Mystical Marrakech and beyond.

I’ve been lucky enough to do a fair bit of travelling over the years.  Unfortunately much of this was before the photography bug had bitten me.  Anyway, having planned a surprise birthday treat for my daughter i figured that this would also be a fab opportunity to try my hand at a little travel photography.

I’d visited Morocco some 15+ years ago and had many fond memories of the culture, people and lifestyle of this amazing country.  The sights, smells & tastes of the spice markets & street food were a bewildering attack on all of your senses and i was excited to experience these again, with my daughter, and this time with my camera in hand.

I was also keen to pay a little attention to the amazing architecture that still exists in this country, some of which has not changed its appearance for hundreds of years.  From the mystical medina of Marrakech’s old town to the long abandoned Casbah’s on the edge of the Sahara desert there was certainly plenty to capture our attention.

For the trip i travelled light from a photographers point of view, with just 2 Fuji XT-1’s and a small selection of prime & zoom lens’. The cameras were amazing to work with, especially in the tight confines of the Souks.  I was able to work relatively unnoticed and if you’ve ever been to Marrakech you’ll know how difficult it can sometimes be photographing on the streets.  Many people dont like having their photograph taken and those that do often come asking for money for the privilege.

Marrakech itself is a city that is full of life, it never seems to sleep.  That said, it’s at night that it seems its liveliest.  We travelled in July and, true to our expectations, the heat of the day was pretty much unbearable, hence the reason many stay indoors during the day and emerge at night when the temperature had dropped a little.  Talking of the temperature, towards the end of our stay the temp was 45 degrees Celsius and with the heat index of the stiff Saharan wind this felt more like 49 degrees celsius.   Anyway, the buzz of the Medina at night, especially on the Jemaa El-Fnaa is a must for any traveller to Morocco but watch out for the Snakes & Monkeys!!

So, enough of the blurb heres a selection of images from our trip which includes Marrakech and our excursion through the High Atlas Mountains to the edge of the Sahara Desert to visit the ancient Casbah’s of Telouet and Ait Ben-Haddou.

Moroccan Flag.

The Moroccan Flag. The green pentagram represents the 5 Pillars of Islam.

With Snake charmers, Monkeys, food & entertainers the square of Jemaa El-Fnaa (square of the dead) is a full-on sensory overload but certainly a must see!!  The Koutoubia Mosque, the largest in Africa, sits close by to the west of the square and if the towering minaret doesn’t grab your attention the call to prayer certainly will.  Views of all the activity are best viewed from one of the many cafes that offer roof top terraces and one of my favs was the Le Grande Balcon Du Cafe which offered panoramic views and there most amazing spot for capturing the sunset, but get there early to secure your space.

Morocco, Marrakech, Jemaa El-Fnaa, Sign

The tanneries are somewhat of an experience and if your a little sensitive to strong odours then maybe its not for you.  But, if you do visit you’ll be given a bunch of mint leaves to ward off the smells a little and a whistle stop tour finishing of being taken to see the “finished products” AKA the leather shop.  Here you will experience the most amazing display of leather goods but also the most amazing level of pressure sales you’ll probably ever come across.  Don’t be forced into buying if you dont want anything but if you do, be sure to bargain hard and firm.

Morocco LR-5888

The tropical gardens, Jardin Marjorelle, offer some respite from the madness of Jemaa El-Fnaa with their abundant collection of exotic Cactus and other plants & palms set around the deep blue of the buildings that were once an artists studio.  Until 2008 the gardens were owned by the designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Jardin Majorelle Marrakech

The alleyways of the souks are a maze and getting lost is all part of the fun.  Almost anything is on sale from skins to bones and treasures to tatt.  If you can’t find it in there then i dont think it exists. Be prepared to haggle and walk away if you dont get the price you like, very often they will chase you and agree to your offer.  Their sales patter/technique can sometimes appear aggressive but dont let that stop you bargaining.  Also watch out for the ‘ever helpful’ guides – young males who seem to be everywhere to help guide the lost looking tourist.  As we found out they can, and will, lead you the wrong way, or the long way (but not always though) and expect a little payment at the end. Having already visited the Souks of Fez one thing i did notice in the Souks of Marrakech was the abundance of mopeds.  The booming things were everywhere, even in the most crowded of places they were intent on pushing their way through and on the quieter alleyways they seemed to travel at some speed so do watch out for them.  It’s something that i do not recall being an issue in Fez.

