2017 Photochallenge, week 17: Storytelling – Capturing emotion

Yes, a photograph can be technically perfect, and have a great composition. That’s already hard enough to achieve sometimes! But for me, a photograph really stands out if it touches me. If it conveys a feeling, or stirs an emotion within. A really great image is one that evokes a mood and pulls the viewer into the scene.

That’s what this week’s challenge is about: capturing emotion and feeling. Before I explain more about how to achieve this, here are some practical guidelines to start with:

  • take one photo
  • either color or black and white
  • the subject is completely up to you
  • your picture should convey a feeling or emotion. Some examples to start up your ideas: happiness, sadness, anger, joy, fear, grief, awe, loss, love, irritation, confusion, madness, stillness, annoyance, satisfaction, indifference…the list can go on and on.

In the remainder of this post, we’ll look into five different approaches:

  • Your own mood as a filter for photography
  • Capturing other peoples’ emotions
  • Copying great works of art
  • Nature and inanimate objects
  • Abstraction and color

Feel free to use any of the approaches, or combine them. As long as you make us feel, and you make it yours!

So…how do I create emotion in my images?

Of course, your own mood plays a very important role in how you perceive the world around you. It’s probably the most used filter in the world 🙂

Some years ago, one of my best friends suddenly passed away. And when I look back to the pictures I took in that period, I do notice that they all have a sadder, darker undertone than the images that I usually shoot. I deliberately worked with those feelings of sadness, anger and loss in my photography. It gave a voice to what I felt, and was very beneficial for my healing process.

Loss – Maaike Groenewege

But of course, emotion does not always have to  be this heavy. Imagine the happiness of walking around town on a sunny afternoon, with no particular plan, and you suddenly feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, the laughter of children chasing soap bubbles in the sky, the roses in bloom in the park…

Wonder – Maaike Groenewege

Capturing other peoples’ emotions

Portraits can be a great way of capturing other people’s emotions. It’s not the easiest way though: feelings are hard to summon at will, and in a portrait setting, there’s very little distance between you and your model. You both should feel comfortable enough to get close and build enough trust for those true feelings to show.

When I grow up – Maaike Groenewege

A way to avoid this, is to shoot candid portraits or street scenes. Here, you don’t have to get very close to you subject (although I personally do make sure that I establish eye contact before I take a picture…there’s nothing more spooky than a photographer hiding in the shadows). Just observing people as they go about in their daily lives, enjoying themselves at a concert or pondering life on their daily commute: these are all great opportunities!



Commute – Maaike Groenewege

I took this image by not pointing my phone directly at the subject, but shooting the image that was reflected on the train window. Of course, afterwards, I asked this gentleman whether he was OK with me taking and using this picture.

Copying the great masters

There are so many artistic masterpieces around us! One of my hobbies is to go to a museum or a park, and photograph great works of art. Sometimes I just make a copy that I can study at home, but especially with sculptures, you as a photographer can reinforce the emotions that are already present in the original work.

Detail of the Burghers of Calais – Charles Auguste Rodin

For instance, this is a part of a sculpture by Rodin, ‘Burghers of Calais’, situated in Westminster, London. It’s part of a bigger group of sculpted people. I isolated this single person, took a low viewpoint, and focussed on his troubled face and wrought hands. This way, I tried to bring out the worry and despair that I sensed, but was easily lost in the original.

When it comes to fear, this statue in a monastery in Cluny, France, is my personal association with that feeling. She actually turned up in a nightmare or two, shortly after my visit, and I still get this sense of creepiness when I watch her. In the picture, I used a very close cropping to bring out those spooky eyes and severe look.

Lady of late – Maaike Groenewege


Nature and inanimate objects

When people and statues are not really your cup of tea, there’s of course always nature to explore. Sunlight especially adds emotion to everyday scenes, and dramatic views from mountaintops evoke a sense of awe.

Yorkshire Dales – Maaike Groenewege

Use small and isolated objects to bring out feelings of isolation, disconnection and perhaps even goodbye or loss.

Final crossing – Maaike Groenewege

And don’t forget the small wonders and miracles of the macro world that might right at your feet!

Time to fly! – Maaike Groenewege


Color and abstraction

One final approach that I’d like to suggest (and which I really like myself), is to let go of ‘image’, and explore the world of lines, shapes a colors. I considered this image of a line of trees as a write-off (I was simply clicking away while sitting in the passenger’s seat of our car). But after looking at it for a while, I felt desoriented and confused, which I further reinforced by desaturizing the colors and increasing the contrast.

Lost – Maaike

Color can be a great way to bring out feelings like anger and excitement. This was actually one of the tiny world experiments I did for last year’s challenge: it’s a sunset with beautiful reds and pinks. By rolling up the landscape, it almost becomes a Tolkien-like evil eye.

Evil eye – Maaike

With so many different possibilities, this should first and foremost be a fun and exciting challenge for everyone! So go grab your camera and enjoy!

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2017 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.




