In my area, rural Ireland, there are still a few old style shops(stores). These places usually feature long wooden counters, glass fronted cabinets, mechanical tills! and floor to ceiling shelves. The shop are usually smallish (around 300sq ft), and fairly dark (the windows are usually full of merchandise) and the ceilings are often smoke stained wood.

This type of business is rapidly disappearing, being replaced with modern self service convenience stores, or not being replaced at all; having been driven out of business by a supermarket.

So I wanted to do a project which would capture the inside of a few of these places for posterity.

I have a few specific question about this project, but any other advice would also be welcome.

  1. What's the best way of approaching the shop owners to ask for permission.
  2. What about lighting? I have a speedlite. Or should I go with long exposure & natural light? I would like to capture the owner and maybe customers. Ideally I don't want to fool around with a complicated lighting setup and interfere with business.
  3. Lens: Wide angle seems like the only option for these small spaces?

Here is a photo by a flickr user of the kind of shop I am talking about. This shop doubles as a pub, this was pretty common in small towns.

This is a youtube video of a famous comedy sketch (very funny) set in a very old style shop. These kind of "sell everything" stores are very rare these days, if any one knows of any in South-east Ireland, let me know.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like your question. Can you tell us where you plan to post the results? \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Finch
    Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 13:39
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @AJ Finch, Will probably put them on flickr. I won't be starting the project until April when I'll have a bit more free time (and there's a bit more light at this latitude). I'll post a link here when I start to post. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ken
    Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 13:54

4 Answers 4


Most shop owners would be open to the idea, if you can explain it to them in advance, so I'd recommend just approaching them, possibly by giving them a call in advance to speak to the owner (assuming most of these are owner-operated).

With regards to lighting, I would suggest that using the ambient light where at all possible, as this will capture the atmosphere. You might need to use a wide aperture (which shouldn't be too much of a problem with depth of field, when using a wide angle lens) or bump the ISO up a bit. Of course, the ambient light will be better at different times of the day -- East facing will be better in the morning, West in the afternoon.


@Ken, great question. It sounds like a lovely project.

Others have suggested using available light wherever possible, but I would like to add a slightly different take.

If you can use strobes sensitively, you can use them to enhance the atmosphere and feeling of a place so that some shots are capturing character rather than documenting in a purely journalistic fashion. This probably wouldn't be appropriate for all images, but for a few I think it would add some depth to the project overall.

Here is an example from David "Strobist" Hobby's site: image balancing flash and ambient

(The full page showing and explaining that image is here: http://strobist.blogspot.com/2006/03/lighting-101-balancing-flash-and.html).


Just a few tips.

  1. Definitely use a tripod! For something like this, you want pretty much everything in focus.
  2. Get the widest angle lens you can. I would recommend nothing less than a 20mm equivalent lens, and less would probably be better.
  3. Ask the shop owner what a good time of the day to go is so as to minimize customers being in the store.
  4. Be willing to wait a while, if possible.
  5. If there are costumers in the store, you might ask if they would be willing to be in your pictures. A human element would help alot. Ask permission from the store manager first.
  1. Ask the owner gently, don't forget to tell him its your hobby, not profession.
  2. Don't use any external lighting directly, if you really want to use, either bounce them off, or diffuse them properly. You can also try HDR if suits you.
  3. Go with the fastest lens you own, or hire a fairly fast lens. If you don't get a wide angle fast enough lens, get something fairly fast, stitch a panorama.

A few more suggestions:

  1. Think of how you want to frame the shop beforehand.
  2. Think what time of the day you might go there and get chance to shoot without drawing much customer attention. Its your place, you know the people better.
  3. Shot RAW!! and Shoot a LOT!
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I would advocate a tripod instead of a fast lens for this sort of project. "Wide" and "fast" don't really go together unless you invite their cousin "really expensive"... a slow wideangle and longer exposure should do the job more cheaply, I can't think why you'd want to limit depth of field in a wideangle shot. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Jan 27, 2011 at 13:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.