Taking Photos in Morocco

Taking photos in Morocco is difficult. Full stop.

There are no anecdotes or great personal experiences with the wonderful people of this country that’ll soften this hard truth (although you’ll get to hear some of them anyway).

In any case, if you’re an adventurous and avid photographer, you’ll agree with me when I say that a trip in which the lives of the people, their customs and the colours of their country are not captured, is a wasted trip.

So, on that note, here are some practical tips that will help make the most of situations in which the camera is not your most welcome companion.

1. Understand the culture.

I know, it’s cliché, but it really truly does work; in Morocco, there is a huge contrast between the warm hospitality and kindness of its people and the little these same people, as a community, dislike having their picture taken.

When you’re strolling through the medinas or markets, or any place for that matter, with your camera in hand looking for that ‘decisive moment’, you’ll notice that the people around you see you from a mile away and will quickly cover their face, turn away or say “no photo”. But the thing to understand is that, this attitude has a lot to do with a perception of privacy embedded in their culture and that dates back more than a thousand years. In the Medina, you might observe that there is not one single balcony: all terraces face inwards, in fact, you won’t even find two doors facing each other.

Once you know this, you start to understand that it’s not a matter of having a bad attitude or the rejection of tourists, but rather something largely cultural and as such, should be respected.

Approaching them, explaining what you are doing, showing them that photography is a form of expression and a way of documenting your travels will show your respect for them and you’ll have less problems going into the places that you want and taking the pictures that you need (for the most part).

Having said this, you’ll be met with situations in which asking permission is not an option. What I mean by this is that you’ll no doubt want to capture scenes of daily life and take some more candid shots. To be able to do this, keep reading.

2. Your Gear.

Now that we have acclimatised ourselves to the culture and the excitement of the place, let’s continue with the more technical aspects: What is the best gear to use for travel photography?

Well, the best camera is the one that you have. But, if you have the luxury of choosing one before you travel, I would recommend something small. Let’s forget about the professional photographer ‘look’ and accept that, nowadays, technology is so advanced that we are going to get great quality in almost anything.

Furthermore, being the adventurous photographers that we are, we are going to want to get our hands a little dirty and be at the heart of all the action, because as Robert Capa used to say, “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”, and to do this we’re going to need something discreet and unimposing.

My gear of choice is Fujifilm. I use an XPRO2 with a couple of fixed lenses and an X100T. In fact, being discreet is so important to me that in my last trip to Morocco almost 90% of my photos were taken with the X100.

I personally like this gear for a number of reasons. Obviously, number one is how compact it is, but aside from that it also has great image quality, the sensor performance is simply brilliant, the lenses are top notch and reasonably priced, not to mention the ‘mechanical’ way in which it operates, with its ring-controlled aperture, ISO and exposure compensation dials, optical viewfinder etc. These mechanical functions are one of its biggest assets.

Why? Because the best way to shoot is the ‘old-school’ way, forgetting about auto-focuses and zooms, which brings me to my next point.

3. The technique.

If there’s one thing that is really overrated in photography, its bokeh or out of focus backgrounds.

For reasons that escape me, it has become commonplace to think that if you have a lens with an f/1.4, f/2 or 2.8 aperture, you always have to use it. That way your photos will have a more professional look and therefore be better.

That’s far from true. When you do this, you forget about other much more important aspects like composition or lighting, in fact, these fast lenses were designed to be used in situations of little light and the out of focus was a consequence of obtaining this goal.

I’m not saying that a portrait with a well-chosen out of focus background is bad, but when talking about documentary or street photography, composition, layers and the famous decisive moment are what count, what help you tell a story and create impact.

No matter what camera you have, the best way not to lose focus is by stepping down and using a manual focus configuration.

Yes, manual; it’s the best way to forget about the autofocus and put an end to having to throw out, or nowadays delete, those fuzzy photos. Plus, using hyperfocals will enable you to take your composition and the speed you shoot at to the next level. And believe me, being the fastest you can be will definitely make all the difference in Morocco. You might still get a couple of “no photo” but for the most part, you’ll be so quick that no one will even notice that you have taken their picture.

What are hyperfocals you ask? It’s the technique used by great masters like Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa or the more contemporary Alex Webb amongst others.

Basically, you have to set your camera to manual with an aperture between f/8 and f/16 using a focal length of 28-35mm in full frame and pre-focus at a distance of 1.5m if you are very close to the scene or 3m if you tend to shoot more open situations. This way, within 7 to10m, depending on the focal length you have chosen and type of sensor you have, everything will be within focus and you’ll be able to concentrate all your attention to composing and shooting without worrying about your camera finding the focus or the bloody time lag between the moment you shoot and the picture is taken. (To know more about the hiperfocal technique click here)

With these 3 ‘tips’, a hunger for adventure and a couple of doses of patience (something we’ll go into on another occasion), you’ll be able to take fantastic photos in Morocco as well as any other place that venture off to.

Desert, morocco

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