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!












The challenge this week is to capture a silhouette in the camera. In silhouettes, the subject is black with little to no detail and the rest of the photo is normally exposed. (This is almost the exact opposite of our previous low key photo challenge where the subject was dramatically lit and the background was mostly dark.) Because the subject has no detail in a silhouette photo, it’s important that the subject itself be recognizable and maybe even tell a story.

Rocky Mountain Dawn
Rocky Mountain Dawn by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero

The trick to getting a good silhouette is that the subject needs to be backlit (with the front in shadow) and the background needs to be lighter than the subject. You’ve probably run into this situation when trying to take photos of a tree or a bird against a cloudy sky. Often times the sky turns out light gray or even white and the subject remains black with almost no detail. This week we are trying to achieve this effect on purpose! If you have a nice sunrise or sunset, that can add some beautiful color to your silhouette photo.

Blackbird Silhouette
Blackbird Silhouette by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero

City skylines, interesting architecture, amusement parks, trees, etc. can all be great subjects silhouetted against the sky. If you don’t have a beautiful sky to work with, you can create dramatic black and white silhouette photos instead. If you are taking photos outside with human subjects, I recommend that you find a good composition first and then place your subject in the frame. Positioning the camera low to the ground (or your subject(s) up on a hill or on a wall or table) will ensure that your subject doesn’t have a horizon line running through them in the resulting photo.

Untitled by Khánh Hmoong

In addition to using the sky as your background, you can use sunlight reflected on water. Notice that the children in the following photo are below the horizon line and silhouetted against the water. You could also use boats, birds, docks, bridges, etc. as subjects silhouetted against water.

... silhouettes
… silhouettes by Carlo Scherer

Street photography is another possibility. The trick here is that you need to find a wall that is in bright light while the subject is in shade in order to capture a silhouette in the camera.

[ broken symmetry ]
[ broken symmetry ] by Riccardo Romano
If you aren’t able to get outside this week, think about composing a silhouette photo in a window or open doorway. Remember the exposure issues in our Windows Looking Out photochallenge earlier this year? Use that to your advantage this week! Expose for the outside light and anything on the inside will fall into deep shadow (as long as the subject doesn’t have any inside light shining on it.)

Waiting at the window
Waiting at the window by Lovro67

How do you know when you’ve captured a well-exposed silhouette photo? The histogram! For silhouettes you want the black clipping, i.e. stacked up against the left side of the histogram. Unlike low key photos though, it is your subject that is being clipped and the rest of the image can fall anywhere in the full range of the histogram. Even though the histogram shapes of the example photos are widely different, there are two things in common to note among the histograms:

  • they are all stacked against the left side which indicates a nice black silhouette with little to no detail, and
  • they extend the full range of the histogram indicating good contrast and exposure.


This week’s challenge:

  • Capture a silhouette photo in the camera. This means finding or creating the correct lighting conditions with the light behind the subject. (You do NOT need to shoot directly into the sun, but if you do please protect your eyes!)
  • You can tweak the exposure in post-processing (in fact, you pretty much have to if you shoot RAW), but I want you to focus on capturing the correct exposure in the camera which means the histogram should be stacked up against the left side and extend across the entire range of the histogram for good contrast.
  • Please post the histogram in the comments under your photo. They will be wide ranging this week and it will give us practice “seeing” what they tell us.

For more information on how to take silhouette photos, I found the following links helpful:

How to Photograph Silhouettes in 8 Easy Steps
14 Tips for Shooting Stunning Silhouettes
Silhouette Photo Tutorial: 7 Tips for Success (video – outdoor silhouette portraits using an iPhone)
“5 Tips for Amazing Silhouettes” with Erika Thornes (video – outdoor silhouette portraits)
One Light Silhouette: Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey (video – indoor studio setup and process)

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 21: Leading Lines

This week, we’ll focus on a classic composition technique: Leading Lines. Using leading lines is a fantastic way to help highlight the subject of your photo, and help direct the viewer to the areas of the photo that you think are most interesting or important.

launchpad_smjsc2007e050763 – NASA/Bill Ingalls

In the image above, the railroad tracks lead towards a launch pad, used for the International Space Station. What I love most about this photo is that the launch pad comprises a very small portion of the overall picture– it’s just a tiny bit in the background. However, the train tracks pull your eyes into the photo, and lead them directly towards the subject. Without the leading lines, you might not even notice the launch pad.

