Having just recovered from the worst cold of my life, taking more than 10 days to shake, I’m now finally ready to talk about my 2018 Morocco Tour & Workshop, which was great, but I feel that the treatment I received from the customs officials on entering Morocco deserves a post to itself, so we’ll get this out of the way first.
I’d like to issue a strong warning to all photographers traveling to Morocco. When I arrived in Morocco this year, I walked through the customs area and was asked with a smile if I was a photographer. With a similar smile, I replied yes, and I was swiftly taken into the customs office and asked one question. Do your cameras shoot video?
I replied that yes, they do, but that still photography is the main reason for my visit. On this, without any further questions, I was told that I could not bring my camera gear into Morocco and that I had to…
Leave my camera bag at the customs office and pick it up on my way home!
I told them that I was here to do a photography tour, and there was no point in me being in Morocco without my gear, and their reply was that my only other option was to return home. It was either leave your bag or go home. Those were my two choices. Of course, neither of these choices was acceptible, so I stood my ground.
I asked on what grounds they wanted to keep my gear, and after a few relays, they told me that it was because my cameras could shoot video. I, of course, told them that almost every camera that was made in the last ten years can shoot video, and that without doubt, every other person going through their customs gate could also shoot video, but they were free to enter Morocco.
I was told that I need to leave my bag, and go to Rabat, the capital of Morocco and get authorization from the government. I asked for details of what authorization I needed to seek, and from which government body.
All I got was this piece of paper (right) with the words Rabat and Minister of Communication. They would not tell me what type of authorization I needed.
At this point, I called my travel partner for the Morocco tour and asked them to call the Ministry of Communication in Rabat and ask what kind of authorization I needed. They were able to get through to someone and were told that there is no authorization that I can seek.
I later learned that to do any production filming in Morocco, you do need to get authorization from the Ministry of Communication, but that is for shooting movies, short-movies or commercials etc. Otherwise, it is not illegal to shoot video in Morocco.
I imagine that this is what the customs officials were hassling me about, but that was based on one leading question; do my DSLR cameras shoot video? Not, are you here to film a movie or commercial. I was never asked why I had the cameras. Just do they shoot video.
Anyway, at this point, I watched a guy come in and pay the customs officials for a few boxed up iPhones, and although this may have been an official payment, the way they seemed to be bartering on the price made it look like a back-hander to me, otherwise known as a bribe.
I know that customs in some countries work this way, so although I spent forty minutes in India once standing my ground adamant that I would not pay them, it had already been well over an hour that I was trying to get my bag into Morocco, so I asked if they wanted me to make a payment. Luckily, and to their credit, I was told that it was not necessary.
So, I asked to see the manager of the guy that I was talking to. It turns out that this was the guy that had brought me in here in the first place. I decided to go straight for the jugular in this conversation and told him that I was here to do a photography tour, and I could not leave without my bag.
I proceeded to say that if they made me leave my bag, I would walk outside and film a video with my iPhone explaining what had just happened to me and that this would be viral on the Internet within 24 hours.
I pointed out that this would seriously damage Morocco’s photography tourism trade, and I asked if he was ready to take responsibility for that? At this point, he took me to his manager, who took me back into the customs office and asked me to write out a memo stating that I was not entering Morocco to shoot video and sign it. I did this and was let through customs, with my camera bag.
An Unprovoked Attack on a Good-willed Tourist
This whole fiasco took me a few minutes short of two hours, and quite honestly, it felt like I’d been dragged into an alley by some thugs and given a kicking, just for the hell of it. It was cold and totally unprovoked, and quite honestly I’m shocked and amazed that Morocco is carrying out this kind of practice.
Luckily, none of my tour guests were stopped in a similar way, and luckily the other guest that was due to arrive at the same time as me came in on a flight that was also delayed, so he came out around ten minutes after I did, meaning that I didn’t keep anyone waiting.
There were two related incidents though that are a bit of a saving grace for Morocco and her otherwise wonderful people.
When I walked outside the airport to the meeting point, shortly after I met our guide who was there to pick me up, a young Moroccan man came over to me with a concerned look on his face. He had a kind face and was a comfort as I was obviously still very stressed. He asked if anything was wrong and was greatly saddened to hear my elevator speech on what had just happened to me.
