‘ Wow! it looks like a painting’. I don’t know who coined this phrase as a compliment or appreciation for a photograph but it is one most heard or read compliment after ‘a picture speaks thousand words.’ Yes it is a painting, indeed. The word photography derived by combination of two Greek words, phōtos meaning light and graphé meaning drawing.
So it is drawing or painting with light.
This compliment definitely humbles many photographers but I’ve my reservations. I never heard “wow, this painting looks like a photograph” despite some paintings give striking resemblance to a photograph. I understand inter-relation of art forms and regard for their uniqueness. I do understand that painting is much older form of expression than photography and that discipline of photography owes a lot to the world of painting. But, then magic of photography has influenced painting as well. The history of art is full of such examples. They are different genres and should be taken as independent form. Even, while appreciating them.
Let me explain my viewpoint, a photograph is made in fraction of a second. In case of news photography or street photography, photographers don’t have the luxury of planning even as in studio photography. While an artist who paints enjoys choice of planning for every fine detail as she/he would have imagined, has plenty of tools and time at hand. They use different medium and skills so I don’t see any point of comparison. They compliment, of course.
I would suggest you to have a look at one photograph of Raghubir Singh, Women in monsoon rains (Monghyr, Bihar, 1967) and decide yourself.
You may want to read How Photography Changed Painting (and Vice Versa), an interesting and serious analysis of inter-relation of both the forms.
Keep reading, writing and shooting.