Street Photography Iran – Photos From The Not So Mean Streets of Iran

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Street photography Iran. There’s three words I had no idea I would be writing any time, ever. As many Yomadic readers already know, I have just returned from spending a month in the mind-blowingly incredible country of Iran. Indeed, it has gone to the top of my “best holiday destinations list”. I’ve now seen 37 countries, most of them multiple times, and Iran really is a unique, spectacular, life changing, moving, and memorable place to visit. But, what you might want to know is – what are the people like? And, just how difficult and repressive is street photography in Iran?

In the western world, we have all been force-fed a steady diet of paranoia when it comes to countries like Iran. Terrorists. Muslims. Not to be trusted. Suspicious of anything and everything from the west. Quite simply, almost everything you have ever read about Iran, is inaccurate at best, and propagandish lies at worst. When you interpret these photos, please try your best to keep your mind open. Like you, I had a lot of pre-conceptions about Iran, and I’m happy to say that during the course of a month – they were all shattered.

iran street photography - outside the former USA embassy

iran street photography - street food

I think he's dancing - Iran

When it comes to street photography, I really found Iran difficult. But, not necessarily for the reasons you would think. Firstly, there just aren’t many tourists around. Phillipa and I stuck out like the proverbial sore thumbs. Therefore, the opportunities for candid street photography were very limited. People spotted us a mile away, and more often than not, made a bee-line directly for us, simply wanting a chat.

From day one, I went out street shooting. However, I felt much more timid than normal. I really didn’t know how far I could push my street photography in Iran. I had no idea how people would react to a strange Westerner putting a camera into their face. I wasn’t sure what buildings I could take photos of. If there was a subway entrance, or a police station, or an army truck in the background of my images, what would happen to me if my camera was examined?

Nice car - Shiraz Street Photography

iran street photography - Esfahan bridges

Boy on the streets of Tehran, Iran

Shop Keep - Iran

iran street photography - Esfahan

Buying bread on the streets of Shiraz, Iran

It took me weeks before I felt reasonably comfortable with street photography in Iran. Normally, I just pick my target, and pull the trigger. But Iran really felt like a different world to me, in a good way. People who approached me were incredibly friendly. And that, is the understatement of the year – I’m still getting emails from people I met on the street. With some, I have made what I am sure will be a long-term friendship.

When Iranian people did catch me taking street photos of them, what started as a quick encounter often extended to a dinner invitation, an offer of a free tour or even a bed for the night. The people of Iran, in my experience, are the most warm and welcoming I have ever met. Ever.

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from above - iran street photography

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The lady in red - Iran Photography street

iran street photography - lone tourist

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Having the opportunity to document people on the streets of Iran, is what I consider part of my street photography apprenticeship. It’s a long haul. I plan on continually documenting the people of the world in my travels, and I’m starting to think that if I can do it in a nation so “foreign” as Iran, I can do it anywhere.

Street photography is my favourite form of travel photography. Purists of either genre may scoff, or intellectualise about what is and what isn’t street photography or travel photography, but simply, I don’t care. I understand that many of these photos are street portraiture, some are clearly not candid (although none of them are posed), and well, there is far too many photos here for any “serious” street photographer.

It’s not a question of lazy editing. The reason for so many photo’s is simple: I’m a traveller. I take photos in my travels. I present them here, so that you can see what the streets are like, in places you may not get to visit yourself.

I’ve found that people are basically the same everywhere.

They may dress different, they have different skin colours.

Some people don’t mind that I’m taking their photo, and some people do.

Indisputably, we all have at least two things in common.

We’re all human, and we’re all in this thing together.

Corny, but true.

So, I present to you – my version of street photography, from the not-so-mean streets of Iran.

Nate.

