Today we continue our Morocco Travelogue series as we visit the Chouwara Tanneries, a weaving workshop and some other cultural delights in the ancient city of Fes.
We pick up the trail as we visited the Chouwara Tanneries, which as you can see from the first photo for today, is a hive of activity as various companies share the complex of vats in which the workers are processing their leather (below).
For this image I used my Canon EF 11-24mm lens at 15mm, to include as much of the tannery as possible, just to get a more descriptive overview of the place. Because I was looking down on the complex, there is quite a bit of distortion, even after having removed a bit of it with the Keystone correction tool in Capture One Pro. My other settings were an aperture of f/8 for 1/125 of a second at ISO 125. F/8 is slightly wide for this type of image, but at 15mm that still gives me plenty of depth of field, so it’s fine.
As you can see from this and the next image, the tanneries are a hive of activity, as the workers all go about their daily tasks. Here we see two of them cleaning up the leather hides that they are processing with rather large knives.
I’d switched to my 24-105mm lens for this shot, and zoomed right in to 105 mm to get as much detail as possible this time. I love the texture and grittiness of this place, and for some reason, I’m really attracted to the reflection of a window in the vat close to the top right corner of this image. My settings were f/10 for a 1/125 of a second at ISO 1000.
I shot this next photograph for a couple of reasons. The first being, that it helps us to see the relationship between the men obviously overseeing the workers, and the workers themselves. As the tanneries are a conglomerate, I’m sure there are lots of small groups that work together, sharing the facility, but there is a definite hierarchical structure within each group.
The other reason I shot this is because I was happy to see so many of the workers wearing waders this year. Maybe it’s because it was a little cooler, as this year’s tour was a few weeks later than last year’s, but if this is a new development, it’s great to see. We did still see some people in the dye vats just wearing shorts, like the guy just above the middle of the frame here, and that cannot be good for them. My settings for this photo were once again 105 mm at f/10, 1/125 of a second and this time with an ISO of 500.
Following our theme of visiting local workers and craftsman, later in the day, we visited an old building in which we were able to photograph two weavers making cloth on their looms. It was quite a place to visit, as these people worked mainly by the light from a skylight that we’ll take a look at in a moment, but with such low light, even at 1/50 of a second at f/5.6, I had to crank up my ISO to 6400 to get this photograph (below).
Again, I find the grittiness of this environment and the quality of the light very appealing. These looms are powered by a foot pedal, and and I found it quite peaceful for the only noise in this workshop to be the sound of two man-powered looms rattling away creating their cloth one line of thread at a time.
Weaver’s Workshop Skylight
Here now is what I saw as I looked straight up having taken a few steps back from where I shot the previous image. To maintain the grey in the cloudy sky, I exposed this so that the sky through the skylight was not over-exposed, but that left the rest of the image very dark, so I cranked up the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro to its maximum of 100, so that we can see detail in the pillars and what would be the third floor of this rather run-down building that housed the weavers.
I found it fascinating that these people were working in this building, and also that there was some kind of vine growing up towards the main light source, which is this hole in the roof. My settings were f/5.6 for a 1/200 of a second shutter speed at ISO 100, with a focal length of 11 mm.
Public Bath Furnace
Of course, visiting all of these locations is possible because I hire an amazing guide in Morocco, with lots of contacts, and he knows what we want. I was reminded of this many times on this day in Fes, but one opportunity that really brought this home for me, was when he led us down an alley into a doorway, where we saw this many stoking the fire in a furnace that was heating the water of a public bath.
With the floor being covered with the wood-shavings that the man was feeding the fire with, it’s surprising that this entire building hasn’t gone up in smoke, but I guess they’ve been working this way for centuries, so I am obviously overthinking things.
My settings for this image were f/5.6 for a 1/160 of a second at ISO 2000, and a focal length of 41 mm. Fire can be quite challenging, but as usual, I just exposed this so that the brightest part of the scene, the fire, was just on starting to become over-exposed, then I increased the Highlights slider in Capture One Pro to bring the fire back under control, and increased the Shadows slider to brighten up the rest of the image, which had fallen a little dark as I exposed for the fire.
Man in Mosque
As my group and I aren’t Muslims we are not allowed inside most of the mosques that we see on our travels, but under our guide’s advice, there are a few that we were able to photograph from the doorway, and I quite liked this photograph, which I was able to time to get a man walking across the end of the corridor.
My settings for this photo were f/8 at 1/125 of a second, and ISO 6400, so there is a little bit of grain showing up in the shadow areas of this image. I like the striking red carpet though, the arches, and then the warm glow of the light at the end of the corridor.
This next image has turned out to be one of my favorite shots from the entire trip. Our guide led us down a very narrow alleyway, which at some points was not much wider than shoulder width. My group and I took turns to stand at the end and get a few shots each. I was fortunate that a lady in a red Djellaba appeared at the end of the alleyway just long enough for me to add a striking color contrast to set off the blue and orange color of the alley walls.
