Today we start a series of travelogue-style episodes to walk you through my 2018 Morocco Tour & Workshop, which was great, despite the trouble I had getting into the country, that I mentioned in the previous post.
Luckily, the stress of almost losing all of my photography gear to customs officials on entry to Morocco didn’t spoil my trip, although it did leave a nasty taste in my mouth. If you didn’t catch that, check out the previous post in which I issued a Warning to Photographers Traveling to Morroco.
Before we jump into the first travelogue though, here’s a short announcement about my photo editing software of choice…
Capture One Pro 12 Released!
Last week, Phase One released Capture One Pro version 12, and it has some very nice new features. I will be creating some content to walk you through some of this stuff in the coming weeks, but today I just wanted to briefly run through some of the highlights.
Capture One Pro 12 now has even better color, faster performance, more creative control due to the new radial, linear and luma range masks. A more refined user interface that’s even more efficient and intuitive to use and what’s more, Phase One has added the long-awaited ability to develop plug-ins for Capture One, and the implications of that are huge. We can expect to see all sorts of goodies as various companies are now able to get inside Capture One.
I’ve already started playing with the Luma Range Masks on some of my Morocco images, and they are really useful for refining the areas that your mask is applied to. More on that with the first image that we’ll look at in a moment. Performance hasn’t been an issue at all for me, but I can confirm too that version 12 certainly feels more responsive. There’s just no lag as I work on my images. I’m happier than ever to be working with Capture One Pro!
Anyway, I won’t talk about this too much today, as I have some dedicated content coming up. Check out version 12 at www.captureone.com/12 and by all means, download the trial and take it for a spin. I know that you’ll like what you see.
Hassan II Mosque
So, on to Morocco, where we kicked off our tour on the first afternoon in Casablanca, with a shoot of the Hassan II Mosque, as we see in this photo (below). I’ve made this a before and after type image, so that you can grab the vertical bar in the middle of the image and move it left to right to see the difference between my original processing, and the updated processing using Capture One Pro 12’s new Luma Range Mask feature to increase the contrast in the sky.
To create the mask I first created an Adjustment layer and used the gradient tool to fill the top half of the screen from the horizon with a mask, then I hit the new Luma Range button under the Layers palette.
Then using the Luma Range nodes I adjusted the range and the falloff until I had a mask that covered most of the darker areas of the sky, but left the whiter parts of the cloud out of the mask, or only partially masked. I did have to refine the mask to get it clean around the edges of the Mosque and along the horizon, but the selection in the sky all comes from the Luma Range Mask (below).
This gives us much more control over the areas of the photo that we will adjust and results in a more natural looking black and white sky than the old method, where even the whiter parts of the sky became darker as I adjusted the sliders and tone curve etc.
Another very nice touch is that even after you hit the Apply button and close the Luma Range dialog, you can click the Luma Range button in the Layers palette again to reopen and adjust your settings if necessary, so kudos to the Phase One team for their work on this new feature.
For the photo itself, I was using an aperture of f/16 for an 1/8 of a second exposure with ISO 100. I allowed the shutter speed to drop that low so that I would capture just a little bit of movement in the crashing waves in the foreground. I also shot a few frames with two minute shutter speeds to completely smooth over the sea and record some movement in the clouds, but on this occasion I think I prefer this version to the long exposure.
Rainy Day at the Mosque
As we photographed the Hassan II mosque from a distance it started raining, and by the time we had driven over to walk into the square to photograph the mosque in more detail, it had become a pretty substantial shower, so the mosque wasn’t teaming with worshippers as it was last year, but the reflections in the stone floor were beautiful, so we felt relatively fortunate to get a chance to photograph the mosque in the rain.
Here is just one more shot from this first afternoon, as a lady turned, probably to check that I wasn’t photographing her, as she walked across the courtyard (below).
I wasn’t necessarily photographing the woman, but her clothing matched the color of the mosaics on the base of these foreground pillars so I couldn’t resist including her in the shot like this. My settings were f/11 for a 1/40 of a second at ISO 6400.
The following day, we started our drive to Chefchaouen, stopping on the way at the Chellah Necropolis ruins, where I flipped my wildlife photographer switch on for an hour to get a shot of the beautiful White Storks that nest on top of the buildings. In this image (below) you can see that I was able to catch three storks as two of them took flight from the top of the minaret.
I feel that you literally have to switch from one target genre to another when you do wildlife on an otherwise landscape and cultural photography trip. I not only attached my Canon EF 100-400mm Mark II lens to my camera, but I had to switch to AI Servo or Continuous focus mode, and increased my shutter speed to 1/1600 of a second at ISO 640 for this photo. Then it takes a few minutes to make yourself more alert so that you don’t miss the moment when something like this happens. I can assure you that I would not have been fast enough to catch this moment had they done it five minutes earlier, while I was still getting into my wildlife mode.
Mausoleum of Mohammed V
Not far from the ruins, we made a stop at Rabat, the political capital of Morocco, to visit the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the King of Morocco until 1961. This is a photo of one of the guards on each of the four doors to the Mausoleum, and they are usually relatively open to having their photographs taken by the tourists.
