Buying and selling -- and before the invention or widespread adoption of money, simple barter -- is the foundation of civilization. Indeed, it is what a city (civitas) is for: a market, a place where a man who has more olives than he can eat can exchange them, or the oil that is made from them, for a bronze knife, a pair of shoes or a few drachmae. Forget engineering and medicine and all the other advances that we call civilization: unless the nail-maker can sell his nails, the lathe-maker his lathes, or the doctor his cures, there is no civilization. The city soon becomes more, certainly: a place where someone who makes ideas can sell those ideas, be he playwright, singer or author, and indeed a place where parasites who live from the labour of others can put their wealth back into circulation, buying from the goldsmiths, the purveyors of rare viands, the glass-blowers, the slave dealers. But enough about Los Angeles......

Market, Ootacamund, South India

This is one of our favourite market shots, so even though it appears in other modules, it is the lead picture here too. It has all the attributes of a market: both choice and quantity, people buying and selling, a mixture of permanence and temporariness, and (for such a small space) quite a crowd: seven people. Everyone is going about their business except the young man dead centre, the only one to see Roger taking the picture with his Leica M-series and 35/1.4 Summilux, using Ferrania/Scotch/3M 1000D slide film.

You can see it's a long exposure from the blur, but as far as we recall it was a hand-held shot without even a monopod: we were touring South India on an Enfield Bullet motorcycle at the time. It's daylight-balance film, so the colours are very yellow, but this is the way such lamps look as evening falls. Also, there's something about artificial light in the evening that says 'town': at a country market, you start early (to get the light) and finish early.

For most of human history, the market-place has been a welcome change from the otherwise invariable routine of the rest of the week, a place of new sights and sounds and smells, a place where you see things you had only heard of before; a slightly dangerous place, perhaps, because wherever there is money or the promise of money, and people are distracted, there will be beggars, pickpockets, fortune-tellers, cutpurses, find-the-lady men, find-the-men ladies, politicians and crooks of all descriptions. Cheapjacks sell things at twice their value, puffing them as being worth four times as much: "Haaand what am I asking, ladies and gennelmen? Not fifty pounds, not twenty, not even fifteen for this beautiful set of bone china..." Gypsy horse-traders sell spavined hacks alongside thoroughbred stallions; brass rings are peddled as gold. The wise citizen has his wits about him; the countryman come to town, doubly so. The taverns serve the market-goers, whether weary from hauling their goods to market or celebrating a successful sale; they open as the first traders arrive, close as the last traders leave. Beautiful strangers come and go: are they princesses incognito, or beggar girls in search of their fortunes?

Paprika, Hungary

Always look out for characteristic goods on offer: in Hungary, for instance, strings of paprika peppers (though very similar pictures could be taken in Mexico). The final image, left, is cropped from the full frame, right, in order to lose the obtrusive bits of pepper on the right. The final image has also been manipulated somewhat in Photoshop to increase the saturation of the peppers and darken the background using 'selective colour' in both cases: less cyan and more magenta in the reds, and more black in the blacks. Roger took the original shot on Kodak Elite Chrome EBX ISO 100 using a Leica M4-P and 90/2 Summicron; today he'd use the 75/2 instead.


In much of the rich West today, it is hard to appreciate the market fully: there is too much choice, and too many things are available in every supermarket, sometimes 24 hours a day. In a society where you can buy lemons from Argentina, lamb from New Zealand, courgettes from Spain and all the spices of the Indies (a king's ransom in pepper, should you want it, for the price of a tank of petrol); where everything is flawless and hygienically packaged in cling film; in such an oversupplied economy, there is not the appeal there once was in artichokes from the next parish, fish brought overnight from the sea with three changes of horses on the way, butter from the best dairy for miles around.

And yet, there is still an atavistic fondness for the market-place. Farmers' markets flourish. Customers buy tomatoes that are less cosmetically perfect than the ones in the supermarket, but far better-flavoured; and by a wonderful reversal, blemishes become a mark of quality, so people buy blemished tomatoes even when the unblemished are superior. Strange cheeses appear, local wines, local jams, unidentifiable herbs. Prices are a free marketeer's dream: whatever the buyer and seller can agree. The best goods sell fastest: who is late to market, misses much. At the end of the day, prices are marked down: easier to sell what is left than to carry it home again, perhaps to have it go off overnight.

