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Photograph vs. Painting

The invention of photography had a serious impact on painting.
film-camera on camera-bag image by Andrii Oleksiienko from Fotolia.com

Painting and photography are two of the most popular art forms, supplying artists with an expressive outlet and giving art viewers different ways of seeing the world. However, while both painting and photography can produce beautiful images, the process of creating and the impact of viewing the two mediums are very different.


The history of painting dates back to the earliest cave paintings made by early humans. Through the Renaissance, painting was primarily concerned with reproducing reality and depicting religious iconography or commemorating important events. Photography arrived in the mid-1800s, as scientists brought together advances in chemistry and optics to build the first cameras. Because of the camera's ability to reproduce reality, painters turned to abstraction and the depiction of emotions rather than an objective view of the world.


Both painting and photography exist in various aesthetic forms. In painting, "illusionist" refers to a style that seeks to replicate reality and look as realistic as a photograph. "Expressionist" paintings take creative liberties with reality, instead using the artist's imagination as a source of material. In photography, photojournalism is among the most objective and realistic forms. Experimental photography deals with abstraction through manipulating the camera or film to produce an expressionistic style.


The techniques for creating photographs or paintings are very different. While both require the artist to understand principles of composition and color, painting demands hand-eye coordination and control of the brush and paint. Photographers must know how to use various lenses and filters to achieve certain effects. Photographers also learn how to work in the darkroom or with digital imaging software to manipulate images after the fact.


For artists, the cost of painting or photography can be a major factor in deciding which medium to use. Cameras, lenses, film and processing equipment are all expensive, and even the simplest camera is likely to cost more than a basic set of paints and brushes. Cost is also an issue for art buyers, who may prefer the uniqueness of a painting as opposed to art photographs, which can be reproduced many times from the same negative or digital file.

Digital Alternatives

Both painting and photography have been changed by the arrival of digital alternatives. Digital photography changes the process by which photographers shoot, store and manipulate images. At the same time, digital painting, which may involve altering a hand-painted image after scanning it into a computer, or working in a completely virtual environment and producing images from scratch in a painting program, gives painters their own set of high-tech tools for making art.

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