I really have to say a big thank you to Steve Jobs. The iphone has changed my life. Photography has become for me, like for so many others, a completely integral part of my day. It is a very strange 24 hours when I don’t take at least half a dozen pictures.
I wasn’t always addicted, though. One of my oldest friends, Martin, still mocks me for my bold statement when I was 19 and we were living in Damascus, Syria. “ I don’t like to take photos,” I grandly proclaimed,” I like to experience things and just remember them.”
Well, that 19 year old with her big ideas and fresh memory has given way to a photography addict. One of the first things I do when I wake up is update my Instagram feed, and I always check it last thing at night.
Photography in Morocco
Living in Morocco means I have endless things to photograph. The vibrant colours of the ancient cities with their bustling markets; the vivid blues and golds of the desert; the forbidding grey granite of the Atlas mountains; and the long, long eyelashes of the camel.
There are some barriers to photography here, though. The first is that people often don’t want their photograph taken and why should they? How would you feel if you were on your way to work and someone suddenly thrust a camera in your face. The second is that the light is very strong during the middle of the day and can bleach everything out. The third is that things happen in a second and you have to be ready or you miss it. The last one is that because Morocco is a very communal country, everyone feels they have a stake in your business, which means you can either attract a crowd or get someone telling you not to photograph an arch or a building – even though they have no right to.
Capturing the spirit
My general approach is that I am ALWAYS ready to take a picture. If I am out in the medina (the old town) I have my iphone in my hand. If I am in the mountains or the desert, it is zipped into my trouser pocket.
I am aiming to capture that most elusive of things, the spirit of the country, so I snap things that I feel reflect that.
In terms of my style, I would categorise it as immediate. I want you to experience what I am experiencing. That doesn’t mean that I just grab any old photo on the run, though. I will wait till I get the right scooter coming through an archway, or until the mountain valleys meet at the right angle. I also do have days where I go out specifically to get shots for the Instagram feed.
Framing is important to me and I like things that naturally frame or give context to a picture. A window, a doorway, a view through the trees are all motifs that I use.
My soul yearns for big, empty spaces and I definitely reflect that in my mountain and desert shots. The texture of the sand or the light in the sky at twilight are magical to me. I also like to contrast busyness and loneliness in the city. I lurk in narrow streets until I can get a shot of them empty, or with just one person walking away from me.
Technically, because I use the iphone, I do nothing except for choose my picture orientation. I often take the same shot in square/vertical/horizontal so that I have a choice. This lack of a proper camera definitely has a negative impact in some areas. I find that I cannot get really fantastic mountain shots – the perspective is just not there. I also have to choose my time of day as the bleaching effect can’t be counterbalanced and I find that some of my medina shots are just too deeply contrasted to be good.
However, the plus side is that I always have my iphone to hand so I am always ready. The iphone7 (about to be 8) provides good enough quality for publication, so I can use it for work. It also helps to get around the problem of being conspicuous as it is far less obvious than a camera.
Filters split the photography community: some love them, some hate them. I use them and enjoy them. If I am submitting something for publication, I send in the original, untouched photograph, but if I am using a shot for Instagram or Facebook or Twitter then I filter at will. I play with it but particularly like to manipulate the detail of the pictures by bringing them into relief (sharpen) and also deepen the colours (saturate). This is partly to make up for the deficiencies of a lens versus the eye. I often see things as brighter and sharper than they appear on the photo. At the moment, I am experimenting with a faded/old manuscript look for a series of photos of Marrakech. It makes even a motorbike look as though it came from the Arabian Nights.
I am definitely not the best photographer in the world, but I do love it and although I don’t feel qualified to give professional photography advice, here are my top tips, based on experience, for taking photos when travelling.
- Be ready. The best moments are fleeting
- Contradicting no 1.. also be ready to wait for a good shot that you know is coming
- Try different angles
- If you have this luxury, retrace your steps and revisit places you have seen, you will definitely benefit from a second look and a second shot
- Be aware of the light/position of the sun and what it is going to do to your shot and experiment around that
- If you want to take pictures of people, ask their permission. If they are selling something, buy it or tip them and everyone will be happy
- If you get into a situation where you have a crowd, or someone yelling at you, leave. It is unlikely you are going to get a good picture anyway and the situation can get out of hand
- Be honest and respectful. It will show
- Play with filters, they are fun, but always keep your originals
- Look first, don’t get stuck behind the lens