Leading lines can also add additional interest to a photo:

dock_smLeading Lines – Eadie Minbiole

Just like with the train tracks in the first photo, the railings on the dock help lead you to the subject of the photo. In addition, the leading lines add additional interest to the photo: Had this just been a pic of someone standing in the middle of the frame, it might not have been particularly interesting. However, the leading lines of the railings not only help lead the viewer to the subject, they also provide great framing for the subject. (Remember Week 10!) As such, the leading lines help provide a much more interesting, memorable photo.

Naturally, the leading lines don’t need to be straight lines; They can be curved, wavy, or more abstract.

stairs_smBelleveue Staircase – Eric Minbiole

In the sample above, the curved handrail leads towards the desk in the bottom center. (Perhaps not the best example, as the desk itself isn’t terribly interesting; the photo might have been better had there been someone sitting at the desk.)

manhattan_smLeading to Manhattan – ashokboghani

For this week’s challenge, I want everyone to take a photo that features leading lines. Ideally, your leading lines lead the viewer towards a prominent or interesting part of the photo. As above, the lines can be obvious, subtle, straight, curved, landscape, or macro– it’s all up to you, and what you find interesting. As always, be as creative as you like!

As with all my challenges, I’m happy to help offer any assistance or suggestions– feel free to ask. Get your camera, and have fun!

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 20: Stack’Em Up – Traffic Pile-up

We’ve all seen startrails, they’re basically a series of semi-long exposures of the stars assembled into one image. The technique used is stacking. By stacking multiple images together, the differences in each image appear as one. For a long time stacking was the work of expensive editing software. I personally call that a composite image although some purists will argue. It’s quite obvious that we aren’t going to be making star trails with a title like “Traffic Pile-up”. However the technique is very similar to our week 52 challenge from December 2016. We’re just going to be presenting it in an incremental video instead of a single image.

The little video above is what I’m talking about, we’re going to be stacking traffic, although I used cars, the stereotypical definition of traffic pile-ups, you have creative freedom over the definition, allowing you to add your own personal touch to this process.

What I did is fairly simple : 

  • I setup my camera (RICOH THETA S) to do interval shooting of one picture every 10 seconds for 10 minutes.
  • I stacked the first six images representing the first minute.
  • I then added 6 more images that represent one additional minute of stacking.
  • I continued adding increments of 6 images until I reached the total shooting time of ten minutes, producing ten images where traffic incrementally piled-up.
  • I put together my ten images in a short video in the style of a time lapse.

I did this quickly in photoshop, but I wanted to bring this to the 2017 PhotChallenge in a way that everyone can participate on a budget whether you’re using state of the art camera gear or your smartphone camera.

I found a little piece of freeware designed for startrails that works on MAC, PC and Linux. It’s called StarStax and it does a wonderful job of stacking JPEG images into a single composite image. Here’s the link : http://www.markus-enzweiler.de/StarStaX/StarStaX.html#download

There’s even a Flickr group to inspire you : https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephaniesaccoccio/31637339573/in/pool-starstax/


To complete your challenge:

  • Remember it has to be a TRAFFIC PILE-UP or a reasonable interpretation of…
  • You final submission will be in the form of a time-lapse illustrating the gradual pile-up through composite images.
  • You do not have to follow my timing, however it is an easy formula to follow.


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 19: Throwback Challenge

For those of you still working on your panning time lapse you’ll be able to post throughout this week as well.

