This is a picturesque little town, but it’s not what you would call unique. The unexpected statue peeking from behind a curtain, however, stands out against all the other, ordinary windows. That keeps you looking at the image when you might normally have thought, “That’s nice,” and moved on.
Learn from a Pro:
One of the best-known celebrity portraits taken by Annie Leibovitz is this one of John Lennon, nude and wrapped in a vulnerable position around a stiff and passive-looking Yoko Ono. The stark differences between their clothes (or lack thereof) and demeanors speak volumes about the different roles people can play in a relationship.
What Can Be Juxtaposed?
The fun thing about using juxtaposition in your work is how limitless it really is. You can juxtapose many different artistic elements, including (but not limited to) the ones below:
If you’ve read our guide to complementary colors, you know the power of color theory in photography. Juxtaposition allows you to harness this power in new ways:
- Put complementary colors in close proximity to convey tension or just add a little excitement
- Juxtapose warm colors against cool ones
- Guide your viewer’s attention with selective color (juxtapose one saturated area against the rest of the image in black and white)
Accent colors work in a similar way, by putting something a little different next to like colors, and often this type of juxtaposition can actually achieve a certain harmony.
The eye tends to gravitate toward text in an image, so use that to your advantage. Go out and shoot some street photography. Look for text that doesn’t match the surroundings, or maybe a font that doesn’t mesh with the message it’s supposed to be conveying. Graffiti is always fun to play around with! Forgotten construction signs (you’d be surprised how often that happens) or outdated advertisements are other things you can be on the lookout for.
If your goal is to convey an idea, feeling, or way of thinking, you’re working with a concept. Juxtaposition can be used in this capacity to bring awareness to a problem or highlight an injustice, maybe by putting opulence in close proximity to poverty.
You can also convey friction by using contrasting ideas in the same composition. This can also show cooperation and peace if those ideas are composed so that they do not clash against one another visually. To capture such complex ideas, you may wish to utilize symbols of your respective ideas. Some possible examples:
- A protest sign leaning against a government building
- An expensive sports car parked outside a condemned structure
- Two people from different cultures sitting down to a meal together
Value in this sense refers to the darks and lights in a photo. By placing shadows against spotlights or using different levels of contrast throughout an image, you can juxtapose different values. You already know that contrast adds drama, but if you tend to use it consistently throughout an image, you could try only making one or a few elements really pop against other, lower-contrast ones.
Size and Quantity
Remember the example from earlier of the tiny person standing in the giant structure? Size and quantity are easy to juxtapose, especially with the right angle. A single person drinking coffee on a luxury balcony and looking down at a crowded street conveys peace in the middle of chaos. An empty grocery basket next to fully stocked shelves could talk about the silent hunger epidemic.
Forced perspective can also utilize juxtaposition to add a different view of everyday items or bring whimsy into a dry concept. (The image below is a personal favorite.)