This week we conclude our travelogue series to walk you through my 2018 Morocco Tour & Workshop, as we finish up our shoot of the camels in the Sahara, then photograph some wonderful characters before ending our trip with the Portuguese Cistern at El Jadida.
In the previous episode we looked at a number of photos of the camel handlers with their turbans blowing in the wind as well as leading their camels through the dunes in the Sahara Desert. To stick to our ten images per post though, we left the last couple of images from this shoot until this week, so let’s jump right in and look at these now.
Camels at Sunset
We’d waited until the sun was on the horizon for our last few shots, of which this is one of my favorites. You can see now why it wasn’t such a bit deal that three tourists had ridden their own camels across the brow of this sand dune, as it was pretty much going to be a silhouette by the time we shot it anyway.
Although I’m not very good in automated shooting modes, because we were sometimes shooting into the sun like this, and other times shooting away from it, I do work hard to get used to using Aperture Priority with Auto-ISO in situations like this, and it leads to some nice silhouettes as the camera darkens down the exposure to avoid blowing out the sunset.
I also set the camera to keep my shutter speed relatively high to avoid camera shake, and to capture the walking camels, so it all came together with a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second at f/13, with the ISO at 200 and a focal length of 97mm.
Rock the Kasbah
As the sun went down, we had the camel handlers walk across this dune a few times, and moved around a little for a slightly different perspective. For this last shot of the camels I went a little higher to include the top of what looks like a Kasbah, although in reality I think it is the lodge that we’d stayed in on the previous night before moving to our luxury tents a few hours before this shoot.
As there was a lot of clear sky above the line of camels in this photograph, I decided to crop it down to a more cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio, which I quite like. The settings for this were a 1/250 of a second at f/13, with an ISO of 640 and a focal length of 97mm. For both of these images I was using my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 Mark II lens.
After spending the night in the Sahara, the following day we drove back through the dunes in our four-wheel drive vehicles, and switched back to our bus to continue our journey.
Man in the Well
Shortly after starting our drive, we stopped for a shoot that I’d been looking forward to since last year. We visited Karim again, the man who poses for us down an irrigation channel with a well hole, through which beautiful light pours for what I think are incredible photographs.
I actually shot most of my images down here in portrait orientation, including this one, but with this I’ve taken it into Photoshop and extended the canvas so that it is a 3:2 aspect ratio in landscape orientation, and then selected the two areas to either side of the original photograph, hit the delete key, and then had Photoshop fill in the sides with Content-Aware Fill. With it being so dark I just had to clean up a few artifacts to get a landscape orientation version, which I really like.
Because it’s so dark down this well I was also looking forward to using my 85mm f/1.4 L lens down here, which I opened up to f/2, so it was letting in two stops more light than my f/4 lens does wide open. This enabled me to capture a brighter image than last year, although my ISO was still at 6400, at 1/20 of a second.
We ended the day at Ouarzazate, where we had a quick shoot of the beautiful fortified town of Aït Benhaddou before heading to our hotel for the night. We went back the following morning, when I shot this image with the warm morning sun bathing the town.
I used a 6 stop neutral density filter for a 2.5 second exposure to make the water in the river smooth over a little, although we hardly notice that in the photograph with the fortified town being so vibrant. I’d set my aperture to f/14 and ISO to 100 with a focal length of 56mm.
Moroccan Man in Window
When we got into the town itself, our guide arranged a few shoots with the local people, starting with this man who we’d photographed with his donkey outside, before going into his house to photograph him in a window like this. It was funny, because the house was mostly very traditional, with the Berber mark above him on the wall and similar authentic artifact, but just above to the right of the frame here, was a huge Gladiator poster in a frame, which had been given to this man as he was an extra in the movie.
Running with my semi-automated shooting modes, the shutter speed was a little higher than necessary here at 1/320 of a second, but I’d opened up the aperture to f/2.2, and these settings gave me an ISO of 2000 at a focal length of 85mm. With all the rustic red shades in this image, one of my favorite parts is the man’s blue turban, which is a nice color contrast against the reds.
