Reflecting on Morocco

My tan has already faded, but I still have the photos to remember my holiday in Marrakesh. This was first and foremost a family holiday, so I couldn't abandon my wife and daughter to venture up into the mountains at sunrise, however we chose the destination for its culture and photographic potential and it delivered. 

A side project I am working on to capture my reflection in abstract places

A side project I am working on to capture my reflection in abstract places

I did the usual prep work before going abroad, I picked up a lonely planet guide, I asked fellow photographers that had visited Marrakesh what to do (and what not to do) and did some online research. The best resource was the photographic community, since they had the same agenda as I did, to capture some great images whilst I was there. 

I also made a concerted effort to travel as light as possible. Not for any reason other than to be efficient, and to concentrate on the shot, rather than whether I should change lens! Below is the gear that I took with me, it fits in a hat!

One camera and one lens - probably the lightest I will ever travel! (don't worry, the selfie stickwas in my back pocket!)

One camera and one lens - probably the lightest I will ever travel! (don't worry, the selfie stickwas in my back pocket!)

Out of my comfort zone

Those of you that know me, and have seen my website, will notice a lack of street photography in my portfolio. This is for two reasons, one I would prefer to get natural shots of people rather than posed shots, and in order to get these you have to take photos of people without their consent (or ask afterwards). With this, there is the chance of confrontation and rejection if they say no to having their photo taken. I guess I would get used to this if I did it more often.  

The second reason is that I am not particularly interested in street photography, in the places that I go to on a regular basis, Brighton and London for example. This is not to say that there aren't great opportunities here, but you have to enjoy something to be good at it - so I stick to other genres of photography. 

Then there is street photography in Morocco. This is new territory, and everything is fresh and exciting to my eye. I have seen street images of Morooco before, and having witnessed some incredible photography online, I was expecting some come back with something that I was happy to share.

Street photography in Marrakesh is different to going into the lanes in Brighton, since you can't just go up to an interesting looking character and offer him/her a pound to take their photograph - they will probably look at you a bit weird. However in Morocco their is a typical monetry tip that people will accept to have their photograph taken. It wasn't always that straight forward, sometimes I couldn't give my money away - some people would let you take photos of their shop/produce but were not interested in being in the photos at all. Other times they saw that I had a reasonable camera and started the negotiations way too high (I was asked for £20 to take one man's photo in the market). 

My advice to anyone going there for the first time is to get the camera out, and start off by taking some photos of stuff. People don't mind you taking photos of their produce, in fact they welcome it to get you in to their shop. You will get some shots similar to above, which are nice, but they lack the human element. Then, when you are feeling more confident, pluck up the courage to ask someone if you can take their photograph in exchange for money. I kept a back pocket full of coins, so that I could offer the generally accepted amount without pulling out notes. If they say yes then great, however as I said above, some don't want to have their photograph taken - and I accepted that. 

Now that they have said 'yes'

Ok, so you now have a subject that has said that you can take a photograph of them. This is where knowing how to use your camera, and where all of the buttons are, is going to help you. I had the settings already dialled into my camera for most situations, however the markets have varying lighting conditions. One minute there was backlit smoke with strong contrast, other times you were in a very dark area that was purely lit by some dangling light-bulbs. 

My aim was to get an environmental portrait of everyone that I photographed, showing the subject in their context - what attracted me to them in the first place. Here I needed to balance the amount of the image that would be in focus, showing enough depth of field, but avoid cranking up my ISO so high that it ruined the picture quality. I was also considering the composition, to create interesting images, not just putting my subject in the middle of the frame all the time. 

Additional advice to anyone going there with a camera, is that you have to get stuck in! Below is a photo of the main square (which if you are looking for it on a map is not square!), and this is where the snake charmers and the people with the wild monkeys are. There are also lots of places to eat and places to buy typical touristy items. To see the really interesting things, you have to venture north of this photo where you will find 'areas', each specialising in one thing - such as fabrics. 

You will inevitably get lost, and if you like the look of something then buy/photograph it there and then, as you might not find it again. I spotted a guy in a book shop that would have made a fantastic portrait...but I didn't have my camera on me. I couldn't find him when I went back. 

So, what else is there to do?

I stayed in a resort  that was a short bus journey away from the centre of Marrakesh, and as usual they offered excursions. On our first visit to the centre of Marrakesh we have a guided tour, to get our bearings - then we had the confidence to explore on our own. Marrakesh is not the easiest of places to navigate, roads aren't named and the ones that are difficult to pronounce. We also went on a camel ride in a semi-dessert area. I would have loved to visit the mountains or get some long exposures of the waterfalls, however we were told that these are 3 hour car ride each way, and that is not something that I could do on a family holiday. Maybe next time... 

I think a week there is enough, as the main square is quite intense - especially if you take a child. At one point I was holding my daughter, there was a snake charmer to my left (I had to be careful not to step on a snake) and then a guy with a baby monkey tried to put the monkey on me! You have to be alert all the time, as people will make money from you by giving you something (that you didn't ask for) and then expecting payment afterwards. Just ask any woman that has been there and got a henna. 

The rest 

If you have made it to this point, thank you for reading. Below are some of my other images, including my glorified selfie project, inspired by Vivian Maier. Please leave a comment :-)