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!

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.


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!


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.



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.

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.

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!











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