Conshohocken, so that's the nucleus of where I shoot.  I usually work with each client and pick a location near their house.  Secondly, there are a few major things I look for in a location.  It's not just the scenery.  A few of the major traits that make a good location for me include:

  • Scenic (obviously)
  • Shady spots
  • Not overcrowded
  • Direction of the light
  • Variety or unique scenery

Here are few of my favorite locations around the Philadelphia area:

Harriet Wetherill Park

Plymouth Meeting

This is probably my single favorite spot (with one major caveat that I'll get to in a bit).  This park just about has it all.  There are open green fields, a tree-lined perimeter (that is beautiful in the fall), picket fences, a wooden bridge, a stream, a butterfly garden, and dirt paths.  The best part about it is that it's relatively unknown so it's never crowded.  Now, the one major caveat is that the township just built a beautiful playground right in the middle.  That doesn't really affect the photos, but it's tough to shoot here with kids older than about 1½ because they get distracted way too easily.  

Andorra Meadow

Philadelphia (Andorra section)

This place is great.  It's part of the Wissahickon Valley (Valley Green) Park system.  There are rolling fields of tall grasses that are somehow always the perfect height for photography.  The field is surrounded by a beautiful tree-line.  Next to the meadow is the beginning to the trail system of Valley Green which provides a little variety to the open meadow.  

Norristown Farm Park

East Norriton

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Norristown Farm Park is a massive 690-acre working farm public park that has been in continuous use since colonial times.  The park has lots of open fields, walking trails, corn fields (depending on the season), and scenic barns and silos.  

Valley Forge

King of Prussia / Valley Forge

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Any article about portrait photography locations in the Philadelphia area should obviously include Valley Forge.  For those that haven't been there, the park is massive and there are tons of specific locations to shoot.  Two of my favorite spots are the Knox Trail and General Washington's Headquarters.  Both locations provide scenic architecture, lot's of green grass, shade from 100+ year-old trees, picket fences, and more.  The only downside to shooting in Valley Forge is that sometimes a permit is needed.  

Graeme Park

Horsham

This public national historic landmark is the only surviving residence of a colonial-era Pennsylvania governor. Graeme Park was constructed in 1722 as a summer residence and alternative to the governor's mansion.  It has secluded trails, open fields, a tree-lined horizon, beautiful architecture, and more.  

Rose Tree Park

Media / Upper Providence

This massive park (122-acres) used to be used for steeplechase racing.  There are rolling green fields, benches, a gazebo, a nature trail, and three historical buildings in the park.  The park is so big that you can always find a secluded spot, even during the busiest days.   

The City

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All of the above are more rural parks.  We obviously always have the option to go with a city location.  I've used the term "city" generically because Philadelphia isn't our only option (although it's certainly a good one).  Lots of other smaller cities work too.  Other great options include Conshohocken, Manayunk, West Chester, and plenty others.  

Photo Session Attire

Probably the hardest and most stressful part of preparing for a photo session is deciding what everyone should wear.  This short article isn't going to completely solve your problem (sorry), but it should at least help point you in the right direction.

General

Wear what feels comfortable - This session is about you (and your family, spouse, etc...).  Don't feel like you have to dress in an entirely different style that you aren't comfortable with.  Dress in what feels natural to you.

No loud patterns or colors - The session should be more about you and not the clothes you're wearing.  Stay away from ultra bright colors, and loud patterns.  

Subtle style - While you want to be stylish, remember that styles change.  The edgier the style you choose for your session, the quicker the photos will look dated.  Instead, consider classic, subtle styles.  

Complimentary colors & styles - Having everyone wear the same outfit or color is mostly out of fashion these days.  Instead, you should look to have everyone wear colors and styles that are complimentary to each other.   See some examples in the links below.  

Start with one person - Once you pick an overall scheme, then start selecting outfits by selecting an outfit for the most difficult person to dress and then picking other outfits around that person.  

Prepare - Don't plan to decide on outfits as your getting dressed for the session.  If you leave the decision until last minute, it's going to be stressful and not very well thought out.  Plus, you won't have the time to purchase anything if you need it.  (If you're reading this article, I suspect you don't have this problem).  I suggest you plan out the wardrobe a few days in advance.  Make sure you take weather forecasts into account.  

