In the Harry Potter universe, the people in photographs and paintings can move and talk. You actually see characters interacting with the "people" in the pictures, particularly in the portraits that hang all over Hogwarts School. Then why can't Harry's parents photos interact with him ?

  • 1
    possible duplicate of What causes the portraits of Wizards to behave interactively?
    – phantom42
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 13:05
  • @phantom42 I don't think that's a dupe. The question you linked is asking how portraits work. This question is asking about the difference between paintings and photos.
    – Moogle
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 15:47
  • @Moogle the text of the original question says it's asking about painted portraits. DVK's answer explains why/how portraits are animated.
    – phantom42
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 15:53
  • @phantom42 But, as far as I can see, that doesn't explain why the same process can't be done with a photograph.
    – Moogle
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 15:56
  • @Moogle Correct, and there's nothing in canon that I'm aware of that says photos cant be made interactive. So, why isn't the photo of Harry's parents interactive? Because it wasn't imbued with their essence.
    – phantom42
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 16:07

3 Answers 3


You identified the main difference in your Question. One is a Photo and the other is a Painting. Now we can only imagine the magic which goes into creating a Painting we do have this from JKR though.

Q: All the paintings we have seen at Hogwarts are of dead people. They seem to be living through their portraits. How is this so? If there was a painting of Harry’s parents, would he be able to obtain advice from them?

JKR: That is a very good question. They are all of dead people; they are not as fully realised as ghosts, as you have probably noticed. The place where you see them really talk is in Dumbledore’s office, primarily; the idea is that the previous headmasters and headmistresses leave behind a faint imprint of themselves. They leave their aura, almost, in the office and they can give some counsel to the present occupant, but it is not like being a ghost. They repeat catchphrases, almost. The portrait of Sirius’ mother is not a very 3D personality; she is not very fully realised. She repeats catchphrases that she had when she was alive. If Harry had a portrait of his parents it would not help him a great deal. If he could meet them as ghosts, that would be a much more meaningful interaction, but as Nick explained at the end of Phoenix—I am straying into dangerous territory, but I think you probably know what he explained—there are some people who would not come back as ghosts because they are unafraid, or less afraid, of death.

source from Accio quote, Edinburgh Book Festival, 2004

When it comes to photos it is something much closer to home to be able to have a moving image. Think of moving photos as videos without sound, they are basically the GIFs of HP, the difference being they are in newpapers and frames.

So a painting is really just memories from the subject and it's responses vary on how 'realised' it is. This would be much more complex magic than taking a photo (although I would suggest the cameras take videos and the magic with photos comes in putting them onto paper) with paintings it seems that the creation of them will allow them to talk. So you could also have a painting who can't talk, or like JKR said Sirius' mother who screamed out at most 3-4 different catchphrases I think?

To surmise Photo != Painting or Painting > Photo.

  • Everard's picture in the headmasters office is capable of carrying messages and spying for the headmaster of hogwarts. So it has a much more dynamic personality than Sirius' mother's painting. Maybe it is quality of enchantment, or maybe she has gone mad from years of being covered and alone in Sirius's house.
    – stonemetal
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 15:14
  • @stonemetal It depends on the enchantment in my opinion as to how powerful the painting is. They can also travel between paintings of themselves of course. It would seem they can travel between paintings on the same wall too as is demonstrated in many chapters. One example is when the knight Sir Cadogan (was it?) ran between paintings to keep up with harry. Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 15:19
  • The explanation given by JKR once again proves that she didn't write the later books in her series herself, since she is oblivious of the fact that Dumbledore sends a former headmaster's painting to alert someone in the ministery when Weasley is attacked and injured, and the portrait reports back that he found Weasley, and he is being taken care of. That would be hardly possible given the "aura left in spot" explanation and merely being able to repeat catchphrases or such.
    – Damon
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 16:39
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    @damon that does not involve the painting thinking or answering itself. They can repeat what they are told to a degree. They can observe and I think probably learn slightly as they go but never become a fully fledged person. Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 16:41

I always just assumed that there were different (magical) processes for making different kinds of pictures. Just like in the real world the difference between a black and white photo and a lenticular 3D color picture. We se at least 3 different kinds. The plain pictures with no associated magic, the animated pictures that are just animated with no interaction and the fully interactive ones that can talk and interact.


Portraits in Harry Potter are made sentient using enchantments placed on the paintings by the painter. Most of the talking paintings actually know little if any of the life of their subject. The exceptions are mostly the Headmasters' portraits that are painted early and are kept so the Headmaster can add subtleties and intricacies they deem important for their portrait.

More, including a list of some portraits and their characteristics, here.

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