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How is a Photograph Like a Painting?

Stand Back!  I’m about to sound scientific.  A painting or drawing is a 2 dimensional artistic representation of an object that the viewer of the work cannot see.  The artist creates a drawing as they wish to relate with their interpretation of the subject they are drawing.  Or, as in my case, forced to interpret it.  It seems my drawing skills are rather lacking.

A picture normally or painted as either an exact duplicate of what the artist sees, think of Leonardo Da Vinci’s anatomy sketches, or it is heavily manipulated by the artist, think of Monet. If the artist does not wish for an object to be in his picture, he can simply draw the picture without it.  His tools to do this job are his mind, a pencil, and paintbrushes, even his fingers.  He can also manipulate the mix of colors to give him the effect he is looking for.

A photograph is a drawn picture with light using technology, not in hours, but parts of a second.  A photographer worries about the lens, the amount of light, where the light is, the colors, and what angle gives the subject the best perspective.  The hardest part is understanding and manipulating your camera and equipment to give you the picture you are looking for.

Another major difference is the ability for the painter or drawing artist to start over.  If the artist does not like the picture that they are making they can easily throw it away and start from the beginning.

Some areas of photography do not have that luxury. Wish as you might, you would never get that squirrel to sit in the tree and eat a nut in exactly the same pose when you took that first photo.  While it is possible for the photographer to manipulate the image in a way much like the drawing artist, it is much harder for the photographer to leave an entire tree out of the picture without it looking phony.

In the end, photographers, painters, and sketches, are very similar after all. Photographers can even manipulate the images using software like a painter uses different brushes and palette knives. The main difference is that photography requires the use of technology to make it happen.

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2 thoughts on “How is a Photograph Like a Painting?”

  1. The key difference between photography and painting is that painters start with blank canvas and add while photographers start with full motif and subtract. Handling of contrast, color, tonality, rendering of texture and many other image attributes are much the same. The tools are just different. Consider comparing the vast literature on photographic style and fine art photographer. Ansel Adams said that every photograph is about two people the photographer and viewer. It is the same for painting.

    1. So, in a way, a photographer is a lot like a sculptor. “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” -Michelangelo. So, every scene has a story in it and it’s the photographers job to find it. I like that. I guess that is what truly makes photography an art form.

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