Morocco Tour 2018 Travelogue 3 (Podcast 643)

Morocco Tour 2018 Travelogue 3 (Podcast 643)

Today we continue our Morocco tour as we venture into the Sahara Desert for some beautiful photography in this exotic land.

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As I sat down to prepare for this episode, with the memory of Morocco slowly fading into the past, I thought that I could probably wrap this up with today’s ten images, and move on to something else next week. Fortunately for us, photographs are a wonderful thing. I went through my remaining three stars and higher photos, hitting the Q key on my keyboard, as that’s the key I have assigned the shortcut to, to drop the currently selected image into a folder that I’ve specified as my Selects Collection.

Well, even though I was being somewhat selective, a few minutes later I had 49 images in my collection that I still want to talk about, so I guess wrapping this up today is out of the question. I will try to whittle it down to just twenty more images though, so that we can finish this series next week, in the final episode of 2018.

A Five-Stringed Sintir?

The first image that I wanted to talk about, was of the hand of a musician as he plucked away at what I believe is called a Sintir or a Guembri, but these are supposed to have only three strings, and in this photo there are two darker colored strings that seem to be beneath the three main strings. The instrument was obviously hand-made though, so maybe he just added a couple of string to build on the capabilities of a traditional Sintir.

A Five-Stringed Sintir?
A Five-Stringed Sintir?

I left my shutter speed down at 1/125 of a second for this shot, because I wanted to record some of the movement in the hand to show how energetic the playing was. You can hear the instrument being played in the music that I’ll play in the audio as I record this (Listen with the player above).

My other settings for this image were f/5 for a shallow depth of field at ISO 100, with a focal length of 85mm, with my Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens. You know, I was never too concerned about adding the EF mount designation when describing my Canon lenses, but as I now also own and will be talking about the new RF 24-105mm lens, I guess I’d better start making a point of which type of lens I’m referring to.

Moroccan Musicians

The steel castanet type instruments that you can hear and also see in this next image are called karkabou. The Sintir is also a traditional three-stringed Sintir in this shot too, so you can see what the entire instrument looks like. I thought it was nice that the kids are starting to get into what is probably a family business, and you’ll be glad to know, if you think about these things like I do, that it was a Sunday when we visited these musicians, so the kids weren’t being kept out of school to play in this band.

Moroccan Musicians
Moroccan Musicians

It’s a lovely experience to be able to listen to this music and to photograph the musicians at close quarters as well. My settings for this image were 1/320 of a second at f/5.6, ISO 100 with my focal length still at 85 mm.

Moroccan Nomad

Moroccan Nomad
Moroccan Nomad

Later on the same day, we drove to the camp of some nomad people, where I photographed this young man in his black turban. I’ve actually darkened down everything except his eyes, because the eyes are what I really want to draw attention too, but I realize that in doing this I’m creating a somewhat sinister looking character, especially from a western perspective where we tend to associate this kind of headwear and covered face with terrorists.

I don’t want to allow that to stop myself from using this image though, because in the desert, this is really just their way of keeping the heat of the sun of their heads and the sand out of their ears, mouths, and noses.

I also can’t deny that there is a part of me that also just wants to work with the image like this, to fly in the face of common thinking, where this kind of image might cause fear or concern, when the reality is that this is just a kind young nomad sitting for us to photograph him in exchange for a small financial reward.

My settings were a 1/640 of a second shutter speed at ISO 100 with an aperture of f/3.2, again, with my 85mm lens.

Camping in the Dunes

The first night that we spent in the Sahara was in a large lodge, with big rooms, but to get ourselves situated for a camel ride out into the dunes, before we continued to photograph on this day we’d moved to our luxury tents, just far enough from the lodge for us to feel as though we had the Sahara to ourselves.

We spent an hour or so to settle into our tents, before regrouping to mount our camels and then ride deeper into the Sahara looking for a nice spot to photograph the camels with their handlers, as we’ll see in the next few images.

Camel Handler with Camels in Sahara Desert
Camel Handler with Camels in Sahara Desert

This first shot shows our camel handler taking his first walk up into the dunes, making the first footprints, so we wanted to make sure that everyone was ready before we started shooting here. We walked through the strategy and what we were going to do before we asked the camel handler to walk into the dunes. My settings here were a 1/320 of a second at ISO 320 at f/10, and a focal length of 100mm with my Canon EF 24-105mm Mark II lens.

The Brow of the Dune

This next photograph is just moments later, as the camel handler reached the top of the sand dune that I’d asked him to walk up. We had to call out to get him to walk a bit faster because the camels were starting to bunch up, and it looks much better if you can get a little bit of separation between the camels, like this.

