Having just completed my first tour of Morocco, today we start a short series of travelogues to walk you through our antics in this wonderful land.
I have to tell you, before visiting Morocco for the first time this year, I wasn’t sure what I’d make of it, but right off the bat, I’m happy to tell you that I’ve pretty much fallen in love with Morocco and her wonderful people. Over the next two to three weeks, I’ll discuss the various aspects of the tour that I enjoyed, and also touch on some of the more challenging aspects of shooting in Morocco, such as the Moroccan tenancy to be a little camera shy, although that didn’t turn out to be as big a problem as I’d anticipated.
With one person having to cancel shortly before the tour started, due to injury, and one other being replaced by his son at the last minute, I ended up with a group of nine photographers, and we traveled with an experienced guide with a poetic turn of phrase that almost had me in tears on numerous occasions. Our bus driver didn’t speak a great deal of English, but he more than made up for it with his kind manner and thankfully incredibly safe driving.
For a first tour, there were a number of teething problems, such as our bus that was although roomy enough for the group, was definitely not the most comfortable bus I’ve used, by any stretch of the imagination, and not being able to see the horizon through the front window from our seats meant that we had more travel sickness than I’ve known on any bus based tour to date. There were a few locations on my itinerary that we’ll be dropping as well, but all in all, I was very happy with this tour, and can’t wait to go back again in 2018, just as soon as we’ve nailed down our dates over the next week or so.
There were also a few locations on my itinerary that we’ll be dropping, but all in all, I was very happy with this tour, and can’t wait to go back again in 2018, and I’m looking forward to locking in on our dates over the next week or so.
We started our tour in Casablanca, with most of the group arriving on the afternoon of October 29. For those that were already in town, from 4 pm we ventured out for the first time and visited a local beach from which we did some long exposure photographs of the Hassan II Mosque, as you can see in this first image for today (below).
Hassan II Mosque
Relatively new, the Hassan II Mosque was completed in 1993 and is the largest mosque in Morocco, and the 13th largest in the world, although its minaret is the largest in the world at 210 meters or 689 feet tall. It may be hard to get a real sense of scale from this photo, but we drove over and walked around the grounds of the mosque shortly after shooting this photograph, and as you can see from this next image, there is some pretty impressive architecture here.
Hassan II Mosque Archway
I’m not really sure what you’d call this. It’s kind of an archway, but then we have the fountain below, with the incredible mosaic patterns that decoration much of the architecture in Morocco.
We would later learn that there is a lot of significance in the number of shapes that make up the circular patterns in the mosaic and the relationship between the various circles etc.
I love how as we can see in this photograph, that people come to the mosque with their families, and the children are playing on their scooters, and we also saw some playing with balls and balloons.
Children are a Symbol of Love
As I walked around the grounds of the mosque, I noticed a man walk up to a little boy playing with a balloon and while holding his face with hands on both cheeks, he gave the boy a great big kiss. I had expected him to then greet his nearby farther or something, but after kissing the boy he simply turned and walked away.
The following day I saw a woman do this to a little girl as we left a site that we’d stopped at, and again, simply walk away from the girl and mother without any conversation. I asked our guide if this was a common thing to do in Morocco, and his reply was simply that “children are a symbol of love.”
This felt so profound to me and was the first thing that he said that would very nearly bring a tear to my eye. I felt a little ashamed that in western culture there is now such a stigma involved in even looking at other peoples’ kids, let along giving them a great big kiss. With my own cultural background, I don’t necessarily want to do this myself either, but I thought it was such a beautiful gesture and poetic turn of phrase on our guide’s part.
Rabat Street Performers
The following day, we headed for Rabat, the capital city of Morocco, where we made our first stop at the Chella Necropolis, at the gates of which we had our first encounter with these typical Moroccan street performers. I was in two minds as to whether to share this photo or not but decided to go ahead to help me to document the trip more than anything else.
Street Performers at Chella Necropolis
We’d see this type of performance a number of times as we traveled, with the performer’s twirling the tassel on their hats in time with their music. Photography-wise, I’m not proud of this shot, but I’d like to note that I made a conscious decision to try to use Aperture Priority with Auto-ISO on this trip, rather the Manual mode, as I knew we’d be working with changing light most of the time, and to be honest, automat exposure of any kind usually frustrates the hell out of me, and I felt that I needed to get over that to a degree, so I was sticking with it.
Man in Fez at Al-Hassan Mosque
After photographing the street performers we walked down to the necropolis, and I shot a number of photos, but nothing really worth sharing.
After this, we drove to the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, which was absolutely stunning, and I shot a number of photographs of the young guards there. Perhaps my favorite photograph from this spot though was of this man in a fez at Al-Hassan Mosque next door (right).
Many Moroccans will wave you off when you raise a camera, or even politely ask if it’s OK to take a photograph, and some will get a little angry, so at this point, as I tried to figure this out, I was still shooting most of my images with people going about their daily business, and they just happened to be placed strategically in my photograph.
I was already photographing this door as the gentleman walked through the scene, but I liked the added touch, especially the splash of red on his fez, and the way his suit matches the color of the paving and almost matches the wall color too.