Cafe, Market, Chania, Crete

The market cafe/bar/restaurant/tea-stall is an essential part of almost all markets, for buyers and sellers alike. Roger shot this one with his usual Leica M4P and 35/1.4 Summilux, on Agfa 100 slide film. Faster film would have been useful but it doesn't deliver the same quality, costs more, and is less convenient for use outside.

Perhaps the word-picture is more convincing than the photographs, but surely, that is the point. The magic of the market can never be captured in either: where are the giants, the geese that lay the golden eggs, the wizards in their pointed hats? They are there, surely, but only in the mind's eye; and this must always be where we look for the best pictures, trying to wrench and twist reality to suit our dreams.

And so, as purple shades into ultra-violet, what is the reality of photographing markets?


The main thing is to be quick. You can choose to be obvious or unobtrusive, but either way, you have to shoot fast. Frances prefers to be obvious: the smile, the half-raised camera, the picture taken as soon as tacit permission is granted. Roger is more inclined to the unobtrusive school, the grabbed moment when no-one is aware of him. But we both adopt each others' strategies as the occasion demands. If you are not fast, you can make a mess of either approach. Grins become increasingly glassy as those who are aware of you wait... and wait... and wait for you to take the picture. And those who are not aware of you, become aware of you.

If they notice you and smile, by all means take another picture -- and smile back. If they become hostile, the first thing to do, once again, is smile. You might even care to practise smiling in front of a mirror, to make sure it doesn't come off as a smirk: "I've scored a point over you." Other gestures can help too. Hold your hands up as if you are apologizing, away from the camera, just below shoulder level: an all but universal gesture of "Sorry, I won't do it again."  If all else fails, remember the line from the Cath Milne poem: flash them a travelling smile, and run.

We have always found it most useful to stay around a place for quite some time, an hour or more, shooting lots of pictures. After a while, people get used to you, and besides, they can see that you are shooting numerous different subjects, not just them. This helps allay suspicions on the part of those with guilty consciences.


Vegetable stall, New York City

Honest people normally have no trouble being photographed, even in the famously prickly city of New York: this market is around 10th street. Stall holders often have a good measure of showmanship in their blood -- at least, the successful ones do, which is why they are the successful ones -- and although some buyers may wonder what you're doing, you can often do well if you make a half-joke of it and say something like, "Well, this looks like really good produce, but if I just shot the stand with nobody around it, people might wonder why no-one was buying!". It's in the shadier markets, where some of the goods may be 'hot' or some of the people behind the counter may be claiming benefits, that you can run into hostility -- and very seldom, even then. Roger shot this with his usual M-series Leica and 35/1.4 Summilux, on Fuji RFP ISO 50,



It is very much a matter of personal choice, but when we are shooting fast we often prefer to compose fairly loosely, not going too close to the edge of the viewfinder; we then crop afterwards, if needed. This also gives us the option of truing up slightly sloping horizontals, something to which Roger is particularly susceptible. Only about a degree or so -- but it's surprising what a degree or so can do. We also prefer fixed focal length lenses, for reasons explained below under 'Lenses'.

Market, Brittany

The uncropped image is on the upper right. Roger cropped it as on the left; Frances suggested the crop on the lower left, but that leaves us with the uncomfortable feeling that the main characters are looking at nothing. We both agree, though, that the uncropped version deteriorates into a jumble on the left. Roger shot this many years ago on Kodachrome 64 using an M-series Leica and 35/1.4 Summilux; we were researching the original Motorcycle Touring in Europe book at the time.

cameras 1: silver halide

We much prefer traditional silver halide cameras for this sort of photography, for three reasons. First, they are what we are used to. Second, they deliver better quality, though a 6 megapixel camera may deliver effectively the same quality as film for some grab shots. Third, we find them a great deal easier to use unobtrusively, because we use small, light rangefinder cameras that most people cannot tell from happy-snap cameras. For reasons that do not really bear close analysis -- stop and think about it -- many people have more of a problem being photographed with a 'real' camera than with a snapshot camera. There is much more about all this in the module on street photography (also paid, but free to subscribers).

In the past, we used SLRs with equal success: mostly old Nikons and Nikkormats. The important thing is to be really comfortable and familiar with whatever you use, which comes back to the point made above about being quick.