I had also been really looking forward to revisiting the gentleman in the next few photographs, as his images were some of my favorites from last year’s trip as well. This is Mr. Jamal Eddine Mohammed who lives in this ancient town and has appeared as an extra in many movies shot here too.
He’s a wonderful character and great looking gentleman to photograph. When I told him that I thought he looked like Sir. Alec Guinness, he smiled and then reeled off a string of other actors names who he’s been told he looks like, and they were pretty much all in there in his rugged good looks.
I framed this up with him directly in front of the dark area of a gateway at the foot of his house, but I used my 85 mm lens opened up to f/2.5 to give me a nice shallow depth of field and some separation between him and the background. This also resulted in a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second and my ISO was at 125.
Inside an Adobe Building
We also went back into the adobe building that we’d photographed Mr. Mohammed in last year as well, and although I have another great shot of him close up, looking up into the light again, here is a wider framed image showing him in his environment, with the dusty Tajine pots lined up along a ledge.
Once again the dark conditions resulted in my ISO going up to 6400, the maximum that I set for my Auto-ISO range, and my shutter speed was then forced down to a 1/20 of a second exposure at f/4, and my focal length was at 35mm.
As I’ve mentioned many times though, it’s better to let your ISO go higher and record a brighter image than to resist the higher ISO resulting in a darker image, because brightening up a dark image introduces more grain than the higher ISO does.
After our shoots at Aït Benhaddou, we continued our journey to Marrakesh, the last place that we’d spend two nights at before heading back to Casablanca via El Jadida.
To be completely honest with you, I’m not a huge fan of Marrakesh. I find the people to be more aggressive than the rest of Morocco, and even just getting out an audio recorder to record the ambient sounds of the market square there instantly resulted in two young men rushing over to hold out their hats for tips.
On the other hand, if you prearrange a shoot with people, as our guide did the morning after we arrived, with a number of the watermen, you can still get some nice shots. For me this year, this image of an aged waterman with a great toothy smile is about the only shot from Marrakesh that has made it to my final selection.
These watermen are fun to shoot, as they are colorful and have a certain showmanship element, although I do wonder if people actually ever drink their water these days, with it being so much more available than it would have been when this quant tradition originally formed.
My settings for this shot were a 1/200 of a second exposure at f/4, and my ISO was at 100 with a focal length of 105mm.
Portuguese Cistern of El Jadida
The following day, we drove over to the coast to a town called El Jadida, for the final real highlight of the tour, which is a visit to the old Portuguese Cistern there, as we can see in the final few images for this series.
I’d negotiated to allow us to take and use one tripod inside the cistern, so with my Arca Swiss standard Really Right Stuff quick release clamp on my tripod, and the fact that many guests had compatible plates and brackets on their cameras, we took my tripod in.
I of course let all the guests that wanted to use it do so for as long as they wanted, so the above image was shot at ISO 5000, as I continued to do most of my shooting handheld. It works fine though, and unless you zoom in to 100% and inspect the shadows you can’t really see any grain. Even printed this would look fine as grain shows up even less in prints.
This is a wonderful rugged environment that I really enjoy photographing. I generally just expose to the point that the highlights in the hole in the roof and the brightly lit area below it are just starting to blow out, and then bring out the shadow detail in post using the Highlights and Shadows sliders in Capture One Pro. My other settings were a 1/40 of a second shutter speed at f/5.6 and a focal length of 45mm.
I made a few more exposures after getting my tripod back to use before we left, and this is one of the resulting images, so at ISO 100, for a ten-second exposure at f/14. It’s hard to tell the difference without really jumping in and inspecting the shadows, but it is a slightly cleaner image.
My focal length was 35mm for this final photo of this travelogue series. After this, we drove for a few more hours up the coast back to Casablanca where we’d started our trip almost two weeks earlier.
By the time we got to our hotel and recorded a comment from each member of the group as you’ll hear in the recording I’d almost completely lost my voice from the cold that I’d caught. It turns out that we’d find from blood tests after I got back to Japan that I had also been infected with some sort of virus and some of the values in the test results later showed one of the doctors that I talked to a week or so ago that I probably should have been hospitalized.
