On being real… {why I don’t want to take your picture in a park}

I have this picture of Isla sitting on my desk – 7 days old, swaddled in one of those newborn mohair wraps, a custom-made headband delicately situated atop her wispy hair. It’s a beautiful picture – truly. And I’m thankful for it because in those days I was still very new to photography and those first few weeks of her life were captured mostly on my iPhone. I remember seeing this picture for the first time and thinking ‘hmm she forgot to Photoshop the bruise on her hand’. Isla’s little fist was balled up near her chin – her right fist, the one that had an IV placed just minutes after she was born, that was still healing on her 7th day of life. It’s funny because at the time I thought that was the only thing ‘wrong’ with this picture. Today, it is the detail that can bring me to tears if I let it.


To lots of people, photography is about getting a perfect picture. Perfect outfit, perfect smile, perfect location, perfect family. I took some photos like that when I first started – I’d buy the cutest outfit ever created, wait for the perfect light, beg and plead and pray to Jesus to let Isla cooperate and then I’d capture this “perfect” picture. When I put together our first family album in 2012, I noticed something. My favorite images were not the perfect ones. They weren’t even the ones I’d even flagged as keepers in Lightroom. They were the pullback shots. The ones with a little clutter. The ones with context. They had something that my perfect pictures were missing. They had a story.

And so, in 2013, I embraced my love for reality. I accepted the challenge of finding magic all around me instead of trying to create it. Because there is nothing on Etsy that is going to make your photographs more meaningful. And a field of flowers isn’t going to bring back memories if there were no memories made in that field.

It’s natural to want to present ourselves and our lives in a beautiful way. But the lie we believe is that our real lives aren’t beautiful. That there isn’t anything worth photographing at home. That our everyday is really just worth a quick iPhone shot, maybe a share on Instagram if it’s lucky. That our real life just isn’t pretty enough. But how can a place where you share laughter and tears and meals and memories be anything other than perfect?

There is a beauty in scuffed floorboards, piles of laundry, unmade beds.

And there is a value in acknowledging and documenting all those little things that make your life what it is:

Beautiful. Memorable. Real.


“Generally by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But those things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”  – The Velveteen Rabbit (1922)



  • carrie - KEEPIN’ IT REAL, sister! Keep doing what you are SO talented at doing, in a beautiful way! Please come visit me in Seattle so that I can hire you to capture our beautiful everyday!ReplyCancel

    • jessicathomason - I would LOVE to come photograph you in your natural habitat!!! 🙂 Thanks Carrie!ReplyCancel

  • Jenn - This post is such perfection. It’s one of those that I WISH I had written! Well done! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Ashley Spaulding - As someone who loves lifestyle photography (and who’s even learning – GASP! – to embrace a little more ‘clutter’ in my frames), I couldn’t love this more. So well said, Jessica!ReplyCancel

    • jessicathomason - Thank you Ashley! I admire you so much and love seeing your everyday shares! You have a beautiful life <3ReplyCancel

  • Rebecca Wells - I LOVE this. Big, puffy heart, love. Beautifully written, Jessica Thomason!ReplyCancel

  • Sandi Farrell - So true, and beautifully stated. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Wilkerson - Beautiful sentiments — love this, Jessica!ReplyCancel

    • jessicathomason - Thanks so much Sarah 🙂ReplyCancel

  • KaetheJo Hartman Binder - This! 100 times yes!ReplyCancel

  • Cynthia Greene Ragona - I couldn’t agree more. Fantastic.ReplyCancel

  • Kaylie Drew - Love! So beautifully said and you totally put words to something I couldn’t quite do myself.ReplyCancel

  • Anna Marisol Padilla - Great post!!! You inspire me to take my real pics of my family.

  • Kate Densmore - Love this! ReplyCancel

  • Bonnie Hussey - All the yes!!!! ReplyCancel

  • Agata Cicha - From the moment I saw your pictures I knew I’ll never like posed photos again. It was love at first sight. The same with your writing.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - Love this, Jessica. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Frith Murphy - You have put into words so eloquently the things I am beginning to figure out for myself. Many thanks for the inspiration. ReplyCancel

  • Megan H - I am all about keeping it real – storytelling is the reason we do this, right? This spring I started introducing that aspect into my client sessions and the response has been very positive!

    So well said!ReplyCancel

    • jessicathomason - Thank you! And yes, it’s absolutely the reason we do this! It’s why I picked up the camera in the first place 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Crystal Satriano - Love! So true!ReplyCancel

  • Stacey Wiseman - This was great Jessica!ReplyCancel

  • Brooke Collier - Yup! Couldn’t have said it better!ReplyCancel

  • Heather Lathrop Chang - So well said! I completely agree. Too much perfection being forced into images!ReplyCancel