Brimfield pictures, and I thought it was a great topic for conversation. I certainly had the same questions when I first started snapping away: "Did you ask permission to take photos of the goods or did you just do it? I am always so tempted to photograph things I see at flea markets, etc., but am always too scared to get my camera out! You always have great shop photos and I've been curious about your technique!" Here are my thoughts on the subject...
(above picture from Tulu, a shop in Istanbul)
When I first started playing around with photography, I would stop into the shops that I already frequented, and ask the owners if I could take pictures to practice my skills. They were always more than happy to allow me free range, and I always felt comfortable asking because these were people I already knew.
When I became a bit more confident with my skills, I began to photograph shops during my travels, and I always, always asked someone in the store if they would mind me taking pictures before I began shooting. Often, they would ask me what the pictures are for, and I would tell them I had a blog, and most likely, would be posting a few pictures there, with a link to their website. Most shop owners are excited by the prospect of 'free press.' I eventually had little Moo cards made with my name, and website, so that I could hand them out to shop owners. This seems to add a bit of legitimacy to the whole "I have a blog" thing. I still use this same technique when I photograph stores- and it seems to work well. I would suggest asking first, before you just start clicking away- it is the polite thing to do, and makes everyone feel comfortable.
(Joanne Rossman- a favorite store of mine!)
I pretty much use the same approach at flea markets, and art/craft markets. While I was writing my book, I definitely learned the hard way how fussy vendors, and especially artists, can be about having their work/ displays photographed. I ran into some artists who actually refused to let me take pictures of their work- even once I explained it was for a book. I believe this is due to fear of plagiarism, and having their work portrayed in a way they might not be comfortable with. Often, artists and vendors would ask to see the images before they were included in the book- fair enough. I became pretty immune to this- but at one particular art event, the artists were so rude when they saw my camera hanging around my neck that I left the event and didn't even think of including it in my book. I figure it's their loss, and I have learned to brush off that sort of treatment. Every single image in my book was okay-ed by the artist- a lot of work, but worth it in terms of protecting myself from their potential wrath! Again- always ask before shooting- better to be safe than sorry, and it makes you seem like less of a lurker! The only exception to this rule is farmers markets- I have yet to run into a farmer who objects to their tomatoes and peaches being photographed! Although they are often curious why I am so intense about photographing produce. The only other exception is at a flea market that is super busy- if the venue is large, and the vendors are super busy helping the crowds, I might snap a few shots without asking. This is often the case at Brimfield. When it is super busy, I take my chances.
(Bowerbird- a great shop in Peterborough, NH)
A final thought- and this applies more to travel photography. When traveling overseas, it is tempting to want to photograph the people. I felt this way especially during my recent travels to India, Africa, and the Caribbean. It can be difficult to ask every single person who catches your eye, if you can take their picture, but it really is the respectful thing to do. I can't say I always ask- I was pretty snap happy in India, and I definitely got in trouble for it sometimes (the older generations seemed especially offended by having their pictures taken, and the younger generations often wanted a little compensation for cooperating!), but I tried my best. Think how you would feel if a visitor showed up in your town and started photographing you as you walked down the street with your child, or shopped at the market for your groceries. It would probably feel pretty invasive. However, if they explained they were visiting, and you caught their eye, would you mind having your picture taken- you might feel flattered and agree. Either way, the choice would be yours. The same respect should be given when you are the one taking the shots.
Whew...guess I had a lot to say about the subject...but I hope you find this helpful, and that it gives you the confidence to take your camera along wherever you go, and ask away. I might occasionally feel shy about asking, but never, ever shy enough to miss a good shot!