He asked me not to lose faith in the Moroccan people, and then disappeared for a minute and came back with a bottle of water and short tube of pringles that he handed to me. I tried to refuse but he wouldn’t let me. This act of kindness brought me back to a state that almost felt normal.
The second thing that happened, not including the amazing 12 days that we spent in Morocco since my arrival, was on the way back through the airport at Casablanca, as I went through security checks.
The guy checking the contents of bags started asking me about my trip. He asked all the places we’d visited, and with all the photography gear I had, he asked if I was a photographer. My heart sank, as the thought of spending another two hours getting out of Morocco with my gear crossed my mind, but then he asked if I’d enjoyed the photography here. When I replied that I had, very much, he smiled and said, “I’m pleased to hear that. I hope you come back and visit us again.”
Honestly, as I was already run down from a cold that had a vicious grip on me as I returned to Japan, I almost burst into tears. It made me so happy to receive a kind comment from a guy in a similar suit to the ones that had accosted me twelve days earlier.
Just Say No!
So, that’s my story, that I didn’t wish for, and wish I didn’t have to tell, about almost losing all of my gear for at least twelve days, although possibly permanently. I have two main messages that I’d like you to take away from this. Firstly, if you are going to Morocco to shoot still photography, and you are asked by customs if your camera shoots video, just say no!
But, I can’t end without saying that Morocco is a beautiful country, with mostly very warm and poetic people. A little camera-shy sometimes, for sure, but I really enjoyed this year’s tour, and I’m still hoping to return at some point. I’m still trying to decide whether or not to run this tour in 2019, partly, but not entirely because of this incident. There are a few other things that I have to consider too, before I can make my final decision.
If you are interested to hear how the tour went, see the next post as I start a series of travelogues to share our journey and some the of beautiful photographs that I came back with this year. If you are not a regular visitor, subscribe to our newsletters to get a reminder when the next post is released. Or visit our subscribe page to see other options, such as subscribing to our Podcast feed.
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
Following on from my selection process episode last week, this week I’m going to tell you a little about each of my personal top ten favorite images from 2017.
We’ll work through my top ten in chronological order, starting from January and working through the year. My first image was a bit of a surprise for me, as I wasn’t all that fond of this image when I first shot it, but it quickly grew on me.
This image (below) is from my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure Tour. Weather permitting, I’ll actually be at this same location just a day or so after releasing this episode, and I can’t wait to get back there. This particular spot is just off the ski slope at Mount Asahi in Hokkaido. A beautiful place to ski as well as to photograph, although we are careful not to get in the way of the skiers.
I shot this at f/14 for a 1/50 of a second, at ISO 100. Pretty much my default settings for when I’m working on a tripod. I think one of the things that prevented me from liking this image initially was that I had to compromise my composition because of foreground objects and the fact that I shot this from the other side of a small brook. I’d ideally wanted to go just a little bit wider and include more snow down in that trough in the center foreground, but that would have meant including some hazard warning poles and something else as well, and I obviously didn’t want to do that.
It’s funny because this is the reverse of how we sometimes find it difficult to remove images from a selection because of the emotional attachment that we generally have for a while after a shoot. In this case, I’d had a slightly negative emotional reaction caused by the fact that I had to compromise my preferred composition, but as that wore off over time, I found myself liking the image for its artistic merit, unhampered by my feelings from when I made the photograph.
Revisit Old Shoots
I’ve found this to be the case when going through images from old shoots too. We finish a shoot with certain expectations. It’s still fresh in our mind and we have a shortlist of images that we think went well, and give preference to finding and processing these images, and tend to skim over other images a little less enthusiastically.
Again though, if you go back and look through your old shoots with fresh eyes if your creativity was engaged, you’ll sometimes find that there are images in your set that are pretty good but you ruled out initially because of your fresh expectations. It’s because of this that I like to set aside some time every so often to look through images from six months to a year ago. It sometimes turns up some pleasant surprises.
