Fluorescence excitation can result in the formation of reactive oxygen species and free radicals damaging to live cells. In the case of erythrocytes, reaction of these reactive oxygen species with membrane components causes large‐scale morphological changes followed by cell haemolysis. In an effort to understand the origin of these morphological changes, we have studied the consequences of localized photodamage on the erythrocyte membrane. For this, we irradiated a small area of the cell membrane using a focused laser beam in the presence of an external photosensitizer. We observed the rapid formation of an invagination (approximately 1 μm deep) at the laser focus, long before photohaemolysis occurred. We measured the rate of invagination formation and the rate of cell haemolysis, using a combination of fluorescence contrast imaging (to detect the membrane position) with fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (to measure photosensitizer concentration). We found that the kinetics of both processes depend in a similar manner on light energy flux, fluorophore concentration and the presence of oxygen scavenger. This leads us to the conclusion that the observed invagination is due to the photooxidation of membrane‐associated proteins, representing a precursor of cellular photohaemolysis. We then discuss two different molecular mechanisms (conformational change of the protein band 3 and detachment of the spectrin cytoskeleton from the lipid membrane) that may explain how the photodamage of membrane‐associated proteins can lead to a deformation of the lipid bilayer.