Street Photography 101: Use juxtaposition

I am relatively new to street photography by which I mean, I have been ‘dabbling’ for a few years but never really taken it seriously. Indeed, as I’ve written before, I never really saw the point of it.

Recently however, I’ve begun to change my mind about street photography. Having studied the work of some of the recognised greats of the genre, people like Fan Ho, Vivian Maier, Joel Meyerowitz, Jill Freedman and, of course, Henri Cartier-Bresson I’m finally beginning to ‘get it’.

Whilst I have a long way to go to ever get close to emulating the work of the aforementioned greats I have gradually started to explore different styles of this type of photography and look at different techniques for obtaining images I’m feeling good about.

I believe a great way to learn is not only to practice, practice and practice but also to try and explain to others not just what you are doing but also why you are doing it. The purpose of this series of posts then is going to be to show an image I have captured and explain a little bit about it as well as why I took it. Each post will explain a technique or an approach to making street images.

I’ll be taking my inspiration from some of the past and current masters of the genre because I believe that too, is a great way to learn. As the current-day street photographer Matt Stuart says:

We all take inspiration from photographers who have gone before us, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but absorb it all and then make the pictures only you can make.

Think Like a Street Photographer – Matt Stuart

This is the first of these posts.

“Familiarity”, Dorridge, England, 2021 (Fujifilm X-Pro3, XF35mm F2, 1/500s @ f/8.0, ISO 160)

The first thing to say about this image is that it shows you don’t have to visit exotic and faraway locations to make images. For people who live in the great cities of the world where you literally have all of life on your door step this is easy to say but even if you live in small, out of the way, relatively insignificant places you can still practice the art of street photography. This particular image was made 10 minutes from where I live in a very nondescript part of the world but nonetheless the place I call home.

I was walking to my local shop to buy some milk and found myself behind these two people. I saw that even though they were an older couple they were holding hands which I thought was nice. I wondered if I could capture them in some way. I new that if they were heading in the same direction as me we would be passing this advertising hoarding next to a railway bridge. I’d no idea what the poster was going to be this month but thought I’d hurry ahead in case it was something appropriate that I could capture them in front of.

When I saw what was on the hoarding, especially the words on the advert, I thought it would be perfect. They were clearly familiar with each other and had probably been for quite some time. I just hoped I could get them at the right position. I crossed the road and stood in front of the poster waiting for them to come around the corner.

I thought I was going to be disappointed as at first they stopped to cross the road before getting to the poster. Luckily the road was busy so they decided to walk to the crossing which was right in front of the poster. A car slowed down to let them cross and they walked out onto the crossing at just the right place for me to capture them and the poster. I’m pleased to say I got this in a single shot.

Using juxtaposition, that is placing two or more things side by side to compare or contrast or to create an interesting effect, is a favoured technique in street photography and posters are an often used item as one of those things. One approach to creating juxtaposed shots such as this is to find one thing you want in your shot then wait for something interesting to happen. This maybe very quick, as it was for me, or may take many hours and even require you returning to the place over a period of several days.

I was lucky for this shot but most times you need to be very patient to practice the art of street photography. It’s not always as quick as it was for this image.

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