Dogoromilovskaya Market, Moscow

Unusually, Roger put a 21/2.8 Elmarit-M on his M4-P for this shot: look at the diverging perspective. The film was the now-discontinued Ferrania/Scotch/3M 1000D ISO 1000 daylight-balance material, though the image has been manipulated slightly in Photoshop in order to intensify the rather weak blacks: we chose 'Selective Colour', then 'Blacks' then 'Add Black'.


As noted above, we prefer fixed focal length lenses, seldom longer than 50mm. These are smaller, lighter and faster than zooms: the last is especially important when the light is not too good. Also, when you shoot the majority of your pictures with a single focal length you soon acquire an almost instinctive awareness of how much of a scene you will take in from a given viewpoint. Yes, a zoom can permit more precise framing, but in our view, the extra time taken to choose precisely the right focal length makes it a great deal harder to work really quickly. Exactly which lens you prefer is up to you. Roger uses mostly 35mm; Frances tends to switch between 28mm and 50mm. There is more about lens choice towards the end of the module, where we talk about covered markets.


China Bisque Masks, French Market, New Orleans

The simple truth is that you use what you've got. In Roger's case this has normally meant that he uses the fastest lens available to him. Initially this was the 55/1.8 on his Pentax SV; then the 58/1.4 on his Nikon Fs; and (for the last quarter-century or so) a 35/1.4 Summilux or more rarely a 35/1.7 Voigtlander Ultron on either a Leica (M2, M4P, MP) or a Voigtlander Bessa-R or R2. The Summilux-plus-M combination is so far and away his favourite that it's almost embarrassing writing the captions to these pictures: most of the time it's the same camera and lens. The big thing is that we NEVER use flash. We loaned our last serious flash-gun, a Metz 45 CT-1, to a friend in the mid-to-late 1990s and have never bothered to ask for it back.


As with lenses, film choice is a question of whatever you are comfortable with. The classic film for this sort of photography is a black and white film of ISO 400 or better: our choices would be Ilford HP5 Plus or Kodak Tri-X, both processed (preferably) in a speed-increasing developer to give a true ISO of 650 or thereabouts. On a sunny day, it would be a good idea to err on the side of over-exposure, and to cut development by maybe 10 per cent: markets can be quite contrasty, with some people in the sun and some well shaded under awnings. On an overcast day, you should have less of a problem. Frances shoots mostly black and white. As noted in the introduction to the module, we were somewhat surprised that this turned out as an all-colour module.

If you want to shoot colour negative, consider rating it at one-half the stated ISO to allow more latitude for under-exposure. You will lose a small amount of sharpness but grain will actually be finer than at the nominal speed. Again an ISO 400 film would most likely be our first choice. The same re-rating trick applies to chromogenic black and white negative films such as Ilford XP2 Super.


Ichthyopoleion (fishmonger), Chania, Crete

Even absurdly slow films -- this was Fuji RFP, ISO 50 -- can often be used successfully in poor light if you have a fast enough lens: Roger's Leica M4-P was (as usual) fitted with his 35/1.4 Summilux for this shot. We hate winding off half a roll of film, just because it is getting dark. This is cropped from the image shown below. When shops spill out onto the pavement (sidewalk) it can be hard to distinguish between a market and a row of shops.


Slides have the disadvantage that exposure needs to be a lot more precise, and latitude is less, but it is surprising how quickly you can gain the experience necessary to get the best possible exposure and there is (as always) the advantage that the slide is a complete, self-contained entity: you can examine it on a light table with a loupe, whereas with any neg-pos process you have to examine both the neg and a print. Roger shoots mostly slides. Although fast films have their advantages, he generally works with just ISO 100 for better quality and (it must be said) significantly lower prices. Besides, although today's 'push' slide films deliver surprisingly good quality, we both prefer the look that we used to get with genuinely fast films that gave ISO 640 to 1000 with normal development times.

If you are going to push slide films, consider rating them slower than their nominal push speeds. We first started doing this with Fuji RSP, ISO 400, where push 1 is OK at 800 but push 2 (nominal 1600) is better if you rate the film at 1250 and at push 3 (nominal 3200) we prefer EI 2500 or even 2000. Some manufacturers now incorporate similar recommendations in their processing information.

