Tumbledown wooden house in black and white
Photographic techniques,  Sunday Stills,  Themed galleries

Gallery: creating an eerie unreality

Photoshop is useful in many ways but must NEVER be used for the altering of photographs.

Elliott Erwitt

I am going to dare to disagree with Elliott Erwitt on this. In my view altering photographs is absolutely acceptable provided it isn’t done as a form of lying.

And what would you use Photoshop for, I wonder, other than the altering of photographs?

Normally when I edit an image I do so with the intention of bringing out more clearly what I saw when I took it. I may adjust the exposure, straighten the horizon, boost the colours a little. I’ll crop to give a more pleasing (to my eye) frame to the image, and yes, I may erase the odd telephone wire or a person who strayed into shot. But the result is usually pretty close to the view as I saw it.

However, sometimes it’s fun to take things to extremes, and that’s OK too as long as you’re honest about doing so. I recently invested in Luminar AI software which has the potential to radically alter a photo: changing the sky completely; adding things that were never there (birds, lightening, sun rays); even turning day to night. Of course it can also be used for much more subtle and natural edits, which is how, for the most part, I expect to use it.

But for Terri’s Sunday Stills challenge this week I thought it would be cool to try to create some eerie images. In the interests of complete honesty I include the original shots too! In some the effect is stronger than others, deliberately. Which do you prefer?

The Cambridge dictionary defines eerie as ‘strange in a frightening and mysterious way’. I’ve tried to make these images strange and mysterious, but I’m not sure if they are frightening. Maybe you will find some of them so.

The first two images are from my very recent weekend away in England, the rest from my travel archives.

The gallery:
Large stone circleLarge stone circle with flock of birds overhead

Stonehenge: reimagined in a scene from The Birds

Large stone circleLarge stone circle with giant fake moon

Stonehenge: made more eerie by moonlight

Brick building with arches and old machineryBrick building with arches and old machinery

Sugar mill near Lamanai, Belize: morning mist emphasised

Gentle sunset over waterStormy-looking clouds and birds over a lake

Lamanai lagoon, Belize: a gentle sunset made a little more dramatic

Dilapidated building around a courtyard, with blue skyDilapidated building around a courtyard, with starry sky

Bundi Palace, India: a spooky night time transformation

Castle ruinsCastle ruins in black and white with lightening

Corfe Castle, Dorset: eerie anyway but more so with a storm at night

Dramatic rock formations with cloudsDramatic rock formations with lightening

City of Rocks, NM: there was a storm threatening which I’ve greatly exaggerated

Dead tree with blue skyDead tree in black and white with lightening

Bandelier National Monument, NM: edited for moodiness

Unusual rock formations and grey-green seaUnusual rock formations with dramatic lighting

Halong Bay, Vietnam: adding drama and texture

And for complete honesty, here’s the original of the Madrid (New Mexico) house seen in my featured photo:

Tumbledown wooden house
Old house in Madrid, NM


  • Cath Moore

    that is a very interesting editing tool…..I love the addition of black birds for this particular theme….certainly adds more eerie to the scene. My favourite is the first picture that you posted.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Cath 🙂 Yes, the black birds work well as long as you don’t overdo them. For a couple of shots I went back into Photoshop to erase a couple of the birds because I thought it looked too much!

  • wetanddustyroads

    This was a fun post – to see what you can do with a little bit of magic! For me, these photo’s are definitely not frightening, but some are a bit eerie! You definitely have added a lot of drama to the Halong Bay photo … but my favourite must be the moon over Stonehenge!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks 😀 I’m glad you find them eerie rather than frightening, as that’s the effect I was aiming for! And the Stonehenge moon is probably my favourite too 🙂

  • Suzanne@PictureRetirement

    Sarah, I completely agree with your thoughts on postprocessing. There is a fine line between deception and artistic enhancement. Images manipulated to this degree should be disclosed as photo art. You did an amazing job and I love them all. Once again, you have nailed the challenge.

  • Terri Webster Schrandt

    Wow, Sarah, I love your interpretation with editing using Photoshop and Luminar! I LOVE what you did with the moon behind Stonehenge (a must-see for me someday). Really eerie and an excellent idea of how editing can make a fantastic book cover! I love your addition of the birds and the lightning as well. Very well done and so much fun! Glad you see your awesome post shared at Sunday Stills this week!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Terri 😊 I hadn’t thought of these looking like book covers but I can see what you mean! Thanks for setting the theme that challenged me to play around with these, I had lots of fun doing so!

        • Sarah Wilkie

          I paid about £60 for Luminar AI and advance purchase of Luminar Neo which will launch this winter and have more in the way of creative tools (multiple exposure, for instance). AI alone would have been about £40 I think. That equates to about $80 / $54 and is a one-off purchase, not a subscription. So I think it’s pretty reasonable. You do have to pay extra for various add-on packs giving more effects, if you want them, although they seem to supply occasional free ones – I got a set of B&W filters recently, for instance.

  • Nemorino

    I use a program (which I believe comes from South Korea) called Photoscape X Pro. I don’t think it does everything that Photoshop can do, but for my purposes it’s fine. Here in Germany we tend to have lots of dull, overcast days, especially this time of year, so I’m thankful for the Brightening feature, among others. Like you, I edit photos “with the intention of bringing out more clearly what I saw when I took it” — as you so nicely expressed it above.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Hi Don. I hadn’t heard of Photoscape X Pro so I Googled it. It does sound good as an alternative to Photoshop. I only use PS Elements which is the more basic version but still has most of what I need, plus I have the Nik Color Efex plug-in which is brilliant. Those work fine for all my usual processes but I bought Luminar AI on a one-off deal so I could have some fun with its filters and effects. I’ve since found it can also be good for basic edits too but so far I’ve stuck with Elements as my go-to software. Who knows, I may migrate over time?

  • Annie Berger


    Fascinating what one can do to change totally a photo. I’ve never tried it with Photoshop, thinking I was so adventurous with just the edit function on my phone! The photo I found the spookiest, especially since Halloween has just passed, was the enhanced one of Halong Bay! Have driven through New Mexico oodles of times since we’re from neighboring Colorado but haven’t stopped at either Corfe or Bandolier – will have to rectify that, I can see.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Annie 😀 These weren’t done with Photoshop however – I only have Elements and I’m not sure it would be very easy to achieve these effects with that. It would involve a lot of work with layers and multiple images, which I’m not adept at! I used Luminar AI which makes it ridiculously easy – you can play around with different looks and add a number of elements such as the birds and lightening I’ve used here. Oh, and while I highly recommend a visit to Bandelier, I’m sorry if I misled you about Corfe Castle through its position in my list – it’s in Dorset in the UK 🙂

  • maristravels

    Spooky isn’t the word. If I came upon any of these scenes on a dark night alone I’d run the proverbial mile, probably with my luck falling over my feet! Favourite is the Lamani Lagoon one, then the old house in Madrid, then the City of Rocks. What you’ve done is very thought provoking.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh dear, I wouldn’t want to send you tumbling 😆 Although I have to say, that’s exactly what I would do! Thanks for highlighting your favourites. The City of Rocks is one of mine I think, along with the moon over Stonehenge 🙂

  • Pat

    Hi Sarah, very interesting. I feel the same way about post-processing. It is a delicate balance between the schools of accurate recreation and artistic alteration. I am somewhere around making the photo look the way my mind and soul saw it (like you) and using the artistic freedom of a painter. I use Lightroom but not Photoshop.

Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you! And please include your name in case WP marks you 'anonymous' - thank you