Camels Reach the Brow of the Dune
Camels Reach the Brow of the Dune

Although I’m overall quite happy with most aspects of this photo, there is often something, a tiny detail or two in a photo that really appeals to me. In this photo, it’s the sand whipping up along the back edge of the dune that the camels are walking on, and also how the sand is whipping off the brow of the dune in the middle on the far left of the frame.

We were lucky to get a good bit of wind for this shoot, and we used it to good effect in some other photos that we’ll look at shortly, but I do recall pulling sand out of my ears for at least a day after finishing this shoot. My settings for this image were a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second at ISO 320 with an aperture of f/10 at 182mm. I had my 100-400mm Mark II lens on a second body and was switching between them as necessary.

Virgin Sand

Although we had three camel handlers with us, I found that from this first shoot, when we had two of them walk their camels up a dune and then back again, my favorite three images were of the same man with his camels, because he had the least footprints in his shots. The second guy was no longer walking through virgin sand, and the images just don’t look quite as good. They’re usable, but when you’re trying to whittle down a selection, it’s a good reason to move on to the next shot.

Camel Handler in Sahara
Camel Handler in Sahara

Here we see the first camel handler coming back, and I really like how he and his camels are mostly against the dark band of shadow on the dune behind them. I’ve actually darkened down the shadows a little more with the levels and tone curve in Capture One Pro, just to increase the overall contrast and to stop the dunes looking a little washed out. My settings for this were ISO 800 for a 1/250 of a second at f/14, with a focal length of 227mm.

Compacted Elements

One thing to note here is that the use of the 100-400mm lens at 200 millimeters or so really helps to compact the elements in the frame, stacking the distant sand dunes up, making them look like they are much closer than they did in the first shot that I shared from this location. We had hardly moved between these shots, but the distant dunes appear much closer and more importantly larger in this image because I’d changed my focal length from 100 mm to 227 mm.

Waiting for Sunset

From this point for a while, we had some time on our hands as we needed to wait for the sunset, before finishing our shoot. We had the peak of a dune running to the right of the spot you see in these last three images, that we were hoping to have the camels walk along with the sun on the horizon behind them, and we were slightly mortified when three tourists strolled past on their own camels, but they made for a good photo, and from the angle that we were going to shoot, we could live with their footprints.

The other great thing about having a little time on our hands, was that we were able to photograph our three camel handler models relaxing initially, as you can see in this image.

Three Camel Handlers
Three Camel Handlers

Again, I like how the sand is being whipped up along the brow of the sand dune in front of the camel handlers. It’s also a nice illustration of how their headwear is used to also keep the sand out of their ears and mouths, as I’d mentioned earlier. My settings for this image were ISO 320 for a 1/320 of a second at f/10, with a focal length of 400mm.

Turban in the Wind

As I mentioned earlier, we were able to have some fun with the wind, as you can see in this next image. We asked our camel handler models to first take off, then put their turbans back on allowing them to blow in the wind.

Young Moroccan Man Tying Turban
Young Moroccan Man Tying Turban

It was great that the wind was strong enough to get their turbans out almost horizontally, and with these men looking into the sun they have great catchlights in their eyes as well. I have lots of these images, but we’ll just look at a couple of different variations after this. My settings here were ISO 500 for 1/320 of a second at f/10, and a focal length of 263 mm.

The Turban and the Cloud

Perhaps a little bit cliche, but we couldn’t help but ask the camel handler to go to the top of the dune as well, so that we could shoot him against this wonderful big cloud that had formed up there. I can’t help thinking of romantic classics like Lawrence of Arabia when looking at photographs like this.

The Turban and the Cloud
The Turban and the Cloud

The contrast was actually a little bit harsh, but the Shadows slider at 100 in Capture One Pro helped to pull back a lot of light in the face of the man, so I’m pretty happy with this photo. My settings were ISO 250 for 1/320 of a second at f/10, and a focal length of 300 mm.

Cinematic Crop

While we had the opportunity, we asked another of the camel handlers to also go to the top of the dune, and this time photographed him sitting down with his turban blowing in the wind.

Turban in the Wind
Turban in the Wind

This time I decided to crop the image to a 16:9 ratio to give it a more cinematic feel, and that also enabled me to reposition the man towards the top of the frame, which makes him look higher up, with less space above his head. My settings for this image were ISO 400 for a 1/250 of a second at f/10, and a focal length of 400 mm.