PS, my journey is far from over. Have the next post automatically sent to your email address:

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Visitor at the tomb of Hafez, Shiraz, Iran

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65 thoughts on “Street Photography Iran – Photos From The Not So Mean Streets of Iran

  1. Awesome, awesome, awesome Nate! Well done! I’m definitely not a purist, I just like a good picture and you do such a great job with your street photography. I really feel like I’m seeing a captured moment in time. And I also feel like you captured a broad spectrum of life in Iran in these pics and in your other posts from Iran. Thanks so much for sharing your insights and experiences of this unique country. :)

    1. Thanks Noelle (as always!). I agree with you – I just like a good photo as well. Glad you got something out of the Iran series – it’s such a mysterious country, and I wanted to do my best to presenting an honest, unbiased view. Although I am more than a little biased towards their candy-floss ;)

  2. This post brought tears to my eyes Nate.
    Can’t wait to see Iran for myself someday.
    Incredible photo’s, thought the black and white option really amplified the message og the post and I especially liked the symmetrical shots looking down the tunnel etc.

    1. Ash, I’m glad I managed to reach you in that way. It’s a real compliment, and I really appreciate it. Hope you get to see Iran one day, if you ever have any questions, fire away. Nate.

  3. You have a great eye, Nate! I have no idea if I ever make it to Iran, so it’s definitely very interesting to get a glimpse of people’s life there. It does look more liberal than I thought it would be.
    Also, a technical question. I always feel uncomfortable taking pictures of people on a street because I feel like they wouldn’t like it. How do you overcome this fear? And do you ever ask first?

    1. Thanks Irina, I think we all have a “great eye”, like anything, you just need to spend time developing it. Sometimes I ask for permission first, but I prefer not to – it results in more interesting images (in my opinion). As far as overcoming the fear goes, have a read of my article on street photography tips – I’ve aimed it at beginners (as most of us are), and I hope you get some use from it. Let me know if you do!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing those photos, I like how they offer a glimpse of the people of Iran. It’s definitely one of the country I would like to travel to!

  5. Love these photos and the message of this post. Iran popped up on my radar when Rick Steves did a special there and I have wanted to go ever since. The thing I heard most often when I traveled in the Middle East last winter was, “Governments are not the people and people are not their governments.” I think we get so much negative press (sometimes downright propaganda, as you said) in the west that we don’t stop to separate it all out and think about the innocent civilians who get swept up in government policies they often abhor. Anyway, your photos capture that cultural complexity really well. They’re also really beautiful!

    1. Hi Marina… funny thing is, I watched the Rick Steves program on Iran just before I went there – really interesting overview. I agree with all of your comments, and the people of Iran are more than aware of the difference beteween governments, and citizens. There is a lot of complexity at every turn, and I did my best, in a strange and foreign place, to capture this.

  6. Fantastic pictures. I worked in the middle east and encountered many nationalities. The Iranian people I encountered were the most friendly and respectful. I simply loved their company. Your pictures are a fantastic record and I hope more people through your work see the real Iran and not the propaganda. Thanks for sharing

    1. Cheers David…. really appreciated your comment. I’m not considering my work art – as you say, it’s a fantastic record. I really don’t think there is too much street photography going on in Iran, but I have a feeling this will change in the future…

  7. As always, great job Nate! These pictures and others from your site go miles to show how most Iranians are not very different from us. Your street photos are an exclusive peek into the everyday life there that we in the west do not often see.

    Keep the pictures coming…

    Cheers!
    SD

    1. Totally agree SD. One difference I noticed with Iranians – they’re so much more friendlier and welcoming than I’m used to. I really would like to go back, and do the streets of Iran justice.

    1. Cheers Paul – to be honest, I was a bit mesmerised standing on that rooftop, trying to get an interesting pattern of people walking below. Spent quite some time up there!

  8. Great pictures, especially, in my eyes, from such a mysterious country. Your street photo’s make simple moments very special. Like the two people who look up to the sky from the carpets.

    1. Hey Esther. The people on the carpets were great! They didn’t bat an eyelid as I took a few photos of them. We had a chat afterwards, really nice people.

  9. Iran has been on top of my bucket list for a while now so it was more than interesting to read this post! and these pictures are truly amazing, I’ve never seen something similar before! thank you for sharing! it made me wanna go there even more!

  10. How interesting. I had another look at your photos just now and must say something :-) They are very touching. I think that is what B&W does, meaning that it is much more emotional, as opposed to color ( which is great, for a different message ). We truly see the people of Iran, in all their dignity. And, as you mentioned, we really are ( or at least should be) all in this together. I continue to enjoy your posts ;-)

    1. Thanks Nancy. I still find it difficult to present street photos in colour, but I’m working towards that day. I really appreciate your kind words, and I’m glad you are enjoying the posts.