Dress appropriately for the weather - You would think this one seems pretty self-explanatory, but I can't even count the number of times parents show up to a cold session with their kid dressed in a "super cute" summer outfit.  Not surprisingly, those kids end up cold and miserable and it shows in the photos.  If it's cold out, be sure to dress accordingly.  In the Philadelphia area, weather can be drastically different from day to day.  Be prepared to pivot if the weather changes.   Layers help, that way we can always add and remove when necessary.

Family & Children  

Here is a great Pinterest board with some inspiration for attire for family and children sessions

Engagement

Here is a great Pinterest board for some engagement style inspiration.  Take note that in most of the examples, the attire is relatively subtle, and the photography is more about the couple.  

Newborn

Your options for newborn attire are: naked, diaper, an outfit, and a swaddle.  It's really your choice on how we dress the baby.  We can stop for a few outfit changes.  Just keep in mind that there is a pretty high probability of an accident with a naked baby.  If you want naked baby shots, be prepared to clean up and change everyone.  Whatever you choose, just try to keep colors and patterns light and simple. 

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Maternity

This is probably the one time in a woman's life when the goal is to show off your (rather large) belly.  Normally, solid dark colors are great because they can be slimming and hide detail.  For the opposite reason, prints and lighter colors tend to work better for maternity sessions.  Sometimes patterned material works well to highlight the shape nicely (here is an example).  Also to show off your shape a bit more, try to select something that's a more fitted style.  

Keep things simple and elegant.  Stay away from patterns and colors that are too loud as you want the session to be about you and not your distracting clothes.  

Here is a Pinterest board for some maternity style inspiration.  

Other Resources

This site has a very comprehensive guide on style for photography.  It's a long article, but it's a good read and there are lots of good examples.  

Camera Buying Guide for Non-Photographers

As a professional photographer, I often get asked about the best lens or camera for taking photos.  My usual answer is that it really depends on what kind of photography you're planning on doing.  Like the saying goes, "the right tool for the right job".  You could probably cut a board in half with a hammer, but it wouldn't come out looking very nice.  The same goes for photography gear.  So, the first question I would ask is what is the camera for?  Is it for travel, family, kids, sports, landscapes, etc...

In this article, I'm not going to make any specific camera recommendations, because that changes daily, and really depends on your needs.

Usage Considerations

Here are some typical uses for a camera (for a non-photographer), and some tips on what to look for when buying for that use.

Travel

For a travel camera, look for something light (like a mirrorless) with a lens that has a good zoom range.  You'll most likely want to take some wide angle landscape shots but also have the ability to zoom into something in the distance.

Kids & Family

You'll want something with a wide aperture (the lower the number the better) for two reasons.  1. I find that a lot of personal family photography is done indoors.  The wider the aperture, the more light gets into the picture, which is better.  2. Wider apertures are good for portraits because it helps separate the person from the background (those nice blurry backgrounds you see in photos).

Sports

For outdoor sports, you'll want something with a long lens so you can capture photos from a long distance.  Indoor sports photography is a bit trickier.  Without getting too technical, indoor sports photography is hard.  You'll need three things in a camera.  1. A camera that performs well in low light since gyms are usually pretty dim.  2. A camera with a long lens to capture activity from a distance.  3. A lens with a wide aperture to let lots of light in.

Camera Guide

When buying a camera, there are a few factors you should consider.  Those are: weight, size, quality, price, and lens detachability (that's not a real word, but I'm using it anyway).

Weight & Size

To some extent, there is a tradeoff between price & quality, vs weight and size.  Typically, the smaller cameras are either lower quality or higher price, or both.  If you don't mind a heavier, larger camera, then you might want to look at traditional DSRL cameras.  However, if you want something smaller or lighter, a mirrorless camera would be a great option.

Quality

Obviously, you want a camera that can take good photos.  You'll have to find a balance somewhere (unless you're super rich, then go nuts).  You don't need to purchase a $35k camera to get good photos of your family.  The $400 model will do just fine.

