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Photography Vs. Painting, Does The Compliment Work Both Ways?

Posted by: Rich Franco on 12/31/2012 - 4:48 PM

This came up yesterday when I was reading a thread here somewhere and I don't remember which thread, I mean it was yesterday! Anyway, an artist had posted an image and it was beautiful, an image of a "wet deck", don't remember if a water color or something else. She really did a great job with the water and reflections and I thought, "Wow, looks like a Photograph" and I was going to post this and then thought, would she take this as a compliment or not?

I've been in many shows and a recent prestigious one, was a "members only" type of show, so there were examples of art from sculptures to mixed media,photography and paintings. (By the way, I'm lumping pen and ink, pencil, oils,acrylics,watercolors,etc. into painting for this discussion) Really great stuff and was proud to be a part of this exhibit.

My largest piece was framed out to 32"x40" and was in a room, small room and was the largest in the room. I tried to hang around my image, in case of any questions or "can you help me get this into my car" requests. Anyway, for the first hour or so, I just stood there and watched people look at my image, make a comment like" That's a nice watercolor, or that's a nice painting" and every once in a while, I would step up and let them know, that no, it's actually a photograph and the people would pause, look closer and say, "Wow, it looks like a Painting", which I took as a compliment. Here's the image for a reference:

Art Prints

Now here's my conundrum, why is it a compliment to me, a photographer and may not be a compliment to a painter, to say,Wow! It looks just like a photograph! Is there some hierarchical ranking of art, subconcsiously maybe, that this statement demonstrates? If so, why and if not, then why doesn't the compliment work in both directions?

And I'm certainly not trying to create some wedge issue here, after all, "some of my best friends are painters...."

Food for thought?



Oldest Reply

Posted by: Sydne Archambault on 12/31/2012 - 4:54 PM

Indeed. I personally think if someone said my painting looked like a photograph I would be pleased. I also think a photograph that looks like a painting would also be a compliment. No problems with that from stand point.


Posted by: David Larsen on 12/31/2012 - 4:57 PM

Some painters are going for that, hence the term "photorealism." I prefer the term "representational" when it comes to my own paintings, but I've never taken it in a bad way when people say mine look like photographs.


Posted by: William Allen on 12/31/2012 - 5:03 PM

I agree 100% with what Sydne said.


Posted by: Vivian ANDERSON on 12/31/2012 - 5:26 PM

That's one fabulous, stunning image, any medium. You've managed to produce what is fine texture, colour , composition, Fine Art !!! Period !!
I find photo-realism a tad too 'real' or sometimes 'surreal' in the painting genre of that term, but, big but, have no conflict about painting vs photography as Fine Art......mine, included, hohoho !!
Each genre has its qualities and limitations.........but aren't competitive, imo. Quality Tells......every time !


Posted by: Mike Savad on 12/31/2012 - 5:29 PM

i try to go for a painting look, most look for that term anyway, i stopped correcting them a while ago. because when i did, they weren't convinced.

---Mike Savad


Posted by: Pamela Patch on 12/31/2012 - 5:52 PM

I wish I could paint and someday I may learn but in the meantime recieving the photo looks like a painting response would be the highest
compliment in my book :-)

Great art Rich, beautiful work.


Posted by: Leanne Howie on 12/31/2012 - 7:05 PM

This is my two cents on fine art photography:

The term fine art photography is used when you create a desired effect and/or to articulate an impression, mood, whatever you want to call it in an image. When I use my camera it's not only to capture a moment in time, but to preserve that moment in the most artistic way possible. Not being a painter I use HDR to create a feeling of painted images in some of my photography. It is meant to enhance the photo, not to replace it. In my natural light photography, I use light to paint the image. I don't use anything but a great camera, lens, and sometimes a polarizing filter. Luck and patience also helps in capturing a special moment.

Art is art, it's in the eyes of the beholder (the customer) that really counts.


Posted by: Gene Gregory on 12/31/2012 - 7:17 PM

Art is art in many forms, and I appreciate MOST of it. Live and let live is what I always say...sometimes.

The only thing I do not agree with is putting things in the same catogory, such as oil paintings & photography in a show.

This is something to think about, and it will probably rub some the wrong way. lol
However, I believe that most of us who paint, can also take a fair photo sometime, but most photographers can not paint a decent painting. Don't get your feathers rialed, you know I'm right ! ; )

All I want is for you all to have a Happy New Year !


Posted by: Isabella F Abbie Shores on 12/31/2012 - 7:20 PM

Someone thought one of my painting thumbnails was a photograph the other day and I was VERY pleased!