Moving On, this image (below) is from my Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido wildlife tours. Specifically from the small fishing town of Rausu on the Shiretoko Peninsula, where we spend three days photographing the sea eagles. This is a White-Tailed Eagle having just caught a fish. In actuality we through the fish into the water, and quite often they are flatfish, which don’t usually swim near the surface, so I like this mostly because it’s a regular looking fish and we can still see the splash of water as well as the reflection of the eagle.
I cropped this down from the top edge to a 16:9 ratio image, mostly because there wasn’t anything interesting at the top, but also because it made it feel more dynamic with movement from left to right being forced into a narrower space. My settings for this were ISO 800 at f/10, with a 1/1000 of a second shutter speed. For more information on my settings and techniques for using long lenses for this kind of fast-paced focusing etc. please take a look at my podcast episode 584.
Next, we go from the wintery sub-zero temperatures of northern Japan to Namibia, when I visited a Himba settlement with my Namibia tour group. Without a doubt, one of my favorite images from the 2017 visit is this young Himba girl that I’d also photographed in 2015. It was amazing to see how she’d grown and was turning gradually into a young woman. I’m really hoping to be able to photograph her again this year when I return.
This Himba are an amazing people with beautiful culture and traditions, so it’s always a pleasure and a privilege to photograph them. I shot this at ISO 5000 inside one of their huts, to get out of the harsh sunlight. I had set my aperture to f/5.6 and my shutter speed to 1/80 of a second.
In my post-processing, I darkened down the background and added a vignette to focus our attention on the face. I exposed the image so that the white of her teeth and eyes were just starting to overexpose, and that helps to keep grain away in the dark areas, even at ISO 5000.
Lone Wildebeest on Plain
I also visited the Etosha National Park in Namibia for my first time in 2017. With a few hundred wildlife images to choose from, I found it difficult to remove many of them from my final selection but felt strongly that this shot of a wildebeest (below) should stay. It’s not a dynamic or powerful shot as such, but something about the stance and calmness of this image really appeals to me.
Lone Wildebeest on Plain
As I also mentioned last week, it was only as I revisited my Namibia wildlife work from this year that I really thought about converting this to black and white. I do a lot of black and white and have done monotone wildlife before too, but for some reason when processing my Namibia work it had never really appealed to me, until last week, when it hit me like a sledgehammer.
As is often the case, removing the color enables us to concentrate more of the form of the subject, and I love the texture and gradation in the mane of this magnificent animal, as well as the way black and white makes the wildebeest stand out so much, almost as though it has been superimposed onto the photograph. My settings for this image were ISO 400 at f/11 for 1/640 of a second. I was using my Canon 100-400mm lens with a 1.4X extender attached for a focal length of 560mm.
Colorful Fes Alleyway
I also ran my first tour in Morocco in 2017, and have absolutely fallen in love with this beautiful land and her people. Many of the places we visited had places where the locals had taken pride in decorating their town, like this beautifully painted alleyway is Fes (below).
Colorful Fes Alleyway
Because the local people don’t like having their photos taken without permission, which they rarely give, sometimes the best way to include people in a shot like this is to capture them while they are still so far away that they’re quite small in the frame, as I did here. This works fine, as it enables me to add a human element, but also leave lots of room for us to see the beautiful colors.
Although it was a clear day, the draped cloths and Moroccan flags cut out enough light that I needed an ISO of 2500 at f/11, for a shutter speed of 1/320 of a second. For much of this tour, with there being quite a lot of street photography, I forced myself to use Aperture Priority and set a minimum shutter speed of 1/250 of a second, so that I could freeze any sudden movement in the subjects when necessary. I could have used a slower shutter speed and ISO here, but there often wasn’t enough time to override my settings or drop back into Manual mode, especially as many of my shots had to be grabbed before the unaware subjects got much closer than this.
Camels and Handler in Sahara
While in Morocco I arranged for a shoot in the Sahara Desert with two camel handlers each with five camels. My group actually rode these camels into the desert, which was an experience unto itself, but it was such a treat to be able to photograph these people with their animals like you see in this image (below).
