Juxtaposition In Photography | What Is It & How To Use For Better Compositions
Definition: “The act of placing two or more elements side by side that are in contrast with each other.”
If you grew up on Sesame Street, as I did, you might remember the following lyric…
“One of these things is not like the others
One of these things just doesn’t belong.”
That is Juxtaposition in a nutshell.
Juxtapositions are the act of photographing a subject or “something” that is opposite of other subjects (or elements) in the scene.
You’ve probably been using juxtaposition in your photos already and didn’t realize it. The goal of this article is to make you aware of juxtaposition. Plus, provide ideas for actively pursuing this compositional technique.
Below, you’ll find a lot of examples of juxtaposition. Remember the lyrics from Sesame Street as you view each image.
But first, you’re going to discover the what and why of juxtaposition.
Ready to get started? Awesome, let’s do it…
Table of Contents
So, What's The Point of Juxtaposition In Photography?
Juxtapositions will make your images more interesting. And, more striking, dynamic, etc.
The juxtaposition will stop your viewers in their tracks! It will draw them in, and they’ll wonder what’s going on in your image. Think of it as another form of storytelling.
Storytelling With Juxtaposition
Juxtapositions can also evoke strong emotions. For example, review the first photo to the right (click to enlarge). Kids do NOT belong in war zones. Photojournalists often use juxtapositions to tell stories of the event they are covering.
Juxtaposition can also be used in street photography.
What do you think of when you see a photo of nuns? Or a couple kissing?
The second image places both subjects in the same picture.
Does this contradict your original thought of the subjects? Should they be together?
That’s the art of juxtapositions.
Juxtaposition Is a Composition Technique?
Yes, yes, it is.
Composition is the art of assembling elements in a scene that is pleasing to the eye. By actively arranging two subjects (in this case: that contrast with each other) is, in fact, the definition of composition.
Juxtaposition creates a strong composition due to the subjects being in contrast with each other.
However, you can make the composition even stronger by incorporating one or more other composition techniques.
For example, a common combination is the use of the rule of thirds with two contrasting images. You could have a subject on the left side of the frame and the other on the right side.
10 Tips To Create Juxtapositions
Utilizing juxtaposition in your photography has many benefits. It can help you get out of a photographic rut. It can also help you think outside of the box and capture images you wouldn’t have considered. Thus, growing your creative vision and skills as a photographer.
To capture juxtapositions, you might have to get out of your comfort zone. Actively looking for juxtaposition opportunities has many benefits.
- You’ll begin to see things differently – thus, expanding your creativity
- You’ll become a better photographer as your creativity expands
- Your work will become more noticeable
- It could lead to unexpected work – editorial and photojournalism
A classic example of juxtaposition is the use of “scale.” An example would be an adult’s hand holding a newborn’s hand (cover photo). These types of photos are popular among newborn photographers.
Some other ideas for scale could be:
Those that do street photography, will be more accustomed to seeking out murals for their artwork. For those that are new to street photography, I’d recommend looking for murals to juxtapose your subjects with it.
The mural itself will dictate the juxtaposition. For example, if the mural consists of an animal then posing a person or persons in front of it would be the contrast between the two.
Or if the mural consists of someone with a specific emotion then capturing people in front of it with a different emotion would be the juxtaposition.
In a way, some reflections can be a juxtaposition too. Especially when you utilize a fun-house mirror. Or when the reflection distorts the original subject.
As a wedding photographer, some of my favorite images were of couples being reflected. Why? They stand out from the overcrowded field that is known as wedding photography.
An old antique mirror is another option for contrasting the reflected subject. Sometimes, you’ll find old mirrors to be warped, cracked, have aged spots, etc..
Reflecting your subject off an unusual mirrored surface, like car rims, is another way to add to your creativity.
Capturing expressions in photography is an art form in and of itself. Capturing contrasting expressions or emotions is another form of juxtaposition.
It can also be one of the more difficult types of juxtapositions to create. For this to work, you can’t force the emotions. Instead, you’ll have to be ninja-like and capture the moment like a photojournalist. Otherwise, you risk interrupting or changing the emotion of the subjects.
This form of juxtaposition is plentiful throughout a wedding day. The next time you’re at a wedding, be on the lookout for contrasting emotions.
