Juxtaposition as a photography technique is a lot less complicated than it sounds! It’s actually really simple, but the difference it makes to a photograph is dramatic.
What is juxtaposition in photography?
When using juxtaposition as a composition technique, you’re making a statement by positioning two contrasting elements in an image for emphasis and/or to tell a story.
The elements can be objects, shapes, colors, shade, etc. The list is endless and even two contrasting expressions can be used.
So, juxtaposition is another way of saying contrast.
Why use juxtaposition in composition?
We use juxtaposition to create interesting, strong images with an instantly identifiable message. Sometimes juxtaposition is used simply to strengthen the impact of the image. This is probably why so many photographers like to shoot fashion in abandoned buildings – the contrast is interesting.
As with all composition techniques, juxtaposition makes the image more eye catching. Not only does it grab the viewer’s attention, it also holds it longer.
The Ultimate Composition Cheat Sheet!
Get yours here >>
Enter your email to grab your FREE composition cheat sheet and weekly tips.
(We'll protect your email address like we protect our cameras!)
Success! You'll be hearing from us. You might need to check your spam folder and "unspam" us.
How to use juxtaposition in composition?
Although juxtaposition is used in all forms of photography composition, it is most commonly used in:
- street photography
- portrait photography
- fashion photography
- documentary photography
- travel photography
It’s a great way to make a statement or tell a story in just one frame. Instantly, the viewer knows the purpose of the photo and what the photographer is saying. The more obvious the message is to the viewer, the better juxtaposition has been used.
Just like with conversation, juxtaposition isn’t for serious subjects only. It’s also be very effective when used ironically or humorously. If you do a quick Google image search for “Elliot Erwitt dogs” you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Find out about other composition techniques: 19 photography composition tips you need to know to be awesome
Juxtaposition can be photographed in a number of ways:
This is the easiest way to photograph juxtaposition. It’s simply a matter of positioning two contrasting objects in a frame. For example, a big dog and a small dog shows the contrast in size.
This is a more subtle use of the technique. An example is capturing a stormy sky over a calm pastoral scene. The juxtaposition here is between the two feelings created by the weather and contrasting scenery.
I think this is where juxtaposition shines as a composition technique. To juxtapose two concepts is to truly use a photo to “speak a thousand words”. If you look through the entries of a photojournalism competition, you’ll be continuously confronted with the clever use of juxtaposition in composition.
The trick when juxtaposing two elements to narrate a concept is not to take the easy route with a cliché. You have to be original. A cliché example in street photography would highlighting the contrast between wealth and poverty with an image of a stockbroker walking past a homeless person.
Examples of juxtaposition in composition
As we’re photographers, let’s talk in photos rather than words… Here are examples of juxtaposition in photography composition.
Old building juxtaposed against new skyscrapers
Beautiful young woman juxtaposed again rusty old machinery
Fluid water juxtaposed against solid rocks
Modern day life juxtaposed against a historical image of similar activity
Leave a comment
If you have any questions about using juxtaposition, let us know in the comments. Also, we love good news, so if our photography composition tips have helped you to understand how to juxtapose elements in a photograph, share that too.