Camels and Handler in Sahara
I was happy with the location that I asked the camel handlers to stop at, with this beautiful view of the sand dunes as a backdrop. I did clone out a number of patches of vegetation from the distant dunes, to clean this up, but I’m very happy with the results.
I used my 24-105mm lens on one body and my 100-400mm lens on a second body so that I could quickly switch between the two. I don’t mind changing lenses in the desert, despite the dust. In fact, I didn’t expect to use the 100-400mm until we actually started shooting, so I put the lens on to the body while out there. Unless there is a lot of wind, generally you can get away with a lens change, especially if you turn your back to any breeze and shield your camera with your body.
My settings were ISO 800 at f/10 for a 1/250 of a second, at 200mm. Again, I was using Aperture Priority here and was actually getting quite comfortable with it by this point. I continued to use Aperture Priority because as you’ll see a few photos from now when we panned around to the right of this scene, we were shooting into the sun and then later the sunset, and Aperture Priority helped to adjust the exposure as we switched from regular lighting to silhouettes.
Camel Handler with Camels
This next image (below) is another one that sort of grew on me. I was excited when shooting it, and thought it had potential, but I didn’t think for a moment that it was going to make my top ten for the year until I started to go through my Morocco images time and again during the process of whittling down my selection. Every time this image flashed up onto the screen, it brought a smile to my face.
Camel Handler with Camels
I don’t know if it’s the Lawrence of Arabia type appeal, with the camel handler in his headwear, or the way this man carries himself, just sitting in the sand that he’s so familiar with, and his five camels standing patiently behind him. I found Morocco to have a wonderfully romantic and poetic air to it, that moved me quite deeply, and I sense a lot of that in this image, so there was no way I could remove it from my top ten selection.
Again, still using an automated mode, I could have switched to a slower shutter if I’d taken control, but it took a lot of work for me to get used to giving up that control during my Morocco tour, so while it made sense, I stayed in Aperture Priority, and so this image was shot at ISO 4000 at f/11 for 1/320 of a second, at 200mm. No big deal really either. The image is as clean as can be, so I have no regrets.
Camel Silhouettes at Sunset
I tried really hard to remove one of my two camel train images from my top ten as well, but I love both of these shots so much, that they both had to stay. I shot this second camel train image (below) as the sun started to turn the sky firey-red and the wispy clouds were making beautiful patterns in the sky. These natural phenomena were a perfect backdrop for our camel handler as we marched him all over the dunes to get our photographs.
Camel Silhouettes at Sunset
I shot this at ISO 500 at f/10 for 1/320 of a second at 35mm, so a lot wider than the first camel train shot. Because I was now shooting into the bright sky, the Auto-ISO dropped down to 500, keeping my shutter speed at 1/320 because I’d set a minimum shutter speed of 1/250 of a second, and I think I had +0.3 of a stop Exposure Compensation dialed in, which is why the actual shutter speed increased by a third of a stop.
Moroccan Man in Well
As we left the Moroccan Sahara to continue our journey, our wonderful guide had our bus driver pull in to a sandy patch of land with what looked like a series of adobe turrets built at intervals across the land. It turns out that there is an underground irrigation channel with wells inside each of these turret-like structures, and when you go underground through a door in their base, you can actually walk into the underground canal.
We were guided into the tunnel by the man you see in this next image (below) who graciously posed for us, looking up into the light pouring down into the darkness from the mouth of the well.
Moroccan Man (Karim) in Well
Taken a little by surprise at this photographic treat, I lowered my exposure compensation to -2.0 to prevent my camera from making the man’s blue garments over-expose due to the very dark background, and also give to give me a 1/40 of a second shutter speed at f/4 in the very low light, even though my auto-ISO had reached the limit I’d set, which was 6400.
I absolutely love this shot though, and although I’m not really much of a people photographer, I think this and the final image that we’ll look at in a moment are my favorite photographs of my top ten for 2017.
Moroccan Man in Adobe Building
In the final image, we see a proud man that lives in an ancient ighrem or fortified village, called Aït Benhaddou, and his families home was built around the 15th or 16th century. An incredibly generous gentleman, he invited our tour group into his home for tea, and then came with us outside, into a nearby building with an opening in the roof, so that we could photograph him in this amazing light.
