Unfriendly encounters while doing Street Photography

Previously, I blog about the need to be discreet while shooting candid street photography because not everyone like photos to be taken by strangers.

In this post, I will share some unfriendly encounters while out in the streets.

Silent disapproval

When we take photos, we put the camera up and look through the viewfinder. This body language is obvious that we are taking photos. Some strangers would thought they were obstructing us so would excuse themselves out of our frame. That’s normal, if we were too slow, we miss the shot and life goes on.

However, sometimes, we get too close to our subjects. They knew we were obviously taking pictures of them. They would excuse themselves out of the frame with slight irritation. This is the most usual encounter every time I was caught shooting.


Next, this is slightly more unpleasant. Once in Little India, Singapore, I pointed my camera at an Arab-looking man. The next thing I knew, he was mumbling and reprimanded me. I heard something like ‘you shouldn’t take picture like this…. blablabla’. The next few sentences were a blur. But I remembered he looked very angry. I just smiled. Thankfully this is Singapore. He cannot physically touch me, or snatch my camera away. Furthermore, I was in a crowded place and Keith (my photography master, Pictorial SG) was around, so I wasn’t as frightened as if I were alone. I think that was the first time I was scolded by a stranger.

Street photography

Causeway Bay, Hong Kong 2016 (film)

The most recent I was ‘rejected’ was in Hong Kong (picture above). I was using film, so I was slow as I needed to manually focus my subject in a dim environment (late evening). The first time the fishmonger saw me, he waved his hand in dismay and said firmly in Cantonese ‘no photo!’. I immediately put down my camera. But I stood still and waited for a second chance where I could snap again. This time round I was prepared, I snapped right after he caught me and scolded me. So I put down my camera and walked away.

I had also took photos of worshipers in a temple, twice. I was stopped by the staff. They told me I can take photos of everything else in the temple except the people. So I guess sometimes we must respect the rules, to give people their privacy in a certain place.


Singapore, 2016 (film)

Once, I was looking for a subject to shoot. Around me there wasn’t anything interesting. So I looked around and stood still, occasionally looking at people. Then I spotted a security guard standing in a distance, I tried to visualise if he would make a good subject. In the mean time I made a few eye contact with him as I was visualising. Then, he called me over and questioned me…rudely. He asked if I took photo of him. If I did, I think he would have asked me to delete it as he said he was smoking in his uniform. Damn!


Ok, let’s clarify, I have not been physically abused by strangers for taking photos. The physical here means they used their body language to reject me strongly.

Once in Chinatown, Singapore, I wanted to take photo of an old man in the corner. When I pointed my camera at him, he raised up his mobile phone at me as well. That gave me a shock and I thought he also wanted to take photos of me. I see it as a way of rejection and if I don’t go away, he would stand up and reprimanded me. Due to fear and uneasiness, the photo was lopsided and ugly.

Then, in my┬áneighbourhood, I wanted to take photo of an old man while he was busy talking to someone. I aimed my camera at him. But because the time wasn’t right so I wanted to wait for the right moment to capture his emotion. After a long while, he realised I was aiming at him so he waived angrily at me, with word ‘chey!’ coming from his mouth. Then he ‘rolled his eyes’ and walked off.


Yeah, these are my ‘unpleasant’ experience while doing street shot. I am shy, I find that even if I smile, they still stared at me as if I am lunatic. So what can I do to make them feel warm and smile at me right back? Smile widely? Perhaps I should.

I need to conquer my shyness.


  1. What you are experiencing am sure other photographers experience the same thing. The fear of being in a confrontial situation. Am the same way. A little shy but fear physical confrontial of strangers I photograph.

  2. anon

    With the way you wrote this, let’s just say I would be furious if you took a photo of me and I would scold you if I could. You knew the fishmonger was already angry, yet still took a second photo of him and posted it. Same for the temple shot, you were told not to take the people there and still did and posted it. No manners and basic respect at all.

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