Medina & Souk, Marrakech, Morocco.

The Palais La Bahia, Palais El Badi and the Medersa Ben Youssef each display fine examples of Moroccan architecture from the ages.  With intricate mosaics, carved cedar wood and the finest moulded plaster walls that any modern day architect would find difficult to emulate.  Listen for the Storks nesting on the walls of the Palais El Badi, they make the strangest noise at dawn & dusk.

Morocco, Marrakech travel photography by Rob Ferrol

We ventured out to the edges of there Sahara desert passing through the high Altas mountains, along twisting roads and the Tizi n’Tichka, the highest mountain pass in North Africa, to the Casbah’s of Telouete and Ait Ben-Haddou, the latter of which has been the backdrop of many films including The Mummy, Gladiator and the more recent The Game of thrones.  Although we didn’t make it to the Sandy “dunes’ part of the Sahara, which was another days travel away, with was certainly very barren and a world away from the hustle & bustle of Marrakech.  We even had time for a Camel ride but thats another story 🙂

"Berber TV"  at the Casbah of Telouet.

“Berber TV” at the Casbah of Telouet.

Morocco is truly an amazing place and has much to offer any traveller, certainly more than one visit could cover anyway, so im hoping to make a return visit myself sometime soon.  If you’d like to experience a different lifestyle & culture then be sure to put it on your bucket list.  As always, if you enjoyed this little blog please do leave me a comment and also feel free to share it on your social media sites.

Tides & Photography

Spurn Point Spurn Point, Yorkshire

Britain’s coastline is steeped in history and natural beauty making it possibly the most photographed coastline in the world.  Castles, Coves and Cliffs all make great photographic subjects that can give instantly pleasing results but if you want to perfect your images you need to plan ahead to get the tides right and for your own safety, so this is my little guide to just that. 

Generally speaking costal images are best made on a falling tide a) it’s generally a safer option and b) you get nice wet rocks & sand etc for added impact and detail in your images.  But certain locations require pinpoint accuracy, some secluded coves, for example, are inaccessible at high water.

Having lived by the coast for a good part of my life, and 15 years of Scuba Diving to my name, I feel quite confident around water but I never get complacent about it.  It’s all too easy to go out on a beach at low tide, be captivated by your photography, then find your exit is now awash with water.  Only on a recent trip to the Northumberland coast I was stood on some boulders while taking a series of images and you could see the tide moving in fairly quick and had I not been aware I would have soon been in water too deep for my welly boots to contend with.  These images were taken just 4 minutes apart and clearly show the rising tide.  The image on the right was taken with a 10 Stop filter to blur what little motion in the water there was.

Northumberland-5429 Northumberland-5432

The tides are governed by the gravitational pull of the sun, the moon and the rotation of the earth.  The Moon, being closer to us, is the more dominant factor.  We have roughly, there are exceptions, two high tides and two low tides in a 24 hour period.  Now, I’ll attempt to explain tides in simple terms for us photographers. 

These gravitational forces cause the water on the surface of the earth to bulge and thus create our high and low tides. When the sun and moon are at 90 deg to each other in relation to the earth these gravitational forces work against each other and this reduces the tidal range (a small bulge) – this is known a Neap Tides.  Whereas when the Sun and Moon are in line with the earth they work together increasing the gravitational forces producing a greater tidal range (a large bulge) – known a Spring tides. 

tidesImage courtesy of “Curious About Astronomy” 

You may be asking what is the relevance of all this, well, during spring tides the tides are higher and lower than those of neap tides and thus produce a larger range of water movement.  So, if you want to photograph those old decaying Groynes on the beach you may want to avoid high water spring tides because they will probably be under water and conversely a low water spring tide will probably leave them high and dry.

