Morocco ~ Portraits in the Kasbahs of the Atlas Mountains

Dec 23, 2018 | GFX, Location, News, Travel | 2 comments

The shoot: A recce for a workshop next April
Model: Sonia Morin
Photographer: Damien Lovegrove
Collaborator: Mohammed Kamal
Locations: Various un disclosed Kasbahs in the Atlas Mountains

Mohammed Kamal or MK, an ex Fujifilm X photographer from Marrakesh invited me to Morocco to collaborate with him on some workshops. We discussed a few ideas on the phone and I hopped on a plane to check out our opportunities. After a fabulous night out on the town we picked up Sonia who agreed to model for us and headed up into the Atlas Mountains in ‘Talghemte’ which means camel in Amazigh. That’s the name MK gives his Toyota Land Cruiser.

01. The reflected sunlight rich in earth colours rattles around the dusty corridors of the Kasbahs. If only these walls could talk. Hundreds of years of trading and tolls along the mountain passes gave power and riches to merchants in the region. Harems and palaces adorn the mountain slopes. The palaces, made of simple materials are crumbling and it’s this decay that delivers such rich textures to capture. The colour of the light changes in each zone with the mix of blue sky or reflected sunlight. No two areas seemed the same but I tweaked the white balance in camera as I went to give me the look that I wanted.

Our objective was to recce a few of the Kasbahs in the Atlas Mountains to check on suitability for a Lovegrove workshop. MK knows the venue owners and secured the necessary permissions for us to shoot for a few hours at each spot. Normally these historic places are not available for commercial shoots or workshops but with the right approach, connections and some funding it’s amazing what access and permissions can be secured.

02. Some of our locations are quite dark. I seek out beautiful light rather than go for quantity. Sometimes shutting doors and blocking windows gives a more magical look to pictures. For this shot I used ISO 3200, f/4 on a 32-64mm lens at 33mm, and 1/15th second. The camera was on a tripod for all my pictures but image stabilisation would have been fine too. The old tagines are covered in an undisturbed layer of dust. The food in Morocco is wonderful and varied to suit all tastes.

I love beautiful texture, light and colour in my shoot locations and Morocco didn’t disappoint. The potential for a portrait workshop is amazing and in just a couple of hours of test shooting I knew this was going to be a special place to spend a few days.

03. Top right: Mohammed Kamal, MK our expert Amazigh collaborator is a loveable guy and the right person to have on the team. He studied photography at Richmond upon Thames Collage near London and spent 14 years in the UK before setting up his photography business in Morocco. MK, as he is known to his friends believes in good communication to get things done and when our chosen model went flakey on us he persuaded his friend Sonia to step in. We did a quick trip to H&M in Marrakesh where I bought the dresses we needed for this recce before heading for the mountains.


04. I found a pool of gorgeous light and I asked this good looking local chap if I could take his picture and he obliged. MK translated and negotiated on my behalf. We will be photographing many more locals on our workshop for sure. It’s great capturing local people with a distinct lighting style and full direction.  As well as photographing the locals I will also take a model for us to shoot who will be with us throughout the trip. For the vast majority of locations we will be using the natural, available light to make our portraits.


05. There are many wonderful scenic views that we will stop to capture on our journey through the mountains. Like these on the old caravan route from the Sahara to Marrakesh. Top: The old tower on the right is gradually falling into the ravine. My dad, an architect, used to say “If you can get your hand into a crack it’s time to investigate. Anything less, plaster it over.” Bottom: The rivers here will be in full flow when we return in April as the snow melts on the Atlas Mountains. Spring is a wonderful time to visit Morocco. It is lush green, warm with blue skies and not nearly as hot as high summer.


06. Bottom Right: A shot of me directing Sonia taken by MK shows a behind the scenes view of the kind of environments we will be shooting in. We will work in two groups of three shooters in some of the tighter locations to give each person the time and space they need to get their shots. We won’t move on until everyone has got the shots that they need. Nearly everywhere you look inside these historic old buildings there is a shot to be captured. Middle Left: Donkeys and mules are still part of the workforce in Morocco.


07. Sonia looked fabulous in this green jump suit.


08. A simple reflector is useful to kick some light deep into the darker spaces however I shot with no lighting aids. Bottom Right: 1/30th second and a bit of a swish gave the dress some movement.


9. I used the patches of crisp sunlight to frame Sonia. I’m not sure that either shot worked particularly well but it is always worth a try because you never know until you give it a go.


10. Some parts of the palaces remain in a state of good repair. Top right: I used ISO 6400 for this interior shot taken after the sun had gone down to give it a bright airy feel. High ISO with modern cameras is perfectly acceptable.


11. The last light of the day on the parapet roof.


12. The roof views in some of the Kasbahs are fabulous and give a good overview of the surrounding town.


13. These iPhone shots were taken on a film set. We are expecting to be able to secure permission to shoot here for a couple of hours early in the morning on one of the workshop days. These large open spaces will be ideal for a working with flash on location training session.

Join me in Morocco next April for a three day adventure of a lifetime. The tour dates and itinerary are still to be finalised but we are looking at the period between Easter and Ramadan. Our tour will start and end in Marrakesh so that you can easily extend your stay at either end to take in the sights, sounds and bustle of that most historic city. If this event ticks your boxes get in touch with us right away here. There is no obligation until the tour planning is complete. Alternatively you can call Blaise or Laura on +44(0)1275 853204 We will give priority of booking places on the trip in the order that we receive the enquiries.

Holiday opening times: Office closes at 16:00 GMT 24th December and reopens at 09:00 GMT 27th December.


    • Damien

      Thank you Beau & Belle.


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