Price

This one is pretty simple, buy the best camera you can afford within your budget.

Lens Detachability

No one lens is good at everything.  You've probably heard the expression "Jack of all traits, master of none".  That applies to lenses too.  Some lenses try to do everything and do an average job at it.  Some lenses do one specific thing very well, but aren't very versatile.  You'll have to decide what's important to you.  If you want something that does everything pretty well, and don't want to have to worry about the lens, then you can get something with an integrated lens.  If you think you'll want to grow into the camera, and get some purpose made lenses for thing like portraits, landscapes, etc.., then get a camera where you can detach the lens.

Tools

Here are some tools you can use to help make a decision.
Snapsort - A tool to help research cameras.  They have a good comparison feature to compare the details of two cameras.  
Pixel Peeper - This site lets you see real photos from a specific camera or lens.  
DxOMark  - This site has very detailed (and technical) reviews of cameras and lenses.  
DPReview - This site has great reviews, and a nice tool to browse different cameras by feature. 

Brands

These days, you can't go wrong with a Canon, Nikon, or Sony camera.  They all make very good cameras and have lots of options to choose from.  There are plenty of other manufacturers out there, and they make some very good cameras.  Those three are just the big ones.

Good luck using your camera!  Once you get it, if you want some tips on taking photos of your kids, then check out my article on 25 Tips for Taking Amazing Photos of Children.  

Printing Recomendations

So now that you have beautiful photos of your family, where should you have them printed?  

A lot of clients like to go the cheap and easy route and use a service like Shutterfly, Snapfish, Target, Costco, and other easily accessible printers.  Those services are great for a cheap and convenient way to print photos (I’ve used them before myself).  But be forewarned, there is a large gap in quality between them and professional quality printers.  I've gotten plenty of drugstore photos back where the people all look like Simpsons characters.  With professional printers, all of their devices are calibrates, so the pictures are sharp, the contrast is correct, and the colors are accurate.  

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You might be surprised to know that the professional printers are actually just as convenient as the cheapo printers and only slightly more expensive.  The cheapo printers are around $.15 for a 4×6 print, whereas the professional printers are about $.30 for the same print.  Since you already spent so much time, money, and effort on these photos, you might as well not cheap out at this point.  The total price you pay will probably only be a few dollars more.

Below are two recommendations of professional printers.  You can't go wrong with either.  There might be some quality differences, but that's like debating between a Mercedes and a BMW.  They are both going to blow the Toyota Corolla out of the water (no offense to Corolla owners, my wife has one).  

Printers

Nations Photo Lab
I really like this company.  The quality is amazing, the ordering process is easy, and the prices are very reasonable.  This company is used by a lot of professional photographers.  What more is there to say?

mpix
mpix makes high-quality prints and has an easy ordering process. I think the quality at Nations is slightly better, but both services blow Snapfish and Shutterfly away.  The prices at mpix are slightly higher than Nations.  mpix is the consumer division of a company named millers, which a lot of professional photographers use.

How to Get a Child to Cooperate for Photos

These tips below are written from the perspective of the parent.  You might also want to check out: 25 Tips for Taking Amazing Photos of Children, which is written for the photographer.  

As a parent, getting children to be happy and willing participants in a photo shoot isn't always the easiest thing in the world.  Below are some quick tips that I've picked up along the way to get children to happily participate for a photo session.  The tactics I recommend are different for each age group.  

Newborn

The best thing we can do is to make the baby comfortable.  I typically recommend shooting in the home for a newborn session. Make sure the baby is well fed before the session.  During the session, be patient and be willing to take plenty of breaks for things like feeding and cleanup.  Also, babies love nice warm houses.  I recommend turning the heat up to about 80 degrees during colder months, or turning the air conditioning off during the summer.  With enough luck, the baby will be comfortable enough to sleep through the whole session.

6 Months – 2 Years

Make sure they’re well fed going into the session.  Keep bottles or snacks that they like handy to top them off.  This isn't the time to break out the broccoli chips (not sure if that's really a thing) that they hate, go with a tasty and filling snack.  If it’s cold out, make sure they are dressed comfortably. Many parents try to dress their kids in outfits that aren’t appropriate for the weather so that they look cute.  Not surprisingly, those pictures come out with the kids looking cold and miserable.