Another variable to maybe consider is the movement of the water itself.  Photography has it’s rule of 3rd’s and tidal prediction has it’s rule of 12th’s.  At high or low tide there is very little movement of water, this is known as “Slack Water”, but as the water falls (an ebbing tide) or rises (a flood tide) its rate of change speeds up at roughly the mid-point of the tidal change.  The following table may help explain this;

1st Hour 1/12th of the total tidal movement
2nd Hour 2/12th of the total tidal movement
3rd Hour 3/12th of the total tidal movement
4th Hour 3/12th of the total tidal movement
5th Hour 2/12th of the total tidal movement
6th Hour 1/12th of the total tidal movement

You may again be asking what is the significance of this.  Well, lets say your down on the beach at low water, you’ve been there a couple of hours exposing images, your now at that point of a rising tide where there is the greatest amount of water movement.  In places this movement can be rapid enough to out pace your retreat up the beach or in other places, if you are on a higher sand bank for example, cut you off completely from the shore line. 

So, how do you avoid these mishaps and plan your shoot to have the optimum tide for your location?  You need to consult tide tables.  The are produced by a number of sources. 

Ch2-Fig-7-tide-table Example Tide Chart

The UK hydrographic office produce tidal information that is published on the Admiralty web site, see below.  They are free for a seven day period but you can register and for a small fee and get tide times for any day of the year.  Most harbour offices sell locally produced tables and there is a whole host if sources on the web.  My favourite though is the National Oceanography Centre website which give free 28 day tidal predictions for most UK ports, have a look at their website here. If your photography is away from a listed port then an element of guesswork and calculated judgement is needed.  Using admiralty charts it’s possible to plot the tide for any given point, but, must of us dont have these nautical charts so you need to look at the port tide times either side of your location then you have a range from which to estimate your tide times.

Tidal charts are fairly easy to read and understand.  They give the times of high and low water but most times are in GMT so make sure during British Summer Time (BST) that you add 1 hour to the published times unless already corrected for BST, don’t get caught out by a simple error.  The other figures are the tide heights above chart datum, the lowest depth that the tide should ever reach.

So, there’s my guide to tides which  I hope will take some of the confusion out of tidal prediction and give you a little confidence when using tide tables to enhance your costal photography.  Remember, do you homework and you will have a safe and enjoyable day at the coast.

Here is a few resources that you may find useful;

National Oceanographic Centre Free 28 day tidal predictions
UK Hydrographic office Admiralty 7 day tidal prediction service
WXTide32 Freeware windows based tidal prediction software
BBC Weather Tide Tables 7 Day predictions from the BBC
Maritime & Coastguard Agency A website full of useful information about coast safety and related issues.

Flowers Anyone?

Just thought i’d try something different – flower photography.

Inspired by Doug Chinnery’s images I got all arty and perched myself in the kitchen and using the large window I was able to light these images naturally.

The flowers were supplied by friends that we had staying over for the Easter weekend so thanks to them, they know who they are..

I actually found it quite a challenge, paying attention to the composition of the flower and trying to get it to sit where I wanted it took quite a bit of effort, but, I eventually learned the art of flower taming.

The exposure was a little challenging too. Outside was grey and overcast but I used bursts of bright but diffused sunlight that came through the clouds to backlight the flowers. This helped reveal the textures in the leaves, more evident in the Tulip shots.

Very little post processing was done, very slight exposure adjustments in a couple of them and that was about it.

Overall i’m very pleased with the outcomes, the only downside, the wife says I have to buy here more flowers now I seem to appreciate their finer details.

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