Difference between Picture, Image and Photo

By: | Updated: Mar-2, 2018
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Often we hear the words picture, photo and image used interchangeably, yet they somehow still sound correct. It’s not really that big of a deal, but for the sake of their existence, why not use them in the proper way?

Summary Table

Picture Image Photo
Visual representation of someone, something, or a scene on any flat surface Visual representation of someone, something or a scene in forms of 2-D, 3-D, or imagination Visual representation of someone, something or a scene on a piece of special paper
Includes drawing, photography and painting Includes photography, paintings, sculptures, holograms and imagination Taken by a camera
A type of image Universal term for a visual representation of any kind A type of picture



picture of Mona Lisa
The famous picture of Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci

Originating from the Latin word pictūra (The art of painting; a painting), you can already guess that a picture generally refers to a painting. It may also be a simple drawing or even a photograph. It is a visual representation of a scene. From that point of view, a picture is an image where groups of colored points on a flat surface will look like an object, a landscape or a person.

A picture may simply be just a picture to some, but for most people, it is a helpful tool. It may explain how to do things or even be an inspiration or motivation. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” 


image of Abraham Lincoln
The image of Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln Memorial, sculpted by Daniel Chester French

Originating from the Latin word imāgō (a copy; likeness), an image is an imitation of something or someone. It is an artifact that acts as a visual representation, usually of a physical object or a person. A still image can be either two-dimensional (photograph, screen display) or three-dimensional (sculpture, hologram). 


photo of Usain Bolt
A photo of Usain Bolt, shortly after winning the 100m run in the Olympics

Coming from the Greek words phôs (light) and graphê (drawing, writing), a photograph, or photo, is actually an image created by light captured in a light-sensitive surface, which is usually photographic film. Photos are usually captured by a camera. As a result, the image captured through the lens of the camera is a new visual representation of whatever was photographed, be it a person, thing or scene.

In that sense, a photo may be an image of someone or something, or even a picture of someone or something, but images and pictures are not necessarily photos.

Picture vs Image vs Photo

What’s the difference between picture, image and photo? The answer depends on their words of origin. Just by knowing how they were coined, you’ll get a brighter picture of what they really represent.

With the word picture, the word painting is incorporated. While it may be similar to a photograph or an image (a visual representation of a person, a thing, or a scene), it does not have to be planted on a piece of paper just like a photograph. A picture can be on any flat surface, such as a canvass. Unlike a photograph, a picture is not necessarily made with a camera (hence its word of origin, light) but can also be made by hand, through drawing or painting. That being said, a photo is strictly a captured image through the use of a camera, and it is a type of a picture.

Now, squeezing in the word image with the words picture and photo, you can immediately tell that it somehow fits. This is because an image is an artifact that acts as a visual representation, usually of a physical object or a person, and both pictures and photos fit under this description. The main difference is that an image can either be two-dimensional (picture/photo) or three-dimensional (sculpture/hologram). Other forms of an image can exist in an individual’s mind, called a mental image.

In conclusion, taking in their definitions and usage, a photo is a type of a picture, and a picture is a type of image. Not all images are pictures or photos, however.

Note: If the word image is used as a technical term, it may also refer to any digital copies of pictures or photos stored on your computer devices.

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