For this special edition throwback challenge, I’m taking you back to a 2009 Challenge, Day 364: NOODLES

Remember in the old days of the photochallenge, we only had a day to shoot. Since we have an entire week, we have plenty of time to plan our shoot and use all the exposure, framing and other photography techniques we’ve covered so far this year.

Don’t be afraid to play with spherical images, animated GIFs or even a creative noodle time lapse. It’s all about taking this 8-year-old challenge and pushing the limits of creativity.


Today is Wednesday, December 30, 2009. Today’s theme for the 2009 Challenge is NOODLES.

Spaghetti by monteregina
“Spaghetti” by monteregina

What kind of noodles do you like? Macaroni and cheese? Spaghetti? Chow mein or chow fun? Or maybe some delicious Vietnamese noodle soup? Let’s see your favorite noodle in your shot for the day!

Fried Egg on Instant Noodles by su-lin
“Fried Egg on Instant Noodles” by su-lin

Once you’re ready to submit your work to Flickr, you’ve got to do two important things. First, make sure you tag your photos correctly; “2009challenge″ and “2009challenge364“. Also, if you haven’t already, join the PhotoChallenge group on Flickr. Then, submit each day’s photo to the group’s pool.

zucchini noodles by massdistraction
“zucchini noodles” by massdistraction



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 18: Egg Timer Panning Time Lapse

A time lapse can be great, but a smooth pan of the camera throughout your time lapse is just awesome! Personally I wouldn’t invest in an out of this world expensive motorized panning head. They’re just too expensive to justify, although they can be a great deal of fun. One of the best most affordable solutions is the Genie Mini at around $250 USD. You can even interconnect two of them for a complete solution running under $1K with all the bells and whistles.

Personally I opted for the super-budget solution, a solution that I can bring to the 2017 PhotoChallenge for all of us to have fun with. THE IKEA EGG/KITCHEN TIMER! Perfectly built with a flat top and bottom it can be quickly modified to give you a 360-degree rotation in 60 minutes. Naturally weight limits are an issue and there is a slight wobble in the mechanism but it remains surprisingly stable as long as the winds cooperate. For the price (About $6 USD) it’s just as good as many cheap Chinese units found on the internet for up to $50.

With a little creative spirit, you can combine two of them for a vertical pan in addition to your horizontal pan. In vertical mode, camera weight is even more of an issue. You’ll need to use a small bridge, your phone or a tiny GoPro-style camera. A DSLR is just too heavy for this timer. Keeping its horizon level can be a challenge as you have to deal with two units who both have a slight flex in the mechanism.

Here’s an example taken with two IKEA KITCHEN/EGG TIMERS panning on two axes, horizontal and vertical.

You can even transform your panning time lapse into a tiny planet for an out of this world visual effect.



Kitchen Timer with Flat top and bottom to facilitate mounting hardware. I chose the IKEA model due to its perfect shape and solid build.

  • A few pieces of 1/4 inch hardware (Bolts, nuts and washers) from your hardware store
  • Drill or adhesive (I used 3M automotive tape) to mount hardware to egg timer
  • A mount for your phone or camera (Dollar store has the cell phone mounts with selfie sticks)

  • A tripod to keep your rig steady
  • A lightweight camera (I used a GoPro clone at $40 USD)



One thing I noticed in previous time lapse related challenges was the use of accelerated video. To create a time lapse you must shoot images and not a video. The end result of assembling your images together can be an animated GIF or a video, but you must start with a series of images at a preset interval. (I.E. 1 second) You may want to use a time-lapse app if your phone camera settings don’t support interval shooting or time lapse.

If you have the ability to lock exposure, experiment with that especially under moving cloud conditions

A 1/2 hour of shooting at a 1 second interval should give you around 15 seconds of content panning 180 degrees. This should be sufficient for this week’s PhotoChallenge.

VERY IMPORTANT : Make sure your tripod is level. Not just the camera in one direction. It needs to remain level in all directions to maintain a straight horizon.




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 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.