  11. Such wonderful images, specially image 8. I kept staring at it, analyzing the composition, lighting and everything. Such wonderful slice of time caught in an image.

    I envy you with your travel opportunities. Immersing one self in different cultures is one of the best experiences in life and photographing them is what I’d consider second best.

  12. Dear Nate
    I so like your photoes.I’m a drawer and I want your permission to use some your photoes.
    your style is for me and I searched alot to find this kind of photoes from my country.please answer me and say that I can use them as model or no.
    thanks for your special eyes…

  13. I don’t trust one word the western mainstream media prints — I feel like I’m constantly reading the stories through a filter, trying to figure out how it all fits into a larger agenda. But enough about that! These photos are INCREDIBLE! I am so inspired…off travelling in three days and I need to remind myself to come check out your work before I go out shooting =)

    1. I totally agree Andrea. I’ve seen enough with my own eyes, to know that the media is biased at best, and outright deceptive at worst. This goes for the Western media, as much as it goes for the media in other countries around the world. Thankfully, more people are discovering this reality for themselves. There is always an agenda…

      Have a great time on your next journey, and thanks so much for the compliments. Oh, and good luck with the street style shots, I see it more and more on your blog :)

  14. This is really one very interesting and courage street photography. Very interesting..
    I also saw you went to Malaysia before which is where I am from, you sure travel to alot of place with huge different. Was wondering.1) Do you keep snapping even they know you are snaping at them and looking at you?
    2) how you react to the people that don wan you to snap at them…In Iran and anywhere else.
    Great work :)

    1. Hi Meng – once I decide to take the photo, I will take it. I often wait until just that instant when people are looking at me. As for people not wanting their photo taken, I find it hardly ever happens. When it does, I usually ask a couple more times if they don’t mind. If they really don’t want their photo taken, I don’t take it. But as I said – usually people don’t mind!

        1. Hey Meng, I always try and reply to everyone on here. I often will talk with the people, but not always. Sometimes a quick nod and a wink, other times a thank-you, and every now and then – a great, long, chat. I always try to thank them in some way. There’s often a language barrier, meaning it’s not possible. But – I just don’t want anyone to think I’m being sneaky in anyway. I don’t think it’s brave – as I have mentioned, it is very rare that I find people get annoyed with me. Just project confidence, smile, and be forthright, and all will be good.

  15. Hi Nate

    My first time here, followed your post on Steve’s site.

    Great photographs and a really interesting read, keeping an open mind is so important in life and photography and you clearly appreciate that.

    Falling in to specific genre’s is really not important, photographing what interests you, in the way you choose is, again I know from your comments that you already know this.

    Keep up the great work and safe travels.

    Best Regards

    Jason.

    1. Thanks Jason. Steve’s site is sending me a lot of traffic today – it’s great to have some new readers. I agree with you on the genre debate – I think a lot of people fall into the trap of trying to meet the rigid requirements of a specific genre, or even emulating their favourite photographer within that genre. I just do what interests me, and although it is difficult to be truly original, I try my best to take photos my own way.

      Cheers for the well wishes, hope to see you around.

  16. Hello Nate, great pictures and courage to do this with your combination from a 18mm lens. Go on and good luck to you, regards, peter

    1. Cheers Peter, really nice comment. It can be tough with the 18mm, I need to get *very* close to take the photos I want to take. I occasionally consider moving up a notch, but the 18mm proves to be an incredibly versatile focal length for my style of travel/street photography. Thanks for the well wishes, I very much appreciate it.

  17. Excellent Pictures mate! very nice work…I have not been to Iran in over a decade now and that time I had a film camera with me from Fuji wish I was back home in Pakistan and could scan all those pictures and upload them to my Flickr.

    Anyways great pictures, very natural….loving them all the way.

  18. Nate I am truly impressed by all these B&W photos of the streets of Iran! Now that’s what I call a true photo essay! When I clicked over to Steve’s site, I then found out you’re only carrying one camera with one lens! I’m even more impressed!

