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.




About maaikegee

I live in the middle of the Netherlands together with Significant Other (who features regularly in my Photochallenge images) and my two cats Bumper and Pebbles (who are also no stranger to modelling). I’ve been glued to my compact camera for the last ten years, still love my Sony RX-100 and switched to a Nikon D7200 in 2015. I love street photography, conceptual photography, macro and still life. You can find my portfolio at www.maaaike.nl