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Now that the vast majority of our colour work goes through Adobe Photoshop at some time in its life, we no longer use tungsten-balance films. Instead, we bring the colour closer to neutral via added blue and cyan (reduced yellow and red) while still leaving an overall yellowish tint which, to us, looks more natural than strictly 'neutral' colours and a lot more natural than most tungsten films ever did. Frances shot this on Fuji RSP rated at 2500 and processed as 3200, using a Nikkormat FTn and 35/2.8 PC-Nikkor. The uncorrected version is below.

cameras 2: digital

There is a lot to be said for using digital cameras to shoot markets, in that you can bang out a few pictures quickly and easily for your subjects. We keep toying with the idea of buying one of those printers that can print directly from a camera memory card, and keeping it in the car, probably powered by an inverter (we don't know of any that can operate off 12v DC), so we can give people pictures the same day, indeed, in an hour or two. Certainly, it might be a good plan with a regular market to plan three stages: an initial reconnaissance, taking few or no pictures (but carry your camera, lest you miss something really good), a second stage, with digital and pictures for distribution, and a third stage of 'real' shooting with whatever cameras you like best.


With most digital cameras, there's not much choice: the zoom that comes with the camera or (in the case of SLRs) astonishingly expensive fast prime lenses. Rather than spending extra money on fast primes, we normally just turn up the ISO speed. After all, Roger is used to shooting ISO 100 slide film with an f/1.4 lens: this is like ISO 400 with an f/2.8 fast zoom or ISO 800 with a typical f/3.5 to f/4.5 zoom lens. If we could afford it, we would seriously consider an Epson RD-1 but the truth is that we simply like film cameras better anyway.


There are two main classes of subjects to choose from: people, and the goods on sale. Each of these can be further divided, almost ad infinitum, but the categories we have chosen below for people are market traders; their customers; the people who provide the food, drink and entertainment; and people relaxing. For goods on sale, we have chosen food; other goods; and animals.


Fish (left) and Soft Toys (right)

Arranging the goods attractively and in an eye-catching fashion is an essential part of a successful market-trader's skill, whether it's carefully arranged fish (and starfish) from Turkey or teeming soft toys on a deep blue background from the South of France. Look out for patterns and displays; most people will take is as a compliment if you choose to photograph a display over which they have clearly taken a lot of trouble. Roger use a Leica M4-P for both shots, the fish on Fuji RFP and the soft toys on Kodak EBX ISO 100.

market traders

There are two kinds of market traders: the ones who don't mind being photographed -- the ones, indeed, who see it as part of the showmanship of their trade -- and the ones who do. Fortunately, in most markets, there are enough of the former that the latter do not prove a serious problem: even if they are unhappy, the market is crowded enough, and they are tied enough to their stalls, that you are at no real risk. The worst places we have found have been in the UK, where (it is impossible to suspect otherwise) some of the stall-holders are claiming social security while running market-stalls to top up their income. If they think you are some sort of official, spying on them, they can become quite abusive. But that is all they can do: again, the market stops them assaulting you, smashing your camera. You become a part of the street entertainment, along with the buskers and beggars; you may annoy some people, but others regard you with tolerance, amusement, even welcome.

Fruit stall, Mertola market, Portugal

Roger shot this with a Leica M4P and 35/1.4 Summilux on Ferrania/Scotch/3M 640T tungsten-balance slide film. The differences may not necessarily be clear on screen, but in the big picture the colour balance has been made more neutral -- it was rather blue, because it was shot on tungsten-balance film -- and the blacks have been beefed up slightly because the film in question had rather a poor maximum density. Both were done in Photoshop using the 'selective colour' control (correcting first the neutrals, by adding yellow, and then the blacks, by adding black). Very similar effects could have been achieved in other imaging programs or, in a conventional 'wet' printing darkroom, by varying filtration and exposure.

If people ask you what you are doing, tell them: you love markets, because they are a part of the life-blood of the city, town or village. Go back the next week and hand out a few pictures, and even those who were suspicious will be appeased, while those who were amused will be delighted.

In most of the world, though, there will be no problem. Most people like to have their pictures taken. They may be proud, or bashful, or puzzled, but they are extremely unlikely to be hostile. Carry a small notebook so you can send pictures to some of them: even if it is only two or three people, if it is a regular market, you will make life easier for yourself if ever you go back.


Market trader, Maramures, Transylvania

It may have been a slightly puzzled smile, but hey, don't knock it: it's still a smile. The interesting question, really, is why so many people in Britain, in particular, don't like having their picture taken. After all, what are they losing? It used to be a popular belief that primitive people feared that the camera would steal their souls; now, it seems, it is urban dwellers in the rich west that have the same fear. This was a wet, drizzly morning (though it brightened up later) but even in the rain we had a great time taking pictures. Roger used a Leica MP with 75/2 Summicron to shoot this picture on Kodak EBX Elite Chrome 100. The top of the picture has been cropped off: there was nothing going on there anyway.



