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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
Kav Dadfar

is a professional travel photographer, writer and photo tour leader 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, and many others. Kav is also the co-founder of That Wild Idea, a company specializing in photography workshops and tours both in the UK and around the world. Find out more at That Wild Idea.

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