Tip Nº9 – Photographing markets

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Fruit and vegetable stall in Tepotzlán, Estado de México

Mexican markets are amazing places to photograph. Whether street markets, known as “tianguis”, or indoor markets, they are vibrant places, full of color, people, products and activity. Overflowing with flowers, fruit and vegetables, food, crafts or even people selling furniture or pots along the roadside, markets are great places to get to know the flavors, culture and local life of a country, city or town.


Here are some basic tips for taking better photos in markets:

1. Try to get a variety of shots

  • Although the beautifully arranged piles of fruit or brightly colored blankets and bags beg to be photographed, try to get a wide variety of shots. Take some pictures of the actual building or street itself or the lines of market stalls to convey a sense of context. Look for some images of individual stands, possibly with the vendors, and go close-up to fill the frame with the details. Don’t forget the signs in the local language and prices.

         Take pictures of the general setting of the market – outdoors, indoors etc

IMG_0071The outdoor market in Atotonilco, Guanajuato, down the main cobbled streetIMG_1461The covered market in Oaxaca City  IMG_0744-001A typical “tianguis” in Mexico CityIMG_9219Inside the Ciudadela Craft Market, Mexico City

        Take some shots of individual stalls or stands

IMG_0719Butcher’s stall in Mercado La Cruz, QueretaroIMG_3882Fruit and vegetable stall in the Mercado de Coyoacán, Mexico CityIMG_6050Selling statues of Saint Judas Thaddeus on his saint’s day, Centro Histórico, Mexico City
IMG_7230Inside the Mercado Abelardo Rodrigo. Mexico CityIMG_3753-001Pineapples for sale on a pick-up truck in the market in Valle de Bravo, Estado de México

        Get lots of shots of the products being sold and signs

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2. Dealing with challenging lighting conditions

  • Indoor markets often have low lighting, making it difficult to get the beautiful crisp photos you want. Bearing in mind that a minimum shutter speed of 1/80 is best for hand-held cameras to prevent camera shake and fuzzy images, you will need to choose a large aperture (small f stop like f3.5) to allow more light to enter the camera. This should be combined with an increase in the ISO number (ISO 400 or above) to increase the camera’s sensitivity to light. Just remember that the higher the ISO number, the more “noise” you will get and the grainier your images will be. Noise is preferable to blurred images.

IMG_3222Inside the Mercado San Juan, Mexico City

  • Outdoor markets may also present lighting problems. Low lighting may be a challenge in the shady areas, there may be strong contrast between the harsh sunlight and shade, or the colorful bright pink, green or blue cloths hung up for shade may give a strong color cast to your photos. Try and take shots where the subject of the image is either completely in the shade or completely in the sunlight. There is no magic solution for the color cast although you can make the most of the natural light in the gaps between the cloths!

IMG_2902-001The strong contrast between shade and sunlight ruin this photo 

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Red and green color casts due to the bright cloths hung up for shade.

  • Tripods aren’t particularly useful for markets as they will get in the way of the narrow aisles and the people crowding the stalls. Daylight is more natural than flash, but if you do want to use it, remember that the built-in flash on the camera will only light up the immediate scene.

IMG_3772A crowded street market in Valle de Bravo, Estado de México, making the use of a tripod difficult. 

3. Photographing people

  • One of the great things about markets is meeting the people there and you will probably also want to include them in your photos. It’s always more polite to ask the vendor or craftsman first if you can photograph their stall or their wares, especially if you want them in the photo. One of the best ways to do this is to engage the person in conversation, asking them what the name of the unusual fruit is, or how to cook a certain food, or where the crafts were made. Even if you don’t know the local language, you can always resort to sign language, smiles and pointing to the camera. Be respectful. If the person doesn’t want you to take their photo, don’t. Buying something small from them may be appropriate. Sometimes you can ask them to hold out the thing they are selling if they prefer not to be in the photo.

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Lady butcher and boy holding watermelon in Mercado La Cruz in Queretaro; lady holding one of her freshly made tamales and a lady from Oaxaca selling fabrics at the Feria de Pueblos Indigenos, Mexico City; butcher in the Mercado de Coyoacán, Mexico City; lady at her craft stall in the Ciudadela Craft Market, Mexico City.

  • Many Mexican markets include food stalls. Take shots of the people preparing food and those eating.

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Lady preparing food in Mercado La Cruz, Queretaro; the Tostadas de Coyoacán food stand, Mexico City; food stall at Mercado de Coyoacán, Mexico City; people eating in Mercado La Cruz, Queretaro; preparing food in the Mercado Abelardo Rodrigo, Mexico City

  • Often the vendors are the craftsmen themselves and you may be able to photograph them making the wares or cutting the flowers, or embroidering the designs.

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Guitar maker and boys painting Aztec designs, Ciudadela Craft Market, Mexico City

  • Markets are usually bustling places so don’t forget to include the customers buying, the people moving the produce around the markets, or even the odd cat or animal there.

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Mazahua lady in the market in Atotonilco, Guanajuato; man with bicycle in the Mercado San Juan, Mexico City

4.  Be creative

  • Use different viewpoints… check to see if you can get up high above the stalls and take photos from above. If this isn’t possible, just holding your camera over your head at arm’s length may give you a totally different view. Get down low and shoot the wares on the pavement or close to the fruit and vegetables.

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Wooden tops and soft toy animals in the Ciudadela Craft Market, Mexico City; flautas de pollo y queso in the Condesa “tianguis”; fish stall in Mercado San Juan, Mexico City

  • Use colors, lines, patterns and repetitions to get some interesting shots.

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  • Look for unusual scenes or touches of humor.

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Boys at a Taco al Pastor stand in the “tianguis” in Polanco, Mexico City; jeans for sale in the market in Valle de Bravo, Estado de México; man eating a taco in Mercado La Cruz, Queretaro; clothes for sale in the street market in Malinalco, Estado de México; butcher’s stall in Mercado de Coyoacán, Mexico City; boys selling ceramic pumpkins, La Marquesa. 

 

 

 

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