Usually, the biggest issue you’ll find when photographing in a market is high contrast between light and shadow. When part of the subject is lit by bright sunlight and other parts are in shade, then the contrast will be too great for the camera resulting in some of the shot being mired in deep shadow or bleached out and too light.
The easiest way to avoid this is through composition: arrange your picture so as to avoid having large areas of deep shadow and bright highlights in the same shot. If you only have one of these taking up most of the photo then you can expose for that area, obtaining a much more balanced exposure overall. You can also opt to shoot on more overcast days when the contrast range will be lower.
Another option for relatively small areas of shadow is to use fill-in flash: when you switch your flash to the setting which forces it to fire irrespective of the ambient light, literally filling in the shadows with light.
If the market is covered and light levels are low, then you should be careful of camera shake when holding the camera. To allow you to use a faster shutter speed you can select a higher ISO. This increases the camera’s sensitivity so it needs less light to take a picture.
Shots of individual stalls and of course, lots of shots of local produce – foodstuffs and handicrafts especially – will always make for interesting photographs, but you’ll encounter a whole range of subjects if you take long shots of the market itself. It’s worth doing some research before you get to your destination to find out which characteristic local things you can expect to come across.
You should also look out for cooked food and foodstalls and of course people when you are walking around. Markets are generally a fantastic place for portraits.
It’s possible to shoot candid shots without people knowing that you’re taking their picture, but you will get more expressive pictures (and less chance of getting things thrown at you) if you approach people and engage with them before seeking permission to take a shot. People working in markets are often gregarious and lively, so if you haggle with them over something they’re selling and then ask to take a picture you can often get very dynamic and authentic photographs.
Don’t just shoot things or people face on, as all you will end up with is a picture of what something actually looks like.
If you photograph something at an angle you can have part of a stall, a person or even the rest of the market in the background to give more of a sense of place. It’s possible to control how in focus the background is by using the aperture to vary the depth of field.
When you’re walking around markets it’s important to be open and ready to take pictures. Walking around with someone else can often give you moral support, but try to avoid large groups as it’ll be more difficult to interact with people. Also, if it’s a safe place, keep your camera out as you walk around – markets offer great opportunities for those able to be spontaneous.
All photos by Steve Davey. Header image: Goldfish shop, Hong Kong.
Steve Davey runs his own range of photographic tours to India and Asia. For more information go to www.bettertravelphotography.com/phototours Where are the best markets in the world for taking photographs? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.