An Iran Travel Guide for Photographers
For the adventurous, curious and open-minded traveller, places still exist that exude a certain mystery and hidden beauty. Iran is one of those places, not typically found on many wish lists but somewhere that draws interest from photographers seeking a unique destination where natural wonders and architectural marvels meet.
Odette Haye, travel photographer and author of the Omnivagant, has been kind enough to create this guide based on her experiences photographing in Iran.
From the mountains in the North of Iran to the Persian Gulf, Iran is a country that is filled with the most rugged, pure and unique landscapes. Imagine deserts as far as the eye can see, snow topped mountain peaks and the most beautiful blue waters of the ocean. And while Iran’s nature alone is enough to book a flight to Iran, it is the city and the beautiful architecture of Iran that also should not be forgotten. Palaces, mosques and ancient cities with the most unique and beautiful details, it’s the combination of man made vs. natural sights that makes Iran a dream come true for photographers. Now, let’s get started with the most beautiful photography locations in Iran.
To get started as always, please find below a map of the locations that are noted throughout this guide…
Iran Travel: Map to Photography Locations in Iran
Now, let’s get started with some of the best places to visit in Iran with your camera…
Architecture to Photograph in Iran
#1 The Azadi Tower in Tehran
First on the list is a beautiful piece of modern architecture in the capital of Iran: the Azadi Tower. The Azadi Tower is a landmark of Tehran and is a refreshing, and contrasting, sight in the midst of the concrete jungle of Tehran. Standing 45m tall against a backdrop of mountains, surrounded by a green park, photographing the Azadi Tower is an opportunity you don’t want to miss out on.
But don’t just get a postcard like shot of the Azadi Tower from the park, to get a unique shot be sure to get creative with photographing the tower, something that isn’t hard due to the large amount of space around the tower. The lines of the tower make it easier then ever to find new shots from all kinds of angles, from not only below but also above. When you thought you had find all the shots, make your way to the top of the tower, to the viewpoint, and find a whole new angle over not only the Azadi Tower, but also the city.
#2 Golestan Palace in Tehran
While many describe Tehran as a polluted city filled with concrete, there is color to be found anywhere in Iran, so also Tehran. Golestan Palace consists of 17 structures including the most beautiful halls and the reason many photographers decide to visit this palace: the garden. It is not the plants in the garden that make it worthwhile your time, but the stunning mosaic wall with the most beautiful intricate details. With every section of the wall displaying a different piece of art the amount of shots, wide angle or close up, are endless.
While the rest of the palace is worth a visit, many sections and halls have a no photography policy, so instead just soak up the beautiful architecture and history of this over 400 year old palace.
#3 The Rooftops of Kashan
Leave the concrete jungle of Tehran and make your way South to the desert city of Kashan, a small but worthy stop as architecture in Kashan is unlike any other city. The center of the city is filled with traditional houses, and small alleys easy to get lost in if you don’t know you way around. Strolling through the old city of Kashan and getting lost is a worthy activity on its own, but the viewpoints over the city is what makes visiting Kashan truly worthy as a photographer. While there are multiple rooftops to climb one of the most famous is the rooftop of the Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse. With the domes filled with glass used to light the bathhouse, this rooftop is like no other, and has one of the most spectacular views over the city, and the mountains!
#4 The Agha Bozorg Mosque in Kashan
When wandering the streets of Kashan you might run into this beautiful mosque, but better be safe than sorry and to add this to your itinerary. The Agha Bozorg Mosque in one of Kashan’s most beautiful mosques, with its style differing largely from many of the other mosques in Iran. What is most cunning is not only the perfect symmetry of the architecture of the mosque but also how this mosque beautifully demonstrates that less can be more. No walls filled with mosaic patterns and stained glass windows but instead a warm brick combined with intricate details on ceilings and archways. Show up during the golden hours, as this will give the warm brick an even warmer glow, and don’t forget to wander around the mosque to find new and creative angles.
