A favorite subject for many street photographers is the market. It’s no surprise either, as these places have a lot of life going on, and therefore many good photography opportunities. The best way to get the most out of your street market photography is to get organized.
That means going in with a plan, which for photographers means a list of photographs you intend to take. So in this article, you’ll get an idea of what those photos should be, read on to find out.
#1 – An overall scene-setting shot
A scene-setting photo that shows the scale of the market will often need to be taken from a high vantage point.
This is the photo that tells the viewer about the scale of the market. It’s the entry point for the viewer into all the other photos that will go into this set. There will be different approaches to achieving this photo, and depending on the location of the market some options might not be available to you.
Bird’s eye view – To get this photo you’ll need to find a high vantage point of some description. The aim is to capture the whole market or as much of it as possible in one shot. You essentially want to show the size of this market before you present the more human photos. Your lens choice will depend on how far away from the market your vantage point is located. Typically you’ll want to use a wide-angle lens for this, although photographing from a distance means a longer focal length is always possible. A third possibility these days is using a drone (check the laws in your area first!), with this available you’ll not need to spend the time looking for a vantage point.
Wide-angle – Assuming you’re not able to utilize a bird’s eye view, the next option is a wide angle photo from street level. You won’t capture the whole market, but a sense of scale is still possible. These type of photos will work best with an indoor location where you can capture interior architecture.
The tunnel – Finally many markets will have market stalls along a road that seem to go off into infinity. The best method to capture this is to use a longer focal length lens to compress the scene. If the market stalls are on both sides of the road this may well give the effect of a tunnel.
Elements in the photo that give context to the scene are a good idea. Here you can see this is a railway market.
#2 – A staged portrait
Photographing strangers is a big part of market photography. In order to get a good photo of market vendors, there are several steps which you’ll need to take as a photographer.
Gaining permission – As this photo is staged, you’ll first need to ask the person for their permission. In some cases, this will be a simple request, which is either accepted or refused. In order to increase your chances of getting a “yes”, buying something from a street vendor will help, you may even offer to pay cash just for the photo. Are you in a location where you don’t speak the local language? Learning the simple expression, “May I take your photo please?” is a great idea, and failing that body language can be surprisingly effective.
Taking the photo – As you’ve gained permission for this photo, you’ll likely be standing close to your subject. The best lens for this is a prime lens that’s good for portraits such as the 50mm. It’s preferable that you spend time to build rapport with your subject before taking the photo, this will give you a more natural looking photo. Then take care of the usual things like a nice clean background, and light coming from the right direction to light up the person’s face.
Gaining permission to take the photo allows you to control the scene a bit more.
#3 – A candid portrait
Candid street market photos will likely make up the majority of your photos of the market. Getting good photos here will require quick wits, and an ability to blend in.
The decisive moment – Capturing the decisive moment can make or break your photo. To increase your chance of getting this moment you need to position yourself in the right place. Look for spots where there are many human interactions, and anticipate the right moment. So this might be a customer interacting with a vendor, or perhaps a street hawker cooking some food.
Hip photography – One way to be more conspicuous with your photography, and get natural looking photos is to experiment with hip photography. If your camera is not at your eye most people will assume you’re not taking a photo of them. So if your camera is at your hip instead you can get close to your subject, and take the photo from the hip secretly, without drawing attention to yourself. To get this technique right takes a bit of practice. Focus your camera to a set distance before taking the photo, and keep the camera in manual focus to prevent it from refocusing. Use a small aperture of f/16 or smaller, so you have a large depth of field.
This photo is a candid, the rail lines frame the vendor nicely.
#4 – Detail photos
The produce you’ll find at the market can make for some excellent detail photos to go in your street market photography selection. In theory, these photos should be the easiest to come by. Because it’s still life photography you won’t need to get permission from a person to take the photo. However, you are taking photos of someone’s stock, so ask permission to take the photo first.
Repeating patterns – Items like fish or fruit make great subjects for repeating patterns. Often the vendor will have these lined up in an aesthetically pleasing manner, so as a photographer you just need to concentrate on good framing.
Contrast – Look for color contrast, perhaps between fruits of differing color, or table backgrounds against produce. Colorful images will look good in your street market photography collection.
Change the angle – The majority of detail photos are taken from the top down. Changing the angle can still give you an interesting detail photo though, but with more depth to it. If you use a low enough angle you may even get some bokeh background in your frame.
This is a detail photo, but once again context is inferred with the train track.
#5 – Something more creative
Finally, it’s always good to introduce a little creativity to your street market photography. These are the type of photos you’ll want to go for once you’ve bagged the other photos in this list.
There are many ways you can be creative with your market photography, below are a few ideas.
Low key – Markets are great places to find shards of light, a gap in the roofing perhaps that lets the sunlight through? You can use that light to create a low key portrait. Simply expose for the sunlit area, and underexpose the background. You will likely be exposing at -2EV or -3EV to create a photo like this. Wait for your subjects face to be lit up by the sun, and take your photo.
Blur – The use of blur can create a dynamic edge to your photo. Whether you attempt a panning photo, or put your camera on a tripod and expose for around 1/3 of a second to capture the motion of people moving about the market is for you to decide.
Crystal ball – A versatile object that can be applied to many different genres of photography. If you’re looking for a photo with a fish-eye like feeling but compressed into the ball, then this is a great option.
Creating a low key photo is one option for more creative street market photography.
Now it’s time for you to do some market photography!
So do you enjoy street market photography? What’s your favorite type of photo to take while you’re in the hustle and bustle of a market?
What time of the day do you typically photograph markets? Do you like to go at the crack of dawn to see all the life at a fish market? Or do you go for the low light magic of a night market?
What tips do you have for getting the best results from this genre of street photography? As always please share your photos and ideas in the comments section of this article.
In this photo, the motion blur of a moving train can be seen behind the market vendors.
is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in lensball photography Simon is the expert in this field, get some great tips by downloading his free e-book!
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