They are a bit too young to listen at this age, so if they don’t want to pose, then we’ll just have to get creative and find some activities that they want to do.  Sometimes it’s helpful to bring a favorite toy in the case of a meltdown, but keep in mind that if you give them a toy, then the toy will be in some (or all) of the pictures.  Sometimes kids don't want to give the toy up.  We can also pull up a favorite video on a phone and hold it by the camera.

2 Years and Up

I find it’s helpful to explain to the children what to expect before the session.  Teach them about looking at the camera, listening to the photographer, and of course, smiling.  If there is more than one child, then it's a good idea to enlist the older children to be little helpers.

Also, bribes!  Bribes work amazingly well at this age.  I’ve had clients bring packages of smaller candies like M&M’s, and give one to the child after each successful pose.  I’ve also had clients promise things like ice cream or a trip to the toy store after the session.  If you're going to give the child candy during the session, get something that won't stain their hands and lips.  

25 Tips for Taking Amazing Photos of Children

Anyone who has ever tried to take pictures of children knows that it's quite challenging.  They don't have attention spans, they don't listen, and they switch from happy to grumpy within seconds for seemingly no reason.  As a professional family portrait photographer, I've picked up a few tricks over the years to get good photos with uncooperative kids.  Below are all my secrets for working with children and creating a successful photo shoot with children and families.

Camera and Setup

Take a lot of photos - Children's expressions change in an instant.  Sometimes I take upwards of 30 photos for the same pose.  If there are multiple kids, pay attention to each kid and make sure you get an expression you like from everyone.  You can always composite the photos later (see next tip).

Composites - With multiple people in the same photo, it's sometimes really hard to get a usable expression from everyone.  If you follow the above tip to take lots of photos and get at least one usable photo of everyone, then you should be able to make a composite in Photoshop.  If the photos are from the same pose in the same lighting conditions, a composite should only take a few minutes once you know what you're doing.

Use a zoom lens - I absolutely love the quality of prime lenses.  Unfortunately, they just don't work for me on family sessions.  Changing lenses slows the session down way too much, and I don't want to use multiple cameras because I'm constantly moving around.  I personally use a 24-70 on most of my sessions.  The 70mm end gives me some depth (and compression) and the 24mm end allows me to get those wide angle shots, like standing above.

Choose the right focus mode - I use single point focus 95% of the time, but sometimes kids move way too quickly for me to focus and recompose.  In those instances, I either use all of the focus points and let the camera choose for me, or use the 3D tracking mode.

Pay attention to the lighting - Photography is all about light.  Pay attention to the direction of the light, the color of the light, the hardness of the light, etc.  Small adjustments like the direction the child is facing can make a big difference.

Time of day - If you're shooting outdoors, the ideal time to shoot is during the golden hour.  If you're shooting inside, pay attention to the time of day that the room or location gets the best light.

Shade - The best light for portraits is diffused light.  If you're shooting in direct sunlight, find a nice shady spot to shoot in.

Interaction

Befriend them first, get down on their level - Don't just show up to the session, jam a massive lens in their face and start clicking away.  Kneel down, introduce yourself, give them a high-five, and chat with them a bit before you start shooting.

Start quickly, shoot quickly - Kids have a short attention span.  I find that I usually get the best posed photos during the first 15 minutes of the session.  I try to work quickly and get those done.

Don't you smile - This one is simple, just tell the kids not to smile, and if they do, make a big fuss about it.  The important part of this trick is to have fun with it and be animated.

Laughter - Sometimes I tell the kids to give me a big belly-laugh (and demonstrate for them).  Usually the fake laugh isn't very photogenic, but they'll have a big natural smile afterward.

Have helpers stand behind you - Sometimes I'll have helpers for the session (or photo), like parents or grandparents.  When I do, I'll usually instruct them to stand directly behind me and put their faces as close to the lens as possible so the child is looking right into the lens.

Bribes - I'll usually leave this one to the parents, but bribes work wonders (for children around 2 1/2 years old and above).  I've had parents use bribes like candy, new toys, and trips to a special place like the playground.

