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A thousand smells fill the air. With every step that you take you are drawn more and more into the daily lives of the locals. Is there anywhere better for a travel photographer to capture images of a destination than one of its markets? But being able to capture great photos in these places can be tough. You are often faced with low light conditions, people moving and not enough space to move around. All this makes photographing markets difficult. But fear not, here is a simple guide to photographing markets.

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Get There Early

Markets are usually busy once the market vendors have set up and ready to sell. But often as they are setting up it is quite which means it’ll be much easier to move around. The market vendors may even be more approachable as they are not serving customers. This will give you time to scout the market and think about potential shots or angles. You can then capture these when customers arrive. So always aim to arrive a earlier than usual when photographing markets.

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Take Your Time

One of the mistakes that aspiring photographers often make in markets is rushing around. Market photography requires some level of patience. It might be waiting for someone to move out of the way. Or it could be that you need a bit of cloud cover to avoid harsh shadows. Or simply to capture a perfect moment when someone is smiling. So instead of rushing around and trying to capture as many photos as possible, slow down and take your time.

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Capture Fleeting Moments

One of the best things about photographing markets are the fleeting moments that present themselves. It could be a market vendor making a sale. It could be a customer biting into a juicy burger or someone in thought. These fleeting moments often come and go so you have to be ready to snap away. Make sure your camera is on with the lens cap off and your settings are set already to as close as you might need. Put your camera on burst mode to give yourself the best chance of nailing the exact moment that you are looking for.

The Big Issue

Your biggest difficulty when photographing markets is often the lack of light. Most markets tend to be covered. This means to be able to capture photos at a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake, you will need to raise your ISO. The ISO setting on your camera is the sensitivity of the sensor to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive your sensor becomes, thus allowing you to capture photos when there is low light.

But before you rush off and raise your ISO, keep in mind that the higher your ISO, the more noise that will appear in your photo. Too much noise and your image will lack sharpness. The best thing to do is to test your camera at different ISO settings at home to see how much noise appears in your image. You can then decide what would be acceptable for you.

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Focus With Care

Another big challenge for market photography is focusing correctly on the right thing. For example, if you are photographing a vendor and someone walks in front of them, there is a chance that your autofocus will focus on the person walking across. So it’s important to take care when using your autofocus to make sure your main subject isn’t blurred. If you find that you are struggling to focus on your main subject try focusing manually. Or most modern DSLRs will have AI focus setting that will continuously focus and track the subject as long as the shutter button is pressed halfway.

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Typical Settings

As we have discussed above, the main elements in market photography is the amount of light available. So the first thing that you should set needs to be your shutter speed. Test how steady you can hold a camera at different speeds. Most people will be able to hold the camera steady at 1/80th sec but might struggle when its any slower.

Once you have set your shutter speed you can set your aperture. Unlike landscape photography, you don’t need most of the image sharp. So when you are photographing in markets you can get away with a shallower depth of field. As the focus needs to be on a small section you can set your aperture to around f/2.8 – f/8 (if there is enough light).

At this point, you might have to raise your ISO to be able to allow the above settings to be set. The thing that you want to avoid is setting your ISO too high (I try not to go above 1200 on my Canon 5D MKIV). So if you find you have to raise your ISO higher, lower your f/stop number first.

So typical settings for photographing markets are:

– Shutter speed: 1/80th sec – 1/100th sec

– Aperture: f/4

– ISO: 400 – 800

– Burst mode

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Have A Chat

Taking photographs of people can be daunting. It’s usually the reason that amateur photographers avoid photographing people. If you do suffer from shyness, then try having a chat with the person you want to photograph (if they have time). It’s incredible how much more accommodating people can be when you take the time to get to know them. Don’t be shy, say hello and you’ll find it easier to photograph them.

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Don’t Forget Close-Ups

Whether it’s a food stall, a fruit and vegetable stall, or a stall selling souvenirs, close-ups of products look fantastic. Fill the entire frame (which will mean getting close) and you’ll be surprised by the results. Again the important thing is to focus correctly and make sure you are using a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake.

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Be Respectful

Whilst you should aim to capture the best possible photos that you can, you should also make sure that you are respectful and courteous to others. If a market vendor is busy don’t disturb them. Remember this is their job and the last thing you need is for them to miss a sale. Try to stay out of the way and pick your moments in interacting and photographing with market vendors and customers.

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Markets are one of the best places to capture candid and real-life images of a destination. With practice, you will be able to capture wonderful market photos as well. Use the simple guide as your starting point.


Fancy taking photos like these? Check out one of our photography workshops or photo tours.


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