What is the great secret to taking great pictures of your kids? Is it a fancy $3,000 camera with all the latest technology? Is it skill that takes years in the making or is it the “touch” – unlocking that artistic genius talent in you?

As with everything, what makes the most believable answers are those that have just enough truth, or shade thereof, that you think it probably is true. But is it?

I’ve been doing photography since I was in college. I bought my first camera – a Nikon N6006, with a 50mm F1.8 lens. It was love at first sight, but like teen infatuation, it ended fast. Within 6 months I “upgraded” to the semi-professional Nikon N8008. I also bought my first zoom lens – a Sigma 28-70mm F3.5-4.5. That was more like it. Now with “Excalibur” in my hands, I was ready to slay dragons! Well, maybe shoot them. With a camera.

That was over 20 years ago. Since then I’ve learned a few things. I’m not an expert by any means. But I know just enough to be dangerous. I  learned that like most things in life, you can achieve 80% of everything you need, with 20% of the effort required. It’s called the Pareto Principle. And with photography, with taking great pictures of kids, or anything else – it applies equally well.

What is the 20% you need to learn, acquire and purchase, to make great pictures that are 80% AWESOME?

Is it the equipment? The knowledge? The artist in you? Or perhaps just Photoshop?

The answer is… it’s a little bit of everything. You need good equipment, but not as good as you might think. The secret is knowing the 20% equipment you need to give you 80% of the effect you want. You also need knowledge, but not as much as you think. You’re not aspiring to get your photo on the front page of LIFE magazine. Just pictures of your kids growing up that you will treasure for life. For that matter, your kids’ kids will too. And they’ll thank you for it.

Do you have to be artistic? Yes but you’d be amazed how much you can ‘acquire’ from emulation, and 10,000 hours.

Finally do you need Photoshop? This one will surprise you. Yes. But not in the way that magazines use to trim wrinkles, or pounds off your belly. You need it to post-process and correct color, contrast, balance and a variety of other things. Things that your camera did not get right.

But guess what? Every picture on every print magazine or publication ever is post-processed. Every great picture you’ve ever seen or remember was post-processed. Every great black-and-white masterpiece was post-processed. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything as true and “original”. Because at the end, your camera is making assumptions of how to capture light and render it to a file. Your monitor is making different assumptions on how to render that image on your screen. Your brain is making different assumptions on how to interpret those light signals and no two person on this earth will ever deciphers the same image exactly the same, ever.

In short, there is no such thing as an “original” image. Everything in life – images that is – is processed and perceived differently.

So you need some equipment, some practical understanding of photography, and you need to do your time to post-process your pictures. I would attribute about a third each in terms of criticality to a great photo (see Equipment, Knowledge & Post-Correction).

So where do we begin? Start here >> 3 Tips Guaranteed to Make You a Better Photographer