Tips for Market Photography – James Allan

coffee-and-paperHow do you take pictures of people in the market?  You know markets all over the world are much the same.  Whether in Europe, or Africa or Indonesia, or the Adelaide Central market, there are common themes.  Most of what happens in a market involves people.  It can be dark, and there may be a lot of movement.  You know it’s not easy.  There are many challenges for a photographer.

I personally feel self-conscious taking photos of strangers.  Is it alright?  Bruce tells me that he has arranged photographers passes.  Pass or no pass, at the end of the day the subject must be happy with you taking the shot.  I suspect that it depends upon how you conduct yourself.  Good behavior from the photographer and respect for your subject overcomes barriers.  It has to be fun and enjoyable, but you also need to be respectful and you need to convey that.

There may be photographic techniques that make the job easier.  I spent some time reviewing pages from the internet and gleaned the following tips. I found 4 separate lists of advice on Market place photography.  I have summarized their tips and  categorized them according to theme.   You can check out the independent lists from the links at the bottom of this article.

I didn’t know at the time that I was writing this article that Bruce had the same idea and written a separate article based on one of the same references.  Upon conferring we decided that both articles were similar but different and worth publishing.

Now the pictures I have dredged up from the archives.  These were taken at the last BPC outing to the Adelaide Central market in 2010.  At this time Garry Secombe was president and Matt Carr, Ashley Hoff and Chris Schultz were all brand new members.  The pictures were all taken on a Panasonic Lumix bridge camera Fz35.  So if you have a compact camera my tip is “don’t feel intimidated by the big dSLR’s”.  Sometimes small is better when it comers to this type of photography.

I hope that you find the advice helpful.  Feel free to write to me and add any tips of your own.



  • Travel light
  1. First photographer

  • single camera
  • Two lenses
    • medium wide (usually a 35mm)
    • longer (usually 85mm) lens.
  • waist belt storage
  • screw-on close-up filter for detail shots.
  • Extra memory cards
  • cloth for cleaning
  1. Second Photographer

  • two camera bodies
  • Three lenses,
    • wide (20-35mm),
    • portrait/macro (60-85mm)
    • long (80-200mm).
  • coat pocket or a bum-bag.
  1. What I do

  • One camera one lens – 28-200mm
  • Compact camera sometimes works well

Camera Settings

  • Raise your ISO – lighting is often poor – subjects move a lot and movement may blur your shot.  A higher ISO will keep your images sharp (at the expense of some noise). The best ISO will differ according to the ability of the camera.  I would suggest start at ISO-400 and work upwards if that is not enough.
  • Get the white balance right for the setting – The market has artificial lighting which may give your picture a colour cast.  Incandescent lights give orange pictures and fluorescent tubes give green ones.  Selecting the correct setting may save you a lot of bother latter on.



  • Go with the flow.  The best made plans go wrong.  Take advantage of what happens, rather than be disapointed by what doesn’t.
  • Weather sometimes provides opportunities eg. rain / morning / dusk
  • Go early – as the traders set up
  • Take a friend – They can act as a model – photograph the friend / photograph past the friend at the action


  • Focus on the subject – incorrect focus can ruin a shot – narrow depth of field can be creative (if the focus is correct)
  • Fill the frame
  • Circle around – try different angles – come back at another time – there might be more happening
  • Be ready, you don’t want to be fiddling around with settings. Have the camera ready to shoot when the moment occurs.
  • Patience – Stop and wait – things happen
  • Tag team photography – one talks the other shoots
  • Perspective – try novel angles / compositions
  • Try slow shutter speed


  • Work with the light – use side lighting / back lighting / dappled lighting to advantage
  • Sometimes stand back – be discrete


Choosing the subject

  • Capture the moment
  • Look for new angles
  • Don’t forget the customers
  • Take an overview – the whole market if you can – wide angle
  • Mid range shot – venders and clients, a stall, a vehicle
  • Details – the produce – the faces – the hands – the litter – the texture of surfaces
  • Go behind the scenes
  • Go where the people are


Handling People

  • Be considerate – it’s not your space
  • Make a personal connection
  • Talk and shoot
  • Pay a compliment and then “I would love to take your photo”
  • Know when to stop – someone objects – say thankyou and move on
  • Show gratitude
  • Keep shooting – especially portraits – people relax after the first shot. If a terrible expression – Take the shot anyway– They often relax and smile – Then take the second shot
  • Don’t ask people to pose / don’t pay for photographs – walk on by
  • Show people the image in the screenwhich-would-you-recommend

The Photographers headspace

  • Stop taking photos and imbibe the atmosphere for a while
  • Stop for coffee – review your work
  • Edit hard – Be selective – Take many photos – display only a few
  • Don’t pack up too early – there are often good opportunities on the way in and on the way out of the market


There are a few more pictures in a small gallery at the end.  Have a look at these shots as well as the ones in Bruce’s article.  Hopefully it will give you some ideas for what is possible.  I wish you all the best for the excursion.  We will try and collect a small gallery of actual photos from the excursion.   Unfortunately I will not be able to atend this one.