2017 Photochallenge, week 36: Uncanny Valley

Ever wondered why clowns, robots, mime players and dolls give us the creeps? According to robotics professor Masahiro Mori, this is because of the Uncanny valley effect.

Uncanny valley – Maaike Groenewege

To quote Litreactor’s excellent article on this topic:
We have a great degree of tolerance for that which isn’t human so long as we can identify what makes it non-human. But when something is just a little too familiar … when it’s like us, but not quite … we get caught up on that “not quite.” This is where Freud’s uncanny and King’s terror take place. It is the space where our minds don’t know whether to connect with or run away from what we see.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to play around with this challenge: make a picture of a doll, robot, clown or any other topic that gives you the chills.

Only rule is that:

  • there should be a human or something humanoid in your picture
  • your picture should make us feel slightly freaked out, eerie or uncomfortable.

Some ideas…

Of course, clowns are great for this challenge. The archetypical ‘evil clown’ has been around for a very long time already; you can read some interesting history here. Their heavy make-up makes it impossible to read their emotions, and it’s this ambiguity that makes us feel uncomfortable.

Clowning around – Beth Jusino

The same goes for masks and other ways of making facial expressions unrecognisable.

kelly jean

No title – Kelly Jean Photography


Creepy doll – Isabella Dyba

No need for explanation here! There are quite a lot of websites that are dedicated to creepy dolls. For some extra effect, consider taking your doll apart, perhaps remove the eyes, or look for a really old and battered example.

And how about this one…can you imagine travelling to work on the London Underground and encounter these?

03-twin-dolls-london-tube-matt alexander - PA wire
Matt Warren, via Metro.co.uk

Adding effects to regular portraits

Things have to be only slightly off to give us the shivers, so another way of handling this challenge is to manipulate a regular portrait. Just a change in proportions or a tweak on the eyes will already put your image right into the uncanny valley.

Human doll – Laura Porphyria

A fun and not-so-difficult approach is to use a Faceswap app on your tablet or phone. Try swapping faces between adults and babies, or, even creepier, humans and animals!

Faceswap girl-chicken – source unknown

This should give you enough information to get going, and remember: don’t forget to enjoy yourself!

Our friendly community guidelines 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 23: Once upon a time…

Fairy tales are among the oldest stories we tell each other, and they offer a host of opportunities for us photographers. Enchanted forests full of strange creatures, hidden witch cottages, splendid castles that are inhabited by kings and queens…this week’s challenge is about the (re)creating the magic of fairy tales!

Little Red Riding Hood – Andre Heidemann

Some practical guidelines

  • Take one photo
  • In color or black & white
  • That depicts a scene from a fairy tale
  • Use post-processing to give your image a touch of magic
  • For those who like to play around with photoshop: this is your chance to add the occasional fairy, goblin or dragon. Image manipulation is encouraged!
  • When you post your image, please write a few lines, mentioning which fairy tale inspired your image, and anything else you’d like to share.

In the first part of this challenge, we’ll look at possible topics and how to find a suitable topic when you’re short on time. In the second part, I’ll explain a bit about techniques that can help you to create a magical atmosphere in your images.

Cinderella – Laura Zalenga


So…what exactly shoud I shoot?

This can be anything, as long as it relates to a fairy tale, legend, folk tale or myth: go outside looking for that perfect woods where you might just bump into seven dwarfs or Granny’s cottage. Or create a still life of the moments just after Snow White took a bite of the poisoned apple. And if you’re lucky to have children around, why not dress them up, and let them re-enact a scene from the Pied Piper!

Follow the pied piper – GraphicNovelleLife


Here’s some suggested approaches:

A fairy tale landscape: our folk tales are full of enchanted forests, castles and ruins, yellow brick roads and bread crumb trails. A fairly easy way to do this challenge is to go out and look for fairy tale scenes in nature. In this case, the golden hour at the end of the day is your friend; it gives your images a natural magic touch. Also, look for interplay of light and dark: a sun beam breaking through a dense canopy of leaves, or the fog rolling in: it all adds to the fairy-like quality of your image.

Lake Bled – Ales Krivec


Enchanted forrest – Maaike Groenewege

People or objects from a fairy tale: rather than focussing on the scenery, you could also select one of the main characters as your subject. And with so many symbolism, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find some objects for a still life: apples, glass shoes, a mirror or a queen of hearts…your imagination is the only limit. And don’t forget the animals! Horses, deer, Cheshire cats , toads, and even dragons and unicorns if you’re into photoshopping.

Pinocchio – Tommy Liddell
Poisoned apple – Ashley3216

A complete fairy tale scene: this is going to take some planning upfront, because you need to go location scouting, arrange your models and their costumes, and might require quite some time to get everything just right. But if you manage to shoot an entire fairy tale scene, the results can be amazing! For those of you that like to edit and manipulate your images: feel free to re-create a fairy tale in Photoshop or any other editor-of-choice.

No Seat for You – Yamihoshi123

Some techniques (and a secret weapon) for making your images magical

Although post-processing should, in my view, never substitute careful composition, exposure and shutter speed, in this case, it can really help you to achieve that magical touch that we associate with fairy tales. Take this example of a eucalyptus forest in La Gomera. The fog and the criss-crossed trees already give this image a bit of a haunted atmosphere.

La Gomera original – Maaike Groenewege


After post-processing, it looks like this:

Into the Woods – Maaike Groenewege

I used a very basic free editor called Snapseed. It’s available for both Android and iOS. If you work on a desktop or laptop, https://pixlr.com/express/ has some basic layering and editing functionality that gives you the same functionality.

What I did:

  • Cropping: I want the focus to be on the path of leaves, and wanted to get rid of most of the trunk in the front.
  • Apply vignetting: to emphasize the path, I applied a dark vignette. This makes the outer corners of the image darker, and the center brighter.
  • Dodge and burn: although these terms sound very technical, they’re really just about subtly darkening and lightening specific areas in you image. In this case, I burnt the path to make it light up, and dodged some of the light areas between the trees to make them less distracting. Also, I burnt some of the spaces between the trees, to make them stand out more.
  • And the secret weapon: Glamour Glow! This is a Snapseed-specific tool that basically adjusts the color temperature, softens the image and cranks up the saturation. The result: instant dreaminess!

Take it one step further: layering

If you feel you can take on some more this week, why not try your hand at layering. With layers, you can apply various effects to your pictures, like texture, gradual filters, and all kinds of great color effects. My favorite layering app by far is Stackables, but there’s plenty of comparable apps and software around. To give an impression of what layering can do:

Scotland Castle – Maaike Groenewege
Rapunzel’s tower – Maake Groenewege


And for the die-hards: full blown image manipulation

I can imagine that it’s not that easy to find a fairy or seven dwarfs that have enough spare time to model for your shoot. Lucky for us, there’s many people who like to dress up and make their images available as free stock photos on sites like www.deviantart.com. They even make sure that the background of their image is very even, so that you can easily get rid of it when you merge two pictures.


With apps like Union or Photoshop Mix, you can add these to your existing images really, really easily: you simply select a background picture (in this case the toadstool), the foreground image (the fairy girl), and the app lets you cut away the parts you don’t need, scale the fairy so that she fits on top, et voila!

Thumbelina – Maaike Groenewege

Have fun shooting!











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.