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Juxtaposition in Street Photography

“Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world.” – Buno Barbey

From my street photography course www.schoolofphotographers. com

by Miguelitor

I’d like to start this topic by telling you to photograph the street, not as a routine, but as a means of expression. It must be a search for what you want to express and although there is no other knowledge of a compositional technique, you must not follow any rule blindly, not the rule of thirds, nor that of the horizon nor the multiplication table. I think it should be more a search for how to express yourself, rather than how to acquire a good technique.

Among all the arts, photography is the fastest and perhaps the easiest way to express yourself since we only have to press a button. Imagine the years of learning and practice that it takes a violinist to express himself with his violin, to a writer to write, to a sculptor to sculpt...

To photograph is to show who sees your photo what caught your attention when you took it and the street is full of photographic stories.

Express yourself, catch the attention of those who see your picture showing what caught your attention.

Surely you know many photographers whose portfolio is full of very colorful photographs, where the brightness and contrast border on the "space and Martian" but that their photographs fail to interest. they have “nice” photos but you don't find them interesting.

Don’t make beautiful but interesting photos. To get it you have to be interested in what you photograph, find a story by looking through your display.

In this lesson you will learn to juxtapose people and elements in the street. It is a technique widely used in photography and is what gives more life to street photography.

What is juxtaposition?

Juxtaposition is at least a funny word to refer to the contrast between at least 2 things within the same image. In future lessons we’ll see creativity in street photography and I’ll tell you a little about double exposure juxtaposition: a very beautiful and creative exercise where we will contrast buildings, people, cars... by creating a double exposure.

In this topic we will talk about two types of juxtaposition, which as street photography professionals we are obliged to know. I welcome you to the lesson where you’ll learn juxtaposition by contrast and juxtaposition by combination.

1. Juxtaposition by contrast.

Juxtaposition by contrast is when you put two or more people in the same frame and their contrast is striking.


✔︎ Thick person next to thin person

✔︎ Elderly person next to young person

✔︎ Tall person next to short person

✔︎ Angry person next to happy person

✔︎ Someone sleeping next to someone who is awake

1.1. How to find a juxtaposition by contrast?

As I told you in the purpose of this course: The world of street photography is so beautiful that it creates addiction and from this moment and forever, you will look at everything much more than you did before.

From now on, when you see a person who is standing by consulting their mobile phone and you see that everyone walks in a hurry around them (lesson number 2, the slow shutter speed in street photography), you’ll stop and look for an angle to photograph.

When you see a person gesturing for any reason, you’ll look around because surely the person who is approaching "our subject" is not gesturing.

When you see a person very bored of waiting at the bus stop, you will take a look around, surely there are people in a better mood, the good thing about photographing these scenes every day is that in the end we shoot instinctively.

Thanks to our camera we classify and realize what people do, there are beautiful, tall people, eating, sleeping, angry, white, bald, laughing... and around them quite the opposite.

Long live the power of observation.

I took this picture on my birthday and as it was the only gift I got, I dedicated it to myself, writing on it the following:

"Because we all get older, congratulations Miguel"

There we have the photo, understandable for everyone who visualizes it, as Bruno Barbey's quote that opens this lesson says:

"Photography is the only language that can be understood and comprehended worldwide."

In the shot we see that there are two main people, two people who tell us the story of this photograph. In the sand, where the youngest girl is lying sunbathing, we can guess that she’s on the beach. Next to her, wearing black pants and a flamenco blouse, there’s a lady who looks at her and who is surely thinking or even remembering to have been such a comfortable, beautiful and carefree girl.

The beach is one of my favorite places to take pictures. There many people gather and you know, where there are people, there are good photos to take. This day was a sunny day and I went there on purpose. I have a list written down of sites where I’ll go take different photos depending on the weather and, on this beach, a sunny day is a reason to go and photograph. There are many tourists who come from mainland China and many local people enjoying the beach, this gives a lot of sense and contrast to my photographs.

Write down or memorize sites and locations where you know you’re going to find different types of people.

In the previous lesson I told you that you have to have ideas, that you have to think about what kind of photographs you want or can take at that time, if you don’t know what you are looking for you’ll never find it. If you know what you are looking for, you will find it easier. I was looking for this lady, I knew I was going to find her, I knew I was going to find that scene, I knew I was going to juxtapose her with someone in this place.

There are times when we don’t know where or when we are going to find a photograph, but there is our instinct, that instinct that I’ll remind you again and again throughout the course, that we’ll get and train the more we photograph.

Only a minute and a half before the photograph above, I’d been exercising in a park: low oxygen, water bottle and soaked shirt. I see these two people approaching, they are an elderly lady and the one who takes care of her, in Hong Kong it’s very common to see these couples. My instinct was already pushing me towards my bag where my camera is always ready. I had an older person next to a young person, the juxtaposition by contrast was clear, I just had to wait for some behavior and it came the way we see in the picture: the young girl began to do push-ups giving me even more contrast to the photographed image.

Photography depends on many factors, including the luck of someone showing up at the right time, but luck is facilitated if you know how to take advantage of your instinct and you are clear about the framing.

I have some alleys in Hong Kong memorized and always present where there’s a lot of life, there you can find from chefs with their white uniform to rats the size of the chefs' pan. I always have these alleys, every day I go to different places and I never walk the same route, I think it makes me more creative.

Walking through one of these alleys I saw this man urinating. You know, I’m one of those who, when they see something that contrasts in the street, I photograph it. I didn’t want to place the man in the center of the frame, I had to give more sense and contrast to what was being photographed and I knew I had to place him on the left side of the frame and wait while pretending I wasn’t trying to photograph him, at least while he was still urinating, and thus wait for someone to appear on the street to close the plane. I was lucky, these two people appeared who helped me compose this photograph: the lady, with that expression of happiness, seems to realize the moment, the man took at least two extra steps.