Moroccan Man in Adobe Building
Again, because of the low light, I opened up my aperture to f/4, as wide as it goes for my 24-105mm, and still had to shoot this at ISO 6400 for a 1/60 of a second exposure. There’s virtually no grain in the image though, as I exposed it so that the whites were bordering on overexposure, which helps to stop the shadows getting too dark, and it’s the shadow areas that become more problematic if you don’t protect them.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to visit Morocco for the first time last year, and I’m hoping that we’ll get enough people sign up for the 2018 tour to make it possible to visit again. It’s a magical country with beautiful people and a sense of poetry that I honestly wasn’t prepared for.
As I spoke with our guide towards the end of the 2017 tour, he told me that 2018 would be even better, because, in his words, “Morocco is in your eyes now”. This might not seem very special, but it’s this sort of turn of phrase and philosophy that can reel me in and make me love a country and her people like nothing else.
Share Your Own Work
There was a great response to my call for you to share your work at the end of last week’s episode, in which I discussed my selection and editing process for this top ten. I’d like to invite those of you that have not yet posted a link to take a moment to share your own top ten in the comments for this post (below).
If you haven’t selected your own top ten, I really do recommend setting some time aside to do this. It helps to hone various skills that help us to become better photographers, as well as enabling us to put a stake in the ground at the end of each year, and that builds into a great visual record of our progress as we continue on this wonderful journey of our, into 2018 and beyond.
As 2017 drew to an end, I completed my yearly exercise of selecting my personal favorite top ten images from the year, and as has become a tradition, I’m going to share my process with you today.
As usual, I started this exercise by creating a Group in the Library area of my Capture One Pro catalog called “2017 Top Ten”, and then created an album initially called “First Pass” and made that my Selects Collection, so that I can just hit the shortcut I’ve defined, in my case the “Q” key, to add images to my collection. Because I have all of the images I felt were worth a hoot in my 2017 folder in my Finals catalog, it’s easy to go through and select images that I’d like to consider to my First Pass folder.
I like to do this each year because it helps us to be objective as we evaluate our images, making us better at editing down a selection. If we keep in mind that all images in my 2017 folder are there because I like them, it’s actually really easy to just want to drop them all into my First Pass folder, but then I’d just be duplicating my 2017 folder. I know that I have to whittle this down to just ten images, so you start to think about whether or not each image has a chance of staying in the selection even before you hit the shortcut key.
A Productive 2017
By doing one more tour than previous years, I actually finished 2017 with 1,052 images in my Finals folder. Also, having switched to Capture One Pro in June 2016, 2017 was the first year that I processed the entire year exclusively in Capture One Pro, which means that there are now very few images in my finals folder that represent a base raw image that I worked on with a plugin.
When I work on an image in Photoshop or in the past the Nik Collection, I used to save both the original raw file and the edited TIFF or PSD in my Finals folder. In 2016 for example, 78 of my 928 Final selects were duplicates, because I saved both a TIFF and my original raw files, from the first half of the year, before I switched to Capture One Pro. By comparison, this year I have just 8 TIFFs and one PSD file, so 1,043 images are original, meaning that I have approximately 200 more original images to choose from over the previous year.
I’d like to think that the quality of the work is still increasing gradually too, and this is something that this process helps me to keep tabs on. I also feel that for sure, looking through a full year of Capture One Pro images that Capture One has helped me to raise the bar again image quality-wise. I’m still very happy with my decision to switch from Lightroom and have no intention of switching to any other raw processing software for at least the foreseeable future.
I still have all of my top ten selections as Collections in my Finals catalog, so I can easily go back and review previous years, and it’s always fun to do that, just too see how you’re doing. It’s also interesting to see how my tastes have changed over the years. There are some images that I see in old top ten sets that I wouldn’t include now, even though they may still have merit as a photograph. They just don’t appeal to me like they did when I initially selected them to represent my year’s work.
