Photography in Morocco
Morocco is a North African country with a strong mix of cultures and geography. The Berber population holds strong in the countryside, with more Arabian influence in the towns and cities. The country's proximity to Europe has brought its own wave of influences, especially with the recent periods of Spanish then French colonial rule.
The geography plays its part as the Atlas mountains cut right across the middle of the country creating a barrier between the fertile north and the desert south. Though the peaks of the High Atlas reach impressive heights, Mt. Toubkal reaches 4167m, the valleys are home to many communities with their own distinctive style of defensive accommodation (described in more detail below).
Morocco stretches over 1000km from north-east to south-west and northern coastal plains have fast modern roads. Air routes converge on Casablanca, the largest city if not the capital, with limited options for domestic flights.
Tourism is one of the most important sectors in the economy. Much of this is focused on ancient sites but the coast is also popular as a winter sun destination for more-northerly European neighbours.
We have been collecting images from the High Atlas for a Pinterest board. This includes many images that reinforce the opportunities described below.
The other images on this page are courtesy of our local agents in Morocco.
The typical north-African medinas (old walled towns) in the popular tourist towns offer great opportunities to practice the art of street photography. The souks (aka souqs) (market areas) are perhaps the most obvious areas to head to but, depending upon your interests and style, you may find the walls, the squares or the living areas to be more productive.
Fast action and strong, high-contrast light will be the biggest challenges and so you will need to think through your game plan. Wider lenses will give more room for error, in composition as well as in focus. You can hope to mitigate the contrast issue by choosing a suitable location and waiting for a moment rather than hoping to get settings correct quickly enough to capture a opportunistic scene. Whatever suits your camera and inclinations.
Most geographers assign 4 labels to the mountains of Morocco. Starting in the north these are: the Rif Mountains, the Middle Atlas Mountains, The High Atlas Mountains and the Anti-Atlas Mountains. The High Atlas range is easily the most dramatic but is also, therefore, the least accessible.
The valleys within the mountain ranges are mostly fertile and therefore populated. The communities have long been threatened by raiders and have developed a defensive style of architecture which incorporates accommodation and food storage within a single, mud-brick wall. These are known as ksour (Singular: ksar) though many receive the prefix Aït on maps, meaning 'the tribe' or 'the people of'. An ochre ksar surrounded by green palms is a scene that captures the spirit of the land and its people. Add snow-capped peaks behind and golden hour light and you will have a top-quality image to savour.
Morocco has a long Atlantic coastline and another section within the Straits of Gibraltar on that section of the Mediterranean known as the Alboran Sea. Tangier, Rabat and Casablanca are all relatively well-known destinations for tourists with the ports of Essouira and Agadir following close behind. Each has its photographic opportunities though Essouira, with its small-town feel and blue fishing boats, is likely to be a favourite for many. The headlands near Legzira further south attract considerable interest.
The southern slopes of the High Atlas mountains lead down onto the northern edge of the Sahara Desert. The world becomes abruptly arid - with the exception of the magnificent oases such as those around Boumalne and along the Draa Valley. The contrast features in many compositions, particularly where the water flows out from the mountains in steep-sided gorges such as the Todra Gorge and the Dades Gorge.
Many photographers head straight for the dunes. The most popular sections are reached from Merzouga and Zagora respectively. An overnight is required for the best of the light and this is invariably in a desert camp set up for the purpose, with camels and locals on hand to add flavour to your images.
Much of the remaining land is untamed. This could be ideal for those with minimalist tendencies, though you would require some time and a vehicle in order to seek out suitable venues.
The Pinterest board mentioned above contains a number of strong portrait images of Berber individuals. Many were taken at special events such as weddings and you would be very lucky to capture such finery without a long visit and/or a good amount of research and, perhaps, influence. This should not prevent you from seeking out opportunities in towns and the countryside as cameras no longer inspire the fear that they once did and most subjects will be pleased by a respectful request.
Facial tattoos (Berber: oucham) for ladies date back to pre-Islamic traditions. (A good explanation is given here.) Though these do add to the authenticity of portraits you may well have to find a tactful way of conveying your interest.
Men and children are much more likely to be cooperative. With these shots it pays to include something of the environment. Candid shots from a distance should be acceptable but if you want to take anything close up it would be better to ask for permission in advance.
Those with an interest in architecture and architectural details will find much of interest throughout Morocco.
The ksar mentioned above can be photographed up close as well as as part of a landscape, and are not the only form of building in the mountains. The traditional medina of the towns provide a more complicated version of the same defensive concept, often with more intricate details and other decorations. The cities, of course, provide the most artistic of the decorations, with tile-work equal to that found anywhere else in the Islamic world to be found in the palaces, tombs and other 'Royal' sites - many of which are open as tourist attractions.
In Morocco non-Muslims are not permitted to enter mosques but these can be photographed from outside and often have a school or mederessa attached which may be open to visitors, especially if you have a guide with you who can explain the purpose more clearly.
Special mention should be made of Chefchaouen, a town in the far north noted for its many blue-painted buildings. These can be photographed en-masse or individually to great effect.
Preparing to go
Visitors from many western countries do not need a visa before arriving in Morocco. You should check the current situation for your own nationality well in advance to be sure. You MUST get a stamp in your passport upon arrival as you can be sure to have problems leaving if you do not have this.
A comprehensive travel insurance policy is recommended for any trip abroad. You should check that this covers the potential large costs such as medical repatriation as well as the more likely niggles such as petty theft (including cash) and lost items.
You should also get a health check before visiting Morocco, to ensure that all of your vaccinations are current and that you have sufficient medications for your period away. These medications should be accompanied by evidence from the doctor/hospital that they are prescribed for you.
The currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham. This is a 'closed' currency and, in theory, can only be exchanged in-country. Rates vary considerably so do check around - but avoid anything that might be black-market.
Cash machines are common in towns and cities, so it isn’t necessary to carry large amounts of cash. Do be discrete when making withdrawals, preferably with a companion watching outwards whilst you are busy. Keep some back-up funds in another form such as a spare credit card, travellers cheques or foreign currency - and keep this separate from the rest of your money.
On excursions, keep your wallet/purse in a front pocket, and be careful when paying for purchases. Never hang a bag on the back of a chair while you are eating; wrap the strap around the chair leg or, better still, around a leg.
The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office offer Foreign Travel Advice for every country. The travel advice for Morocco can be found here.
The US Department of State offers Country Information for Morocco.
You should be able to find other government advice through a search engine.
General travel advice for photographers
For general tips about getting ready for one of our photography tours or workshops, check out our Blog category: Preparing to go
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