I actually like this so much that I released this as my December desktop wallpaper, and currently have it as the desktop background on my computers. My settings for this were f/8 for a 1/20 of a second at ISO 6400, and a focal length of 24mm.
By the nature of touring Morocco in a bus, we inevitably have some pretty substantial drives between our locations, but we generally break these up by stopping for meals at interesting places, among other things. On our way from Fes to Erfoud, we stopped in a small town called Zaida, where I photographed this man with a great characteristic face cooking some vegetable Tajines. The Tajine is a traditional Moroccan dish and can be found in lots of variations at most restaurants.
For this image, I opened up my aperture a little to f/5, for a slightly shallow depth of field, and at ISO 100 that gave me a shutter speed of 1/800 of a second, so you can tell it was a bright sunny day. That’s also what’s responsible for the accentuating the lines on the man’s face, as the sun shone down on him from high in the sky.
Shepherd Near Tillicht
Around two-thirds of the way into our drive from Fes to Erfoud, where we would give up our bus for a few days, and venture into the Sahara in four-wheel drive vehicles, we stopped to photograph this elderly gentleman tending his sheep and goats.
I found it interesting that the mountains and ground we were surrounded by were so arid, and yet there’s snow on the mountains in the distance. There’s also the unfortunate but inevitable contrast of the somewhat traditional Moroccan architecture to the left, and what are probably cell phone towers right next to it. My settings for this photo were f/14 for a 1/160 of a second at ISO 200, and a focal length of 78 mm.
We’ll finish here for today, as that was our tenth image, and we’ll pick up the trail next week, as we head into the Sahara and then continue our journey on to Marrakesh and beyond.
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Just back from my first tour of Morocco, this week we continue our series of travelogues to walk you through our antics in this majestic north-western corner of Africa.
Having just about finished my edit of my photos, I now have around fifty in a collection, so I’ll continue to whittle that down to forty so that we can complete this series in four episodes. We pick up the trail as we leave the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen, and made our way to Fes.
We had lunch near Meknes, outside a barbeque style restaurant, and I recall this as perhaps one of the best meals I had in Morocco. The food was seasoned perfectly for my tastes. As we walked to the bus to continue our journey, I grabbed this photo of a donkey tied up outside another restaurant, waiting patiently for his master to finish his meal (below).
This is more a documentary photo, but I liked the relationship between the donkey and the men eating. Donkeys seem to play an important part in the lives of the Moroccans that live and work in the medinas and small towns. We’d sometimes be walking through an alleyway and have to move to the side to let a donkey through, often carrying huge loads, like gallons of water or gas canisters stacked high.
After this, we continued our journey and stopped at the ruins of a Roman town at Volubilis. I have to admit, this is one of the locations that was recommended to me that I was not very impressed with. If I was a tourist, I’d probably stop by to check it out, but as a photographer, wanting to make beautiful photographs, it probably wasn’t the best use of our time, so we’ll most likely be skipping this next year, and head straight to Fes.
As we were there though, I tried to make something of our visit and found an angle to photograph this archway with the sun poking through a corner in the stone forming a sunburst (below). It’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage site, so I wished I’d found it more interesting, but I don’t think I was the only one that didn’t really appreciate this stop.
Arch of Caracalla
I converted this image to black and white in Capture One Pro, as the sandstone colors didn’t really work for me either. The sunburst is more a product of forcing the sun’s light through a corner, but I did also have the aperture set to f/14, which probably helped somewhat as well, although I’ve done sunburst shots at f/8 in the past.
Colorful Fes Alleyway
We went to a location to enjoy a view of Fes at sundown after this, and then the following morning ventured into the medina, which is over 1200 years old and has around 9,000 alleys, one of which you can see in this next photograph (right).
Again, I’m trying to respect the wishes of the local people to not be photographed, but at a distance, the two women obviously have a heavy presence in this shot. The visual mass of the human form is always somewhat larger than the actual percentage of area that it takes up in the image.
I found this alleyway to be absolutely beautiful though. As I mentioned last week, on this trip I was working in Aperture Priority quite a lot. It was frustrating at first because I’m not used to any automated exposure modes, but as the light changed so much, such as when we shot into a side street alley like this, Aperture Priority and Auto-ISO was pretty helpful once I got used to it.
I had also set my minimum shutter speed to 1/250 of a second, in a bid to freeze any action that might be happening, and was glad for that setting a lot of the time. The downside is that when there isn’t much movement, like in this shot, my ISO still jumped up to 2500 to give me a 1/320 of a second exposure at f/11. Luckily though, even the 5Ds R does great, even with ISOs up to 6400, as long as you expose the image as bright as possible, protecting your highlights, and not letting the shadows plug-up too much.
After this, we made our way over to the tannery, which is a site that perhaps has to be experienced to really grasp the atmosphere. We were given a sprig of mint on our way into a building, then we climbed its stairs to around the fifth floor, to come out on a balcony with the view that you can see in this image (below).
