What Is Juxtaposition?

14/07/2018 12:22 pm

What is Juxtaposition?

Juxtaposition is a common term that is used in many art forms, from painting and writing to music, sculpture and more. Chances are, even if you are a beginner you have already used it in some way in your photography.

But what is it?

As you have an interest in photography, you are probably aware of the word contrast being used to describe the variation of light within your image being used to create definition. Juxtaposition similarly creates definition, but instead of using contrasting light, it involves the contrast of two subjects or objects.


For a successful juxtaposition to occur you need:

  • At least two subjects, objects or concepts within your image
  • A similarly strong presence of the juxtaposed objects, so the viewer’s eyes are drawn to both
  • Visual contrast between the objects

 This last note is a photographer’s chance to shine, using anything from colour, texture, size or scale, perspective, mood, or placement to create this visual contrast. This contrast can even come in the form of irony. Below we take a look at some of the popular ways juxtaposition is used within photography.


Juxtaposition of Colour:

Every photographer needs to develop an understanding of colour if they wish to create successful images. This is even true of photographers who shoot exclusively in black and white, as different colours will react differently with your film and will result in different tones.

Colours that are complementary to each other will often be at opposite ends of the colour wheel, including red with green, blue with yellow etc. Depending on what you are trying to achieve with your photography, you should aim to use these contrasts of colour to your advantage, whether that means using colours which relate to each other harmoniously or jarringly.

Take a look at a favourite photograph of yours, either by you or another photographer and consider the different colours throughout the image and how they play off each other.

Juxtaposition of Size:

One of the most popular and obvious uses of juxtaposition by professional and beginner photographers alike is the use of comparative size between two or more objects in an image.

An example of this, and something you would have seen thousands of times is a human standing in the foreground of an image before a large natural wonder in the background, such as a mountain range. The differences in size between these two objects as well as their distance between each other is the ideal way of drumming home just how momentous the natural world is and conversely, how slight we are as people. Conceptually this can be stretched to proving how insignificant our stresses and worries are.

There are limitless examples of this type of contrast, with professional photographers becoming more adept at using their skill set to develop and emphasise this contrast at their will.


Juxtaposition of Form:

A broader use of the juxtaposition technique and one which is perhaps less obvious is the contrast of forms, such as sharp and round, soft and hard and spiky and smooth.

"Soft and Hard" can sometimes occur in the natural world, such as waterfalls over rocks, or it can be seen in the interaction between the natural and manmade world, such as a flower blossoming through the cracks in the pavement. Again, a professional photographer will use various techniques and aspects of juxtaposition to heighten these contrasts.

"Smooth and Spiky" is a common example of juxtaposition that you would have seen used extensively and often to dramatic effects, such as rose petals and thorns, or the spiky bones of an animal laying on the smooth and wind-blown sands of the desert.


After reading through these common techniques of juxtaposition that we have highlighted you have probably noticed some that you have used previously in your own photography.

Next time you are out shooting, be mindful of these contrasts of subjects and objects within an image and aim to use them consistently to your advantage, to develop a more powerful and eye-catching body of work.


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