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 Nagaland 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 a storm on the horizon. We are powerless to resist.
The image was captured by contributor Kurt. 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.
6. Waterhole in Etosha National Park, Namibia
Photos that look like paintings don’t always include sweeping visuals or surreal colors. This majestic photograph of zebras and antelopes peacefully sharing a waterhole with an African elephant speaks artistic (and zoological) volumes. The image was captured at a watering hole in the vast Etosha National Park, a protected area in Northern Namibia that contains diverse landscapes and a variety of precious wildlife, including rhinos, giraffes, elephants, ostriches, and lions.
Shutterstock contributor Artush took this intriguing photograph. A nature, wildlife, and travel photographer who calls the Czech Republic home, Artush captures thrilling photos of animals and lush landscapes all around the globe.
7. Aerial Forest On Christmas Eve, Russia
If only we could all access a helicopter to take award-winning images from above! Luckily, the advent of drone technology has made that ideal aerial shot obtainable for many photographers. This photograph was taken as the sun faded from view over a snow-covered winter forest in a remote area of Russia. While most sunset images are taken from the ground, this head-on view of the horizon provides a different perspective and a stunning composition that highlights a sweeping gradient of orange, blue, and grey.
Vladimir Melnikov, the photographer who took the image, is based in Russia, where they also work as a pilot for a local airline.
8. Forest Road in Transylvania, Romania
Many photographs seem like paintings because they effortlessly evoke a complex mood or feeling with just a glance. Such is the case with this eerie photo of a desolate pathway in a dense forest in Transylvania, Romania. The combination of the fog, sparse flowerbeds, and low light make for a creeping sense of dread.
The effect here is not accidental – the photographer, andreiuc88, is somewhat of an expert when it comes to moody, atmospheric photography. A nature photographer based in Transylvania (the literary home of Dracula), andreiuc88 creates a variety of nightmare-inducing landscapes.
9. Fall Garden in Paris, France
Even unfiltered, unedited photographs can appear like actual paintings. This stunning image was captured in a garden outside of Paris, but for all intents and purposes it could pass for a Monet painting.
The father of the impressionist movement, Claude Monet sought to explore the feelings that nature can evoke by concentrating on the texture of the canvas and the dance of light throughout his paintings. This photograph, with its arrays of gold, its rich autumn texture, and its picturesque symmetry, requires a full evaluation before the viewer can decide if it belongs in a museum or on a camera roll.
The photographer who captured this image to Shutterstock is Dmitry Zimin. A gifted still life and lifestyle photographer, Zimin has amassed an eclectic body of work.