Although I didn’t really find it that bad, apparently the smell was quite strong, so many of the tour participants had their mint sprig in their nostrils as we picked out and composed our photographs. I went wide for this first image to show how the tannery is enveloped in the surrounding buildings, and also to show how many people were working there at any one time.
For this second image from the tannery (below), I zoomed in to capture just one worker, standing in one of the vats with the liquid up past his knees. The content of some of these vats are natural, like the red color from pomegranate skin, but some of them can apparently be a little toxic, although that doesn’t seem to stop the workers from getting in with their bare legs.
Chouara Tannery Worker
The name of the Fes hat comes from the fact that they were made in Fes, and craftsmanship seems to be a big part of the Fes culture. We photographed this man hammering away at his copper pan.
He, and a younger man, possibly an apprentice, put on a bit of a show after this, where they both hammered at the same pan making a nice rhythmical beat. Not a great photo opportunity, but I shot some video of this which may find it’s way into a slideshow of my Morocco work, as time allows.
We continued photographing in the alleys of Fes, and I have a number of other images that I’m happy with. There was some craftsman dying silk made from the agave plant, which is used to make tequila, and we also visited a pottery workshop and watched some of the people there painting the plates, and also creating the incredibly intricate and ornate mosaics that play such a big part in the Moroccan culture.
We also had lunch in a restaurant that was absolutely gorgeous, and yet from outside it was just another sand colored alleyway, which made us think about how deceiving the exteriors of some of the buildings can be.
The following day, we left Fes and wound our way through the Middle Atlas Mountains heading to Erfoud. The locations that we visit are spread out, and some of the days are spent mostly on the bus, although we sometimes made planned stops to give ourselves a chance to stretch our legs. Sometimes though, we just see something that looks interesting so we’d see if it was possible to stop to photograph it, as was the case with this next image (below).
Shepherd with Sheep and Mountain Stream
As we rounded a bend having just crossed a small stream, I noticed the young shepherd in this photograph with his sheep, walking across an expanse of land. That alone would have been nice to photograph, but he was open to walking his sheep back over to the mountain stream so that we could photograph them there instead.
I’m happy with this image, as it shows a man at work in nature, in one of the oldest professions we have, giving it an almost biblical feel. I recall spending a few moments struggling with Aperture Priority here, and quickly jumped back into Manual, as the light was not challenging like it is when one minute you are photographing a light street, then the next minute photographing down a dark alley.
I stayed in Manual as we pulled up to photograph a kasbah, which in this case means a storehouse or keep for farm produce, as the sun shone down into the valley for the last few minutes before it would cast it fully into shadow (below).
I purposefully let the adobe kasbah fall into almost full silhouette, so that you have to work a little to see any detail in the building, but it is there if you look close. I like the layers that this exposure gives us in the mountains with the suns rays creating another layer to the right.
In front of the kasbah, there were two men and a woman working with the corn. As is often the case, the men were actually just sitting around, and the woman was doing most of the work, peeling the outer leaves off the corn and throwing it into a large circular area that they’d made, obviously wanting to dry out the corn to help preserve it for the winter.
We were able to photograph these three people, but I’ve dropped their photographs into a single image as a tryptic (below) to share with you today, as I don’t have much to say about each individual image. The man in the blue turban just sat for us, and the guy in the orange spent most of his time with his hand out, waiting for his tip, which kind of spoils the experience a little, but I quite like the photo.
Three Workers at Kasbah
We can see from the tattoo on the lady’s forehead that she is a Berber, an ethnic group from Northern Africa. They apparently tattooed the girls in the family to stop them from being stolen, or to at least be able to identify them as their own family if they were stolen.
We stayed in a wonderful hotel in Erfoud on this day, before visiting a market the following morning, and had a wander around photographing the people there.
The people selling their wares can be a little tiresome because they will generally continue to walk with you until you either buy something from them, or they see someone else that is perhaps more likely to buy something from them.
The handsome young man in this photograph was particularly persistent, telling me that my wife would love one of his scarves. I have a wider shot of him in which you can see the scarves, and I asked my wife if she’s have liked any of them, and confirmed as I thought that she did not.
So, I made the right decision on this occasion, by giving him some money for his photograph instead. There wasn’t a lot of light in this market, so this was shot at ISO 6400 at f/4.5 with a shutter speed of 1/160 of a second.
As I mentioned last week, as much as I love the new 24-105mm f/4 lens for its versatility, I’m thinking to get the new 85mm f/1.4 IS lens when it comes out, as it will be invaluable for some of this street portraiture in Morocco during next year’s trip, and for other photography as well of course.
We’ll pick up the trail next week as we head into the Sahara for two nights, to photograph our camel handler models, as well as perhaps the best portraits of the trip.
Join us on the 2018 Morocco Tour from Nov 12 – 23! For details and to book your place, please visit the tour page.