I also found that work from my Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours is finding its way into my short list much less often. I guess this is a luxury I’m afforded by the fact that I’ve now visited these locations so many times that I’ve pretty much shot everything in previous years, and anything that I add to my list at this point really has to exceed my previous work. That’s partly why I still love going, because I’m constantly challenging myself to better my old work, but that gets more and more difficult each year, especially as I have no control over the conditions and what the animals might do in those conditions.
For example I found myself only selecting a couple of Steller’s Sea Eagle shots in which I’d captured something that I’d not seen or shot before. My Snow Monkey shots were really difficult too, because I didn’t really have anything so special that I felt compelled to drop it into even my first pass.
I also surprised myself a little with a powerful realization that a lot of my wildlife work from Etosha National Park in Namibia was screaming out to be converted to black and white. I had always thought of that work in color, but when I went back through my images during this exercise I felt that the color in some images was getting in the way, so I converted it to black and white. This worked mostly with my zebra shots, which are already black and white animals, but I found some of the wildebeest shots worked well in black and white as well.
After spending a few hours going through my 1000+ images, I had a collection of 97 images, so just under 10% of my images. I guess one in ten from my final selections for the year isn’t too bad. I could have been more brutal, but this was a good start. I also at this point found myself being hit by a deep sense of gratitude to have been able to visit the locations I have in my work. I’ve included here (below) a screenshot showing my initial selection, and it humbles me to see what I’ve been able to photograph this year.
First Pass 2017 Top Ten
To start my second pass, I created another album and added the 97 images from my first pass. I could just continue to whittle down my first selection, but I like to keep tabs on what I selected and how I whittled it down, by keeping my working collections. Once inside my Second Pass album, it’s now a case of hitting delete to remove images from the collection, instead of adding them, as I did on the first pass.
Although it helps to select similar images and identify the best of each group, I find that on my second pass, it’s often easy to remove a chunk of other images now that I have a holistic view of my selection just by going through and feeling my reaction to the images. I start to instinctively know that some images just aren’t going to make it, especially when I consider that I have to remove another 9 out of 10 images. It’s just easier to do this having just gone through the images.
It only took me five minutes to go through and remove another 46 images, getting me down to 51 at the end of my second pass.
Second Pass 2017 Top Ten
So, with another 4 out of 5 to remove, I copied my selection again, to a collection named third pass, and quickly removed another 22 images, but then I was stuck. I was down to 24 images that I absolutely wanted to leave in. This is when it starts to get difficult.
Third Pass 2017 Top Ten
Still having to more than half my selection, the obvious place to look at is the three camel shots. I definitely wanted to keep the photo of the camel handler with his animals against the dunes, and perhaps one of the sunset shots, so I removed the one with the camels bunched up a bit, as I prefer the spacing of the shot with the sunset just in the bottom left corner.
I also don’t need three zebra shots, so I looked at all three together and initially removed the color shot, and continued to deliberate over which of the two black and white shots to keep. I also removed the Namibia silhouette shot from the Quiver Tree Forest. I like that shot a lot but I have to start making some hard choices.
I really like the shot with the cranes in the mist too, but I’ve had a number of those over the years, so that’s gone. I also removed the shot of the Lioness looking out across the plain, as although I love that shot, it’s not as impactful for someone that wasn’t there to look at.
Cutting the Emotional Connection
I then realized that I still had eleven shots from Morocco, and that has to be partly because this is my most recent work, so there is still a strong emotional connection, that is probably preventing me from getting ruthless. As I’ve mentioned in previous years, this is a good illustration of the importance of giving yourself some time to live with your work before making important editing decisions. It’s much harder to cut the chord until you have some time between the shoot and when you edit your selection.
I removed the blue city shot, as I don’t feel it’s as strong as my emotional attachment makes me feel. I removed the other zebra shot, leaving just one, with the zebras at the waterhole. Still having 7 images to remove, I deleted the Namibia dunes with the stormy sky shot, because there is a line of ground in the bottom right foreground that annoys me.
Having three closeup portraits from Namibia I decided to remove the man in the blue turban, and the man with the dark red background. This was a hard decision, but at this point, I’m shooting children. If it comes to this, I guess my mostly orange dune shot from Namibia has to go too.
