When you consider the technical difference between a photograph and a painting, the distinction seems obvious – a photograph captures a specific moment in time in the real world, while a painting is a constructed visual representation with no time limits. A photograph is “real,” while a painting is “art.” But, as any photographer can attest, these definitions are severely limited. On one hand, if a painting can move you to tears or provoke new ideas, why isn’t it real? And on the other, if a photograph can be composed precisely, and convey as much emotional impact as a painting, why isn’t it art? This is why we looked through our collection to find photos that look like paintings.
The line between objective reality and art continues to blur as technical advancements allow photographers to capture stunning images through specialized processes that change, edit, or filter the image at hand. As these following photographs suggest, the only true difference between a photograph and a painting is the tool used to create them.
Explore nine photos that look like paintings below.
1. Ice Cave in Vatnajökull Glacier, Iceland
Brave photographers often travel to far reaches of the globe in a quest to capture the perfect shot. This particular photo was taken deep inside an ice cave in Vatnajökull Glacier. By far the largest glacier in Iceland, Vatnajökull Glacier formed thousands of years ago and covers an astonishing 5,500 square miles. Thrill seekers can embark on tours and hikes within the ice caves, but the weather and terrain can make one trek last as long as five hours.
The photo taps the exquisite beauty of the location – the contrast of the smooth ceiling and the rugged terrain mixes well with the equal distribution of opposing colors. This photo is the work of Bon Appetit, known primarily for commercial shoots of fast food and other restaurant industry paraphernalia.
2. Seaside Wood Building in Labuan, Malaysia
Some of the most brilliant, captivating images can be snapped in the world around us. All it takes is the eye of an inspired photographer (and a gorgeous sunrise) to capture vibrant colors and picturesque qualities. This striking symmetrical photograph of an overwater bungalow was taken on the island of Labuan, a federal territory of Malaysia. The building in question protrudes from the coast behind Nagalang Seafood Restaurant. Compare the Google Maps image of the building with this photograph to understand the role the artist plays in composing and reflecting their vision of the world around them.
This gorgeous photo was taken by Sazali, a freelance wedding and event photographer based in Malaysia. Sazali is drawn to landscape and nature photography, focusing on flowers, seascapes, and a wide variety of subjects.
3. Macro Photograph of a Dandelion
You might think this image is an abstract illustration or painting, but in fact it’s a macro photograph of a dandelion. Macro photography is extreme close-up photography that magnifies the subject, allowing the viewer to see ordinary things like they never have before. Advancements in digital photography have made macro photography accessible to enthusiasts who yearn to explore this craft on a modest budget.
We’re drawn to this image because of its dreamlike quality. The parachutes of dandelion hairs, even when blown up tremendously in size, are soft and delicate. A grassy background bleeds through, saturating the image in vivid greens, blues, and browns.
Shutterstock photographer hofhouser is responsible for this example of photographic wizardry. In addition to taking other macro photographs of rain, and peacock feathers, the Hungary-based photographer enjoys creating digital illustrations and backgrounds.
4. Stormy Night in Venice, Italy
Paintings by true masters create a sense of depth and translate a specific mood that envelops their subject. Here, a desolate alley in Venice is depicted as ominous – downright eerie – on a stormy night. The depth and movement take centerstage, however – the entire photograph is singularly framed to propel the viewer down the lit alleyway into the depths of the storm on the horizon. We are powerless to resist.
The image was captured by contributor Kert. Kurt’s subjects wildly vary – they dabble in architecture, food, fashion, and travel photography.
5. Lovers Painted in Fluorescent Powder
This eye-catching portrait captures two people, described as “lovers,” embracing while covered in fluorescent neon paint. The combination of the paint, the blacklight, and the careful composition transform this image into one that could easily be mistaken for an illustration or a painting.
David Tadevosian, a photographer and videographer based in Ukraine, is responsible for this arresting image.