Obviously, a market requires buyers as well as sellers, and the buyers are often every bit as photogenic. They also have more time on their hands and are not tied to their stalls, so they may be more inclined to ask what you are doing and why. If they do, tell them the same story that you tell the stall-holders -- and tell them what a good market it is, which reinforces their opinion of themselves as wise shoppers.


Market, Maramures, Transylvania

There's something entertainingly confrontational about the contrast between the shopper in her sensible, conventional clothes and the rather more scantily and lightly clad display forms: the contrast of the two umbrellas (!) and the summery blouses adds still more to the effect. Roger shot this on Kodak Elite Chrome EBX ISO 100 using a Leica MP and 75/2 Summicron.

food, drink and entertainment

Traditionally, a day at the market was a bit of a Day Out as well as a weekly necessity, and part of the treat was the opportunity to eat food that was sweet or greasy, or both. Until around 200 years ago sugar was quite an expensive luxury, so sweet food was always popular, and there are still plenty of leftovers from those days: old customs die hard. Likewise, deep-fried food was particularly popular in the days when frying media were expensive: in those countries that didn't rely on olive oil, frying meant meant butter or animal fats, after all. And to this day, there is generally a good trade in food cooked over an open fire with a proper smoky smell and taste. Most people don't have the time to build a fire just to cook a few sausages, so a barbecued sausage onna bun is a treat.

As with all stall-holders, don't block the access of paying customers to the stall (another reason for working quickly) and remember that if you do succumb to the wares yourself, neither greasy not sticky fingers are particularly conducive to operating a camera. Carry airline-style towelettes or (much cheaper) baby-wipes in a small Zip-Loc or similar bag so you can clean your fingers afterwards.

At big markets, as well as the food providers, you may find musicians, mime artists and other street entertainers. If you photograph them, be decent: put a bigger-than-usual contribution into the hat.


Barbecued sausages

In France, it is quite common on market day or for street fairs for the local shopkeepers to come out on the pavement with their wares. We don't know whether or not this is what happened here, but it seems likely: it would be a bit naughty to set up a hot-sausage stall on the front doorstep of a rival charcutier. Now that we are a bit more attuned to how things work (this was taken years ago) we'd try to go back and give pictures to the shopkeeper.


people relaxing

As with stall-holders and their customers, those who provide the food and drink, and those who consume it, are two sides of the same coin. Most people at the food and drink stalls are more or less tired and ready to relax, but there is an exception at some of the rougher urban markets in the United Kingdom, where there may be young men with too much drink on board who are looking for an argument.

Many of the people who attend weekly markets are (almost by definition) regulars, so dropping off a handful of pictures at the beer tent or market cafe may be a good way to get them to the people you photographed and open doors for the next time you want to shoot. Tiny pictures are quite adequate: postcard size is fine. Some places will even pin them up for the amusement of their patrons.


Beer tent, Maramures, Transylvania

At the same beer tent where Roger took this picture with his Leica MP and 75/2 Summicron, there was another table shared by a pair of outrageously flirtatious old ladies -- an amazingly common phenomenon at real country fairs and markets -- and another table occupied by young men who waved their beer bottles and ostentatiously glugged them down. He photographed them all, but his favourite was this quiet, perhaps faintly puzzled man, probably around his own age or somewhat older, quietly enjoying a beer and a kebab. The film was Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX, ideal for adding a bit of punch and saturation on an overcast day.


Everyone has to eat, and even those who are broadly self-sufficient have to buy some things at the market: few will make their own salt or string, for example, and there may well be surpluses to be disposed of. The sort of food at a market, and the way it is displayed, tell you a lot. To this day, with memories of the bare shelves of the Soviet era, we describe a shop or market without much on display, and a lot of empty shelf space, as 'a bit Muscovite'.

