Reaching for the Real

Finding purpose in the "highlight reel" era.

Reaching for the Real

Waiting for the blue hour to dawn, the sky was painted with streaks of lilac, filling the space for the moon to say goodnight to the sun. I asked her to lift her hands in the air, praising the God who decided to show off His work once again. It's at moments like these that I sit back and go,

"What exactly am I doing right now?"

After the session, I head home to work on the photos from the session, and I am in awe at what a camera, a concept, and a model can create. I lean back in my chair, scroll over the images, and all of a sudden, I hear,

"Can you feel those? Those images; can you feel those?"

I leapt up out of my seat and was instantly overcome with this vision. How exactly can you “feel” an image?

After thinking for some time, I came up with the conclusion that the way you feel an image is by making sure you get the clients laughing.

So, with some prompts, I encouraged my clients to laugh, let loose, and enjoy each other. There’s technically nothing wrong with those, but, I noticed something was off. Everyone seemed

REALLY happy.

Almost… too happy.

I looked deeper into my sessions, and realized I was promoting happiness, something that every couple/client should have. But it wasn’t something that made me go, * gasp *. I didn’t look at my photos and go, “Wow. That speaks volumes.” Or, “Wow! I FELT something in that photo.”

I decided to look toward photographers, such as, Athena & Camron, Dmitriy Maley, Dallin & Cienna, and Indiee Fox (Mckenzie & Ben) ) to see what they capture. While most of what they capture is happy and joyful, sometimes, they capture things besides laughter and smiles.

Sometimes, they capture teardrops rolling down the cheeks of the bride during a wedding.

Sometimes, they capture the quiver of a mouth of a husband who has loved someone for a short time, and it somehow feels they’ve been together their whole lives.

Sometimes, they capture messy hair, imperfect grin marks and eye creases, teardrops and mouth quivers, and even faces that aren’t smiling at 100% full-blast.

With these images in mind, I saved a whole bunch of them to my computer, and scrolled through them, finding similar characteristics. Was it that the black-and-white filters were BOMB? Was it that the clients were hot couples? Was it even that the photographers had the BEST cameras and equipment?


The similar characteristic between each of them was that each depicted real life.

Photos are amazing to display in your home. Especially with family photos, your house should be decorated with your best selves. But, nothing speaks louder than the RAW & REAL side of you and your family.

In the age of social media and “highlight reels,” we all have the pressure to put out BEST selves out there, and nothing else outside of that. We need to have perfect smiles, filters, perfect attitudes, and viewpoints of the world; but, when we are all perfect, we all become the same.

For example, when we listen to music, what sticks out to you?

For me, the radio-friendly “bops” are nice, but the ones that actually stick out to me are those with lyrical depth. Those that rip the band-aid off, those that aren’t afraid to show open wounds, and wave white flags, and say, “I can’t,” or, “I don’t know.”

So, why isn’t it the same in photos? Shouldn’t photos show that we don’t know exactly what we’re doing? Shouldn’t photos show teardrops, and “crow’s feet,” and mouth quivers, and even heartbreak; smashing glasses and screams of agony?

Hitting this point, it has hit the real-life dimension.

We should be able to live, unafraid to show the things that make us uniquely human. As a photographer, my mission was previously to make everyone look amazing, or even their best.

Now, my mission is to capture the REAL them; even if that means shedding a few tears, letting a few laughs loose, and even soaking up some blows of fury.

Read next: 4 Ways To Find Inspiration As A Beginner Photographer
Cale Maloney
See all posts by Cale Maloney