Photographing Magical Morocco:
Tips on shooting better travel photographs in Marrakech
By Kathryn Weir
Whatever your particular personal taste in photography, magical and diverse Morocco has something for everyone. Whether you prefer lively street scenes, sweeping landscape vistas or travel portraiture you are sure to be satisfied with the offering.
The streets of Marrakech with their distinctive blend of French colonial and Arabic cultures offer a veritable smorgasbord of street scene photographic opportunities. The High Atlas and anti Atlas Mountain ranges offer beautiful landscape vistas as does the incredible Sahara desert.
The friendly and approachable people dressed in their distinctive Berber Jellaba make a fine study in travel portraiture. As with all places there are certainly some challenges to photography in Morocco. I have included here some tips below which will make your photographic endeavours less stressful and more productive.
So, whatever your particular interest here are a few tips to help you make the most of your visit and return home with memory cards full of photos you will be happy to show off to your friends. Whilst these tips have been written with Morocco and Marrakech in mind they can certainly be applied to many varied travel destinations you may choose to photograph.
Travel Portrait tips
One challenging and admittedly stressful side to travel photography comes into play when we try to take
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photographs of local people. Many people often ask what the secret to good travel portraiture is and will often comment that they feel too frightened or intimidated to photograph people for fear of making the person angry.
This is a quite valid concern and I do sympathise both the with photographer desperately hoping to get some holiday magic in camera and also with the subject trying to go about their daily business without the somewhat confronting and intrusive act of having a long lens pointed in their direction.
Keeping in mind that Marrakech has become a vibrant and very busy tourist destination many of the locals may be feeling increasingly like they are being placed on display or under a microscope- and highly likely multiple times in any one given day! So before you race up to your next “study” consider how you may feel if you are busily trying to complete your work or tasks for the day and someone kept popping up to photograph you in the process…intimidating alright!
An interesting and efficient by-product of this is that there has sprung up an unofficial “trade” of sorts whereby it has become the accepted practice for tourists / travellers to pay for photo opportunities.
The commonly accepted rate is Dh 10 per “session” where you can offer to pay your chosen subject for a chance to take a few quick snapshots before they resume their daily tasks. Of course some people may not expect payment at all so I found the best way to tackle the situation was to arm myself with a whole pocket of dhirham coins.
When wandering the streets camera slung around my neck, if I saw someone I thought might make a good study, I would lift the camera to about shoulder height but without aiming it at the person- I would offer a big smile and point to the camera with a questioning look on my face and point to them. It generally gets the question across without having to learn the local language.
Look for Subjects
Keep a sharp eye out as you look for potential subjects for their body language and hand signals. Most of the people I came across were very clear in holding a hand up in front of their face, once they saw a camera, even when they were some distance away if they didn’t want to be photographed.
Women will rarely allow their photograph to be taken. It is better to understand and accept that at the outset.
As with all photography patience in portraiture will be rewarded. I often find it is better to establish a rapport with someone before attempting to photograph them. In many instances you will be wandering markets and the colorfully dressed vendors make wonderful subjects.
Why not look at their wares, buy something, smile and make chit chat and they will be much more inclined to allow a photograph of them in front of their beautiful wares. This will undoubtedly afford you a much better memory of your adventure and interaction than random photos of nameless unknown subjects.
One essential piece of knowledge a travel photographer must carry at all times is how to say thank you in the native language. Remember at all times you are the stranger in a strange land and you will get so much further with respect, a big smile and (in Morocco) a pocket full of change.
In summary essential equipment for travel portraiture
• Respect and courtesy
• Pocketful of coins
• An understanding of cultural taboos
Marrakech abounds with opportunities and subject matter for fabulous street photography. Whether you are drawn to the busy souks or enjoy wandering the rustic and charming little alleyways you are sure to find something to catch your eye.
Patience is key again and if you can find yourself a lovely little quiet café or seat on the edge of a busy square you will have a much better opportunity to capture some great candid shots- not to mention enjoying some of the local mint tea whilst you wait. Another added benefit to this approach is that once you are seated and sipping your refreshment you are on a much more even footing with your audience rather than rushing at them with a camera.