Environment - Man vs. Architecture
Creatively placing your subject (s) within or around architecture can portray contrasting elements.
For example, the dominating lines on the outside of the building (image below) present us with two main elements. The structure of the building and the windows in between.
The windows allow us to see within the building. The contrast is created when a couple is placed in front of opposite windows.
Nature vs. Man-Made
The contrast in this image is obvious. It’s not very often when you see a tree growing and touching a building at the same time.
There’s additional contrast between the subject too. Here are three…
- The texture of the tree vs. the side of the building
- Window vs. Door
- The color of the tree vs. the side of the building
Can you see any others? If so, post a comment below.
New tech vs. old tech
When Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone he probably never imagined that someday we’d be able to carry one in our pocket!
For a little fun, find an old rotary phone and have your kids try and use it. It’s hilarious. Well, it is if you’re old like me and remember using them as a kid.
Anyway, those are examples of juxtaposition.
Think of how you can create images with this category, and you’ll begin to develop a portfolio that will stand out from the crowd.
Young vs. old
Tall vs. Short
A few years back, I was covering this huge wedding in Birmingham, MI. My first stop for the day was at the hotel where the bride was getting ready. On my way out, this (very) tall person walked in. It was Shaq.
We all know he is tall, at 7’ 1”, but until you stand next to someone this tall, it doesn’t really sink in.
Tall vs. short is a classic juxtaposition.
How To Master Juxtapositions
Now that you know what a juxtaposition is and seen examples, have you used this composition technique before? To begin to master this technique, you may want to go through your old photos to find juxtapositions.
This will help you become aware of this composition technique in your own photographs. Awareness will then expose juxtapositions all around you.
Make an effort to capture the different subjects along with other composition techniques to make them stronger. Like
the rule of thirds, framing technique, or one of the other dozen composition rules.
The next step is to take your juxtapositions to the next level. By the next level, I mean stronger, more compelling compositions. This can be done by telling a story with the contrasting elements.
Stories ignite the imagination of the viewer. It gives them a bird’s eye view of what occurred at the time of capture. It helps to, well, tell a story about what’s going on in your image.
What Does Juxtaposed Mean?
Juxtapositions in photography are the art of capturing and arranging two subjects that contrast with each other. Or to compare them. The best juxtapositions are those that make it apparent that one doesn’t belong with the other.
For example, a photo of a child in a war zone.
Other examples include but are not limited to: tall vs. short, new vs. old, pet cat vs. lion, dog vs. cat, and many more.
What is an example of juxtaposition?
Since juxtaposition is the art of photographing subjects that are opposite to each other, the possibilities are endless. Here are a few examples:
How Do You Make a Juxtaposition?
To create a juxtaposition, you’ll need to actively seek out two contrasting subjects. Some are easier than others. Emotions are the hardest since you’ll need different subjects expressing contradictory emotions at the same time.
At a wedding, there is a range of emotions that occur throughout the day. At times, you’ll find people express happiness differently: tears of joy vs. a big smile.
Other juxtaposition opportunities are all around us. In fact, you may have photographed this compositional technique and didn’t realize it. Explore juxtaposition examples to give you ideas for everyday possibilities.
Why Is Juxtaposition Used?
Juxtapositions create a strong composition in your photography. When used correctly, it can be compelling. Sometimes, when done with the right subjects, it can be emotional for some viewers.
Anytime you can make your viewers react to your photo, with certain emotions, the stronger your composition and the more popular it will be.
Here are some articles to help you create exceptional photos:
What is Aperture in photography?
What is ISO in photography?
What is Shutter Speed in photography?
Light is an important element for maximizing texture in your images. Check out the 7 key ingredients for light in photography to master light in photography.
I have an idea for a juxtaposition, but I would like to set it up first. I would like to illustrate the “Sword of Damocles” a party scene all happy and laughing except for the guy sitting under the sword hanging by a thread.
Sounds great. Looking forward to seeing the final image!
Great article! While I have heard of juxtaposition I really never thought about. Your examples of how to use this composition technique in photography really helped to understand it. I’m working again, so I’m not sure if I’ll time to go out and look for things to shot. Even if I don’t get out, I learned a lot from reading your article. Actually, all of your articles. Thanks for all of your help.