Although we used the time that we had waiting for the sunset pretty well, I need to keep you waiting for the sunset now, because that’s our ten images for this episode, so we’ll start part four with some camels in the sunset, as we walk through our final ten images from this year’s Morocco tour and workshop.


Show Notes

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Music by Martin Bailey


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Morocco 2017 Tour Travelogue Part 3 (Podcast 597)

Morocco 2017 Tour Travelogue Part 3 (Podcast 597)

Back from Morocco, we continue our travelogue series today to walk you through the trip, picking up the trail in Erfoud, a beautiful little town on the edge of the Sahara.

Musician in Erfoud

Musician in Erfoud

Erfoud Musician

We’d spent the morning in a local market photographing the people there, like the young man selling scarves, that we saw at the end of part two of this series. We then went for lunch, after which three musicians came into the courtyard where we were to sing for us. We see one of them in this first photograph for today (right).

Although there is an obvious tourist attraction element when these musicians play for us, I actually really enjoy it. Their songs and melodies are a great way to really feel the culture of a place. I shot some video on my iPhone that I’ll include in a slideshow perhaps at some point, but for now, listen to a short excerpt from their song, to hopefully put you in the moment a little better.

[Listen with the audio player at the top of the post to hear the music]

Perhaps the music wasn’t quite what you were expecting from the photo, but hopefully, it gave you a better sense of the atmosphere. This is a typical rhythm too, with the Krakebs, which are a type of metal castanet, making that distinctive sound like a galloping horse.

The light was also somewhat challenging in the courtyard, as there were lots of small holes in the vine above, so I exposed the image to ensure that these spots didn’t blow-out, and then I increased the shadows to around 70 in Capture One Pro to bring back the shadow detail. I find this works better than allowing the highlights to blow-out and then bringing them down, because once the detail is lost in the highlights you end up with just a white spot, regardless of how much you try to recover it.

After lunch, we were met by our 4×4 drivers, and transported into the desert to our camp for the next two nights. The luxury tents weren’t quite as luxurious as they promised to be, although very nice to say we were in the Sahara, and the sand dunes near to our camp were a little bit of an anticlimax. This is one of the problems with a first-visit trip planned on paper, but also the reason why I priced this first tour as I did. 

Sahara Sand Dunes

I had been told that this was a great camp because it wasn’t teaming with tourists, but there is a reason it’s not teaming with tourists. It’s because it’s not very interesting. We took a walk into the dunes behind our camp, and photographed as the sun went down, but the relatively small dunes were scattered with clumps of grass that made them very unphotogenic in my opinion. I would fix that for the following day with some adjustments to our plan, but for now, the following photograph is one of the few images I was somewhat happy with from this shoot (below).

Sahara Dunes

Sahara Dunes

Because the larger scene wasn’t that pretty, and because I often do this anyway, I decided to zoom in capture some details. I shot this at 400mm with my 100-400mm lens, and just showed the layers of sand, with the ripples from the wind, and kind of made a bit of an accent out of one of the clumps of grass that was for me at least, pretty much spoiling the location.

I was in two minds as to whether to go back out at dawn, but it’s not every day you wake up in the Sahara desert, so a few members of the group and I went back out the following morning, using flashlights initially to navigate our way back into the dunes. The soft morning light just about makes this particular scene (below) bearable for me to show you, and hopefully, this will also give you an idea of the scale of the dunes.

Sahara Dunes at Dawn

Sahara Dunes at Dawn

I kind of like the rosy orange color here, and the undulating lines are nice too, but if I didn’t need to show you where we were, I’d probably never show this photograph to anyone. At least at dawn though, the angles where there wasn’t so much grass were a little more photogenic, making the location a little more bearable.

Nomadic Lady

Sahara Nomadic Lady

Sahara Nomadic Lady

After breakfast, I changed our plans and arranged for the 4×4 vehicles to come and take us to a different area, with the promise of better dunes. We adjusted our plans to have some camel handlers in the new area, and set off, initially visiting a nomadic family, where I photographed this lady in the shade of structure next to the main cabin. 

This lady was difficult to photograph, probably somewhat shocked to have a group of photographers turn up on her doorstep in three 4×4 vehicles, it was a nice little stop.

As we’d become conditioned, we paid her a tip for her time, and just as we were about to leave, and the other two cars pulled away, and we were just saying that in Namibia we take more practical supplies to these people, then our driver got out and gave her a case of water and some butter.

Although not always possible, or even necessary, this seemed a much more appropriate way of thanking this lady for her time and cooperation, and I would imagine much more appreciated.