These guys are always so well-presented, and I like the contrast between the color of their hats and tunic, and even the laces around the tunic buttons is set off nicely against the red. The blue hat is also separately nicely by the band of white.
My settings for this were f/2 for a 1/800 of a second at ISO 100. I was using my Canon EF 85mm f/1.4 lens and stopped it down just a little for this photograph.
After this, we spent most of the afternoon continuing our drive to Chefchaouen, the blue city, where we would spend the next two nights.
Chefchaouen – The Blue City
Chefchaouen has to be one of the most photographic cities in the world, with house after house painted in a beautiful sky blue color. I’m going to drop the first three photos from here into a gallery for formatting purposes. I’m now using WordPress 5.0 for the blog, with the new Gutenberg editor, and although it’s fun, it will lead to a few formating changes moving forward.
If you look at all three of these images you’ll notice that they all have the signature Chefchaouen blue throughout almost the entire image, but then all have a splash of red, which I think helps to set off the blue even more.
As with last year, I tend to try and work in Aperture Priority in Morocco, and set my aperture according to the scene, and amount of available light, but then I also turn on Auto-ISO, so that the camera has more freedom to do it’s thing, rather than being forced to use a slow shutter speed. In fact I set my minimum target shutter speed to 1/250 of a second, and the camera will only drop below that if the ISO starts to creep up too high.
Push Through the Grain Barrier
My settings for the first image were f/8 for a 1/250 of a second at ISO 4000, and that was with +1 Exposure Compensation dialed in. The second of the three was shot at f/11 for a 1/320 of a second at ISO 1600, with +0.3 stops of Exposure Compensation. The third image was shot at 1/320 of a second at f/11 with + 0.7 stops of Exposure Compensation which gave me an ISO of 6400.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, you don’t see any grain in shots like this even at ISO 6400, because the high ISO has helped me to Expose to the Right, so the image is so bright that grain is not visible. Conversely, if you worry about grain and leave your ISO too low, recording a darker image, you’ll actually see more grain, so you have to push through the grain barrier, as it were.
Winding Steps of Chefchaouen
This next photo shows a typical flight of steps winding their way through this idyllic little town. I chose this particular moment to release the shutter because of the position on the man in the Djellaba part way down the steps (below).
The people of Morocco don’t really like you taking their photo, so quite a lot of the time you end up having to either sneak them into the photo like this or paying for a photo, either of which I don’t really mind doing. For this photo I also used the Keystone correction tools in Capture One Pro to remove some of the distortion caused by the 24 mm wide angle of my Canon EF 24-105mm lens, and that also helped me to remove another door that was creeping into the frame on the left, but I had to crop it off to get this composition. My settings were f/14 for a 1/125 of a second at ISO 2000.
Talking about paying for photos, as we walked through the alleyways of Chefchaouen, we noticed a small gate, through which we could see this idyllic little courtyard. Just moments later a man came out to us and asked for 50 Dirham from each of us for a photo. As you can see, I have the photo, so I obviously paid the man. It’s a beautiful little area and I think it was worth it. Only one other member of my group felt the same way so he made a whopping 100 DIrham from us, and that’s about 10 cents U.S.
You know, many of these people aren’t rich or even well off, and although I am not either, I’m not struggling, so I don’t mind paying for photos here or there.
I did have to think for a while about whether or not I was prepared to pay the gentleman in this next and final photo for today a whole 100 Dirham for his photograph. But once again, I have the photo so you know my decision. He actually was asking 200 Dirham per photo, which is $20 a pop! I wasn’t prepared to pay that, but we talked him down to 100 each. He’d probably have done it for less, but I wasn’t too concerned.
I actually really like the photos. I have another with his face larger in the frame looking head-on, but I think I prefer this, with him looking back at me, a little more spontaneously than the other pose. He was a businessman though, and literally only gave me and the other guy that paid a minute or so each for our photos.
Actually, when my guest had finished photographing him, he asked me for advice on his photo, and when he asked for one more photo to implement my advice, this man asked for another 100 Dirham! We are often generous, but not pushovers, so we got him to pose again for us for free.
My settings here were f/4.5 for a 1/160 of a second at ISO 400. I was using my 85mm portrait lens for this again.
We’ll wrap it up there for this first episode of my 2018 Morocco tour travelogue series. I like to keep each episode to ten images, and that’s our ten. I’ll be back next week with part #2, and some more image from this beautiful country.
By using the B&H Photo gear links in this post you are helping to support the podcast at no extra cost to yourself.
For this week’s post, I’ve produced a video to showcase Morocco, containing fifty-something images from last year’s Tour & Workshop that I ran. As I’m running over time-wise, as is often the case when I create the music too, I’ve put a small version of the video in the Podcast feed, but the full-sized 4K version is below for you to check out.
As usual, the music is a bit rushed, but it should complement the video, so grab a cuppa, turn up your speakers, and sit back for a four-minute tour of Morocco!
You can also view most of these photos at your own pace in my Morocco Portfolio if you are interested.
2018 Morocco Tour
We have actually had a few cancellations for this year’s Morocco Tour & Workshop, so if you might like to join us in November, check out the tour page here: https://mbp.ac/morocco
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.