The Asian Obsession With Taking Photos

Photos of food. Monuments. Flowers. Sunsets. You name it.

When a good number of us see that something we don’t see too often, we pause. Whip out our camera phones. Snap a photo of it. Or two. Sometimes three or more just in case the first two turned out blurry.

When our eye fancies something, some of us rush to snap a photo of it. Photo: Mabel Kwong

When our eye fancies something, some of us rush to snap a photo of it. Photo: Mabel Kwong

Then we upload the photos to Facebook or Instagram. Perhaps Twitter. It seems the cool, in-thing to do at the moment for anyone from Gen-Y regardless of race. Right…

Looking carefully, I wager 95% of the time, photos of food and mundane objects on my Facebook feed are posted by my Asian friends. A while ago, an eagled-eyed reader suggested in the comments section below one of my posts that Asians are absolutely obsessed with taking photos any place, any time.

Why? Why do so many Asians take so many photos? Why stop their friends from tucking in to lunch or stop sidewalk traffic just to take a photo of a sloppy burger or fleeting fireworks in the sky?

Some say cultural reasons are behind this phenomenon. I’m inclined to think this is why but since no comprehensive study has been done on this topic, the reasons us Asians love taking photos are only speculative at best:

1.      Keeping track of glorious food eaten

Food is a big part of Asian cultures. Traditional recipes are often passed down from generation to generation and festivities are accompanied by big feasts (think Lunar New Year reunion dinners and Asian wedding banquets). My parents have a ton of cookbooks on our bookshelves at home. Every now and then I’ll catch them leafing through the pages, eyes fixated on not the recipes but the mouthwatering glossy images of char siew and char kway teow. One can say that for us Asians, taking photos of food is in a sense a casual means of commemorating dining experiences.

With fusion cuisine ever so popular with Asians today, sometimes it’s hard to remember every exotic dish we get to eat. But taking pictures might help. Once my friend and I returned to a Turkish restaurant and we wanted to order a delicious dish that we ate here previously. Neither of us could remember what it was and the waitress wasn’t able to help us out. Sniffing the aromas of Turkish spices wafting around us, I scrolled through my phone’s gallery, wishing I had a picture of that dish.

 2.      Capturing memorable moments

Many Asians have incredulous work ethics and are hard workers up to the point they’ll hesitate to go on a holiday. Those in Hong Kong and China are known to stay in the office up to twelve hours a day. I see many of my Asians friends who work in demanding corporate jobs post photos on Facebook of the absolutely mundane things they see on getaways. A rusty bicycle. A trolley of luggage. A can of Coke. Who can fault them for getting so excited seeing something “out of the ordinary”, so excited that they want to capture the moment forever in some way?

 3.      Showing off

“Having face” or achieving a certain status is greatly admired in Asian cultures. Posting up a selfie of our Asian selves at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, holding a cup of gelato in Italy or dressed up all doll-like cutesy/manly suave on social media screams in-your-face, “Been there, done that”, not missing out on a moment. Chances are some of us Asians secretly desire others will “oooh” and “aaah” over our latest escapades, be it in a foreign country or our own backyards.

There has been discussion proposing we can’t explain this phenomenon without being racist – facial recognition camera features force Asians with “small eyes” to retake shots. But this can happen to non-Asians as well. Asians are also obviously not the only ones who take lots and lots of photos, so this whole snapping photos phenomenon is more or less a newfound universal, social trend as opposed to a race thing.

I’m guilty of taking quite a handful of photos while I’m out and about in Melbourne. I don’t usually take photos of food but rather quirky inanimate objects, nature and crowds with a digital camera. During my down time, I like going through these photos that I’ve taken, reflecting on moments in time and what stories lie entwined within these random snapshots of history.

And it is these solitude times of photo gazing that get me thinking about life. Culture. People. My source of inspiration and ideas for this blog.

Do you or those around you take photos all the time with phones?

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44 thoughts on “The Asian Obsession With Taking Photos

  1. Ha, surprisingly that I just tried to snap a cup of coffee and snack before reading this post with new accessories in an iPhone app which are specific for food photography.

    I admit that I’m fond of taking photography especially by iPhone because it’s convinient and easy to edit in a variety of photo apps.



    • You’re so on the ball with this camera-photography thing! I’m sure you snapped a lovely photo of your meal 😉 Yes, it’s very convenient and I am surprised you can keep up with all the apps and know which one to use for which occasion/photo. Keep taking photos, I look forward to seeing them as they light up my day!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I saw an Asian lady at the Singapore airport taking 50 photos of herself with the same pose. Like what the! I have seen them take pictures of absoulutely nothing.


  2. Oh this is GREAT! I so agree.

    On our annual end of year dinner at a very nice restaurant in China (buffet at the Hilton) my staff didn’t even talk to each other or take pictures of each other, they TOOK PICTURES OF THE FOOD. They were walking around taking pictures of the food, the decor and uploading it to their version of Twitter. Finally, I had to say, “Hey! We’re having a bonding moment here! How about taking a picture of all of us together enjoying our meal…TOGETHER!”

