NIGHT MARKET PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
By Ian Robert Knight
As I travel around China and southeast Asia, I am continually drawn to night markets. It’s not specifically a Chinese or Asian concept, but the night markets in this part of the world are pretty incredible. Every one that I visit seems to be overflowing with activities and crowds. And because I enjoy visiting them, I’ve learned what it takes to come away with good photographs. With that in mind, read on for my night market photography tips.
Xi’an’s Muslim Market
Most of the images in this post are from the famous Muslim Market in Xi’an, China. The nightly market gets started at about 6pm, and runs all night, often until dawn. While it may surprise many people that there are muslims in China, in reality about 1.7% of the national population is muslim. That amounts to roughly 23 million Chinese citizens. The Muslim Market is a small stretch of a few streets in the Muslim Quarter, and is a great place to try the local food delicacies.
Lots of Tasty Food
As markets go, this one is particularly active. Most markets in China are full of cheap souvenirs (not surprisingly ‘made in China’) that you can get anywhere. But unlike most markets, the Muslim Quarter night market in Xi’an is all about food. Lots of tasty, wonderfully scented, colourful food. Each stall is operated by a different family, selling their own special halal food. To the first-time visitor, some of the stalls may be hard to believe. The variety of food, and the smells can be overwhelming.
People Are Part of the Picture
For photographers, night markets represent unparalleled opportunities for fun photographs. The streets are usually well lit, and the vendors are often quite animated. Walking from one end of the street to the other will yield several wonderful images. Night markets are usually very crowded, so it will be difficult to avoid getting people in your photographs. Therefore, showing the crowds is just as important if you want to truly capture what the scene is like.
Night Market Photography Tips:
- Use Auto ISO so you can shoot scenes that change from dark backgrounds to bright spotlights.
- Use large apertures to focus on just one person in a crowd, and use medium apertures to capture the crowd.
- Look for individual stories in the crowd of people. Single out one specific person and tell their story.
- Use a wide or standard lens (21 to 50mm range) for crowd shots, and a medium telephoto for close-ups of people (105 to 200mm range).
- Avoid using flash – it will be too disruptive.
- Shoot some crowd shots by holding your camera above your head, to get a sense of the crowd size.
- To keep your black backgrounds black, shoot at -1 EV or -2 EV, depending on the darkness of the scene.
Night Markets are common throughout the world, are are especially prominent in Asia. We visit many of them, during our adventures in Thailand, both northern China and southern China, Vietnam and others. Put your new knowledge of night market photography tips to use by joining us on one of these trips.