There are very few places in the world that provide the same kind of visual stimulation and human interaction as street markets – but how can you create amazing street market photography? How can you distill the hustle and bustle into meaningful images?
I love capturing the beauty of these markets, and in this article, I share my best tips for gorgeous results, including:
- How to pick the perfect street market camera gear
- An easy way to find beautiful and unique photo opportunities
- How to capture portraits of vendors
- Much more!
I also include plenty of example photos throughout the article; that way, you can see exactly what my tips will do for you.
Let’s get started!
(Note: You can also use these tips to capture great photos of farmers’ markets – so even if you’re not planning to photograph a bona fide “street market,” keep reading!)
1. Look for the little things
When photographers head to street markets, they often seek out colorful items like stunning flowers and bright red fruit – but while these can certainly make for great photos, you shouldn’t walk away from other, more subtle subjects.
Remember: When carefully and thoughtfully captured, little nicknacks, tiny patterns in the displays, and interactions between people can be highly interesting!
If you’re struggling to find more intimate subjects to photograph, try standing in one place for a few minutes. Observe the scene around you, and only capture subjects that you can see from your vantage point. Pretty soon, you’ll start to identify beautiful subjects everywhere!
2. Include vendors in your photos
Every time I visit a street market, I encounter interesting people: artisans, artists, creatives, and bakers. These folks are an essential part of the market, and so while their products might seem more eye-catching and photo-ready, it pays to capture some street portraits of the vendors whenever you get a chance!
You can always shoot from a distance, but I like to walk up to the vendor, be friendly, and ask permission before snapping a few images. (If you’re in another country and you don’t speak the language, you can often just gesture to your camera.) Most people are nice and willing, but be respectful and ask first. Once they agree, grab some shots, and when you’re done, say thanks.
Also, if you do get a “No,” that’s okay – just respect the vendor, be polite, and move on.
3. Capture a variety of images
While a street market may feature a few uniquely eye-catching elements, make sure that you don’t spend all your time in one place. Instead, do what you can to tell a story by capturing a mix of subjects, including vendors, visitors, food, items, and more.
I’d also recommend working with a few lenses for extra variation. Capture some wide-angle shots that help set the scene, then switch over to a 50mm lens for some vendor and visitor portraits. And bring out your macro (or closest-focusing) lens for product details.
If it helps, think of yourself as a photojournalist attempting to capture the essence of the market!
4. Do research in advance
Street markets are like any other subject – which means that, if you want the best shots, you must spend some time researching the area prior to your visit.
If the street market is popular, look in guidebooks or online forums for inspiring images, maps, market hours, and more. And if the market is on the small side, search for a website or Facebook page, and consider asking people on the street what they know about it.
(In fact, in my experience, people on the street can be an amazing resource! Just make sure you plan out the questions you want to ask in advance.)
If the market is really huge, try to determine the most interesting stalls in advance, then map out your route so you can make the most of your trip.
And if you have lots of time, head to the area without a camera and create a mental (or physical) shot list. That way, when you come with your camera, you know exactly where to go.
5. Master your tools
Street markets are fast-paced, which means that something interesting is often happening. It also means that if you spend time fiddling with your settings and experimenting with different buttons, you’ll miss all the best opportunities.
So learn the ins and outs of your street photography camera in advance. Learn where all the buttons and knobs are and how to use them to get the photos you’re after. Learn to anticipate how different lenses will “see” the scene (so you can quickly pick the best lens for the job).
Also, markets can present major lighting challenges; you’re often moving between sun and shade, and you don’t have much control over your subjects. So be prepared to change your settings quickly (here, Aperture Priority mode can be a big help!).
6. Buy something
If you want to photograph vendors but you’re too shy or uncomfortable to try the approach I shared above, consider making a purchase. In my experience, even a small purchase can help establish rapport, which you can then turn into a photo opportunity.
Again, ask clear permission, and if the vendor says “No,” just let it go and walk away. If they say “Yes,” however – and they often will! – they’ll often be more relaxed and willing to pose given that you purchased one of their products.
7. Choose the right gear
Most street markets are out in the street and span several blocks, which means that you’ll spend a lot of time walking around – and you don’t want to be carrying tons of gear because, after an hour or two, your bag will start to feel very, very heavy.
(And if you end up buying items from the vendors, the weight will only increase!)
My recommendation? Just bring one camera and two or three solid street photography lenses. I like using a zoom lens in these situations (a 24-70mm is a great choice) or a few small primes (such as a 50mm and a 35mm). That way, I have the key focal lengths covered, but I’m not struggling under the weight of a full camera bag.
8. Choose the right settings
Markets are often covered or indoors, so you’ll sometimes be photographing in low light. Therefore, I’d recommend being generous with your ISO; don’t be afraid to increase it as needed. Street photography is often done in a documentary style, anyway, where a little noise can actually add to the images.
You can also widen your aperture, though don’t go so wide that you blur out all the beautiful details. And make sure you raise your shutter speed enough to keep moving subjects sharp (you’ll probably want to shoot at 1/250s and above).
Also, be sure to keep the lighting in mind. You may have to deal with a variety of lighting situations, including sun, shade, and tungsten bulbs – so to make your life easier, consider using your camera’s Auto White Balance mode. It’ll generally do a good job, and as long as you work in RAW, you can tweak the white balance in post-production.
9. Pay attention to your compositions
Street markets can be very distracting, so it’s easy to just start clicking away without considering the composition – but that’s a mistake.
Instead, whenever you have the time to ponder image composition, do it. For each shot, aim to:
- Deliberately position your main subject within the frame (consider using the rule of thirds)
- Remove all problematic distractions
- Push the viewer’s eye toward the main subject
And try to get photos from different angles: high up, low down, and even from the hip. Changing your perspective is a great way to add variety to your photos!
10. Be aware of your surroundings and stay safe
Street markets tend to be crowded places, and a photographer with expensive gear and a fancy backpack stands out like a sore thumb.
So even as you capture images, keep an eye on your equipment! Make sure that your camera bag or backpack is securely shut, and hold your camera in front of your body (rather than letting it dangle over a shoulder). Hold valuables close to your person, and make sure wallets and smartphones are packed away.
That way, you can prevent your street market photoshoot from turning sour.
Street market photography: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know how to create incredible photos of street markets.
So remember the tips I’ve shared. Plan a street market outing. And have fun!
Which of these tips do you plan to use first? Share your thoughts in the comments below!