Look into the lens, can you see my eye - Sometimes if I want a serious / quizzical look, I'll ask the child if they can see my eye through my lens.  I find this works well with shots from above.

Peek-a-boo - With very young kids, a game of peek-a-boo behind the camera works wonders.

Have older siblings help - Sometimes I'll task the older siblings with helping the younger siblings.  It gives them a job and a sense of control over the session.

Dress appropriately in cold weather - This one might seem obvious, but I'm always amazed by how many parents show up to a fall session on a 40-degree windy day with their kids dressed in a "cute" light shirt.  Unsurprisingly, cold kids are usually miserable and it shows in the photos.

Have patience - Kids are going to be kids.  They are going to want to run around, they are going to have meltdowns, and they are going to need breaks.  Sometimes you have to take a break and let kids be kids.   Usually I try to keep shooting during these breaks and sometimes end up with great candid shots.

Do what they like to do, don't try to control everything.  - Sometimes kids are especially stubborn.  They won't pose, they won't sit still, and they just want to play.  In those instances, let them play.  Be creative and get some interesting shots of them playing.

Be goofy - Don't be afraid to act like a total goofball, make funny noises, jump up and down, etc... Whatever it takes to get them to crack a smile.

Move beyond "Cheese" - Don't just tell them to say cheese.  Be creative, think of things that will make them smile.  Say stuff like, "daddy smells", or "stinky feet".

Include other people, but focus on the child. - If you're having a hard time getting the child to pose, try letting them interact with someone else while you focus in on the child.

The "I'm going to get you" game - You know the game... The one where you say "I'm going to get you!", then go tickle the kid for a second, back up, then do it all over again.  I will tickle the kids once, back up, focus, fake another attack, and take a few photos when they giggle.  As a bonus, you get a great workout running around.

Tickling - I love using tickling as a tool to get the child to laugh.  Have the parents tickle the children and look at them and laugh along with them.  You'll get super natural looking family photos.

End with the fun shots  - Save the fun photos for the end when the kids have no attention span left.  Photos like throwing kids in the air or lifting them up by their arms always get a smile, no matter how cranky they are.

The most important component to making a good photo

I often get asked by my clients some variant of the following question: "What's the most important component in making a good photo?  Is it the camera, the lens, or the processing?"  I'm not big on suspense, so here's the answer... It's a combination of all three, plus two more very important items: the environment, and skill.  Let's dig in to each component and find out just what makes it special.

The Camera

In my opinion, the camera is the least important part of all of the components.  I'm not saying that the camera isn't important, it's just that most modern interchangeable lens cameras (and even smartphones) can produce a pretty darn good image these days.  In many cases, it's not even image quality that differentiates the expensive cameras from the cheaper cameras.  The more expensive cameras have features like better low-light performance, fast shutter speed, more focus points, weatherproofing, bigger battery, more buttons, better screen, blazing fast continuous shooting, and on and on.  All things that may help make a good photo in certain instances, but mostly are not necessary to produce high quality photos.  Yes, I concede that the sensors in the more expensive cameras are very good.  If you're the type of person that cares about MTF charts, then you'll definitely find some differences between the cheaper cameras, and their more expensive counterparts.  But I'd argue that in most real-world cases, with limited resources, I'd rather put my time and money into one of the below components to make better photos.

Processing

To me, processing and lenses are about equal in importance.  With proper processing, you can put your personal fingerprint on your images.  You might want to have your images appear super crisp, or vibrant, or high contrast, or low contrast, or black and white, or maybe that faded film-emulation look that's oh-so popular, etc....  In the processing stage, you can take images from good to amazing.  For me, this is where my images really pop.  I personally have some default presets that are applied to my images upon import.  I love watching the import process to see the preset get applied.  The images first come in as a flat, dull image.  Then a few seconds later, when the preset is applied I see the image come alive with vibrance, contrast, sharpness, and many of the other characteristics I set in my presets.