    So when I saw your post, I just had to laugh. You are so absolutely right!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha! That is so funny to hear! I can just imagine all the staff standing in a circle around the food/decorations for a good ten minutes trying to get photos that seem perfect to them (wonder what the restaurant staff thought about this). An annual work dinner is a social occasion but from the sounds of it, it seems far from it. It’s funny how some people don’t like taking group photos or taking photos of themselves. Admittedly, I am one of them. I feel shy and hot in the face when I am prodded to stand in front of a camera by myself or a group of friends. So if your staff hesitated to take a group photo, maybe they were just shy 🙂


    • Asians taking photos all the time is indeed funny. It is literally an accepted thing to do these days. I feel like the odd one out when I don’t take out my camera to take a photo of the food I’m eating when my friends around me do. Oh well.


      • On my FB account, I get an incredible amount of shot of food…and 85% are from my Asian friends (here in HK). They are actually great photos, so I enjoy it. And HK does have so much great food.


        • I’ve never been to Hong Kong but I hear that the dim sum there is really great! Agree with you many of our friends on Facebook take photos of food. Crystal clear close-up shots of all things food in fact from my friends. Seems that almost every Asian person is on their way to becoming a professional food photographer these days and they’re barely even trying.


  3. Oh those photos of food…Most evenings when I check upon what interesting thing my wife is watching on her tablet it is normaly I collection of food pics. And everytime she watches them she gets hungry and wants to go out eating…every single time!
    Also when we visit other Chinese and they make some great food, everyone takes out their phones to make pictures of the food. Once I checked the phone of a friend, seriously, all the pictures where about food, over 1200 pics and nothing else. Even the holiday pictures were entirely about the food.


    • Food! We can never get enough of eating our favourite foods! And these days, we can never get enough food photos to look at! Hmmm, I hope your friend had other memorable memories of his/her holidays apart from food. I’m sure your friend took pictures of things other than food on his/her holiday. Also, perhaps it just so happened you browsed the “Food Holiday” photo album on the phone. 1200 pictures is a big number, I must say 🙂


  4. I think you did a GREAT job with this topic, Mabel! I can’t disagree with any of the reasons you’ve listed for this phenomenon, and yet… I don’t know. I think food is a big part of culture everywhere — not more so in Asia than in other places. It just seems that Asians tend to be more interested in sharing food than others? I dunno. I definitely get the working culture, though, and showing off makes sense, too.


    • Thanks, Jess! It was a fairly hard challenge and I am glad you liked it (any more challenges…?). Yes, true that food is a big part in many, if not all cultures. I do think Asians tend to share food more than others, in particularly Westerners. Asians like to sit at round tables and order many “sharing dishes” when dining out at (Asian) restaurants. Go to a restaurant serving Western dishes and the menu usually offers “individual dishes”, one plate for oneself. Not too sure if this has anything to do with people taking photos, though.


  5. I’m glad, and amused, that you’ve addressed this subject. Honestly, I, myself, (I’m Black/Indian/Guyanese) have often wondered how it could be possible that almost every time I saw an “Asian” person (with the understanding that ‘Asian’ refers to a place and not a race), they were taking a photo of something. And mind you, I’ve lived in big cities my entire life, so it’s not like I knew just one Asian family while living in a teeny, tiny town. I also have an Asian (Chinese) Facebook friend who posts photos of food just about every single day — and several times a day… I never discussed this curious phenomenon with anyone because, admittedly, I didn’t want to be thought “racist,” even though I don’t believe the thought, itself, is racist. You might be interested to know that many people assume that Asians taking photos are “tourists,” an assumption which can be unwittingly racist in that it is based on the assumption that they couldn’t possibly be Americans. It was only because I have so many “Asian” friends, who were born and raised in America, that I know that the “tourist explanation” is a ridiculous one. My “Asian” friends, born in America, are as into cameras as those born someplace else… This assumption is very similar to what people do when they see a “Black” person, who was born and raised in Great Britain, visiting the United States, but they refer to them as “African American,”‘ when they are really… British…


    • This subject is an amusing one. Singling out Asians and laughing at them taking photos all the time can be taken the wrong way. To some Asians, taking photos might simply be a casual hobby or they might just enjoy holding a camera in their hands and this activity has got nothing to do with race (others do it as well too, they might argue). From our observations, it does seem that many of our Asian friends are extremely fond of taking photos all the time, so perhaps this might just become a yet another unwanted Asian stereotype…

      Yes, I’ve heard that Asians who take photos are frequently assumed to be tourists by Western locals in Western countries. Many Asians’ colourful and sometimes bold fashion sense and them posing with the “peace sign” in front of monuments, only adds to this assumption. Don’t know if this perception will ever cease to exist. Perhaps many Asians who stop on the streets and take photos get in the way of and annoy Westerners, and so the latter are inclined to think the former are desperate-to-capture-every-moment tourists.


