Juxtaposition in photography as a composition technique is a lot less complicated than it sounds! It’s actually really simple, but the difference it makes to a photograph is dramatic.
Even though it’s really powerful, juxtaposition is a one of the simpler compositional techniques and doesn’t require any fancy technical knowledge. So it’s perfect for any level of photography.
Using juxtaposition starts with thinking about what you want to say before you take the shot.
So let’s have a look at what’s involved with juxtaposition.
A newborn baby in his father’s hands, highlighting how small he was.
What is juxtaposition in photography?
You know the expression, “opposites attract”? Well, that’s basically how juxtaposition works. When using juxtaposition as a composition technique, you’re making a statement by positioning two contrasting elements in an image to emphasize the subject and/or to tell a story.
The elements can be anything really, but here are some examples to get you thinking:
The list is endless and even two contrasting elements can be used.
When juxtaposing two opposing ideas, objects, colors, textures etc, we’re balancing aspects of a photo to make it more interesting, or to make a point. This is abstract balance in photography composition.
Why use juxtaposition in composition?
We use the juxtaposition technique to create interesting, strong images with an instantly identifiable message. Sometimes juxtaposition is used simply to strengthen the impact of the image.
In fact, juxtaposition is why so many photographers like to shoot fashion in abandoned buildings – the high conceptual contrast is interesting.
As with all composition techniques, juxtaposition in photography makes the image more eye catching. Not only does it grab the viewer’s attention, but it also holds it longer.
How to use juxtaposition in composition?
Although juxtaposition is used in all forms of photography composition, you’ll see it mostly 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. So 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 very effective when used ironically or humorously.
You’ll see exactly what I mean if you do a quick Google image search for “Elliot Erwitt dogs”.
Juxtaposition can be used in a number of ways:
This is the easiest way to photograph juxtaposition, because it’s simply a matter of positioning two contrasting objects in a frame.
For example, a big dog next to a small dog shows the contrast in size.
This is a more subtle use of the technique. An example of juxtaposed moods in an image is a stormy sky over a calm pastoral scene.
The juxtaposition here is between the two feelings, or moods, 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 photography.
The trick when juxtaposing two elements to convey a concept is not to take the easy route with a cliché. You have to be original.
A cliché juxtaposition example in street photography is highlighting the contrast between wealth and poverty with an image of a stockbroker walking past a homeless person.
Juxtaposition examples in photography composition
As we’re photographers, let’s talk in photos rather than words.
Here are a few juxtaposition examples in photography composition so that you can see the technique at work.
Old building juxtaposed against new skyscrapers
Young woman juxtaposed against rusty old machinery
Flowing water juxtaposed against solid rocks
Modern life juxtaposed against a historical image of similar activity
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