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.
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Today we continue our Morocco tour as we venture into the Sahara Desert for some beautiful photography in this exotic land.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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.
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
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).
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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.
Join us on the 2018 Morocco Tour from Nov 12 – 23! For details and to book your place, please visit the tour page.