  19. I bumped in to your blog accidentally a few minutes ago and found your work inspiring.

    Nate, your images have captured the street life beautifully.

    There is a lot we can learn in the west from Iranians when it comes to hospitality.

    Thank you for describing what emotions you went through when taking street photos in the first few days at arrival – very helpful for other street photographers traveling to a new countries.

    1. Thank you Nishi. It is my intention to try and help others to document the world from “street level”. I find it one of the most honest ways to portray people in their environment. So, where it makes sense, I will describe exactly what it’s like – so that others can follow in my footsteps. Again, thanks for the kind words, you have made my day.

  20. Great captures dear Nate!
    I’m an Iranian girl and I’m so glad to see you’ve had a great experience in Iran.
    I’ve recently started photography and I want to try street photography as well. I think the traditional and modern lifestyle existing in Iran makes it a wonderful place for Street photography.
    Since I’m Iranian myself, it may sound wired but the thing I’m worried about is police and people’s reaction.
    As you’ve written here, seems you hadn’t had any problem with people or police.I was wondering is it required to have a kind of license for taking pictures?
    And at last thank you for sharing your wonderful pictures!Good luck.

    1. Hi Parto.. please excuse my delay in getting back to you! I found people in Iran to be very accommodating of my photography, out on the streets. I had no problems at all with the police, and they certainly did observe me taking photos, on more than one occasion. I also had no “license”.

      Thanks for your compliments, and all the best with your photography. If you do get some street photos in Iran, and you put them online, feel free to link to them from here.

  21. Fantastic Nate. Roleystone bonfire or Woodsome St couch…….Looking forward to the next catch up (one day of these days), I’m going to be all ears! Loved your Uzupis article too.

  22. Awesome – that’s quite an apprenticeship. I am a fan of street photography – in this article you have convinced me of the vital importance of the genre. Thank-you for posting.

  23. thanks for sharing. you’re right, i might never get to iran in this one of my lifetimes (;)). but this gives me quite some impression of it. i like the pictures!!

  24. Hi Nate
    I am living in IRAN and I am happy you had Good time over here. Last night I watched American film “ARGO”, in one scene , there were a street photographer like you who beat with people in street. Is this the way you saw from the people in street.
    In our culture even if we are not happy with something , this is not the way we are react , especially when we are facing with foreigners

    1. Hi Hooman,

      Thanks for leaving a comment. I found the people in Iran to be incredibly friendly. No one ever said or did anything bad to me. Most people seemed happy to be photographed – mostly they wanted to talk to me. Others seemed curious, maybe a little suspicious – but that is the same reactions I get in every country I visit. I hope to get back to Iran, it is one of my favourite countries on Earth. You’re very lucky to live there.

  25. Hi Nate,

    I am late to the party. I “found” you from a comment in a post Larissa has up an am so happy I did. I’ve just give through a few of your series and they are so wonderful. This series on Iran is awe-inspiring. The black and white photography almost makes it more personal somehow and the architectural photos are just beautiful. The series and essay do make Iran look inviting and helps me understand a little better this country a friend of mine coes from with a more objective mind. Thank you. I look forward to more time engrossed in your site.

    1. Hi Fran, every now and then I get a comment so wonderful it just makes my day. And today, it’s thanks to you.

      I hope you stick around as well, anyone as nice as you is a person I want to know better. Larissa is also a great “internet friend” of mine, I hope we get to meet in real life soon! Take care, Nate.

  26. Dear Nate

    I am from Iran,but unfortunately I do not live there now.Your pictures and others comments brought tears to my eyes .
    I want to thank you because you have encouraged people from all over the world to visit my lovely country.I know that media have changed people`s opinion about Iran,but wise people know that is not true at all.People are very lovely and friendly in my country.The nature of Iran is awesome,and I strongly suggest all people to go and visit Iran .

    1. Thank you Maryam. Comments like yours make my day. I also strongly suggest that people visit Iran, it remains my number one recommendation of all countries I have ever visited. I hope to return again and again.

  27. Hi Nate

    Love your street photography. I also like to do street photography. You are an inspiration :)

    Pearl

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