How to Photograph Markets

How to Photograph Markets


Markets are fascinating places to photograph and are always on my shot list wherever I go. They are often places where you get a real glimpse of the local, everyday life and make for fantastic photo opportunities. However, the low light conditions and busy atmosphere can make photographing markets somewhat challenging.

1. Raise your ISO

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Markets are usually covered so you will need to raise your camera’s ISO. This will ensure that you have a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake. I aim for at least 1/80 but more likely 1/100 to be sure that I won’t have blurred images. But be wary of raising your ISO too high as you’ll be risking noise in your final image. I would suggest that you test your camera at different ISO settings before shooting so that you can get an idea of how high you can go before the noise becomes unacceptable. This image was taken with an ISO 400 at 1/100 sec.

2. Focus correctly

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When taking close up shots, make sure that you focus on the element you are highlighting so that the rest of the image is blurred around it. This gives a pleasing final result and helps to ensure that your main feature of the image stands out. The key is that one element of the image must be sharp in order to provide a contrast against the blurriness of the rest.

3. Capture the moment

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One of the reasons I love photographing markets is that you can capture people going about their everyday job. Try and capture market vendors as they are serving their customers, making food or crafts, taking money and so on. This will help your image tell a story and feel much more intriguing. But rather than walk up and start photographing, if they are not busy, take the time talk to them, ask them questions and then at the end ask if it’s OK to take some pictures. This will allow you to have their blessing and allow you to take your time and capture the right moment.

4. Look for new angles

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Don’t be afraid to look for new angles to photograph things from. Crouch down and look up or stand right over things. Things will look completely different than when we see them at eye level. The shot below is some chopsticks which you can find in most markets in South East Asia. I stood right above the chopsticks and photographed them looking straight down. This has produced a much more abstract and interesting image then if I shot them at eye level.

5. Don’t forget the customers

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It is easy to forget about the customers when photographing markets, but capturing the crowds can give another prospective to your collection. So look for interesting situations which show customers interacting with the vendors, counting money or browsing the goods for sale. The image below is from a clothes market in Bangkok where I got right into the crowd to capture the business and mayhem of this market.

6. Fill your frame

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Look for interesting and colourful stalls and fill your entire frame with the products on sale. These types of photos are not only visually fantastic but also help your overall collection of photos from the market to tell a story. There are so many things that you can photograph such as fruit, vegetables, meats, sweets and souvenirs, but just remember to get close and focus correctly.

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Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, American Express, and many others. Kav also leads photo tours around the world teaching people how to improve their photography. Join him on his 11 day epic photo tour of Scotland. Find out more at Scotland Photo Tour

Some Older Comments

  • Ranjith November 9, 2012 04:18 am

    I somehow liked the market place advt in Malaysia.

  • Jason November 2, 2012 11:52 am

    Of all my market photography, this is my favorite:

  • Ningsih Tahir November 1, 2012 04:48 pm

    Great article.

    These were taken in Pasar Central Sorong, Papua, Indonesia

    and Fish Market Makassar, Indonesia

  • Jeff E Jensen October 29, 2012 11:29 pm

    Excellent pointers! It always amazes me the kind of images that you can find if you just look for them. In addition to markets, a lot of other stores can be great opportunities. Craft and hobby stores tend to be filled with great patterns and designs.

  • Jeanie October 28, 2012 05:44 pm

    Love the 'fill the frame' look. Keen to try out these suggestions. Thanks to this blog I am slowly getting my head around my digital camera.

    I photographed an indoor market and found the lighting tricky. Was really surprised by how well some images turned out. I was a bit flustered by the whole thing...introducing myself and getting permission to photograph their wares (it was a small and intimate market).

  • Ebram October 28, 2012 03:32 pm

    Such a useful tips, thanks.

  • Jai Catalano October 28, 2012 09:15 am

    The tomatoes are vibrant.

    Sometimes you can find pretty deer in a market.

  • Scottc October 28, 2012 04:24 am

    Great article, markets are one of my favorite places!

  • Marcelo Lyra October 28, 2012 03:21 am

    These were taken in a public market at Fortaleza, Brazil.

  • Mridula October 28, 2012 02:49 am

    Was missing on the ISO bit. But I love to fill the frame. Some pictures from the Central Market, Terengganu, Malaysia.

  • Steve October 28, 2012 01:57 am

    Zulu market

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