Another benefit about processing is the ability to fix mistakes.  I know, I know, All photographers aim to get the exposure right in-camera (and if not, they should).  But let's face it, sometimes we just don't nail the exposure the way we intended.  Maybe we saw the perfect moment right in front of us with only enough time to lift the camera on the existing settings and snap a photo.  Or maybe we accidentally had the ISO set on the wrong value (oops).   Whatever the case, it happens to the best of us.  And in that instance, sometimes we wind up with a photo that we absolutely love, but horribly under or overexposed.  Luckily, with today's powerful camera sensors and a RAW file format, we can do a pretty nice job recovering photos in post processing.

You'll be happy to know that processing is one of the cheaper components, in terms of money.  In fact, you can subscribe the the top image editing software in the world for $9.99 per month.  That said, it's definitely not cheap in terms of time.  It takes a lot of time and effort to become good at processing photos.  More on this later (hint hint, that skill part I mentioned).

Lenses

Equally as important as processing (for me) are lenses.  The lens selected can have a large impact on the outcome of the final photo.  For example, you might want to have a photo with a really thin depth of field (background blur) to really isolate the photo on the subject.  Or, you may choose a long focal length to compress the subject and make them look slim.  Or Perhaps you want to shoot and ultra-wide scene without much distortion.  Perhaps you want the whole scene to be super sharp.  To accomplish all of these things, you need to select the right lens.

Depending on the application, sometimes there can be a large difference between the starter lenses and the pro-quality lenses.  Unfortunately, high quality lenses are quite expensive.  Lenses can quickly get into the thousands of dollars per piece.  That adds up pretty quick one you get a few of them.  The nice thing about lenses is that when properly cared for, they can last a long time.  In most cases, lenses long outlast camera bodies.

The Environment

I almost didn't include this category, but I think it's a super important component in making a good photograph.  I often get shown a Pinterest photo and asked to recreate it.  The sample picture might contain the perfect baby, with the perfect expression, and perfect baby skin, with the most perfect light coming into the house shining through perfect decor.  Then I look up and see a miserable baby with jaundice sitting in a dim cluttered house.  To make amazing photos, you need amazing environmental elements.  Your subject needs to be worth looking at in the first place.  Hopefully this one is pretty obvious.

Skill

Truth be told, any amateur can go out and buy a top of the line camera and lens and make an absolute stunning photo.  It actually happens quite often. In fact, cameras are getting pretty intelligent these days.  Modern cameras are getting very good at intelligently detecting the scene and automatically adjusting the settings on the camera for you.  So you might ask, why do I need skill to take good photos?  The best answer I can come up with is the cliche "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while".  Someone without skill might get lucky and get an amazing photo.  That same person will probably get 1000 other average photos for that one good photo.  Someone without skill might also completely miss the first birthday cake smash because the pictures are all blurry in the low light.  That same equipment in the hands of a skilled photographer will result in good photographs for the majority of the photos.  The photographer will know that the child smashing the cake will be moving, so he'll need to adjust the shutter speed and ISO to compensate (or maybe adjust it the other way to show some motion).  A skilled photographer will know to compensate exposure when it's snowing out, or to spot-focus on the right place instead of the stranger in the foreground... and a million other scenarios.

Photographers think about things like exposure, composition, posing, lighting, background, and much more for every single photo they take.  Later, when they process the photos, they use an entirely different set of skills to make each photo just perfect.  Each item, a unique skill that photographers spend years honing.  Regardless of the equipment used, it's going to be hard to take a spectacular photo without the necessary skill.  The best analogy I've heard to describe this is that of a chef.  If you take someone that knows nothing about cooking and give them the best knives, the best pans, and the best ingredients, chances are you still won't have a restaurant quality meal.  On the flip side, I've seen great photographers make some amazing photos with very little equipment.

Unfortunately, skill is the hardest of all of the components to obtain.  Most of the other elements you can obtain with enough money.  That doesn't necessarily work for skill (trust me, I've tried).  It takes years of work, studying, reading, watching videos, taking classes, talking to other photographers, looking at other photos, experimenting with different styles, and so on.  It's a constant process that is never finished.

So, usually when I'm asked this question by clients, my answer is a little bit more succinct, but it's still the same.  Skill is the most important component.  Now you know why.