Market Photography

Something I’m madly passionate about is independent businesses and sole traders, and as such I can often be found at local markets. As well as co-running my local market, I’m also spoiled for choice with other markets to go to in the local area.

In the short time I’ve been doing market photography, I’ve developed a distinct style which involves a 35mm prime lens, a wide open aperture and shallow depth of field, and a whole lot of luck. One of things we miss in modern digital photography is that sense of excitement when you have your photos developed – seeing which ones came out in unexpected ways, and which turned out better than you expected – and for me, shooting in this way regains some of the excitement, because I don’t always know where exactly my camera’s focus will fall, and often photos come out looking different to how I envisioned them in my head.

My market photography style uses two broad templates

  • Close-up photos of individual items, with a very shallow depth of field to really make the most of what I’m photographing and ignore the background, which can often be chaotic or utterly boring.
  • Long shots of the items laid out on the stall, usually focussing on one or two items – this is where the surprise element really comes in, because I never know exactly what my camera will have focussed on and how it will look.

It can be a problematic environment to shoot in – outdoor markets are at the mercy of the rain and direct sunlight, and I often have to adjust my settings at a moment’s notice depending on the how the light has changed. And while having stalls or cabins which are lit sounds great, the unnatural light causes its own problems.

Another problem is the awnings on the stalls – my town centre market uses the typical red/green/blue and white striped plastic awnings which cast an awful glaze over the photos. However, if they’re managed properly, they can create a fairly pleasing background to photos, as below, where the red and white stripes are unfocussed enough to create a soft pink glow.

On the subject of lighting, I recently photographed at a market in a Victorian hall with terrible lighting – no matter what I changed my white balance to, it wouldn’t compensate for the strange orange cast my photos had, so I’ve had to spend a lot of time removing the unwanted colours from my photos (with only some degree of success!).


At the same time, I was prepared for it before I arrived, and afterwards it encouraged me to spend a lot of time sorting through my photos and editing them carefully, so it definitely wasn’t a completely terrible thing.

But without a doubt my favourite thing about market photography is meeting the traders. Some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met have been sole traders at markets or in their own shops, and it’s an absolute delight to be able to spend time with them and talk to them about their businesses.


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