I had been looking forward to our time in Kuala Lumpur for a while for many reasons, not the least of which being the chance to get some really great street photography time under my belt. Since well before we left on our tip I’ve been following Robin Wong, a KL-based photographer who primarily shoots street photos. In fact, it was his review of the EM-5 and the 45mm lens that prompted my purchase of both. Prior to our arrival in KL I got in touch with Robin and asked if he would be game for letting me join him on one of his shutter therapy sessions. He enthusiastically agreed, and informed me that, not only would we be walking Pudu market, but he was also going to take us to a pre-photo dim sum breakfast at a local place he knew. I was elated, and while not everything went according to plan I ended up having a great day, capturing some real winners and really opening up my skills as a street photographer.

Robin Wong
Robin Wong

My day started at 6 am, walking to meet Robin at the sim sum restaurant near the market. We were joined by two of his friends, Tai Foong and Kelvin Ng. I left the ordering to them, and they knocked it out of the park. This was easily some of the best dim sum I’ve ever had (and I’ve tasted the best), and I was glad we started early because the good stuff was gone by 7:30.

Dim sum in Kuala Lumpur

Dim sum in Kuala Lumpur
A man serves dim sum in Kuala Lumpur

With such a strong start to the day, I was getting pretty excited. Until the rain started.

Puring rain in Kuala Lumpur
A dim sum restaurant near Pudu market in Kuala Lupur

We spent the next two hours browsing a nearby camera store, drinking coffee and generally killing time. By the time the rain let up Robin and Kelvin both had run out of morning and had to be somewhere else. However Tai Foong was still game, so together we attacked Pudu market in its post-rain glory. Biggest tip of the day? Closed shoes. But, rain delay aside, the shooting conditions were stellar. The remains of the rain increased natural contrast and the residual clouds nicely evened out the midday sun. Add that to the fact that all the market umbrellas turned the entire place into an open-shade playground and I was in heaven.

Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur

The market was a zoo, but it didn’t matter one bit as it meant more people for me to photograph. And the people were definitely the star of this show. The entire day was a cavalcade of smiling faces, requests for photos and general good-naturedness. Anyone who says Malays aren’t friendly hasn’t been to Malaysia.

Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur
Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur

The market seemed to go on forever. As Tai Foong and I delved deeper the people became more friendly, the wares became more strange and the sludge covering the ground ran a more mysterious color after every step.

Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur
Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur

Malays of all stripes came out to do their shopping. Essentially anything you could want — food, hard goods, soft goods, snake oil — was on offer. The market was bursting with color, smells and textures.

Everywhere I turned people were busy hawking their wares, generally too busy to notice me, but bursting into a smile if they did happen to look my way.

Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur
Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur

Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur

Eventually the heat got to us and we sat down for a teh ais (black tea with condensed milk and ice—my favorite) in a little stall tucked away to the side of the main market. We shared a table with a family out doing their shopping, gathering a few curious stares as we slung our cameras over our shoulders. Tai Foong explained what we were doing and they gladly let us take a few photos of them, after adding them on Facebook, of course.

Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur
Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur

Refreshed, we waded back into the frenetic market to work our way back to where we began our day, hours earlier.

Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur
Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur

Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur
Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur

The clouds had gone away and we’d worked our way through nearly all of the market. The heat was getting oppressive and we both agreed that there was nothing more we could do for the day. It had been an overwhelming success and we had both filled our memory cards with great shots, far too many for one post.

Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur
Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur

Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur

To say that Pudu market is a street photographer’s paradise is an understatement. If you’re looking for a place to gain confidence photographing strangers, there is nowhere better. The shopkeepers in Pudu suffer none of the tourist fatigue that you would find in a more popular market: Pudu is as local as markets come, and this means if you brave the sludge you’ll be rewarded with an unmitigated glimpse into the daily lives of Malays. Even without a camera this is an immensely rewarding experience and would count as a highlight of any visit to KL for those who are curious about the culture of its inhabitants.

Pudu market in Kuala Lumpur

Tell us: Do you love street photography? Have you ever had an experience that you felt was a direct window into another culture?

Author profile: Tony


As a designer by trade and a former professional photographer, there isn't much in the world of visual communication that I haven't worked on. From web projects, to museum interiors, to weddings and portraits, my career to this point has run the gamut of visual media. Born and raised in a sleepy town in southeast Minnesota, I moved to Nashville to pursue my education. I ended up meeting the love of my life and adopting the two best dogs this side of the Mason-Dixon line. I love two-wheeled transport, trying new food and am a bit of a gadget freak. I love a good book, and have music playing almost constantly. After over a decade in the same city, I'm quickly getting used to the idea of having no fixed address, and hope all of you enjoy my ramblings about our ramblings.

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Read comments (31)

  1. February 19, 2014 at 9:33 am
    Feb. 19, '14

    Blowtorch rooster FTW!

    (Looks like an amazing day with very cooperative subjects!)
    James recently posted..Zombies, Cheese and Bacon Pillows – Can You Ever Go Home Again?

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:19 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      It was a great day! There was also a goose alley, photos of which I chose not to include due to their rather graphic nature, what with the blood and scalding tanks and all. It’s a very gritty market, not for the faint of heart.

  2. February 19, 2014 at 10:27 am
    Feb. 19, '14

    Gorgeous shots Tony! I love your photography, especially the shoots that revolve around a market – the colours and smiling faces your capture are always fantastic. Also, that dim sum looks SO good! With so many great shots it’s hard to pick a favorite but I really love that one second from the end of the two men, one sitting in a small wicker chair as well as the photo of the little girl in the red shirt. Thanks for the inspiration on this dreary day back home :)
    Calli recently posted..Belfast Visitor’s Guide – What to See and Do

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:22 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      Thank you! Markets are definitely one of my favorite places to photograph, the sights are always so vibrant and the people are normally quite friendly. The dim sum was even better than it looked, trust me!

