In the western world, we are constantly being brainwashed with misleading media information and when it comes to Middle East countries like Iran, there is a lot of paranoia inflicted successfully by the political propaganda. Similar to the widespread beliefs of western people, I had a lot of preconceptions and uncertainties about my photo trip to Iran. I wondered whether my photography gear will be safe, what is allowed to photograph and what not, whether I am allowed to take photos of women, etc. Now that I am back, I can assure you that almost all my presumptions were either wrong or over-exaggerated. However this does not mean that you can shoot just about anything in Iran and stay safe! Following you can find some photographing tips that should keep you away from the trouble, and help you capture stunning photos of this beautiful country.
Iran is indeed a wonderful destination for photography. It has the rural charms, just like the neighboring countries. It also has a rich and storied history. However in comparison to its neighbors, Iran is arguably more diverse. Its urban centers are wealthier. It has many stunning architectural monuments. And if you are more interested in a landscape and wildlife photography, there are great opportunities as well. Iran lies in a continental climate with great diversities and it has all the climates of the world in a single vast country. The diversity of the landscapes is therefore rather big, ranging from the green Alborz Mountains with luxuriant forests on the north, to the hottest desert on the planet in the central Iran, and pleasant coastal areas in the south.
Legally in Iran you can photograph everything that is in public unless it is specifically prohibited. Photographing embassies and consulates, military bases, airports and strategic industrial complexes should be avoided by all means. Although there must be no-photography signs around these sites, sometimes they are not so obvious and you may not see them immediately. Cameras are not permitted in some religious sites, but most of those that are open to tourists allow photography. Some museums (usually palaces) also prohibit photographing. Quite often it is not allowed to use flash, tripods or even big lenses in monuments or museums. These are considered professional equipment, for which you need a special permit. It is therefore always better to ask before you buy your ticket. And if you are a professional remember that (like in other countries) Iran requires professional photographers to be licensed and have the proper visa and permits.
Taking photographs of people in public is allowed in general but in some situations it is better to ask first. In many cases, people will be happy to allow you to take photos, and will appreciate it too. However, just like everywhere, some people don’t want to be photographed. This is more common in certain places (like remote villages, religious communities, etc. ) and mostly applies to women. Although legally you can take photos of women in public, in some situations they (and possibly others) will object if you shove a camera into their face without approval. This makes street photography somewhat challenging. Besides that the Iranian people will spot a tourist from a mile away, and more often than not, they are curious and simply want to chat, which further reduces the chances for candid street photography. However with patience and some social skills you will be able to capture a plenty of interesting street situations. Be warned that on the contrary to public places the privacy is of ultimate importance to Iranians, and they don’t like you to take photos of their private places. Intruding into their privacy with your camera and without permission isn’t tolerated or accepted at all. Iranians indeed have very detailed and formal rituals of “politeness” which is sometimes difficult to understand by foreign people.
However bearing this information in your mind and applying a common sense in uncertain sutiations should keep you out of trouble. From my personal experience, in one month of travelling through most of the central Iran regions, I did not experience a single photographing-related issue. Regarding the equipment safety I now actually believe that Iran is much safer than most of the European countries. However it took me some time to gain this level of confidence. In the beginning, I felt quite timid, having no idea at all how people would react or when some government official will show up and start to examine my pictures. But it does not take long before you realize that Iranian people are incredibly friendly and warm, and that contrary to the western beliefs, there is no police misconduct in Iran. As long as you don’t abuse laws and regulations you are perfectly safe. No one just stops you on the street for no good reason and ask to show what you have taken. So if you are contemplating Iran as one of your next travelling destinations, release negative beliefs and just go there – the photographic opportunities are waiting for you behind every corner.