Photography was invented in 1839, twelve years before Millais painted Ophelia. Photos were not as clear as they are today however. Photographs by the artist Julia Margaret Cameron were in sepia and hazy around the edges. In Beata Beatrix by Rossetti, (1864-70), the blurred radiating effect of the background is thought to have been inspired by Cameron’s work. Her soft focus images were in turn inspired by the poetic nature of Rossetti’s paintings.
Millais’s detailed Ophelia surpassed what photography was able to achieve at this time and was a unique way of representing the natural world. Today a photograph can show as much detail as Millais’s Ophelia, so rather than producing detailed realistic paintings some artists look at other ways of expressing themselves and the world around them.