    • Maybe you should stop being so concerned about being racist.
      If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a ducks… there’s no WAY it could be a tourist. :-/


  6. I’m not a photo person 🙂 but I’m glad you have explored this popular trend of Asians posting pictures of their food on Facebook – I’ve always wondered why. Hmm…not sure if it’s a “having face” sort of thing because they could be taking photos for other reasons. I mean, of course there are those who like to show off etc. But just a quick thought; if a westerner takes selfies and provides minute-by-minute updates of their holiday destinations would we say they like to have face too?

    Mind you, there are some Asians who like “having face” (some of them borderline obssession) but for some reason this “having face” behvaiour is often viewed as a bad thing and it is misinterpreted as just merely a trait for showing-off. In Chinese culture for example, we protect our family name and pride and we frown upon those who choose to descend into depravity. We take pride in our work, and we work hard and we take our duties and responsibilities seriously. Unfortunately, many people in the west do not understand or appreciate this attitude of ours.

    Just a thought 🙂


  7. I always take photos of restaurant food, not hawker food though. I guess this is due to the need to show off, haha. The funny thing is that I ended posting them under anonymity.


    • Haha! Sometimes I like to take photos of food in fancy restaurants too. If I ever go to Malaysia or Singapore again, I think I’ll go a little bit nuts taking photos of hawker food, mainly because I miss it so much. I’m not one for posting photos online or on social media, though. Yes, it’s an act of sharing something with the world but most of the time I reckon I can put my time to more productive use 🙂


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    • Thanks, Local Culture Guide for reading. Food is something Asians bond over – and so many Asians won’t hesitate to go out late at night together to get something to eat. Thanks for the mention too. Your articles are very informative.


  9. I find it distracting to take snaps while travelling. It has to be something really memorable to make me want to click a snap. Or I must be really bored. But, I also guess I travel with someone who loves photography. I can afford that luxury. 🙂


  10. After I lost my CD with photos a few years back, I realised that I’d never even looked at any of the photos I’ve taken, and now I don’t even bother taking more than a dozen when I’m on holiday.

    Also, people need to realise nobody actually cares about your vacation pics…literally everyone in first world countries travels these days (even those on the dole), so it’s no longer special. We’re surrounded by facebook pics of people standing in front of medieval castles or Asian markets making those weird V signs.

    Now if you take a trip to space, that might be worth something…


    • So true that some of us don’t look back at photos. Good on you for enjoying the moment as it is when you are traveling with your very own eyes. A great point in that so many people travel these days. Perhaps at the end of the day the photos that we take, for some of us, are for our own personal keepsakes.

      As for traveling the space, that is happening slowly…


  11. mabel i am thrilled this is being adressed. the big problem is its RUDE!!! i work as a tour guide and have watched throngs of “Asian. ” people with cameras surround a man with no legs in a wheelchair smiling and laughing while they take his picture. One of my friends is a large Black man and they ran up to him waving cameras and posing like they just found Mickey in Disneyland. One of our Park Rangers is a little person and once again a group of Asian tourists started following him taking pictures and attempting to take selfies!!!!!

    Food I get but i have watched groups of Asian tourists stand in front of a barbershop window taking shots of a guy getting a haircut. What’s that about? You would think when travelling to another country you would research customs and what is considered proper behavior. perhaps they should put it in the tourist manuals….ITS RUDE!!! You cant just run up on people and take their picture for whatever sick amusement you may get.


    • From the examples you list there, no doubt that those Asian tourists come across as rude with their cameras in the face of innocent passerbys. Saddened to hear they would laugh at someone in a wheelchair – that has crossed the line in my opinion. No one of us deserves to be treated like a trophy to be admired no matter how different we appear to them.

      Maybe those Asian tourists might mistaken some locals are celebrities, or they are excited by seeing a doppleganger. Whatever the reason, such behaviour waving a camera int their face borders on invading someone’s privacy and right to go about their day in peace.


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  13. Incredibly interesting to me as I am a hobbyist photographer. Photographer is very valuable to me so I wonder what it says about who I am as a person. I can’t help wondering how it reflects on me when I see masses of people trending certain behaviours about this hobby of mine


    • Lovely to hear photography is very important to you, and hope you continue to pursue and work hard at it. As you do photography, you’re probably every bit the creative. Hobby or not, I think a lot of us see taking photos as fun.


  14. Great article. I found cause i was googling why mainlan women take photos with the cheesiest weirdest poses. WHats up with that they think they’re models or something. They just look completely and utterly ridiculous with poses that look fake like arms making hearts and staging laughter lol


  15. My favorite boyfriend, he was Filipino, took pictures of meals and everything multiple times even before the internet. He had so many boxes full of photos and negatives and slides. I don’t think it’s all blamed on social media.


    • Your favourite boyfriend seemed like he liked taking lots of photos and perhaps he did so because he liked doing it a lot. He captured a lot of history and memories there 😀


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