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How to use juxtaposition in photography and create impressive shots

July 13, 2021
  • 645
  • 7 min

Recently, we talked about a compositional technique used in photography called framing. Today it’s time to touch upon another one: juxtaposition. Never heard of it? Actually, you have most likely already used this technique without knowing that you did!

What is juxtaposition?

This technique is all about showing the contrast or similarities between two or more elements in the frame. The subject can be people, buildings, nature, colors, or even shadows — anything you can think of.

 

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It is important that each of the elements stands out in the frame and draws attention, as it is the only way the viewer will notice the difference or similarity between the objects. 

How juxtaposition is used in photography

Juxtaposition is a great way to tell a story or make a statement through an image. It helps you to not only create a pretty picture but give meaning to it. 

So, when can you apply juxtaposition? It is most often used in:

  • Street photography
  • Portrait photography
  • Fashion photography
  • Documentary photography
  • Travel photography

Ways to apply juxtaposition

Juxtaposing objects

This is the easiest way of showing juxtaposition in an image. All you need to do is to place two contrasting objects in the frame.

For example, a large German Shepherd next to a small Corgi shows contrast in size. You can also use Juxtaposition to play with perspective and frame small objects in such a way that they look huge in the picture.

 

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Juxtaposing moods

This is a more subtle use of the technique. Here, the juxtaposition takes place between different feelings or moods depicted in the shot.

An example is a stormy sky over a peaceful field. Or the opposite – a beautiful sunset over dilapidated housing. 

 

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Juxtaposing concepts

In this case, you compose your shot with subjects that together relate to a certain concept. This allows you to tell a powerful story or make a statement through a single image. 

For example, a photo of a distressed beggar next to happy rich people makes you think about inequality in society.

 

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Examples of juxtaposition in photos

There are many different ways to show contrast in an image. Here is a list of some that you can try out right away:

Large and small subjects

We often see images containing two objects of different sizes. Most of the time we don’t even pay attention to that detail, while in reality, such contrasting elements are exactly what gives the photo its charm. The most important thing is that the objects complement each other.

Example: A man on a mountainside, overshadowed by huge mountains. A photo like this doesn’t only show a size difference, but it also conveys a notion — how humans are no match to nature.

 

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Black and white (light and dark)

Using colors is a great way to introduce juxtaposition in your photos. Black and white are especially great for this, as they contrast like no other. Moreover, they can add a truly mysterious tone to the shot.

 

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Emotions vs lack of emotions

The difference between reactions of people to the same event can be huge. While one person could be joyful, the other can show no emotions at all.

 

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Nature vs man-made

Our world consists of artificial and natural objects. Through juxtaposition, we can show an example of the two contrasting in our daily lives.

For example, a tree with its uneven shape and random branches stands out greatly against a backdrop of modern buildings with perfectly defined shapes. Or a bustling city above which rises a large, calm mountain.

 

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New vs obsolete technologies

Technology is another great subject we can use to show examples of juxtaposition. Our world is developing rapidly — developments that were once considered technological wonders are losing relevance faster than we can imagine. 

Showing the difference between the old and the new can tell powerful stories about how far we have come as a society and makes you think about what may lay further ahead.

 

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Young vs old

Nothing is more touching than images of different generations of a family: grandchildren with their grandparents, grandparents with their grown-up children. We see an entire history and notice a shift in culture and tradition through such photos. It’s a gentle reminder that time flies, and it does so faster than we realize.

 

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Wealth vs poverty

While not the most pleasant example, it does make one think about this global issue. You don’t end up with just a photo, but with a powerful message that can bring about change.

Example:

A photo of a homeless person sleeping on the ground next to an advertisement for an expensive new iPhone… or simply a poor man walking past a fancy cafe.

 

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Past vs present

The concept of the past and present is another fantastic example of juxtaposition. Take a close look at the buildings around you. Most of them looked completely different 10 years ago. Find an old photo of a street that was once in a dilapidated state. Now take a new photo of the same street, while holding the old photo in the frame. 

Another example:  a photo of a child in front of the same wall where their father or mother had also been photographed during their childhood. The combination of these two photos clearly demonstrates the concept of juxtaposition. You can also take a nostalgic picture reminding us of a time when most people had rarely heard the word “pandemic”.

 

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Tips for awesome photos with a juxtaposition

Here are some more recommendations to make your photos even cooler.

Start with simple juxtaposition techniques. For example, catch contrasts between objects of different sizes or take a selfie with your grandmother. You can “play around” by juxtaposing concepts, but make sure it’s something funny and absurd.

Focus on one object. This applies especially to street photography where there are many interesting objects around. Find a background, an advertising billboard for example, and start focusing on it. Just keep looking — at some point you will find an element that contrasts with it. Once you find it, compose and take the shot!

Come closer.  Instead of zooming, get closer to the subject. Stop for a moment, look around, and take a few shots. For example, you can take a photo of a toy car in the grass and frame it in such a way that it looks like a real car. Some of the best photos were taken at a very close range, so look around carefully!

Don’t limit yourself to just two objects. Include three or more characters in the shot to make the composition more interesting.

Experiment with editing. You will notice that even the slightest amount of color correction can make an image look completely different. For photos with proper juxtaposing elements, you don’t need to work on serious edits in Photoshop. Instead, a simple universal photo editor will do. For example, Movavi Picverse, which will allow you to:

  • Add brightness to colors and make the contrast more noticeable
  • Turn a color image into a high-contrast black and white photo
  • Add drama by applying a retro filter — a must-have for juxtaposition photography
  • Remove unnecessary noise from the image that can be distracting from the main focus

Combine this technique with other ones. For example, juxtaposition works great with silhouette photography. Have the shadows and reflections become part of the juxtaposition. Get creative with it.

That’s it! We have told you everything we know about juxtaposition in photography and videography. Hopefully, you have already picked up your camera to go out into the streets and practice. Good luck! 🙂

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