Secrets of taking good pictures: Juxtaposition

Tom Langford teaches beginners how to make opposites beautiful.

Religious Man (photo credit: Ester)
Religious Man
(photo credit: Ester)
Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
Photographers use a wide variety of methods to make their pictures interesting. One of their most common tricks is to place two similar, yet contrasting subjects in the same shot. Have a look at the pictures of Henri Cartier Bresson, Elliot Erwit, and Leonard Freed at to see some great examples of the art of juxtaposition.
This is a powerful device that once understood can be seen in countless good pictures from all different genres.
Our minds automatically make associations between similar objects and this gives extra meaning and depth to the picture. Once you are aware of it you start to spot juxtaposition all around you just waiting to be photographed. Practice and preparation are necessary in order to be fast enough to capture it, but when you do it will make all the difference to your photography.
What about this one?
A lady named Ester sent me the picture below that she took in Jerusalem last year. She calls herself a beginner, but even so noticed that “the background seems floating and only the belly of the religious man is sharp!” She asks: “What about this one?”
What I like about her picture is the sense of movement. The religious man is just about to walk out of the frame and the diagonal slope of the pavement helps here. Photographers often use diagonals to direct the eye and create dynamic feeling in their pictures. Personally I would have taken the shot a moment later so that the religious man’s hat was clear of the vertical trees. I would have also lowered the camera a little to give more prominence to the pavement and less to the trees: The diagonal slope is more important because it suggests movement. But on the whole, this is an excellent shot, especially for a beginner.Juxtaposition
Regular readers will know that I’m always keen to go the extra mile; I always want to add that X factor to give a picture greater depth and interest. How could Ester have added some juxtaposition to enhance the shot?
After taking this shot she could have started looking around for a handy juxtaposition. The religious man is reading a religious book, so an obvious contrast would be a secular man or woman reading something, the more secular the better. Probably she would be frustrated and not find anything suitable at hand, but with enough awareness and enough luck something will suggest itself. In the picture below I have imagined a juxtaposition – just one of many possibilities.
Religious Man (Courtesy Ester)Religious Man (Courtesy Ester)
As you can imagine you need a good deal of awareness to see such a possibility. Some camera technique may also be useful, and my article about “focus lock” might be worth a look.
Juxtaposition is just one of the many story-telling devices that we use to make out pictures stand out and be noticed. Start looking and if you succeed in capturing a winning juxtaposition, I’d love to see it.
Constructive Feedback  
If you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, send me a picture and I may use in one in my articles with some constructive feedback. Send one picture only, at a small size to suitable for emails to [email protected].
If you don’t know how to send a photo by email at a small size please look at my Brief Guide to Picasa:
Tom Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer, website designer, and professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners and improvers. Details of his courses and field trips at: