That is always a good question to ask when looking at the hadiths. Yes, there are two types of counter-examples, counter-example does not necessarily mean contradiction with what the rest of the hadiths say. Rather one is a qualification, and the other counter-example is “an exception that proves the rule.”
Counter-example 1: Dolls, pictures of non-living things, and even some churches are OK
Dolls: A’ishah [‘Aisha/A’isha] played with dolls when she was with other girls. When Muhammad came in, the other girls went out, and when Muhammad went out, they came back in. Sunan Abu Dawud vol.3 chapter 1769 no.4913 p.1373
Footnote 4288 on this verse says, “This tradition show that playing with dolls by children is permissible. The dolls used as toys for children are not prohibited. They do not fall under the category of pictures of animate objects that are prohibited. But these dolls should be meant only for children.”
‘Aisha and Muhammad married when she was seven years old, and ‘Aisha was “taken to his house as a bride when she was nine and her dolls were with her;” Sahih Muslim vol.2 book 8 ch. 551 no.3311 p.716
‘Aisha played with dolls while her husband Muhammad was with her. Sahih Muslim vol.4 book 29 ch.1005 no.5981 p.1299. One was a horse with wings. Sunan Abu Dawud chapter 1769 no.4914 p.1373.
Bukhari vol.8 book 73 no.151 p.95 says something very similar. On the other hand, the English translator of Bukhari (Muhammad Muhsin Khan) has a different opinion. The parenthesis below this narration says, “(The playing with the dolls and similar images is forbidden, but it was allowed for ‘Aisha, at that time as she was a little girl, not yet reached the age of puberty. Fateh-Al-Bari Page 143 Vol.13).” However, the parentheses are not in the Arabic.
Inanimate patterns: A’isha had a curtain with pictures. Muhammad told her to remove the picture, so she cut it in pieces and made pillows out of it, according to Sunan Nasa’i vol.1 chapter 454 no.764 p.471
A young girl from Ethiopia with a patterned dress made Muhammad happy. “214 Narrated Um Khalid bint Khalid: When I came from Ethiopia (to Medina), I was a young girl. Allah’s Apostle made me wear a sheet having marks on it. Allah’s Apostle was rubbing those marks with his hands saying, “Sanah! Sanah!” (i.e. good, good).” Bukhari vol.5 book 58 no.214 p.137
Churches: It might surprise some to hear that the hadiths are not against going to church, as long as there are no pictures. “(54) CHAPTER. To pray in a church or in a temple etc. ‘Umar said, ‘We do not enter your churches because of the statues and pictures.’ Ibn ‘Abbas used to pray in the church provided there were no statues in it.” Bukhari vol.1 chapter 54 p.254
Counter-example 2: What happens if there are pictures in a Muslim house?
Angels do not enter a house with a dog or a picture Sahih Muslim vol.3 book 22 no.5246-5252 p.1157-1158 as well as Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 book 32 no.3649-3652 p.108-109
Angels do not enter a house where there is a picture or a dog or a junubi (Someone who is unclean because of sex). Sunan Nasa’i vol.1 no.264 p.240 also Sunan Abu Dawud vol.1 book 1 no.227 p.55-56
Narrated ‘Aisha, the mother of the faithful believers: I bought a cushion with pictures on it. When Allah’s Apostle saw it, he kept standing at the door and did not enter the house. I noticed the sign of disgust on his face, so I said, “O Allah’s Apostle (Please let me know) what sin I have done.” Allah’s Apostle said, “What about this cushion?” I replied, “I bought it for you to sit and recline on.” Allah’s Apostle said, “The painters (i.e. owners) of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection. It will be said to them, ‘Put life in what you have created (.i.e. painted).’” The Prophet added, “The angels do not enter a house where there are pictures.” Bukhari vol.3 book 34 no.318 p.180
No pictures, even of animals. “Narrated ‘Aisha: The Prophet entered upon me while there was a curtain having pictures (of animals) in the house. His face got red with anger, and then he got hold of the curtain and tore it into pieces. The Prophet said, ‘Such people as paint these pictures will receive the severest punishment on the Day of Resurrection.’” Bukhari vol.8 book 73 no.130 p.83-84
Muhammad went to Fatimah’s house, but turned back when he saw a figured curtain. Sunan Abu Dawud vol.3 book 21 no.3746 p.1060
When ‘Ali [Fatima’s husband] invited Muhammad over for food, Muhammad saw in the house pictures and then went back home. Ibn-i-Majah vol.4 book 29 no.3359 p.481
Conclusion: Although these hadiths do not threaten eternal punishment for those who merely own pictures — it is always only the makers of the pictures that are cursed and condemned —, Muhammad’s very clear disapproval of having them in the house, and his example of destroying any picture in his own home, would be enough for any faithful Muslim to follow his example. A good Sharia Muslim would have no picture of people or animals, except perhaps dolls for children.
Observation: Apart from the destruction of idols (e.g. in the Kaaba) it seems that Muhammad did neither order the punishment of painters, nor the destruction of other privately owned images. There are dozens of hadiths like the above. We have not found any that give a clear command to destroy pictures in general.
Summary: In the most authoritative sources of Islam, there is no particular emphasis on forbidding pictures of prophets, or the person of Muhammad in particular. It is clear that Muslims should not make pictures of Muhammad but only as an application of the general prohibition against making pictures of people or animals.