White Turban Musicians

After this, we drove through to a town on the other side of the dunes from where we’d stayed and stopped for a restroom break at a little oasis, where we found some wonderfully charming men to photograph.

To make it easier to format the blog post, I’ve created a tryptic of my favorite three images (below), rather than adding each image individually. I had the gentleman on the left stand in front of the Moroccan flag on the wall, making for a very striking background and wonderful contrast between the red and the white of his turban.

Three Moroccan Musicians

Three Moroccan Musicians

The light was beautiful, with the men in the shade, but a very brightly lit courtyard behind us, so they each have really nice catchlights in their eyes, and the light is much less contrasty than if we’d had them stand in the sun. I opened up my aperture as far as it would go, which is f/4 on my 24-105mm lens, and that gave me just about the shallow depth of field that I was hoping for at this distance. 

Photographer’s Friend Pixel Peeper Mode

Using my app Photographer’s Friend in the new Pixel Peeper mode, I was able to calculate that I had probably around 1cm or 0.35 inches of totally sharp depth of field, and on inspection at 100% on the computer screen, that looks pretty accurate, although you’ll think the depth of field is a little deeper when viewing the web sized images. With the Pixel Peeper mode turned off, Photographer’s Friend reports around 2.5 cm or one inch of depth of field, which is probably closer to what you’ll see here, so I’m pretty pleased with the calculations and having the options to quickly switch now. For more details on the Pixel Peeper mode that I just released last week, see the Photographer’s Friend page here.

Camels in the Sahara

After a long relaxed lunch to burn off the midday sun, we headed back out in the 4×4 vehicles and photographed the oasis, before meeting with our two camel handlers, and actually riding the camels into the desert to photograph them. As you can see (below) on this side, the dunes were much more, well, dune-like, and having the camels and their handler to pose for us made this a great opportunity.

Camels and Handler in Sahara

Camels and Handler in Sahara

The dunes weren’t perfect, especially in the wider view, but I thought this scene was worth spending a few minutes to clean up some of the clumps of grass from the original image, just to polish this a little. I used both my 24-105mm and 100-400mm for this shoot, and for this, I was working with a focal length of 200mm, to isolate the subjects and to compress the elements of the scene a little for a more dramatic look.

Although I directed the shoot, as far as where we stopped, and where the camel handler walked for us, being accustomed to having his photograph taken like this, when there was a pause in the shooting, the camel handler wrapped his headwear around his face, and sat in front of his camels for this next photo (below, left).

Camel Handler with Camels

Camel Handler with Camels

Camel Handler Sitting with Camels

Camel Handler Sitting with Camels

I was thinking it was quite a nice pose, and then he had the front camel sit and he leaned against it, for this second shot (above, right). He also laid down for a third pose, but I prefer these first two images. Both of these were shot around 200mm, and I stopped down the lens to f/11, so that the camels were also relatively sharp. In the shade at this point, that gave me an ISO of 4000, although there’s no grain in the images because I was exposing them with the information over on the right side of the histogram.

This next photograph (below) is one of my favorites from the entire trip, as we had the camel handler walk the camels around and over the brow of a dune to the right of where we were standing. As you can see, there was now a little red in the sky too, as the sun neared the horizon. 

Camel Silhouettes at Sunset

Camel Silhouettes at Sunset

I allowed this image to go to near silhouette, but I decided not to plug up the shadows complete, so you can still see a bit of detail in the animals and this side of the dune. Due to how tightly the camels were tied together, it was actually more difficult than I’d hoped to get a shot where there was separation between all of the camels, but this is one of them, which contributes to my reasons for making this a favorite. I shot this at 35mm, with the aperture set to f/10, and my ISO was at 500 for this image.

Color-wise, this next image is much better, but there isn’t any separation between some of the camels here, and I’m sure you’ll agree that this kind of messes it up a bit. Still, I’m happy with these shots on the whole, and the group was probably the most excited that I’d seen them as we worked this location. You probably can’t tell as this is now almost complete silhouette, but this is a different camel handler, in blue, as opposed to the white clothes of the other handler.

Camels with Saharan Sunset

Camels with Saharan Sunset

OK, so as the sun goes down in the Sahara, we’ll start to wrap it up there for today. I have another 10 shots or so that I’ll share with you in the concluding episode of this travelogue series, probably next week. 

Morocco 2018

Join us on the 2018 Morocco Tour from Nov 12 – 23! For details and to book your place, please visit the tour page.

Morocco Tour & Workshop 2018


Show Notes

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Music by Martin Bailey


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