I had set my camera to use a minimum shutter speed of 1/250 of a second and then increase the ISO while using my selected Aperture. I really dislike using Exposure Compensation, as I’m not used to it, but for this image I had dialed in plus one stop on the Exposure Compensation, to ensure that I got a nice bright image.
Chefchaouen the Blue City
Leaving the Atlantic coast, after this, we headed inland to Chefchaouen, the Blue City. It was dark by the time we got there, so we were shown to our rooms before heading down for dinner in our hotel, then off to bed to try to get a good night’s sleep before walking around the town the following morning.
As we walked through the backstreets of Chefchaouen in the fresh morning air, we’d see people occasionally flit across a pathway, as the lady in this photograph did (below). She’s far enough away to not be recognizable, but generally, as they get closer if you don’t lower your camera, they’ll ask you not to photograph them.
Lady in the Blue City (Chefchaouen)
I like the accent that the lady adds to this photograph though, so I’m pleased that I snapped it before she continued down the stairs. Although you can sometimes get a photo sneakily as the people draw nearer, I generally lowered my camera before they got too close, so as not to upset them. From the protests we heard when the cameras weren’t lowered early enough, it’s pretty obvious that they generally just don’t like to be photographed.
In addition to the blue paint and flower pots that often decorate the walls, shops are also an integral part of the Blue City, so their wares are often interspersed among the general decor, as you can see in this image (below).
Decorated Blue City Walls
The owner of this shop seemed to be a nice fellow, with a smile from ear to ear as we photographed outside. Some shop owners do get frustrated that we didn’t always buy something from them, but by the end of the trip, we’d bought probably more than most groups do, in a bid to help the local economy, not to mention the amount we spent in tips, literally buying photographs, but we’ll talk about that later.
Man Working at Bakery
In this next image, we see a man working in the bakery. He’s not the baker, we were told, rather a man that books time to use the oven, and is contracted to bake break for a number of families. He sounds very much like a baker to me, but he’s not “the” baker.
Our guide bought a loaf of his piping hot bread for us, which was absolutely delicious, straight out of the oven.
Because it was so dark, my camera had hit the 6400 ISO limit that I’d set as the maximum in my Auto-ISO settings and had started to push my shutter speed to a 1/15 of a second with an aperture of f/4.5 for this photograph. It will maintain the minimum of 1/250 of a second only until it reaches the maximum ISO that I set.
Because of this, although I asked the man to put some bread into the oven, and I couldn’t get his to hold a pose while I photographed, this is really one of just a few frames I got that did not suffer a bit too much from subject movement.
I think the new 85mm f/1.4 lens from Canon might be in order for next year’s trip so that I can capitalize on some of these indoor low-light opportunities just a little bit better.
In this next image, I caught another passer-by, as the crossed the top of this flight of blue steps (right).
We heard that when the floor is painted, in addition to the walls, it means there is no through-way, the street leads to a dead-end.
Although the contrast between the shadow side and the fully lit side of this alley is quite harsh, I like this shot because that tiny patch of sky at the top center is almost exactly the same color as the painted masonry.
And again, a number of flower pots have been strategically placed on the sides of the steps. The people of Chefchaouen really do seem to be proud of their beautiful Blue City, and rightly so.
For the next photo (below) I had a quick decision to make. We were photographing at a place where lots of people were walking around, and didn’t want to get in the way, so I decided not to switch to the 11-24mm lens in my pocket, rather I flipped the camera up vertically, and shot tree images handheld and stitched them together in Photoshop to make this image.
Colorful Plant Pots at Chefchaouen
Again, we can see how proud the people of this town are, making it a must-visit location for visitors to Morocco. Expect to have to work around the dislike of having their photo taken, but this doesn’t go for everyone.
Blue Turban Man
Blue Turban Man
As we walked past the young man in this photograph (right) one of our participants asked if it was OK to photograph him, and although the answer was “no problem” my guest assumed that the no would be followed by the usual refusal, and started to continue past.
This gentleman was not only open to having his photograph taken, he was one of the very few that refused a tip in return for us capturing his likeness.
I was conscious to try and line this man up with the blue door behind him as a background, just to clean it up a little, and also because it matches his turban nicely. And I opened up my aperture to f/5, to blur the background too.
I love his expression in this photo, and that he has a catchlight in each of his eyes. On just day three of the tour, I didn’t take him up on his offer to buy a turban, simply because I didn’t think I’d be able to tie it properly, and I didn’t want to hold the group up either.
But having seen our guide help a number of people in the group with their new head-scarves, I think I’ll get something from this guy next year. I’d love to help the local community as much as possible, and I will probably take a print of this photo back for him too, as it’s because one of my favorites.
OK, so that brings us to the end of our first ten photographs for this Morocco Tour travelogue series. As you’ll see in the upcoming episodes, we actually end up getting some portrait opportunities later in the trip that absolutely blew me away, so don’t think that it’s all bad based on some of my comments this week. It turns out that Moroccans can be very photogenic, under the right circumstances.
Join us on the 2018 Morocco Tour from Nov 12 – 23! For details and to book your place, please visit the tour page.
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Music by Martin Bailey
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