How to Photograph a Street Market

Street markets are an amazing kaleidoscope of color and shapes.  They can be a bit of a sensory overload if you try to fit everything into one shot.  It’s like any photography, if you don’t emphasize something, lead the viewers eyes to it, the viewer will get lost in an otherwise uninteresting shot.  The key to photographing markets like the one above is isolating interesting subjects while still giving the viewer the feeling they are right there in the mix of it.

Image above:

Getting close and opening the aperture help eliminate background distractions

ISO 2000, f/2.8, 35mm, 1/1000sec

Gear.  You don’t need a fancy camera or lots of lenses to properly photograph a street market.  People are close and you’ll be able to pick up and hold the merchandise so you don’t have to worry if you aren’t able to zoom 5,000 yards with your lens.  If you think you may blow up some of the photographs you may want to consider a camera with 16 or more megapixels, I’ve found that anything over 16MP tends to print great 20″ x 30″ photographs (the ideal size for wall art if you ask me).  You will need a camera that allows you to adjust it’s settings manually so that will eliminate a lot of point and shoots.

tarominiPhotographs like this are nice but can be very busy and distracting for some.

A larger aperture (smaller f/ number) will decrease the depth of field and cut out any pesky distracting backgrounds while really isolating your subject.  Look for things that are eye-catching and unique to get a viewer to stop and look at your photograph rather than just quickly scanning and moving on to the next.

Shooting landscape is my preference but sometimes you need to flip your camera up on its side into portrait in order to eliminate distractions on the sides of your frame as well as fit more of a taller subject into the frame like below.

Italian face Sometimes it’s necessary to turn your camera on its side to fit all of your subject in or cut out distractions on the side of a frame.

 Try to go to the market early in the morning before everyone has had their morning coffee and strudel, the earlier you get there the less foot traffic you’ll have to contend with.  That doesn’t mean you should not go during the afternoon when it’s busiest, that’s where you’ll get some great photographs of the traders and shoppers.

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Early in the morning there are hardly any shoppers at the markets

Speaking of timing…  Morning, afternoon, and night are all interesting times to photograph the market.  You’ll have to be careful in the afternoon, on bright days the sun will create harsh light and shadows.  Slightly overcast days will prove to be the best days because the light is softer and there are less shadows.  It pays to do a little research before photographing the market (or really any place), you should know where the sun rises and sets in relation to the market and that will give you a good idea what kind of light you’ll be dealing with.

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Changing the perspective by lowering or raising the camera can give you some interesting shots.

Adjust your perspective.  Before I visit a new place I like to do a Google image search and a Flickr search of that place to see what is already out there.  This gives me some inspiration but also lets me know what I don’t want to do, I don’t want to take the same photograph a thousand people before me took.  Look for original shots by changing your perspective, this applies to all types of photography.

Get off the beaten path.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the goings on that happen at street markets but look for interesting areas that are less populated.  Street markets are magnets for tourists (you’ll probably be one of them) and if all the tourists are there then there will be streets that are void of human life sometimes just one street over from the market.  Every once in a while get off the beaten path and see what lies down a road or walkway, be careful you don’t go down a dangerous alley (hopefully that was obvious).

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Almost every street looked abandon like this one while the market was jam packed with people.

Lastly, take lots and lots of photographs.  Always have your camera ready for any spontaneous awesomeness.  Carry at least one spare battery.  Let someone know where you’ll be and when you will return.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Have a great freaking time.


If you get some great shots then feel free to enter them under one of the categories on the Submit an Article page.  Sharing your art inspires others and in turn gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling.  Don’t you want to feel warm and fuzzy?

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