If Looks Could Kill…

Posted on February 29th, by Danny Santos II in Outtakes, Personal Project. 20 comments


Lately, I was looking through my archive of street photos taken from the past 3 months. As I browsed among the sea of non-keeper shots, I occasionally came across photos where the subject was looking straight at me with a certain disconcerted look. I thought maybe it would be interesting to put these together into an album that shows my share of startled looks and nasty stares when shooting street.

If you do a fair amount of street shooting, no matter how much you try to be quick and discrete, you are bound to encounter these looks. Every street photographer has their own stash of ‘dirty look’ photos in their archives. Some call this, the ‘death stare’. I know a few photographers whose objective even is to capture exactly these reactions (and to great effect).

This is a collection of my outtakes. It’s a light-hearted first-person look at the different reactions a street photographer can get when shooting street. It’s curious to note though that none of my subjects confronted me about it – they just went along. Surprisingly, some of my street photographer friends actually preferred these over my other usual shots!



If you want to see more of these, please visit my tumblr page. I’ll be updating this as I occasionally get one stare after another.

20 thoughts on “If Looks Could Kill…

  1. I can see why your photographer friends prefere these photos. You are still doing a wonderful job on your usual street photos but these seem to come along more natural and interesthing in a subtle way. Because you actually capture a sincere street situation instead of a ‘posed’ portraits. Love ’em!

  2. Whenever I’m in a situation where someone is going around trying to take candids, I always end up being the one giving a “death glare” to the camera.

  3. The third one from the bottom (the woman in the red dress) is spectacular! I think if you cropped it a little it would be really dramatic.

  4. I am glad you posted these. They allow many who have not done Street Photography to see another side. It’s not all smiles and perfect shots is it. I like these a lot, thanks for sharing them.

  5. I really enjoy seeing your photos and reading some of the explanation behind them. Taking candids in everyday life is something I would love to get started with. I was wondering, though: do people ever get really upset that you’re taking their picture without prior notice? Do they ever ask you to remove their photo from your camera? Thanks for sharing your photos!

    • @Kimber
      Taking candids can be very daunting yet exhilarating. No one’s really confronted me or asked me to delete their photo. Except for this one instance with this old lady whom I didn’t even know was in the frame. When we looked at the lcd preview, there she was on the side. It wasn’t a good shot so I just deleted it, and she went on her way. That was the only time in my 4 years of shooting that I was asked to delete a shot.

  6. Danny…always love you work. I wouldn’t say I prefer these over your normal works (I absolutely love your foul weather shots). But these are very intriguing and honest.

    Steven – Have to disagree with you about the crop. Thanks to the popularity of photography, I think there’s a lot of people who think tight crops and closer shots are always better. But they eliminate context. A tighter crop on that woman would only result with focusing on the stare…no context. But the context is what makes it so beautiful: A focused and intense stare in a sea of ignorant passers-by. It shows just how focused and unique she really is.

    Kimber – I do believe that there are cultural differences as well. In Singapore, perhaps people are less confrontational (I don’t know…just a guess based on Danny’s blog and works). Here in Philadelphia…every time I’m shooting in public, I get questioned, challenged and yelled at. It requires a thick skin. That said, don’t let me discourage you…there’s a lot to be learned and many great photos to be garnered from street photography.

  7. Dare I say, I do love these shots more than your other works! Like the above replies have said, they are honest and reveal the other side of photography that outsiders like me are not familiar with.

  8. i find it annoying when a street photographer posts stuff like this on the internet, it is a complete negation of the person who is being the photographer’s subject.
    Of course you shouldn’t ask consentment before taking a candid, but when the person reacts with such a look I think the message is clear, she/he feels unrespected so the least should be do delete the picture or at least not put it on the internet!
    These are not models at your service, these are people who obviously wouldn’t like to see these shots here so move on and show people some respect, its not like there aren t plenty of interesting scenes to shoot on the street.

  9. Should I had it doesn t suprise me people didn t confront you about it, you are not a shooting session and fully aware of what s happening, they are just not prepared for it and most of the time people will avoid conflicting situation, do you honestly think it means they don t care doesn t the look speak for itself?

  10. @Stephane – There’s of course a fine line on the issue, and any street photographer knows and respects that. Trust me, it doesn’t look like Danny has done that, but you also must consider the fact that he’s not asking money for these shots. In fact I know that he’s done commissions from his street photography, and has therefore asked for consent forms after the shot. But for hobby and practice work, we don’t need to in most cases.

    In most countries around the world, public space is public space. One can legally take photos of people in and outside of public spaces so long as the photographer remains within the public space.

    Now do I think these people are truly annoyed? Maybe. But when you start watching the public as much as I or Danny might, you begin to realize that this is the default face that most people make. Their eyes will fix on a target for a moment, and it looks to be an intimidating glare. But notice the other people in the second shot? They’re all looking at something other than Danny, and they all have the same expression. I guess my point is that you can’t look too deeply into it. Danny’s work is fantastic, and I’m sure even some of these people would agree.

  11. Travis, I m not judging Danny’s work which I do find to be very good as well, but only these specific works and the fact he is reposting them.
    Angry or not, They don t look confortable with being shot and it should be respected wether the law allows you to do it or not, which is irelevant in my opinion.
    you are allowed to insult anyone as well that doesn’t mean you should do it, and certainly not you’d be appreciated for it. I am of course exagerating but you get my point.
    i just think it is very important to keep simple respect ethics in mind when doing street photography, the image of people is always primarily their own not yours, it is indeed touchy.
    Money has nothing to do with it in my opinion, most people unconfortable with photography are not because they are afraid money his made with their image, they just don t like having their image stolen, to different extents.

  12. @Stephane:
    I do understand your concern and respect your opinion. In fact, when I first saw these images right after I shot them, I instantly considered them unusable – I’ve always preferred capturing subjects in their natural (and graceful) state, as you can see in my other works. However, when I put them together as a group of images, I realize it becomes less about the individual and more about the concept – the reaction. Suddenly, I felt it was worth showing since it provides a non-serious light-hearted view of the less-desired reactions a street photographer can get. My previous blog post was all about happy images, here’s the other side.

    I’ve never been confronted by these folks, but there was an instance where the guy smiled and said “”One more?” … so I took another shot and said “Thank you.” In another instance, a lady was surprised, later smiled and said “Oh you should’ve asked me first! Can I see the photo?” She peeked at the shot, laughed and said “I look horrible!” I said “Nah, don’t worry… you look great.” She smiled and walked away.

    Travis has a point – these stares are the default reaction of having a camera suddenly in front of you. Hell, even I’ve given that stare. But it doesn’t necessarily mean I felt annoyed. I’m not saying all these folks didn’t mind. You’re probably right about some of them. But I still choose to show them in the set. If they see their photo and ask me to remove it, I will. Until then, it stays.

  13. Hey Danny, I just discovered your website, you have some interesting stuff going on here, and I especially like these ones. I get a similar impression sometimes, the pictures I dislike or consider unsuccessful are the ones others like most

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