Fish, Chania market, Crete

In the 19th century, small fish like this would have been one of the staples of Roger's native Cornwall, just as they are in Southern Europe today, sold the day they were caught. With modern distribution networks, small fish go off too quickly to have much popular appeal, even with ice; and besides, they are fiddly and time-consuming to prepare, so ever fewer people are interested. And, of course, the pilchard shoals never returned to Cornwall in the numbers seen 150 years ago. There you go: in one picture, a lesson in economics; observations on the way in which women have left the kitchen and moved into paid employment; a demonstration of the relationship between food and wealth; and a 'green' message on sustainability. Roger shot this with a Leica M4P and 35/1.4 Summilux on Fuji RFP ISO 50; the technical details for the shot below are identical.

Local Fall Squash [Below]

Even the streets of New York City support street markets, with seasonal produce; the urge to buy fresh food from the same person every time, instead of patronizing a faceless supermarket, still has a powerful influence.


other goods

'Real' clothing and footwear stalls (the sort that sell everyday requirements) often tend to be comparatively dull from a photographic point of view, because they have to carry a wide ranges of styles and sizes. There are exceptions, of course, but often there are better pictures to be had at the stalls that are more souvenir-oriented, or where the goods are more of a discretionary nature. Even so, there are always stands selling comparatively short-lived, low priced goods that sell to tourists and locals alike. With these, competition is often fierce, so (once again) skill at display plays a major part.

Hats and bags, Forcalquier market, South of France

Straw, raffia, cane and basket-work goods are for the most part semi-disposable -- the straw bag was our ancestors' answer to the same question that has produced the recyclable supermarket carrier -- so stands selling such wares often tend to 'pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap'. Frances used Kodak EBX in her Nikkormat FTn with 90/2.5 Vivitar Series 1 for this shot.

Slippers, Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

It's a moot point how many of these are bought by foreigners; how many by visitors from other parts of Turkey; and how many by natives of the city. But in a big city, you will often find super-specialized stalls selling products like this, on price, or quality, or both, Frances shot this on Fuji RSP rated at 2500 and developed as for 3200, using a Nikkormat FTn and 90/2.5 Vivitar Series 1.


One of the big differences between a country market -- which includes the ones held in market towns for the benefit of the farmers and villagers all around -- is the presence of animals at the market. With the exception of some poultry, they are rarely sold for immediate slaughter and consumption, but more often for raising and later slaughter -- the family pig is normally bought as a piglet -- for breeding, or of course for milk or egg production.

Calf, Maramures, Transylvania

Even today, there is a fair amount of horse-drawn traffic on Romania's roads, especially in Maramures county. When this cart left -- they apparently managed to sell the calf, but not until quite late in the day -- there were seven or eight members of the same family, spread across three generations, riding in or on the cart.

Piglet in car boot, Maramures

There must have been a dozen or twenty piglets for sale at this market, even at ten o'clock when we arrived. There were three in the boot (trunk) of this Dacia. Roger shot both the piglet and the calf on Kodak Elite Chrome EBX 100 in a Leica MP, using a 35/1.4 Summilux for the calf and a 75/2 Summicron for the piglet.

covered markets

Most markets are covered to a greater or lesser extent. Even if the goods on sale are more or less impervious to rain, and even if the buyers can wear raincoats and carry umbrellas, the sellers generally prefer to keep as dry as possible. Go back through the pictures in this module and you will find fully covered markets from Greece, Russia, the United States, Turkey, Portugal and (here) Mexico.

In fully covered markets, there are two problems. One is that there is rarely much natural light: Dogoromilovskaya market in Moscow is the brightest we have seen. Fast films are useful, but as noted elsewhere, far from essential if you have a fast lens. The other problem is sheer crowding. The space between the stalls is normally limited, and a 35mm lens (on 35mm film) is the longest you can normally use, whereas with an outdoor market you can use 50mm or even 75mm. Also -- to return to a constant theme -- you need to work fast, or you will soon make yourself unpopular as you block the path of those who want to buy their food and move on.

In a partially covered market, rather than merely a shortage of light, the problem tends to be that the light is very uneven, especially on sunny days. The alleys between the stalls can be brilliantly lit, while the backs of the stalls themselves are very murky. This leads to difficulties in both exposure determination and the actual exposure. For the former, until you have enough experience to make the necessary correction, we would recommend quite wide brackets (1 stop -- and see the free module on bracketing), especially in the direction of overexposure. Dealing with uneven lighting is very much a matter of composition: try to avoid composing pictures that rely on detail in both the bright areas and the dark areas. Even when you can do it, via dodging and burning or fill-flash, the result is seldom convincing, and as already noted, we have a deep aversion to flash when photographing markets.

