By Negin Mirmirani, Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) Reporter
Arg of Karim Khan (or Arge Karim Khan) in Shiraz, Iran is a citadel built during the Zand dynasty of Persia around 1800 CE. It is named after the dynasty's king Karim Khan, who also used it as his residence. (photo by Mahmood Hamidi)
Since 2006, Mahmood Hamidi has been combining his computer skills with his passion for photography to capture stunning 360-degree panoramic images of some of the most beautiful places in the world, including Shiraz; look for them on his website. I recently took a few moments to learn more about Mr. Hamidi and his work.
How did you become a photographer?
Well, actually I am a computer engineer-not a photographer- professionally. But photography is my hobby and takes up most of my spare time. I was interested in photography since I was a child growing up in Tehran, Khorramshahr, and Shiraz, and have been taking pictures as an advanced amateur photographer for 25 years.
What is panoramic photography and how does it work?
Panoramic photography is a technique that uses specialized equipment and software and captures images with elongated fields of view; it is sometimes known as "wide format photography." My images capture a full sphere around the photographer. I use special software to allow the viewer to look in any direction they wish, as though they were standing in the center of the image, looking around.
What drew you to panoramic photography versus other forms of photography?
I have always wanted to find alternative solutions to the limitations of conventional photography and explored computer technologies in combination with photography. The first time I saw a panoramic image I was so excited that I decided to master this technique, which involved a great deal of computer post processing; at same time it solved the limitations of conventional photography that I wanted to overcome.
What are you trying to achieve with your panoramic photography? What would you like people to think or feel as they view your panoramas?
I would like to let other people see the beauty of places that they might not be aware of or do not have the opportunity or ability to visit. I want to share some of the experiences of the places at the same time as I create something beautiful. Both are what drive me.
Your panoramas are primarily in Sweden, where you live, and Shiraz, Iran. Why Shiraz?
My parents were both from Shiraz. So, we used to visit every summer and sometimes during Nowruz holidays as well. I actually lived in Shiraz for a couple of years and still feel bonded to the city and my relatives who live there. The last time I was there, in January, I decided to capture some of the city's many beautiful places and show them to the rest of the world.
Did you face any special challenges working in Iran?
Yes. In Sweden where I do most of my other work you can easily get on the Internet, check the opening hours of a location, get reliable information about how you can get to that place, and read about any possible restrictions you should consider. Basically, you can plan your photo session quite meticulously. Iran is another story.
For example, it took four visits for me to photograph the Nasir ol-Mulk Mosque. The first time, the mosque was closed. The second time, I arrived during daily prayers so photographing was out of the question. The third time, I was able to visit the mosque's inner yard but wasn't allowed to enter the "shabestan" for reasons I never understood. You can imagine the level of my disappointment and frustration. On my fourth visit, I finally got the images I wanted!
What was the biggest surprise working in Shiraz?
I was born in Iran; I speak Persian and look Persian; you'd expect that I'd blend. Yet I attracted more attention in Iran when I set up my tripod and camera than in Europe. I suppose it was mostly curiosity. The most surprising thing was that even though I looked like everybody else and talked like everybody else, I was asked the same question I get in Sweden: "Where are you from?"
How did you manage to capture your images without people in them?!
This can actually be an issue. I do not mind having people in the images but this matter seemed to be a little bit sensitive in Iran, especially if women were present. In panorama photography, you have to turn around in a full circle, even up and down, and take several images one after another. It makes people wonder what in the world I am doing or what it is I am actually interested in photographing in that location! In Shiraz, I had to wait, prepared and ready on the spot, for a "people free" scene wherever possible.
Can you describe the post-photography process? Do you use any computer enhancement techniques?
Post-processing on the computer takes more time than the actual set up and photography process (which takes approximately one hour) because you have to mix different scenes with different lighting conditions to make a full 360x180 degree panorama. Normally, I enhance the images a bit to make them as beautiful as they are in reality.
What would you like to photograph next?
I would love to cover archaeological sites in Iran, like Persepolis, as well as cities such as Isfahan, Yazd, Kerman, Tehran, and especially the many beautiful palaces from the Qajar and Pahlavi eras.
Do you have any advice for aspiring, young photographers?
Go out and photograph, there is no best place, or best equipment!
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