My previous visit to Morocco had been in 1979. At the time I had a huge mop of curly hair, flared trousers and a brand new all manual, all mechanical Pentax MX 35mm SLR.
35 years later I wondered how much had changed. At a personal level the hair, flares and MX had long gone. More importantly Morocco remained enticing photographically.
Meknes June 2014
What was burned into my memory from my earlier visit was the clarity of the light. Similar in many ways to the light in Central Australia, intense sun and dry atmosphere making hard, directional light.
Inside the medinas narrow lanes create little canyons filled with shadow. Where the light does cut through, intense primary colours glow. Contrast can be scarily high. Challenging conditions but terrific light if you pick your position. White painted walls bounce light back, opening up the shadows in places.
The man rolling bales of fleece was under cover set back a little from the road. The light is more diffused in the open shade. As you can see the light is coming in from the left hand side creating some shadow on the right side of the mans face (as we look at him). There is just enough light being reflected by the walls to avoid loss of detail through excessive contrast.
Because the location is enclosed on three sides the light level is quite low. Of course I could have increased the ISO but didn’t want too much noise so I set the 70D to ISO 320. As I often look to include some controlled blur into an image for a more dynamic feel I set a fairly slow shutter speed of 1/30th of a second to create a feeling of movement in the man’s hand.
Photographing people in Morocco can be a bit of a challenge particularly in the more touristy areas but here the man was tucked away hard at work and seemed quite happy for me to take his picture. I shot 2 shots waiting for the man to look at me as I wanted that direct eye contact.
Two separate equipment problems meant that I nearly lost the shot.
Firstly two days previously my wife Di and I were in Dijon, France and as I was taking pictures my camera locked up and a message appeared warning of a communication error and saying to clean the lens contacts. I removed my 24-105mm and duly cleaned the contacts, half a dozen shots later the same problem. What timing! after 10 years of good service my workhorse lens was failing on the eve of my much anticipated return to Morocco. As we were due to fly from Paris early the next morning to Casablanca I had no time to get it repaired. A quick look in the local Canon dealer confirmed that a replacement was well beyond our already stretched to the limit budget. Our first day in Morocco the problem was getting worse I could now get 2-3 shots before the camera locked up again and I had to switch it off, remove the lens, put it back on. The worse thing was that each time the camera locked up that shot was lost. the second day in Morocco we were in Meknes and as I was taking this sequence of pictures I was acutely aware that even if everything came together with the picture it was a lottery whether the camera would foul up on that shot. This was one of the last images I got from the lens before the error message became a permanent fixture. For the rest of the trip the lens was no more than ballast.
That evening while backing up the days images the second problem struck. The card was unreadable, it was brand new Sandisk SD bought from an official supplier. I looked carefully at the card and saw that a piece of it had come away from the top corner. I tried the card in a card reader as well as directly in my netbook, tried to run recovery software but no good. I decided not to risk using anymore of the same batch of memory cards which left me low on memory. After the trip I used one of those other cards on less critical stuff only to find that card failed in exactly the same way with the same part of the card breaking off.
Not wanting to give up on this picture and a couple of others that I liked on the card I tried many times to retrieve the images. Unexpectedly at the end of the trip in Marrakesh as I was going through the motions for the umpteenth time my recovery software (Photo Rescue) found a few images including this one, I managed to copy just a few shots before a message came up saying ‘Card not Formatted’. Phew! That was close.