Shooting in the Middle East with Hanif Shoaei

One day we received an email from someone looking for photographic accessories in Beijing. After a few exchanges we came to view his work, which is very compelling and powerful. Hanif Shoaei is a young photographer who has put himself at risk to capture important events in Iran and Afghanistan, and has been published widely. This could possibly be one of the best interviews we have done, as Hanif delves deeply in the answers. Be sure to check out the links listed below, as well as his photoblog. And also click here to vote for his photoblog at Cool Photoblogs. It’s definitely worthy.


Name: Hanif Shoaei

Hometown: Tehran, Iran

Tell us about yourself:

I work in the present time as a photo editor in one of Iranian magazines and also as a photographer with Persian part of “Deutsche Welle”. I usually take photos everyday and beside my usual and routine job I take photos from simple subjects I found around me and in my everyday lift on a daily basis. I have also a photo blog that has been updated daily from the very beginning up to the present day.

© Hanif Shoaei

How did you get started?

I was born in July 23rd 1987 in Tehran. As far as I remember, the first time I took a camera in hand to take photos I was just a little child and did not understand correctly what does mean to take a photo. In fact that was my mother’s camera and that act was more like a game for me. As I grew older and saw more photos, I understood that a photo is much more than what I imagined as a child and that it can affect the world. Iranian presidential election in 2005 was an important occurrence in the Middle East and even in the world. Following the photos of this occurrence made me interested in photography and as a result I took myself a camera in hand later. Naturally I had no correct definition of different branches of photography in mind as I began to take photos and I used to try each one at a time. Sometimes nature, sometimes the night sky and sometimes architecture was the goal of my photography. But as soon as I discovered the social documentary photography, I made a pause and found this genre my real area of interest and concern. At the present time I see myself mostly near to the social documentary field and photojournalism.

© Hanif Shoaei

Favorite camera and lens? Why?

My favorite camera is the one that I use now (and it is a Cannon 5D, Mk II). Because it gives you more lively colors compared to the other Cannon models I used up to now and also in the low lights and high ISO gives very plausible results. I like the prime 50mm (F 1.4) lens mostly among my lenses. This lens has sometimes wonderful results because of its very low depth of field it gives to the photographer. However for the social documentary genre I find the 24 – 70 lens the most practical.

© Hanif Shoaei

If you could shoot anywhere/anyone/anything, what would it be?

One of my dreams which I think is not far from reality is to travel to the six continents of the world and to visit how the people live in different areas of the world. The most pleasurable imagination I could ever have now is to see cultures and cults of people all over the world. Moreover I wish I could show the pain under which many people suffer and my photos could make the world concentrate on these sufferings and also to find a solution for that is among my important concerns.

© Hanif Shoaei

What’s your shooting style?

Honestly, if I should answer this question, I shall say I have not reached a personal style in photography yet.

What’s your favorite photo? Why?

It is unjust if I want to choose just one of all photos I have seen so far. But the first one that comes to my mind is the famous portrait taken by Steve McCurry from an afghan girl.

What’s your most memorable shooting gig?

Taking photos from children has been always pleasurable.

© Hanif Shoaei

What was your experience shooting the 2009 Iranian Presidential election?

The 2009 election and specially the objections and demonstrations after declaration of results were very important occurrences. In Iran it is difficult for photographers to work in normal conditions, let alone you are supposed to take photos from a street riot. Both police officers and the demonstrators themselves may have problem with that. So you should just satisfy people, because you can not satisfy a police officer or a security guard. Many Iranian Photographers has been captured and went to prison during these occurrences and many being afraid of being captured escaped secretly to Europe and America. Under the circumstances which made it difficult for professional photographers and journalists to work, people or citizen-journalists took the responsibility with their cell phone cameras, and the world has seen that the most news were made in this way by unknown people. After that I made the experience that photographer must rapidly start and do their job and not to wait much for better photos in such circumstances, because you can lose the photos you have already with you in this way. Generally photographer’s intelligence is what matter the most, and that he should decide when to take and when not to take photos.

© Hanif Shoaei

What and why were you shooting in Afghanistan? What was your experience?

The presidential election in Afghanistan was an excuse to think of travelling to this country to see this neighbor of Iran more closely. We have a common language with them and we both used to be parts of a country years ago. So we have also culturally much in common. To work there as a photographer was much easier compared to the situation in Iran. Having special conditions Afghanistan has more contact with foreigners, and as a result of the presence of the many photographers and journalists in recent years people are familiar with that and they do not find it strange anymore.

© Hanif Shoaei

Who is your favorite photographer? Why?

I sympathize to a great extent with photos by Reza Deghati and Steve McCurry and I like those years very much. Because I think ideally I can consider myself in there shoes in some years.

What does the future hold for you?

I would like to be a photographer for the National Geographic and to travel all countries of the world.

See Hanif’s work here: – Here you can visit my galleries which I hope to complete in future – Here you can take a glance on my daily photoblog.

News publications: The GuardianLe QuotidienDenver PostUSA TodayThe GuardianUPI

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