#5 The Shah Mosque in Isfahan
From Kashan make your way down even further South to the city of Isfahan, a city that is know for its architecture. The Shah Mosque, also known as the New Abassi Mosque, is the perfect example of why this city is known for the beautiful architecture. With 7 different colours of mosaic tiles, covering pillars, walls and domes (both inside and out) there is beauty in every single corner of the mosque, and perhaps when you visit you’ll realize why this mosque has a spot on one of the Iranian bills. One could simply spent hours here, as the photo opportunities are simply endless, with new patterns and angles to be discovered every single minute. One tip: don’t forget to look up, some of the most stunning work and shots can be found right above your head, something you could easily miss as it isn’t hard to get lost in the beauty of the mosque.
#6 Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan
In the center of the square, with the Shah Mosque located on the South Side, you can find the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. This square borders some of the most famous and beautiful sights of Isfahan such as the bazaar, Sheikh Loftollah Mosque and the Ali Qapu Palace. Of course, these sights are all worthy of a visit on its own, but the square itself shouldn’t be overlooked. With beautiful fountains and green grass it is no wonder locals choose this place for picnics with good weather. Beautiful views in every direction you look, admire the architecture, the people, the shops, photography opportunities here are endless!
#7 The Jameh Mosque in Isfahan
Last, but definitely not least on the list of photogenic sights in Isfahan is the Jameh Mosque. The Jameh Mosque is one of Iran’s oldest still standing mosques, with the building of the mosque having started as early as the 8th century. The grandiosity of this mosque and the beautiful intricate mosaic work will make this mosque worthwhile your time. Beautiful symmetry can be found not only outside but also inside the mosque allowing for photo opportunities everywhere you look. As with any other mosque in Iran, don’t forget to look up, as the domes often are a architectural treasure on its own.
#8 The Old City of Yazd
Southeast of Isfahan you can find the city of Yazd. Just like Kashan Yazd is home to a beautiful historical city centre, with wind catchers standing tall upon the buildings. Get lost in the narrow streets of Yazd with something new to discover around every corner. The small shops, narrow lanes and the beautiful architecture of the Jameh Mosque and the Amir Chakhmaq Complex all offer great photo opportunities during the golden hours, but around sunset be sure to find your way to a rooftop to see the sun set over this beautiful desert city.
#9 The Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz
After exploring the beautiful desert city of Yazd make your way down South to the last city on this list: Shiraz. While there are many sights to see and explore in Shiraz, there is one that many photographers don’t want to leave of their itinerary: the Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque. The Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque is not the largest, not the oldest, but perhaps the most colourful mosque you will find in Iran. Also known as the Pink Mosque you will find beautiful mosaic coloured tiles on the walls of the mosque, but perhaps the most spectacular is the stained glass windows that form a kaleidoscope of colours when the sun shines through the window.
However, in recent years it seems to be hard to find yourself alone in this mosque, making it a challenge to get your shots here. Showing up right at opening hours is your best chance to have as few people in the mosque as possible. If you are dealing with more then a handful of photographers in the room, try to be respectful of other people taking their photos, so hopefully they will do the same for you.
Perhaps one of Iran’s most famous sights is the beautiful ancient city of Persepolis, another stunning example of Iranian architecture, dating back as far as 500 BCE. Visit Persepolis from the city of Shiraz on a half day or full day trip, to learn ore about Iran’s rich history. However, you might want to set an early alarm for visiting Persepolis, to escape the midday heat and to have the larger part of the sights to admire, and to photograph, to yourself. Find the beauty in the details of the relief sculptures or simply admire the grandiosity of it all by exploring the different parts of what was nce the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire. New angles can be found around every corner, and when you thought you had seen it all, make your way to the viewpoint to see the true magnificence of it all.
