Life in the Box: Photo Challenges

One of the earliest things you learn as a photographer is that looking at famous artworks will help develop your eye for lighting, placement, balance, and design. Most photographers embrace the possibility of using their camera as not just a record of a moment, but also as a potential expression of artistry, as well.

In fact, every basic studio lighting class will begin with what’s called “Rembrandt lighting.” Apparently, Rembrandt himself coined the phrase. It refers to full lighting on one half of the model’s face, but less lighting on the other side, with the face angled so a brighter triangle emphasizes the model’s cheek on the darker side.

Now that many masters’ paintings are available to view online, photographers around the world are using their “pandemic time” to imitate the most famous paintings of all times.

Some people are trying to recreate the images using themselves, their family and their pets. Some are using vegetables. And we can all see what they’re doing when we enter the online world of “photo challenges.” Some of the great museums of the world are hosting these challenges, but many self-challenges can also be found on individual artist’s sites and on Pinterest, Bored Panda, Instagram and many other gathering spots.

Even if you don’t want to make your own art homage or parody, you can spend hours looking at other people’s creations. Guaranteed smiles and snorts. I’ll link you up to some of my favorites, but it seems there are hundreds of them!

The Royal Academy (British, of course) has a collection of the ten most-parodied famous paintings. Most of their examples are created by professionals, but it sure is a great way to start seeing art through different “lenses.”

The photo challenge at the Getty Museum in LA tells people to pick a favorite work of art, and then recreate it using just three items from their homes. They based their challenge on one by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, and that museum based the challenge on a great Instagram page, which is the first of my links below my bio.

The “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Vermeer is a favorite to parody. With the simple black background and nondescript clothing, it might be an easy “beginner” project. I think I might have a friend pose for me and try my own version of this one, like Laura Hofstadter did. 

Maybe I’ll ask people to pose and send their shots to me on Facebook and I’ll photoshop them up! I’ve selected some with the links, at the end of this article.

By the way, some of the photo challenges request entries without Photoshop so it’s not necessary to know how to use it.

That said, I had to try one of my own in Photoshop because I’ve been taking an online course in “compositing.” I dug through my old digital photos and found one shot I took a few years ago based on the painting “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth. I had intended to get someone else to model for me, but it was a “scouting” trip so I did it myself. And we got rained out on the day we were supposed to do it for real.



With that starting point, I decided the picture needed more height, so I added stairs from an old photo taken at a beach in Oregon.


Then, instead of a farmhouse in the upper corner, I had a photo of a pillar with an arrow pointing up, so I thought that would be a good thing for her to be climbing towards. And various plants and brush covered the top. Then, I added clouds for a more interesting sky. But even that looked too blah, so I found out how to get a “lightning bolt” brush in Photoshop.

It really got too vertical to share or print, and it doesn’t really compare to the original, but it’s just for fun. 


I also tried making it more dramatic by adding some fire shots I had taken years ago. Maybe a bit too dramatic. I may play with it some more, later.


Play is the name of the game. It’s fun to play with art and it’s a welcome relief from plague monotony. Here are some wonderful places to spend time online, including articles summarizing the challenges as well as the websites where the photos are shared. Enjoy!

Nancy Heather Brown is a retired, Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, narrating and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she enjoys learning new things and reflecting upon the creative process and life issues, both inside and outside the box. Her opinions are her own, and are not necessarily those of this web site.


An Instagram artist using the name  Tussen Kunst en Quarantaine  (Between Art and Quarantine) inspired a photo challenge at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and others. Her image collection is a great place to start.

A great selection is found on a spin-off  American Instagram #betweenartandquarantine

This is  the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam’s Facebook page showing challenge entries.

Time magazine article about Getty Museum challenge.  Here’s “Purrrl Earring.” 

Daily Dot article about Getty Challenge.

Bored Panda article is even better.

And art can imitate itself, badly, on this Facebook page calling for “terrible art in charity shops” found in charity shops.

Article about “terrible art” reproductions on Bored Panda.

I’ve seen an article in the Moscow Times about Russian people creating art parodies. Some are amazingly good. 

Sixty-five-year-old Laura Hofstadter recreates art using herself as the model, demonstrating that good art ages well.

Here’s a series of composited images I like from Hayati Evren, a visual designer from Cyprus.

And photographer Sandro Miller created a series using actor John Malkovich in each setting. Some of these are incredible! 


Robert Speker, Activity Director for Sydmar Lodge Care Home in Edgeware, England  has been recreating scenes from  iconic record albums using residents as models.

Article about the project from NPR with selected visuals.


I’m going to add this in for fun – People who found their twin in an old painting (slide show.) 

In case you didn’t know, pets are fabulous (and handy!) posers for art projects.

Smiling cat—okay not based on a work of art, but soooo cute and simple to try at home.

Have a hobby horse? Maybe an old horse costume? Try a horse portrait.

I’ve shared this one before, but it still makes me smile. It’s a guinea pig art museum called The Piggenheim by Teresa Mistretta.

She, in turn was inspired by a gerbil project by Filippo and Marianna.

And, of course, anyone with lots of toilet paper during the pandemic must use this item in a photo.

Art repro with toilet paper 1.

Art repro with toilet paper 2.

Art repro with toilet paper 3.




Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.