Luckily I made it back to Japan OK, although a little worse for wear, and it took me another ten days and a seven-day course of antibiotics to fully recover, but I did really enjoy this year’s Morocco tour, once I got in after my fiasco with the customs officials on arrival.
Anyway, here is the recording from each of the guests. (Use the player above to listen to the audio.)
To follow up on the comment made by Ken at the start of these comments, it turns out that the Japanese Rugby Team have the nickname The Cherry Blossoms, which Ken had pointed out early in the tour and reminded me of a number of times, often accompanied by copious amounts of laughter from the group. I’m never going to live that down!
A Happy New Year for 2019!
Before we finish I’d like to wish you all a very Happy New Year as 2018 draws to an end, and we start 2019 with hope for a peaceful, safe and fruitful year ahead.
If you buy using the gear links in this post you help to support the podcast at no extra cost to yourself. Thank you!
Today we conclude our Morocco 2017 tour travelogue series, with some beautiful portrait opportunities and a visit to the incredible Portuguese cistern at El Jadida.
On our second morning waking from our luxury tents in the Moroccan Sahara, I ventured back out again with a few early risers to capture the desert once more. This was the area where the grasses had got in the way a little, but the soft light before sunrise helps to outline the form of the sand dunes. Although photographically I wasn’t awestruck by this spot, it’s always nice to be out at dawn, and watching the sunrise to the left of this scene, over the border between Morocco and Algeria, is something that will stay with me.
For this photograph, I was using my 100-400mm lens at 330mm, and my aperture set to f/14, for a shutter speed of 25 seconds at ISO 100. That long shutter speed should be an indication that it was basically still quite dark, around 20 minutes before sunrise. I wasn’t using a neutral density filter or anything, this was just the ambient light level.
Man in the Well
After breakfast, we were sped across the desert in three 4×4 vehicles for an hour back to Erfoud and our tour bus and then continued on our journey to Ouarzazate.
On the way, we stopped at a site where there was a series of wells in an underground irrigation system and were fortunate enough to be able to photograph a gentleman named Karim, who you can see in this next image (left).
Karim here is looking up from the underground tunnel into the mouth of the well. I absolutely love this photo, and it’s become one of my favorites from the trip.
As a photograph, this was just about possible, technically. My ISO was at 6400, and my focal length at 105mm and an aperture of f/4. I have actually now got the new Canon 85mm f/1.4 lens with Image Stabilization and will be releasing a review very soon, but I’d have loved that lens down in this well, for the extra three stops of light that the f/1.4 aperture would have given me, and at this distance, I’d still have around 8 inches of depth of field too.
I also shot a few images including Karim’s feet, but unfortunately, he was wearing regular training shoes, and it didn’t quite match the rest of his clothing, so in this frame, I purposefully cropped off his feet.
After spending the night in Ouarzazate, we visited a beautiful little ighrem, or fortified village called Aït Benhaddou. In this next photograph (below), you can see the village with a bit of a reflection in the shallow river that flows beside the village. This was a 1/30 of a second exposure, so the woman carrying the sack of grain is a little bit blurred, I like the fact that she’s there to add a human element, although quite small and not noticeable at first.
We walked across the river and were hoping to get some photos from a slightly different angle when a tourist drove a car and parked right in front of the village, kind of putting the mockers on our plans, but that’s life. We did a group photo with the village in back, and then walked up into the village.
The moon was still in the sky as a few of us stopped at a cafe for some Moroccan tea, so I put my 100-400mm lens on my camera for this next photograph (below), shortly before the moon hid behind the hill. We actually stopped for tea a little earlier than this, but a huge group of tourists was looking out over the rampart and walking down the track, so I waited until just this one man in a traditional hat was looking out, just before the moon hid.
It’s a little bit touristy, but I quite like this, and of course, the 100-400mm lens, at 360mm, helped to make the moon look nice and big in the frame. My aperture was at f/10 for a 1/400 of a second exposure at ISO 200. I had actually gone back to Manual exposure for this shot, still struggling with exposure compensation in aperture priority. I just don’t like messing around with exposure compensation and prefer to take full control when possible.