>A useful trick, however, is to photograph in the evening or even at night. In the evening, there is likely to be a better balance of brightness between the fading daylight and the artificial lighting, and there are often dramatic contrast of lighting colour between the blue of the evening and the yellow of the artificial light. As it becomes darker still, the effect becomes one of pools of light in the darkness -- and this is what both of us remember from the market halls of our childhood, especially in winter, long before either of us took up photography.


Guanajuato market, Mexico

There's quite a lot of blocked-up detail here -- the roof, even parts of the alleys -- but it doesn't seem to us that this is a great problem, for the reasons given in the paragraph above. Roger shot this on Ferrania/Scotch/3M 1000D, using a Leica M2 and 21mm lens, probably the 21/2.8 Elmarit-M. The bottom part of the frame has been cropped out: it was too dark and too jumbled to make much sense.

Malls and shops

Anywhere that things are bought or sold is a market, from fishermen selling their fresh-caught wares by the ocean side to currency traders gambling on national economies, via shopping malls, car boot sales (flea markets) and indeed department stores or even Wal-Mart. There are only two questions. First, how picturesque is it? Wal-Mart scores very low on this. Second, how much trouble are they likely to give you if you start shooting? Wal-Mart scores very high on this.

Of course, Wal-Mart is legally allowed to: it's private property, and this is another point to consider when shooting markets -- especially malls, which are in effect the modern version of a market. It may be a bit of a puzzle about why they don't want to be photographed, and anti-photography rules are capriciously and illogically enforced. Just after the Bluewater Shopping Centre was opened in Kent, we went to photograph it. Roger was using the then-new Voigtlander Bessa-L and 15/4.5 Super-Wide-Heliar; Frances, a Contax SLR with 35/1.4 Zeiss lens. Frances was soon questioned about what she was doing, and why, and told that she would have to apply in writing for a permit. Roger was completely ignored. The Voigtlander looked like a happy-snap camera, and was therefore deemed beneath the interest of the security guards; the Contax was clearly 'professional'. The joke was the reason they gave for stopping Frances shooting: 'security'. Which is more use: a 15mm shot that shows everything, in colour, or a 35mm black and white shot of a quarter of the area?

The remedies available to those who object are, in most civilized countries, limited. They can ask you to stop taking pictures; they can ask you to leave; they may accompany you off the premises, and if you refuse to leave, they may use reasonable force to get you off their premises. But they cannot confiscate your film or your camera. If they try to do so, insist on calling the police. Any attempt to take it from you against your will is a battery; the mere fear that they will use force is an assault.

The distinction between a market and a roadside stall can be hard to make. Obviously, one stall isn't a market, but by the time you have ten or twenty of them in close proximity, it is. But where in that spectrum does it become a market? Philosophically, it's known as the bald man question. Pull one hair from the head of someone normally thatched, and he isn't bald. Pull another...  and another... At what point does he become bald?

Trafalgar Square

There are so many souvenir stalls in Trafalgar Square (and indeed elsewhere on the streets of London) that large areas of the city are half-way to a market -- until you go to Brick Lane, or Berwick Street, or Petticoat Lane, and see what a real London market looks like! Roger shot this on Kodachrome 64 with an M-series Leica and 35/1.4 Summilux. The 'ARSE' from the Arsenal scarf is one of those things you only notice after shooting the picture...

The Bottom Line

What people sell, and how and where they sell it, is central to any culture. Forget the opera, the magnificent government buildings, the art galleries, the public libraries: ultimately, these are all parasites on commerce.

This module is concerned with commerce in its most basic form, not the currency speculators and stockbrokers who move millions, or even the big supermarket chains that have grown up since the 1950s, but the small trader who, for thousands or even tens of thousands of years, has literally set out his stall. If you can't see the fascination of that, it's hard for us to see what will fascinate you.


Vegetables for sale, Kozseg, Hungary

This is simultaneously the biggest and smallest market of all. Many travellers have noted the 'on trust' way that people sell their produce in the streets of Koszeg in north-eastern Hungary. The goods are left out, labelled with their prices, and buyers put their money in the cash-box. Even then, the cash-box represents a failure of trust: 20 years ago, apparently, it was a jam-jar. Roger used his MP and 75/2 Summicron to shoot this on Kodak Elite Chrome EBX ISO 100.

Go to the list of modules

or go to the home page

or support the site with a small donation.

© 2006 Roger W. Hicks