Posted by: Vivian ANDERSON on 12/31/2012 - 7:20 PM

Leanne..........I really admire your bio, and expertise, and dedication.........your Art is outstanding..........

Photography Prints


Posted by: Shana Rowe on 12/31/2012 - 7:23 PM

I had a comment on one of my paintings on here from a fellow artist telling me he thought it was a photo when he first saw it. I took it as a high compliment even though I don't try for photo-realism :)


Posted by: Mike Savad on 12/31/2012 - 7:29 PM

when i was still on a critique site, more often then not, i get the line -

don't take this as an insult, but it looks like a painting. or looks more like a painting then a photo...

why would i be insulted about that?

---Mike Savad


Posted by: Shana Rowe on 12/31/2012 - 7:32 PM

I don't see how it would be an insult either way...especially if you are going for a certain look. But you never know how someone will perceive what you intend to be a compliment I guess.


Posted by: Joy McKenzie on 12/31/2012 - 7:34 PM

For some reason, people (not artists usually) equate photo realistic painting with something really good...that the artist is painting at a very high level. It's a style, yes...I happen to love it...but I don't think it is 'better' than any other style of painting. I know of painters who would definitely take "it looks like a photograph' as a compliment.

I think, as a photographer, being told 'it looks like a painting'...with enthusiasm...COULD be taken as a compliment. It depends how YOU feel about it. If you don't want your photographs to look like paintings, you might not appreciate that comment. I know when I was doing Polaroid transfers 'back in the day' I WANTED my photos to look like paintings...that was the goal, really.

I certainly don't think it's an insult...not by a long shot! :) And I Iove your photograph above...and it really does look like a beautiful painting! And lol at "in case of any questions or "can you help me get this into my car" requests"...I hope you got that request!


Posted by: Wendy J St Christopher on 12/31/2012 - 7:45 PM

"Wow, it looks like a Painting"

Honestly, the only part of that compliment that matters to me is the "Wow". Beyond that, the viewer is encouraged to put their personal spin on any of my images. If I've got the 'wow', the rest is pure gravy. :-)

Rich, your 'Glacier Reflections' looks like a million bucks, and is totally wow-worthy, as is the 'Wet Deck' image, which I also saw yesterday.


Posted by: Janine Riley on 12/31/2012 - 7:52 PM

It depends.
What was your goal when you were painting, or photographing ?
Photorealism takes an amazing amount of skill - I love it.
But there is a school of thought that says " Why ? "
Let painters paint painterly to take the best advantage of their medium.
I say do what you enjoy, and and appreciate when others do too.
Glacier is fabuolous. It looks like a photograph blending down into a painting. : )


Posted by: Rich Franco on 12/31/2012 - 9:02 PM

I guess what I'm now looking fro is someone that paints in a "Photo-realistic" manner and her what they think.


I certainly can't paint or even draw for that matter, but that's not the question here. Are artists that paint in a realistic way, glad to hear that phrase, or do they shutter a bit? And I agree, it's much easier for a painter to produce good photos, than vice versa,



Posted by: Nadine and Bob Johnston on 12/31/2012 - 10:12 PM

Comments that my Paintings, look like Photographs or that Photos look like paintings are welcome.... As I try to make my paintings look Photo-realistic, and my Photographs look like Paintings. Sometimes though some have accused me of saying a work was a painting, and they insisted it had to be a photograph. If you can do photo-realistic paintings and you can make Photos look like paintings, they should be accepted as what they are.

For decades would go into the Fine Arts Museum in Boston once or twice a month and examine paintings closely, at times spent about an hour, just sitting looking at a painting. Then getting up and examining the detail closely.... Thinking back, many of the Old Masters did what we call Photo-realistic Paintings when camera's did not exist. Then, came a period when color film became available artists stopped, it seemed to me they did not want their paintings, mistaken for photography. It seemed a shame, for Artists who paint, could create the scenes that I created, leaving out things like telephone poles, garbage cans or things Id rather not have in my Photos. Retouching something so large during the days of 35mm film was not possible. Now, today with Photoshop we can remove what I object to more easily, so always do so... doing so may make Photographs look more like painting.

Art Prints

Personally, believe any Photographer could paint, just because they believe they can not, does not mean they could not. Advanced amateurs have a LOT of knowledge about art. Many times they can produce some types of photography better than a Professional. When a Photography Judge, was told we should judge amateurs stricter than professionals, as they had more time to focus on the subject, and could take the time to get it a right. They can do like I do, going back to the Grand Canyon, year after year since 1970, four or more times a year. Spending one to three weeks there.