2017 Photochallenge week 11 – Storytelling – In my town

Back to storytelling this week! The challenge in short:

  • we’re going to shoot a series of three images (simply add all three images in your main Facebook post)
  • in black and white
  • telling a story about your home town

Where our first storytelling challenge was about you, this week, we’re going to explore our surroundings. With so many participants from so many areas and countries, I’m really looking forward to seeing what makes your home town so special, and most of all, so dear to you.

So take your camera and start hunting for those typical people, street views, buildings that characterise your city. Or capture the rolling hills, quaint shops and community gatherings of your small town. Your grandparent’s house, your old school, the place where you met your future husband or wife…or the desolate isolation of the big city where you’re still trying to find your own sense of home. Anything goes, as long as it’s about you.

Whitby Harbour – Maaike Groenewege

About series

Series are a great way of telling a story, because the images in a series allow you to highlight various aspects of your topic, add a sense of time and gives you a certain structure to work with. In a good series, the images reinforce each other.

How do I make a series?

Putting images together doesn’t automatically create a series. The secret of a great series is that all images together form a coherent whole. You cannot leave any of the images out, without loosing some of the overall impact. This means that every image is a great image in itself and  adds to the effect of the series as a whole.

How do I connect my images to form a coherent series?

By Topic: the most obvious way, each of the images shows an aspect of the same topic. This is where your storytelling qualities have a chance to shine. What are you going to show? And why? Remember that sometimes, ‘not showing’ can create a very strong sense of suspense.

Mensen van de Markthal – Maaike Groenewege
Mensen van de Markthal – Maaike Groenewege
Mensen van de Markthal – Maaike Groenewege

By shape: another way of creating a coherent set is by using the same ‘shape language’ in your series, such as squares/lines or  soft/blurry/undulating. Pay attention to contrast as well: your series becomes less strong if there’s one picture that catches the eye. In that case, consider killing a darling. Or two.


In Transit – Maaike Groenewege
In Transit – Maaike Groenewege
In Transit – Maaike Groenewege

By perspective: another way to help you create coherence is to use the same perspective and distance to your subject in each image. This will create a natural flow from image to image, and will keep the viewer from having to switch too much.

Of course, there are many more ways, feel free to experiment!


For some great street/city/series photography, make sure to check out www.martinroemers.com, home of award-winning photographer Martin Roemers.

For examples of series photography, visit Lensculture’s section on visual storytelling/

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2017 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.


Well, there we go, my first challenge as a photochallenge.org contributor! I’m really looking forward to contributing to the community of which I’ve been a part for some years now. My challenges will be losely grouped around the theme ‘Storytelling’, or how you can use your photographs to convey meaning, emotion, a series of events or a sense of wonder.

For this week, I’d like to invite you to shoot a self portrait…without yourself. That’s right, your submission should be about you, but without showing you as a person. To be frank, this idea isn’t my own, it’s an assignment that many photo clubs and schools use to get people thinking outside the box and have fun.

Self portrait without self by SabbathPhotography

This assignment invites you to think about yourself from various perspectives: what is it that makes you YOU, and how can you capture this in an image? How do you translate things like personality, character, likes and dislikes into photographs?

How do I do this?


There are countless approaches to telling your story. For instance, you can gather some objects that tell a story about you, your hobbies, things you hold dear, or that define you in some way, and create a still life. In this case, it’s the objects that tell the story, like in the picture in the introduction. This is perfectly fine; if you go for this approach, I’d encourage you to focus on composition and lighting.


Another way of tackling this challenge is focussing on your storytelling style, and how it reflects your personality. The picture below, for instance, shows the photographer’s love for chocolate. However, it’s the minimalistic approach with clear lines and a balanced composition that conveys the main message here: the photographer’s need for order and being in control.

Zelfportret zonder fotograaf – Kevin Kwee

This approach is great for playing around with various techniques. Think: macro if you’re a nittygritty-detailed type of person, blur or deliberate-out-of-focus for the dreamers amongst us, or simply breaking all the rules if you’re a bit of a rebel.


As a final example, here’s one of the shots that I took as part of a self portrait series. With this picture, I tried to convey the feeling of being awake in the middle of the night, and not being able to get back to sleep. As a frequent insomniac, this is a very familiar situation for me, and in a way, it defines a lot of who I am, because people will notice immediately the next day 🙂

Self portrait – Maaike Groenewege

Feel free to combine aspects of all approaches, and don’t forget to add your own personal flavor!


  • As much as I like you all, a self portrait without self means that I don’t want to see you at all  🙂 So no silhouettes, no reflections and no pictures of you.
  • Since we’re all on photochallenge.org, let’s assume that we all like photography. Of course, I cannot forbid you to include camera gear in your picture, but I would like to challenge you to go one step further, so that we don’t end up with dozens of pictures including cameras.
  • Other than that, HAVE FUN! Don’t be afraid to experiment, give your own personal twist to a challenge and try something different. The photochallenge community is one of the most friendly groups of people I know, so whether you’re just starting out, or have some experience already: we’re always looking forward to your contribution.

Group rules

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • The posted image should be an animated still image and not a video.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2017 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.