Friendly-Aggressive Technique in Street Photography and Life

I’m often criticized for being to aggressive in real life; but for myself, I see myself as “friendly-aggressive”.

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This is my life philosophy:

When in doubt, be friendly.

I do this all the time; when I see people who don’t look friendly, I take the first attempt and risk to ask something friendly, or say something friendly.

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For example, in Vietnamese the way to ask “How are you?” is literally, “How is your health?” (Khoe khong?)

Even when the taxi drivers look pissed off or confrontational, I always ask about their health. 99% of the time they always smile, and respond positively!


I’ve realized this is the same thing in street photography and life. We’re afraid of upsetting or pissing people off, thus we are usually quite “risk averse” in our human interactions with others.

Therefore most of us tend to take the “safe” and “non offensive” route with human interactions. We ask generic questions, and respond even more generically like robots (How are you? I’m fine, and you? Fine).

But I hate that. It’s so fake and artificial. I’d rather take a social risk, and be aggressively friendly by asking lots of questions and actually engaging someone else!

What can be the worst case scenario?

If you’re friendly to others, what’s the worst that can happen? They might give you a weird look, or refuse to respond to you. But to be frank, 99% of the time, most people respond like a human; with warmth and empathy. Especially if they see you’re trying to make a genuine attempt to be friendly, and to open up your heart to them!

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Why “aggressive”?

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So I encourage us to be “friendly – aggressive”. Why the aggressive part?

This is my rationale:

When you are being “unusually” friendly, others might perceive this as fake or ingenuine. Or they might see your (very) friendly behavior as aggressive in a negative way.

But that’s okay! To be frank, I’d rather be perceived as aggressive than to not even attempt to be friendly.

And to be really friendly is a small social risk you can take, which often has enormous (positive) payoffs!

Layers Saigon street photography

Also in street photography, you must be aggressive to get the shot. Whoever tells you otherwise is too timid. Courage and bravery are our two most valuable attributes in street photography.

If you’re aggressive to get a shot (that might help the greater good of society, or be an impactful visual sociology photograph), it is your duty to be aggressive to get the shot! Consider where we would be if Nick Ut hesitated before photographing the “Napalm Girl”, or if Lewis Hine let fear get in the way of him documenting the injustice of child labor (he was threatened with death, because he was disrupting exploitative labor practices).

Thus, if the photo you’re attempting to take will help society, you must be aggressive to get the shot!