The professional is always under a deadline, has to do their best with the time constraints, many times under the worst conditions....

The Photographer only need to learn HOW to use the tools that artists use, get some basic instruction in mixing colors, etc. then PRACTICE, like they practiced their Photography. Use the tools until they become part of their hands, vision, etc. Many advanced amatuers know more about composition than a lot of amateur artists. If they have gone to seminars in photography, do the same attending seminars with artists whose style they like.

Think about it, for decades thought the it was not possible for me to paint either, but Nadine kept after me for decades, finally watched some DVDs Yarnell made on the basics of mixing color, and dove in to get my feet wet. Nadine could not believe how good my first painting was. It was all the background in Photography, and color processing where I had to learn to use colored filters to control color in prints. Try it, you may find that you really enjoy painting. I get into it using not just brushes or Palette knives, but my fingers. The satisfaction of hanging your finished painting on the wall, is as great as hanging your best photograph. Check Yarnell's DVDs he is a very good teacher..


Posted by: Sheena Pike on 12/31/2012 - 10:17 PM

I am often told my drawings "look like photos" the only time I take offence to it is when people assume I didn't draw it. I think all types of art is beautiful not just the realistic art. I myself have some artwork that is more realistic looking that I in fact have drawn and have been accused of not. So to answer your question the fact that someone's takes the time to comment or enjoy my work is compliment enough but mentioning it looks like a photograph depending on the work it definitely is a nice compliment and appreciated but not something I always aim for. This is an example of my work that I have been told looks like a photo Art Prints


Posted by: Ed Meredith on 12/31/2012 - 10:19 PM

"Wow! that flower looks so real i thought it was plastic"... +>))


Posted by: JAXINE Cummins on 12/31/2012 - 10:34 PM

I get the same thing on some of my paintings. I try to be painterly, BUT, I have a hard time achieving that.
My pastels do look like photographs and I have people tell me that all the time. At first I was embarrassed about the comments,
now I'm happy to get any comment.

Photography Prints

Rich!!!! your art work is beautiful.


Posted by: Sheena Pike on 12/31/2012 - 10:37 PM

JAXINE your work is gorgeous!


Posted by: JAXINE Cummins on 12/31/2012 - 10:44 PM

Thank you Sheena, I have never been able to do fur like you do. fantastic art work.

Rich, I hope you sold your beautiful art at that show. WOW!!


Posted by: Jimmie Bartlett on 12/31/2012 - 10:53 PM

I agree, enjoy getting compliments on your art.


Posted by: Sheena Pike on 12/31/2012 - 11:01 PM

JAXINE thank you coming from you that means a lot for the fur texture (coloured pencils) is my weapon of choice as for Rich all of his stuff is wonderful ...the above is particularly awesome.

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Posted by: Maria Disley on 01/11/2013 - 5:40 PM

jan, I love your description of viewing the boat scene, and the interruption of the duck, which added to the whole experience, as when you were describing it, I couldn't help but think that art was happening. :)


Posted by: Maria Disley on 01/11/2013 - 5:41 PM

mark...maybe from a prof photographers perspective...but not from mine...:)


Posted by: Rich Franco on 01/11/2013 - 5:53 PM


You got it pretty much right, soft focus or in this case(Mark!) a long exposure, which let the water in the stream "flow" in front of the lens, creating "movement" which is sometimes hard to do in photography,



Posted by: Maria Disley on 01/11/2013 - 6:26 PM

while still contemplating my other challenge, I am also going to think about taking a photo which could appear to look like a painting.


Posted by: Jani Freimann on 01/12/2013 - 2:47 AM

Maria, every time I go out photographing, I do think about what I would want it to look like if I painted it. I guess that's the benefit of being a painter. That and taking the time to edit what I see helps me with composition. So art is happening when I take photos. There is a story to every one of them even the unsuccessful ones. There's a story to all my pieces. Paintings and photos. Probably a story to every piece of art out there.

I guess it's the job and challenge of the artist to tell the story that they want the viewer to see. Of course, the viewer may see something completely different and that is okay too as long as there is a connection to the art. Love it. Hate it. I don't care. Just have some kind of connection with it that makes you pause for a minute or two and take it in. I think the only kind of reaction that I can't stomach is the walk-past-and-look-at-the-one-next-to-mine reaction, "Now this one I like". Humph. Forever a conundrum to find a niche that I like to do that the audience wants to see. go and do that, Maria. It seems that my abstract photography gets seen as paintings at first. At least that is what people tell me. I have gone out and taken photos with the thought in mind to find a painting in a photograph. It takes me about 15 minutes to a half hour to get into the groove of that mind set. Walking around and looking through the eye of my camera because that automatically edits peripheral vision.

