There are very few places in the world that provide the kind of visual stimulation, human interactions, and heightened sensory excitement like as street markets. No matter the size or what the market is about, there is bound to be some interesting things to photograph and experience.
I love going to street markets and farmers markets for several reasons – it seems to be the place where most locals hang out, food and shopping are quite fun and unique and it is a great place to taste local foods.
Here are some tips to make the most out of photographing street markets or farmers markets.
#1 Redefine interesting
Gorgeous flowers and yummy fruit are always interesting subjects to photograph but if these are not available, don’t walk away. People interactions, fishmongers and other nicknacks are just as interesting.
#2 Include human elements
I’ve encountered some really interesting people every time I have visited a street market – artists, artisans, creatives, as well as small-time bakers. It always helps to be friendly and ask permission before snapping a photo. Most people are really nice and willing but be respectful and ask first. And respect a “No” when you hear it and move on.
#3 Variety in your shots
Add variety to your photos to give them a sense of place, people, and activity. Remember wide angle photos can help you set the scene, but you might miss some details.
#4 Explore and plan
Just like any photo excursion or trip, take the time to research and explore the areas prior to visiting them. Look at guidebooks, online forums or even ask your friends or people on the street – chances are that markets which the locals frequent aren’t going to be that obvious.
The best resource might actually be the people on the street. If the market is really huge, do some preliminary research to find the most interesting stalls and map out your route so you can make the most of your time there.
#5 Master your tools
Notice that I did not say, “master your craft”. Instead, I said, “master your tools”. In a fast paced environment like a street market, something interesting is constantly happening. Now is not the time to muddle with your camera, adjusting settings and experimenting.
Learn where all the buttons and knobs are and how to use them for what you want to create. Markets can present real challenges with lighting. You might be shooting outdoors, indoors or both within a span of a few minutes.
#6 Buy something
A small purchase goes a long way toward making friends with vendors. Buy something first if possible. Establish rapport and then ask permission to take a picture. You will find your subjects more relaxed and they will to pose for you rather than doing it with an attitude of entitlement.
#7 Choose the right gear
Considering that most street markets are out on the street and typically span a few blocks, chances are that you will be walking around a fair bit. So you don’t want to be carrying around a ton of gear because it is slowly going to get heavy and cumbersome.
Additionally, if you end up buying things, you will add more to the weight factor. Personally, I prefer using a zoom lens in situations like this. Or a couple of standard prime lens like the versatile 50mm or the wide 35mm. There might not be too much opportunity to switch lenses on the fly so be deliberate with what you bring along.
#8 Gear settings
When arriving at a market, one of the first things you’ll notice is that they’re usually covered or indoors. This means that you will likely be photographing in low light situations. Don’t be afraid to increase your ISO here. Photographing street markets often times is best done from a documentary approach so a little grain/noise in terms of high ISO is not going to be the end of the world.
Another thing to keep in mind is lighting. Chances are you are going to be dealing with a variety of lighting situations – sunlight, tungsten, and low light. Perhaps to make life a little easier, switch to Auto White Balance mode on your camera. That way you have one less thing to worry about and can always adjust the White Balance in post-production.
NOTE: You can also try Auto ISO. Read more about that here.
Try to photograph either wide-angle or close-ups. The reason behind this is because you want your images to look intentional and without many distractions.
Also try and get shots from different angles – high up, low down or even photographing from the hip. Changing your perspective is an easy way to really create variety in your pictures.
#10 Be aware of your surroundings and stay safe
Street markets tend to be crowded places. A photographer with some expensive gear and a fancy backpack stands out like a sore thumb. Make sure to keep an eye on your gear at all times. Keep valuables close to your person. Wallets, smartphones, etc., should be securely packed away and not at all conspicuous.
I hope these ten tips for photographing street markets were helpful for you. If you have other tips that have worked really well for you, do share with us in the comments section below.