I love markets. As a foodie and a photographer, markets are where I get many of my dream shots. The potential for beautiful images of seasonal colours, action, romance, and people is everywhere. Also, it’s where the best food is, and I love to eat.
There are three big hurdles to get over if you want to photograph a market with style and ease: space, shyness and equipment. Space is the easy one to get over; mostly you have to follow proper etiquette, learn to keep your elbows in, and watch where you’re shooting. Shyness will diminish as you get accustomed to the atmosphere. Learning what gear to take can be a very hard lesson so learning from your past experiences is key!
Proper marketplace photography etiquette includes common sense things like respecting other photographer’s lines of sight. But don’t forget about making sure you’re not one of those people that leaves your flash on and needlessly blinds all the customers passing by. If you’re like me, you’ll want to go back to that market, and trust me, vendors will remember you! I go to a market to shoot food and people, but also to meet vendors and test out their wares. Talking with vendors is a great way to form new connections and allows you the opportunity to add a background story to your photographs.
The second is shyness, both yours and that of the people you might want to shoot. I’m generally very outgoing and personable, but can also be really shy when it comes to approaching potential photography subjects. I hate invading other peoples’ space and I dread making them feel uncomfortable. So, how do I get around this when I’m photographing in a busy market? First, I get there early, just as it opens, to get into a shooting mode. This way, I can also get shots of the building or green space (minus any human subjects) that I might not otherwise get. People are great, but when they’re unprepared for your personal photography shoot, they can have a way of messing up a great shot.
Sometimes, if you’re polite and can start up a conversation with the market organizers, you can get into the marketplace while vendors set up. It’s usually best to try this once you feel more comfortable with public photography; any hint of a lack of self-confidence and people can shut you down. My motto is: ‘if you look like you know what you’re doing, people will assume you’re allowed to do it.’ Think: do most people ever question someone in a lab coat? Generally not..
One day while at the glorious Borough Market in London, I found that there is one simple gesture that solves almost any shyness problem of a subject. It’s a three-step gesture, a pleasant small smile, then immediately a little head nod up, followed by me lifting my camera a little. It’s amazing what it will do for you. People instantly feel better since you’ve asked (so to speak) to take their photo. And remember your etiquette: always offer to show them the photo!
Vendors at markets are an endless source of amazing information. Not only can they provide you with valuable knowledge about their own goods, but they also know when the best times are to come and photograph the market. Whether you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, or you’re trying to find out who is the best fish thrower, the vendors are the people to ask. Getting to know the vendors will also give you a heads up on special events in the area or about other markets that might be great to photograph. For example, through the market vendors I’ve taken the time to meet and speak to, I’ve been invited to a producers-only market and auction. Here I’ll experience food and photography in ways most people outside of the professional realm rarely get to. I’ve been given this exciting opportunity because I took the time to get to know people, tell them about my interests and make it known that I’m into learning more about the food cycle.
When it comes to equipment, less is more. The market is probably going to be crowded and you’ll want to be able to move about. An extra lens, appropriate filters, a few lens wipes and my wallet are all I ever take, and I often leave the extra lens at home, choosing to stick with an 18-105 mm instead. There’s always some poor photographer staggering around a busy market with a giant bag full of gear. Fancy and plentiful gear doesn’t guarantee awesome shots and in busy setting, unless you’re a pro, it’s only going to make it more difficult to get great shots, and your experience will likely be less enjoyable.
If you arrive just as the market opens the tables will be full, and the place will be filled with positive energy. When I arrive I try to get into the flow by shooting whatever I want, but I always go with a list of shots that I would like to try to get. Unless you’re going for a single shot, getting a variety of shots will likely take up the better part of your morning and early afternoon. Having a list for a market is really essential, especially if it’s a big place. I make sure I have time to get the food I want to buy and the shots I want. If you have no idea what kind of shots you’re looking for, then just go shoot and have fun. If you have the chance to head back the next market day, then you’ll know what you want new shots of, but also what you will avoid. I don’t often have this luxury, as I usually find myself traveling to another town before the next market day. I’ve learnt to research the market and area, and decide beforehand what wares and people shots I’d like so I can avoid missing out on too many images. Having a list can also allow you to be spontaneous. I was at a night market once when they decided to have a fireworks display. Because I had made a list, I had already shot most of the subjects I was interested in, and I was free to photography the nighttime entertainment without losing out on other things. For me, market photography is all about balance. Balancing spontaneity with a photo goal, and making sure I don’t break the bank on buying cheese.
Current Talk on Markets and photographing them
Chef Nicole Straight visits Westport, Connecticut’s Farmer’s Market where she finds fresh lacinato kale, garic scapes, and sugar snap peas. Along the way, Chef Nicole provides great tips and ideas for a making the most at a farmer’s market. For more …
Farmers Market Humboldt County, Arcata California. Beautiful photography, music, mixed with interviews of the farmers and patrons of this seasonal outdoor market. View Part 2: www.youtube.com