Moroccan Man Pouring Tea
After we finished our tea at the cafe, we were treated by more tea in a gentleman’s house, arranged by our wonderful guide. The gentleman you can see in the following photos (below) is Jamal Eddine Mohammed and his ancestors have lived in this building since the 15th or 16th century.
The light from the window to his left, my right, was absolutely stunning, pouring into the room like Rembrandt light, so I was very happy that this gentleman was open to us photographing him. I set my aperture to f/5.6 for the first shot and f/8 for the second, both at ISO6400.
After drinking our tea, we were able to find a nice building across the way with some light coming in through the roof and were able to do another quick session with this gentleman in there too, as you can see in the next photograph (right).
At ISO 6400 my shutter speed was down to 1/60 of a second for this photograph, but it came out great, and none of these photos have any grain in them to speak of. It really is amazing what our cameras can capture these days. Even if we’d been able to set up a shoot like this a few years ago, the camera’s wouldn’t have been able to handle the low light.
These photos along with the man in the well from earlier are some of my favorite photos from the trip, and I can see at least one or two of them making it into my personal top ten favorite images for the year when I go through that exercise in just three or four weeks time now.
After our wonderful experience in Aït Benhaddou, we continued our journey on to Marrakesh, where we ventured into the square for a few hours. A somewhat hectic place, where every street pedlar was trying to get us to buy something, and even just raising your camera had people coming over asking for money, but it was a fun experience.
As a group, we paid some snake charmers to allow us to photograph them, and the most dynamic among them was quickly bitten on his ear, luckily only be a water snake, but it got the rest of the snake charmers laughing. Personally, I didn’t enjoy this, as they were throwing the snakes around and treating them badly, so although I have a few photos, I’m not going to share them.
The following day we spent more time in the morning walking through the markets of Marrakesh. As you can see in this photo (below) there were some beautiful streets, with lovely wooden doors on each of the stores. The man in the store to the left of this scene came rushing out every few seconds to tell us not to photograph him, and it was all that we could do to grab a shot like this before he stuck his head out again.
I do wish people were a little more tolerant of photography. I understand that in many ways, the reason is that people come with cameras, take only photographs and don’t buy from these stores very often, and I wonder how tolerant other countries would be too. As a group though, I think we did our fair share of spending, which all helps to improve the economy, which in turn helps all Moroccans, so I wish people would go a little easier on us with regards to photography. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed this tour, and I am planning to do it again.
Portuguese Cistern at El Jadida
On the final day of shooting, we had a drive back to Casablanca, via the port town of El Jadida, where we visited the beautiful Portuguese Cistern, which you can see in this photo (below). Again shot at ISO 6400, this and the following image do have a little bit of grain in the shadow areas, because I increased the brightness a bit.
My strategy with the exposure was to go a little over on the hole in the ceiling, and then I brought that down with the levels in post, and boosted the shadows by increasing the shadow slider in Capture One Pro to 30, and also increased the shadows a little bit with the Luma Curve. I didn’t want to open the shadows up too much, as that would look unnatural, and increase the grain further.
For this final image from the tour (below), we had our guide stand in the light, which lit him so brightly compared to the surroundings that there’s actually a little bit of a starburst effect coming off his hand when you view the image large.
Still shooting at ISO 6400, I was able to get a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second at f/8. I kind of wished I’d gone to Manual mode and reduced the shutter speed a little more, but I was back to trying to work in Aperture Priority, and kind of messed that up. The photos are fine though, and I really like the feel of this image.
The Cistern was a beautiful place to finish our tour. We walked down to the coast afterward and then went for lunch before the relatively short remaining drive to Casablanca. That evening after dinner, a few of us found ourselves in Rick’s Cafe, which was only built in memory of the movie Casablanca, that was actually filmed at studios in Burbank, California.
Although we had some members of the group that didn’t want to leave a comment in my traditional final recording, I’m going to play you the comments from those that did say something now, before we wrap this up.
[Please listen with the audio player at the top of the post to hear what people said about the trip.]
OK, so thanks for listening for the last four weeks as we’ve followed along with my two-week trip, and a total of 44 images. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
Join us on the 2018 Morocco Tour from Nov 12 – 23! For details and to book your place, please visit the tour page.