Seeing the photo from a long distance and approaching slowly is guaranteed success, because we have time and it gives us ideas to compose the image, define what kind of image we want.

In the next picture I was on the opposite side of where these gentlemen are. It’s a 30-minute ferry ride to the island where I live. There was noise of children shouting and playing around one of the aisles of the ferry, I saw that where the children were sitting there were people who seemed to sleep.

Children playing + sleeping people = Good contrast

Capturing repetitive patterns bring order, aesthetics and good taste to the composition, but something or someone leaving the pattern is the icing on our cake.

In this photograph we see how all the people are sleeping except for one, who seems to want to because of their tired face, perhaps produced by those two children who also leave the pattern, being the only two who turn their backs on us in the image.

If we get someone out of the pattern of the photographed image, we’ll get a good contrast and story in our photography

Seeing or intuiting where two people who contrast with each other will coincide is also a good visual exercise and we must train it. There won’t always be two people who contrast each other around, many times we have to get ahead ourselves to that possible crossing.

In this photograph I saw that a lady who recycles paper and cardboard was pushing a car and pulling another, both with boxes full of paper. I looked around and I found it interesting to be able to photograph her near the girl in the jewelry store poster, but as I kept watching I saw that a young boy in a suit was coming and I thought he was more suitable for the photography. I moved according to the lady’s rhythm, who came from my left and the man who came from my right, the lady did it perpendicularly and the man at an angle to me thus cutting the frame. I got lucky, I got the shot and even the poster got in although I wasn’t trying to get it in, I tried to contrast poor lady vs. man with wealthy appearance.

2. Juxtaposition by combination

The juxtaposition by combination is when you put one or more people/animals in the same frame and combine that with some element that has nothing to do with those people but the result of the image acquires meaning.


✔︎ Person next to sign, road sign...

✔︎ Person next to animal, object…

✔︎ Person next to color

2.1. How to find a juxtaposition by combination?

The juxtaposition by combination is to show whoever visualizes your photo what caught your attention, how you understood that moment and denotes creativity. They are usually notable photographs thanks to the humor or interest in them.

The traffic signs, posters, graffiti on each street can help us a lot with this kind of juxtapositions. Animals that play, sleep or eat near people will also help us a lot. Cheat the viewer's eyes by utilizing forced perspectives, making small things look great and vice versa.

a. To go back

The photo that opens this topic is an expensive example of juxtaposition by combination; in it there’s a graffitti, which seems to be a lady, and a lady with an almost identical face appears at the lower right corner of the photograph. In topic 10, we’ll talk about creativity in street photography and I’ll talk about the composition in lower vertices.

A simple, minimalist photo, there’s only a drawing and a head, but it shows whoever visualizes the photo what caught my attention. In this case I was walking through an alley and I noticed the graffiti, I didn’t pay much attention until, several meters later, I saw the lady and thought they could be combined. Instinct called me to photograph the scene, I backed up and thought about how I could give meaning to that picture.

b. To see from afar

There are other times when we don’t have to go back but we see the combination from afar and that’s when you should approach, while preparing the camera, thinking about how and from what angle you want to photograph it and without too much eye contact.

I don't know who Sujo is but he wanted to leave a mark on one of the walls of my town, signing and drawing whatever he wanted in an act of vandalism that someone had to fix afterwards, just as I was passing by with my Compact out there. It was funny, I wanted to have the picture.

c) Approaching

We’ve already said that intuition is acquired as we take more and more photographs and that we also train our eyes to find people who, because of their physique, gestures or costumes, are more interesting to photograph than others.

They are muscular people, not everyone has the luxury of having biceps the size of my neighbor Sujo's drawings and that can make your picture at least funny. I admit it, when I see someone with such dimensions I approach, in an invisible way, of course, and I see what I can photograph and in this case the combination was clear.

d) Vertical Framing

In the last street photography workshop I did in Vietnam in December 2018, I saw a lady washing her long hair in the street, with a bucket of water. She removed the foam from her hair and I found her long hair quite exotic.

I liked the photo, but I knew something was missing, I lacked interest in what was photographed and without realizing it, I changed the frame to vertical and it was then when I saw her long mane could be combined with what was above.

Change the frame to vertical from time to time, it will make you see things you didn’t see before.

e) Creativity

Having an idea is an explosion of joy, it's like scoring a goal. To see a combination of elements and having been able to capture them is to go home with the job done and a smile on your face.

In the first lesson ( 1.How to Start to shoot) we talked about how to shoot people who turn their backs on us with a photograph of Kagoshima Airport, Japan where I went to teach a photography workshop in May 2018.

When we left the plane we had to wait for immigration control in a very small room, I was one of the last ones and the only thing I saw was heads and on top of them a sign indicating where the toilets were, then you get the idea and you shoot, making it look like everyone in the picture is queuing and waiting for their turn to go to the toilet.

But there are times when you have less time to think and combine. In this photograph taken in a workshop in Chiang Rai, Thailand, I saw that everyone has and talks with their “friends”, and that we even dressed the same, combining animals and people in your contrasts always makes sense, be creative, selective and provocative, let the people who visualize your photography know what you saw when you took the picture.

In this photograph you can see a curious scene: A dove that looks like it will start flying, four legs that seem to be there for no reason and a cat, which only needs a thousandth of a second to perhaps scare everyone, except the photographer who saw it coming. An easy-to-read photograph, shocking by what we believe will happen and different from the point of view used

Miguel Marina ¨Miguelitor¨

from my Street photography course

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