Here is a good example of a that kind of find. To me, it looks like geese flying into a marshy pond. There is even a faux reflection in the faux pond:

Photography Prints

This is actually a rust stain on the side of a boat and was not altered in any way. The rust stain was along the full length of the boat and it was clear that it took a great deal of time for the rusty patina to get to this level. I moved inch by inch, all the while with my eye looking through the camera, until I saw this. The boat rocked gently with the waves of the tide coming into the marina and made eerie creaking sounds. At one point, I even paused for a moment to listen to the rhythm of the creaking. I was lying on the dock on my belly at points and was truly lost in the moment of capturing art. So lost in it that I forget time (the closest I'll ever get to being a kid again). I love that part of photography and only go out photographing when I have nothing else pending for my time.


Posted by: Maria Disley on 01/12/2013 - 4:29 AM

Thanks jani, that was lovely to read. With the camera I spend so much time trying to get the light and sharpness right that i don't think about it being a painting, I do however get lost in the moment, and forget that anything else is happening. I find painting easier, I feel that I have more control...not all control..just more control..but that is what I like about photography too...that you never know what you're gonna end up with.:))


Posted by: Rich Franco on 01/12/2013 - 11:32 AM


Maybe you should reconsider: "So lost in it that I forget time (the closest I'll ever get to being a kid again). I love that part of photography and only go out photographing when I have nothing else pending for my time." Maybe you should MAKE time for photography, if it makes you feel this good! Think about it.

Maria, Don't worry so much about the "mechanics" of the camera for now, just let your Artist's Eye, be your camera and find, even one image that you love and then after it's composed in the viewfinder, make your camera adjustments,(assuming that you are using your tripod!) If you're so concerned about the settings and such, you won't be able to "see" and that's the whole idea,isn't it?



Posted by: Regina Valluzzi on 01/12/2013 - 3:03 PM

Mark, try searching Sh** You'll get 4 pages.

Imagine if there was third part tagging. I wonder what keywords would pop up?

On the original subject, unless I were trying to copy some painter from the Photorealist movement, I would not consider it a compliment to have my painting compared to a photo. I would also think the commenter was some sort of idiot.



Posted by: Maria Disley on 01/12/2013 - 5:33 PM

Thanks Rich, i do enjoy the camera, but yes I do get tied up in knots over the mechanics, so much to remember before i click....but i am beginning to remember where to go, to change settings now with some things, so it will get easier, but i am going to focus on getting what i want through the viewfinder instead of settling for what I am getting at the moment..:))


Posted by: Ginny Schmidt on 01/12/2013 - 6:02 PM

Rich here is another one of yours that looks very painterly (and I like very much)
Art Prints

It seems you have a very good eye for capturing images that look like paintings - and maybe you enhance them somewhat?

The fun for me is in post processing, working on my photos to achieve something more than the camera caught. Sometimes my processing is very subtle and sometimes way over the top,

So far, the only 'real' sale on FAA (that is to say a framed picture rather than 'just' a card or just something of my own that i bought for myself) is a scenic photograph, hardly retouched at all ... I say 'hardly' because i am pretty much incapable of posting a raw photo.


Posted by: Maria Disley on 01/12/2013 - 7:02 PM

Love howyou play with light, colour and composition, as in Tree on a Hill. Still Life with Fruit, Pink, to name a few. Can't quite put my finger on it but there's a feeling of sensitivity and candidness about them. Thanks for sharing.

Rich, maybe you are really a painter at heart,,:)


Posted by: Robert Kernodle on 01/12/2013 - 7:19 PM

Thanks, Roger, for enlightening me to the fact that CRAP art is a legitimate enterprise here at FAA. (^_^)


Posted by: Jani Freimann on 01/12/2013 - 10:02 PM

Agreed, Rich. At least I should plan to have more photographing days. Hard to do all the time. Especially lately. I've been trying to get some paintings ready for a gallery. I must remember to keep my camera in my car. It would make it easier to enjoy spontaneous photography moments. After the gallery order is filled, I will most definitely plan to go play with my camera.


