In the Picture or On the Picture – Which Is Correct?

The phrases “in the picture” and “on the picture” can both be heard in everyday speech. So, are they both correct or is there a reason for choosing one over the other?

In the Picture or On the Picture – Which Is Correct?

When describing the component parts of a painting or a photograph, it is always correct to use “in the picture”. A landscape painting may contain a mountain “in the picture”. However, “on the picture” does not refer to the contents of the painting, but to the completed, physical object.

in the picture or on the picture

Anything that constitutes part of the work is “in the picture”. For instance, “there are trees in the picture”. Whereas a fly sitting on the frame of a completed work of art is said to be “on the picture”. Thus, “in the picture” and “on the picture” are not interchangeable.

In the Picture

The expression “in the picture” is used to describe the composition of a painting. That is, anything “in the picture”. The word “picture” is often used to describe a photograph, and so the phrase “in the picture” can also be used to describe the people or things in a photo.

 As part of the expression “keep me in the picture”, the phrase “in the picture” carries the meaning of “informed” or “up-to-date” when referring to developing events or changes. For instance, if someone is ill, a relative waiting for news will ask to be kept “in the picture”.

Here are a few examples of how to use “in the picture” in a sentence:

  1. The artist has included several obscure references to his identity hidden in the picture.
  2. In the picture we can see three figures, seated with their backs to us, and two young men collecting fruit from the trees beside the river.
  3. It seemed to be a normal photograph of a happy couple smiling into the camera, but behind the innocent subjects, there were other more sinister events recorded in the picture.
  4. The wedding photographer had asked for all the bride’s family to be included in the photo taken outside the church.
  5. In the image of the pigeons, entitled “St Mark’s Square”, you can see some clues about the time of day and the season of the year.
  6. The stock market collapse had serious implications for the project and so the manager had asked to be kept in the picture concerning any significant developments.
  7. If you hear any news about the launch date, please keep me in the picture.

On the Picture

When a painting or a photograph is completed and it is regarded as an object, anything that sits on top of it is, literally, “on the picture”.  So “on the picture” is never used to refer to the contents of painting or the image itself, but only to the physical object.

Here are some examples of how to use “on the picture” in a sentence:

  1. The brown circles are a reminder of the time I set my coffee mug on the picture.
  2. As was his custom, the artist signed his name on the picture, in the bottom right-hand corner.
  3. The frightened bird flew around the room in panic until it eventually landed on the picture above the fireplace.
  4. She used a red marker to highlight the areas of interest and new discoveries on the image of the archaeological dig.
  5. The long, flowing marks on the left of the painting are not brush marks, but the result of my dog sitting on the painting before the paint had time to dry properly.
  6. The vandals broke into the art museum on Sunday night and threw pots of yellow paint on the picture.
  7. The furniture removers were not aware of the value of the artworks. When unloading the truck at the new house, they dropped a porcelain vase on the painting, seriously damaging both.

Which Is Used The Most?

Evidence to support the fact that the phrase “in the picture”, used to describe the actual contents, is much more frequently employed than the phrase “on the picture” may be seen in the statistics of the Google Ngram Viewer.

in the picture or on the picture usage