Natural Wonders of Iran
#11 The Kaluts in Lut Desert
While the handmade and architectural sights of Iran are truly stunning, the overwhelming amount of beautiful nature shouldn’t be forgotten either. Deserts can be found all over Iran with sand dunes as far as the eye can see, but perhaps the most unique and impressive desert is the Dasht-e Lut, or the Lut Desert. The Lut Desert covers an area of over 50,000 km2 and has some of the most unique sand formations, known as kaluts, standing tall between the endless amount of sand dunes. It is mandatory to hire a guide to explore this region, for your own safety, and while located far out of the major touristic cities of Iran, it could be well worth your effort. There is no better time to explore the desert then during sun rise or sun set, when the sun colours the sand with an ever warmer tone. Due to the grandiosity of the desert photo opportunities here are endless, with new angles and new views to be discovered simply everywhere.
#12 Hormuz Island
From the mainland of Iran travel all the way down South to discover the beauty of the Persian Gulf. Stunning blue beaches the most magical islands and wildlife can all be found in the Persian Gulf, the ideal place for nature and landscape photographers. While the desert and mountains of the mainland Iran are beautiful, there is no place as unique as the small Hormuz Island. Rainbow coloured landscapes, bright red sand beaches combined with blue ocean water create some of the most colourful and bright landscapes you will find in Iran. With the island only being 42km2 it can easily be explored on a day trip from Bandar Abbas. Hire a taxi or rent a motorbike and make your way around the island to find the most beautiful viewpoints and colourful landscapes to photograph before making your way back to the mainland of Iran.
#13 Qeshm Island
Although Hormuz is one of the most beautiful islands of the Persian Gulf, its neighbour, Qeshm Island shouldn’t be forgotten either. Qeshm is home to beautiful valleys, and a rich wildlife including dolphins, birds, coral reefs and turtles that return to the island every year to lay their eggs. Explore the world’s largest salt cave, the deepest valleys, the most one of a kind canyon and the stunning blue ocean for the best shots. With a landscape so distinctive you will find new photo opportunities every 100m or so. While Hormuz can simply be done on a day trip, you might want to take a couple of days on Qeshm Island to explore as this mountainous Island truly is a dream come true for many nature lovers and landscape photographers.
Iran Photography Tips
All of the above mentioned photo locations are just a beginning of the endless amounts of photography opportunities Iran has to offer. With a country as large as Iran there is always another corner to explore, more nature to see and more cities to wander through, but as in any country photography comes with a set of spoken and unspoken rules to be followed. Iran, in such way, is no different then any other country and to make your photography journey through Iran as simple and enjoyable as possible we have gathered some tips:
- Always ask permission before photographing people. While it is often considered common courtesy before taking photos of people, some people prefer to get a more candid shot, however this candid shot might get you into trouble in Iran. But don’t worry many people will come up to you and ask for a photo to be taken or are happy to give you permission to take a photo of them or even with them. Especially try to refrain from photographing women without their permission, or children without their parents’ permission.
- Tripods are often not allowed inside mosques, museums and many other touristic sights. While it won’t get you into major trouble, you often will find a security guard or other employees coming over to tell you to put your tripod away again. The reason for this is that many sights require special permits for professional photographers and tripods are considered professional photography gear in Iran.
Last, but definitely not least, refrain from taking photos of the police, army, government buildings, industrial sights and military sights. While you might find signs, it is better to be safe then sorry as photographing forbidden sights in Iran can get you in a lot of trouble. If you are not sure, just ask; don’t try to take photos secretively, as this might make you look even more suspicious.
To read more about visiting Iran, click through to continue to Odette’s Guide to Travel in Iran.
Have you photographed in Iran or want to ask a question? Feel free to do so in the comments below!
Odette is a travel photographer who loves exploring off the beaten path, and the not so off the beaten path destinations. From exploring the deserts of Iran, to the waterfalls of Bali, no adventure is too wild for Odette. She shares her adventures on her travel blog Omnivagant where she writes detailed guides for her audience so they can pursue the same adventures across the world.