Posted by: Rich Franco on 01/12/2013 - 10:47 PM

Don't try and think of ALL the ways you can adjust your camera, just set it on one and shoot away!

Ginny, I had almost forgetten about this image, really just a snapshot! My friend has a "cabin" that can only be reached by crossing this stream. We were on the "otherside" and to get back to town, had to cross the stream. It had rained overnight in the mountains and the next day, the day we were supposed to leave, the creek was high. While they were looking at the levels, I had my camera out and got this image! Thanks for posting this!!!

Maria, I think most photographers are painter at heart and that's what allow them to capture images that would make great paintings!

Jani, I think you need to promise me that you will "schedule" more photo time!



Posted by: Tony Murray on 01/12/2013 - 11:49 PM

True Dat

No great image was ever produced that the photographer did not have the eye of a painter.


Posted by: Robert James Hacunda on 01/13/2013 - 12:04 AM

well I hope if anyone get's my eye it will be the left one cause my right one isn't worth a damn..


Posted by: Tony Murray on 01/13/2013 - 12:11 AM

Me too Robert. Are we twins separated from birth?


Posted by: Roger Swezey on 01/13/2013 - 1:10 AM

RE: The Eye of a Painter

Not Only Do I Agree,....I wrote this 8;14 PM entry last night:

" Here's a wonderful example of a "Painter's Mind's Eye" creating a marvelous photograph.... Instead of the stroke of the brush, there's the snap of the shutter button, to bring the inner vision into reality."

This was in reference to this photograph:

Photography Prints

When wishing Jackie a Happy Birthday.

And I have one bad eye also ,Amigos.....My left (a stroke)


Posted by: Robert James Hacunda on 01/13/2013 - 1:57 AM

I've wanted to add something to this thread that had to do with the Rich's questions and it came to me. I've never been told my paintings look like a photo but I did have a very interesting critique one time from a painter I respect very much. He told me he had read an article about Rembrandt and Vermeer and in the article the writer stated that when you look at a Vermeer although a master of light they were always the same and when you look at a Rembrandt they always looked different. He said my work was like that, he called it a sucker punch, you'd think you were looking at a simple tree then WAM! it would hit you, it was a specific tree and not so benign. He said that the change was what made great painting. It is said that Vermeer used the first camera lens. It was a light box with a lens that when you looked through it you would see the image reflected on mirrors through the lens. I wonder, did the lens kill the life?


Posted by: Maria Disley on 01/13/2013 - 2:55 AM

Great example roger! And yes,Robert, Rembrandt never just painted a tree. i will have to have another look at your work!


Posted by: Maria Disley on 01/13/2013 - 7:01 AM

took some photos from my area today to begin challenge 2. While I was clicking away, I became aware of one view through the viewer...that in a second...between waiting for the breeze to stop so that i could get a sharper image... and. ...just as I began to press the button, I saw what looked like a painting!!!! Will send soon.


Posted by: Rich Franco on 01/13/2013 - 11:37 AM


Have you seen the "Girl with the Pearl Earring"? I think there was a shot of the "camera obcura" in that great movie!

"The 17th century Dutch Masters, such as Johannes Vermeer, were known for their magnificent attention to detail. It has been widely speculated that they made use of such a camera, but the extent of their use by artists at this period remains a matter of considerable controversy, recently revived by the Hockney–Falco thesis." Wiki

Maria, looking forward to your "results"!



Posted by: Robert James Hacunda on 01/13/2013 - 11:44 AM

Yes Rich I saw it last month but I also learned of it long ago. I remember another painter once telling me a a way to see the sky better was to look at it in a mirror and it brakes down the information so it makes sense easier. I always noticed that when looking at the reflection of the sky on still water it had the same effect.


Posted by: Mark James Perry on 01/13/2013 - 12:03 PM

True enough Robert. With the mirror and the reflection in a pond the light you see is polarized. and simpler.............


Posted by: Jani Freimann on 01/13/2013 - 6:16 PM

I promise, Rich! :-)

...And that movie, Girl With A Pearl Earing, is awesome! The lighting is superb. I loved everything about it. Movies like that are very inspiring to me. Speaking of, I've heard that Les Miserabe is a movie for artists. Gotta go see that one.


Posted by: Philip Sweeck on 01/13/2013 - 8:07 PM

The Mill and The Cross is a great movie that literally takes you into a painting.


Posted by: Maria Disley on 01/13/2013 - 10:13 PM

Hiding the most important thing.....that is the thing!!!:) I look fwd to watching this movie..thanks for sharing.


This discussion is closed.