Home | Photo of the Week | Photo of the Week #11: No Photo!

Photo of the Week #11: No Photo!


No photo. But why the hell not?

If I see this sign one more time when I’m out taking photos in Hong Kong, I fear something unsavoury could very well occur.

They were at it again the other night down at the tourist trap that is Temple Street: “Hey, no photo’; “Sir, no photo”; “You stop take photo now.” Well, if you can give me a legitimate reason why I can’t take a photo of that novelty gentleman’s posing pouch, your fine selection of ‘majestic double dongs’, or your so-called ‘comedy’ magnets, I’d gladly comply; but be aware that of the few good reasons you could possibly give, “because I said so”, “because you can’t”, or simply pointing at your ‘no photo’ sign, do not count amongst them.

Particularly at markets it seems, and particularly at those markets tourists love to go to, I’m seeing this phenomenon more and more. It’s as if by sticking a ‘no photo’ sign on anything for sale the law is then magically made to comply with your wishes; or as if not being able to take a photo of that ‘don’t look at me like a potato’ sign would really make me buy it instead. I’ve even started going out of my way to purposefully photograph things with ‘no photo’ signs on them simply because I find the whole concept so ridiculous.

I did this at the Ladies Market in Mong Kok a couple of months back and almost got in a fight with a 50 year old woman because of it. As soon as I lifted my camera to take the picture below, I could hear someone shrieking ‘no photo, no photo.’ I was fine with that, but when she came over and started trying to grab my camera telling me to delete said photo, a volley of Mancunian verbal abuse was the least she could expect to get back.


Was this photo really worth getting in a fight with an old woman for?

As it happened, in the heat of the moment I forgot to ask her the question that later seemed so obvious, namely, ‘Why?’ Not so much why couldn’t I take a photo of her very tasteful merchandise, but why she thought she could prevent people from taking photos in the first place.

The law regarding what you can and cannot photograph is actually pretty simple. Essentially, if you are in a public place – like, for instance, a market – you can photograph anything and anybody you wish to photograph. So unless you are one of those guys that goes around with cameras on the ends of their shoes taking photographs up pretty ladies’ skirts, whether there is a sign forbidding you to do so or not, you can snap away quite happily in the knowledge that it is your right as a free citizen to do so.

Obviously the law doesn’t protect you from ‘no photo’ vigilantes and various other nutters from trying to enforce their own version of a police state within the bounds of their own market stall. You need to use your own judgement as to what is fair game and what is not. But it seems to me that taking a photograph of an individual without their permission and taking a photo of an inanimate object which is on public display anyway, are two totally different issues. And if someone says to you, as this woman said to me, that they will call the police if you don’t delete your photos, they’re talking horseshit and you are well within your rights to laugh in their face and invite them to do so. It’s the law.


  1. I was out this weekend and was waved away by some guys in a meat stall. No big deal, I know most people reference the law that says you can take a photo but I’ve never actually seen it.

    I ticketed of an old man on the weekend taking his photo while walking on the street.


    If the lady with the underwear called the cops, I bet 99% the cop would insist you delete the photo. I would love to have a printout that says it is not illegal to take photos in a public place, do you happen to have a reference?

    • Ah, the old disgruntled wave-away. I know it well. My tactics are usually to try and take a couple of shots before the person notices me, and then maybe ask if I can take another if I can get their attention. Sometimes they say yes, sometimes they say no. I’ve noticed in Hong Kong, however, that the default reaction is usually for people to wave their hands or whatever they happen to be holding in the photographer’s general direction whilst looking none too pleased. To be honest, I’d probably do the same. But I always tell myself that there’s more than one butcher in town, so I usually just smile and move on. I definitely don’t want to be pissing off any guys with big knives.

      As for the law and the cops, I agree, they’d say delete it just to put the matter to rest. The law is one thing, peoples’ reactions to you and your camera are another. I just try and play the situation. That’s why I’m not sure any kind of printout would be much use however correct the wording is. I couldn’t find one online, but it would be great to be able to fall back on it.


  2. Hi, I’m Michael — from America — currently living and teaching in China. Today I bought a camera and as I was fiddling with it on one of the walking streets in Zibo I wondered about photography laws here in China. Thank you for sharing this information! One of my fears is being confronted while shooting, but now that I have this info I’ll be better prepared to deal with whatever comes my way. Thank you again!

    • No worries. I hope you’re having fun in China.

      Regarding the post, I could understand it if it was people that didn’t want their photos taken, but I thought it was pretty ridiculous to go to such lengths to try and prevent people from taking photos of ‘stuff’. Especially, when that stuff is stuff you want to the public to look at and possibly buy. If anything, it’s free advertising.

      As in Hong Kong, you are well within your rights in China to walk the streets and trawl the markets taking photos of whatever you like. Maybe I’d stop short of taking photos of cops, security personnel and anything that looks like the government would really not want you taking pictures of it. I had a strange experience at Tiananmen Square a couple of years back. But for generally photography, you should have no problems.

      Obviously there’s the law and there’s the real world situation. But when taking pictures of people in particular, as long you’re respectful of people’s right not to have their picture taken, regardless of whether you’re legally permitted to or not, you should be fine. A smile goes a long way.

      The best approach is usually to ask people anyway (wǒ kě​yǐ pāi​zhào ma? 我可以拍照吗?). You’ll generally get a better picture that way. I’ve found that it’s a pretty rare occurrence in China for people to say no. They generally think it’s hilarious that a foreigner wants to take their photo.

      Good luck.

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