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Photographing people in markets

Photographing people in markets - Ben Boswell explains why markets are a great location for photography.

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Portraits and People

Words and images by Ben Boswell.

Markets are a rich place to take pictures

Markets are a rich place to take pictures; they are full of colour, full of local life and most of all full of character. They can be very intimidating though, especially when the market is in a place you are just visiting and where you don’t know the local customs. The pictures illustrating this article were taken in Tokyo at the Tsukiji fish market which is massive and full of very tough looking fishmongers wielding razor sharp knives! My point in saying this is that there are rules:
  • Be polite
  • Ask if you want to take direct pictures
  • Don’t get in the way, they are trying to make a living
  • If you encounter resistance – move on.
  • If you are asked for copies of pictures always try and deliver.
Tokyo at the Tsukiji fish market


There is no special gear for shooting in markets; you should be guided by your personal preferences. If you like to shoot as I do in an intimate way you will need to use wider lenses which will allow you to put the people in their environment. If you don’t like to get involved in the interaction with the stall-holders you can shoot with longer lenses but you are unlikely to get the same feel. Personally I would steer clear of shooting with flash. Direct, on-camera flash which is the only practical sort you are likely to be able to use will remove the atmosphere from the scene. Better to go for higher ISO and work with the ambient light.

work with the ambient light

Photographing the people in a market should be treated like an editorial portrait session. You need to tell a story, the people are there because that is their business so put them in their environment when you take pictures.

Photographing the people in a market should be treated like an editorial portrait session

The amount and colour of the light will differ from market to market but regardless of how little light there is you are unlikely to be able to use a tripod. If you need extra stability, try leaning against something solid or resting the camera on a hard surface. It will make it much easier to get sharp results. Be careful in open air markets where the contrast may be very high if there are awnings. This may make the stalls very dark so use the exposure lock and re-compose. It is also worth looking at the edges of the market, the workers often take a break there and are much more relaxed.

The amount and colour of the light will differ from market to market

Do your research before you go if possible. If the market is big it may be much more rewarding very early in the morning – obviously if it is a local vegetable market then probably not - but check if you are making a special trip. While you are there it is also worth keeping an eye open for other opportunities – like the produce!

Photograph the produce

At Tsukiji I was just about as far as possible outside my comfort zone: I couldn’t communicate verbally, I felt I was in the way, I didn’t really have enough light and I knew nothing of the customs there. However, holding my camera up and smiling at the people worked brilliantly and they were actually very generous.


When you are able to communicate the opportunities are wider, these last two pictures are of Des, a real character at the market in Milton Keynes. You really need a rapport to ask a marketeer to look you straight in the lens though. Photographing in a market you need to appreciate that you are not the first and won’t be the last, so be grateful and don’t upset any apple-carts!

Person working in market
Person working in market


You've read the article, now go take some fantastic images. You can then upload the pictures, plus any advice and suggestions you have into the dedicated Photo Month forum for everyone at ePHOTOzine to enjoy.

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8 Apr 2012 5:39PM
ah yeah thanks i've been trying to do this, sometimes nerves paralyzed me to shoot a people in it's place, specially because sometimes they think i could use this photos to some other thing than only to tell a story.

While i was reading i just found sometimes i take the pictures without a story before could you help me with some other tips in order to have an objective before to shoot? Smile

Regards Victor

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