  3. February 19, 2014 at 11:21 am
    Feb. 19, '14

    Wow guys! As usual your photography skills are impressive and I agree with Tony when he says that this market is a photographer paradise, you just need to look at these photos to see it :)
    Franca recently posted..With Earphones In – Le Trio Joubran (Palestine)

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:25 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      Thanks! I’d go back in a heartbeat next time we’re in KL. I just loved wandering around interacting with all the different people, it was a real treat!

  4. February 19, 2014 at 2:36 pm
    Feb. 19, '14

    I have lived in Asia for two years, but I still can’t get my head around chicken feet. :-)

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:29 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      From what we can understand they’re just for the fun of chewing on something. You know, getting little bits stuck between your teeth and then getting them unstuck. Everybody likes to gnaw on a bone, right? Or is that a cultural thing?

  5. Maureen and Paul Kuehn
    February 19, 2014 at 4:24 pm
    Feb. 19, '14

    The people most certainly do have a friendly look about them.

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:31 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      They really were!

  6. February 19, 2014 at 6:04 pm
    Feb. 19, '14

    We’re pretty big fans of your shots so are excited to check out Robin’s work. Thanks for the link!
    Emily recently posted..Walk the Pretty Streets of Cartagena

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:32 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      Thanks! No problem, he’s a good guy and takes some great people shots.

  7. February 19, 2014 at 7:12 pm
    Feb. 19, '14

    Great captures! Pretty soon you’ll be leading your own market photography tours :-)
    Heather recently posted..Snapshot: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:35 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      Thanks! Maybe one day, when I’m tired of taking my own!

  8. February 19, 2014 at 9:40 pm
    Feb. 19, '14

    It looks like a place where you can find some authentic dishes, cheap and yummy! Thanks for recommending it to us. That’s a kind of place where I would love to dine out when in KL!

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:37 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      There are some great stalls nearby for sure (the dim sum place was less that two minutes away), but there isn’t much prepared food inside the actual market. Plenty of fresh ingredients to buy though!

  9. February 20, 2014 at 2:28 am
    Feb. 20, '14

    I do love street photography, and I also love, love, love a good market. I totally agree that the Malays are extremely friendly folks and I experienced the same thing, they like having their photos taken. Great photos!
    Corinne recently posted..The Wildlife of Borneo – A Photo Essay

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:39 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      Thanks! Malay markets were almost always fun, colorful and full of great food and wonderful people. It’s a great country for anyone who loves markets and food.

  10. February 20, 2014 at 6:55 am
    Feb. 20, '14

    Hmmmm I’ve never been to this part of KL, will need to try it next time! And great portrait shots there too- I feel like I was right there with you!
    Tim | UrbanDuniya recently posted..One night in Bangkok is never enough!

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:42 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      Thanks! It’s near Bukit Bintang, definitely off the beaten track. Make sure you’re not wearing flip-flops, unless you want to wash your feet when you’re done.

  11. February 20, 2014 at 3:00 pm
    Feb. 20, '14

    Awesome, awesome photos.
    eemusings recently posted..Top three Couchsurfing moments

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:44 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      Thanks so much!

  12. February 20, 2014 at 7:02 pm
    Feb. 20, '14

    Fantastic! It’s so great that you waited out the rain and made it to the market. You’ve scored some amazing portraits!

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:49 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      It was well worth the wait! I’m really glad I had the time to spare and didn’t give up!

  13. February 20, 2014 at 11:04 pm
    Feb. 20, '14

    Beautiful close-ups! I always love the people shots the most when I go back over my photos, and these are all splendid picks. What a fun day at the market!
    Jessica J. Hill recently posted..Travel is a Drug

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:52 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      Thanks! People are definitely my passion when it comes to photography.

  14. February 21, 2014 at 5:10 am
    Feb. 21, '14

    Incredible photos Tony, but that’s no surprise! I love the picture of the guy in the bright orange shirt best – what a kind face he has.
    Amy recently posted..Cycling and Stomach Aches on Four Thousand Islands

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:55 am
      Feb. 22, '14

      Thank you! He was a little shy, but seemed happy to have his photo shot nonetheless. Half the people who asked for photos held up what they were selling (usually fish) for the the shot. Cool to see so many people who are proud of what they do.

  15. February 26, 2014 at 3:00 am
    Feb. 26, '14

    Despite your fantastic tips from a few posts ago, I still haven’t been brave enough to ask to take a photo of people. We’ve had a couple of opportunities and I kick myself as I let it slip by. These photos are really inspiring me to suck it up and be brave. Great shots!
    Carmel recently posted..WHAT TO DO IN VANG VIENG (IF YOU’RE OVER 30)

  16. February 27, 2014 at 2:51 pm
    Feb. 27, '14

    I love how seeing someone genuinely smiling in a photo can bring a huge grin to your own face :) Tony, your photos are always stunning but I really do love your street photography. You’ve got a real talent for capturing people so candidly.
    Maddie recently posted..New York City the second time around

  17. March 9, 2014 at 1:39 am
    Mar. 9, '14

    Hi Tony —

    Very nice photo-essay. Just one correction: I think you mean Malaysians, not just Malays. Malay is an ethnicity, Malaysian is a nationality — and Malaysia being a multi-ethnic country, there are other ethnicities besides Malays who are citizens and residents of it.
    YTSL recently posted..Colours and Bad Weather (This week’s Photo Hunt themes)

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