Down to thirteen, I decided to use my secret weapon; my wife. She’s my trusted critique and although she’s not a photographer, she has a good eye and sense of the aesthetic, so I loaded my selection onto my iPad Pro and went downstairs to solicit her advice. We don’t always agree on the selection, but I trust her opinion more than my own sometimes, and it’s usually the best way forward I find.
For example, I recently shared my Morocco work on Instagram and found that of the two photographs of the camel handlers in the dunes that were still left in my selection, the one with the red of the sunset in the bottom left hand corner got significantly more likes than the one with the dunes in the background. And, as you might imagine, my wife chose the sunset shot over the dunes shot. Personally, I could go either way on this. I think there is a classical appeal in the dunes and camels shot, and but the sunset shot has more impact.
Now, I want to stress that Instagram Likes are not important to me from an ego perspective, but when trying to make a decision as to what to leave in, it can be a good indicator to bear in mind. It’s good information. But, it’s my own personal favorite top ten, so I started to deliberate as to whether or not I should simply leave in both camel train shots. They are different enough for that to be OK, but what else could I remove?
We also decided to remove the photo of the Mosque, because although I like it a lot, I find the fact that the rest of the town around the mosque is a little messy sort of reduces my overall satisfaction with the photo, so that was removed. Also, the young musician from the oasis in Morocco is a nice shot, but it’s not as artistic as the other portraits, so we removed that too.
Two Day Contemplation
I started this exercise on Friday the 29th of December and actually sat on the final decision for two days. Sometimes a bit of time is necessary to enable that last decision, but sometimes, especially if you are a working photographer, you don’t always have time. Sometimes we have to whittle down our selections quickly, and that is why I find this exercise so useful, especially if you don’t do tight edits of your work regularly. This gets you accustomed to making tough decisions.
I had the luxury this time of spending a few more days and decided to keep both camel train shots and remove the black and white zebra shot. Although I like that image, especially now it’s black and white, it’s easier to cut from the selection as I can’t believe it’s better than either of my camel train shots, so it’s gone.
The Final Ten
With that, we now have my final Top Ten selection for 2017. It’s a bit Morocco-heavy, with 6 out of the 10 images from there, but I think that’s really only natural as it was my first visit to Morocco, and I have many images that are new and fresh to me. Of course, part of this is also because Morocco was only just over a month ago, but I have tried to be objective, and base my decisions on the artistic merit of each image, rather than the fact that the memory of the trip is still fresh in my mind. This is another thing that I believe doing this exercise helps with.
2017 Top Ten Final Selection
I’ll talk about each image in next week’s Podcast and blog post, so please tune in for that as well, if you’d like to hear a little more about each of them.
Your Top Ten
As usual, I also invite you to decide on your own Top Ten images for 2017. Don’t make it more if at all possible. Twelve is a nice number, matching the months of the year, and it’s your choice of course, but what you need to avoid is starting out looking for ten, then increasing it to twelve or fifteen, because you find it difficult to whittle down your selection. This is supposed to be difficult, or there isn’t much benefit in doing it.
Also, try to be objective. Don’t keep a shot of grandmother or your cat in your top ten unless it’s an absolutely beautiful photo with great light etc. I’m using grandmothers and cats as a generic example of course. The point is, your family are special to you, but not to anyone else unless it’s a beautiful image, so please do try to be objective and make some difficult decisions.
Share Your Work!
And then when you’ve completed this task, please do share a link in the comments of the blog post. Some of you have been doing this every year, and I always look forward to seeing your selections, and I absolutely welcome any newcomers too. Try to keep a record of your selections if possible. This enables you to go back and compare your work to previous years over time, and that helps you to check that you are getting better each year. I have all of my previous top ten selections in Capture One Pro still, and they are all available to see as blog posts too.
Of course, there will be years when you’ll visit somewhere amazing, and produce work that stands out more than other work, but remember, that helps us to ratchet up as photographers. It’s important to learn from the highlights and not become bogged down by the feeling that other work closer to home can feel a little mundane. I talked about this in my Evolution of the Photographer post back in 2014.
So, I look forward to seeing your selections, and a Happ New Year to you. I hope 2018 brings everything you hope for and more.
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.