Photography in Morocco is known among photographers for being extremely challenging. Though in some part this is because of the natural elements, like sand in the desert, what can make photography difficult in Morocco is the people. Moroccans famously shudder at the sight of a camera shutter. They are known to sometimes be aggressive, demanding money or demanding that you delete the photo you possibly took of them. Others are quieter, though will hide their faces. This is particularly the case for women around the country, both in the cities and in smaller towns, particularly in and around Chefchaouen.
But if you’re reading this, undoubtedly you have seen incredible photos of this amazing country. So what gives? In part, over-aggressive tourists with their cameras pointed in the faces of people going about their daily lives have taken a toll on some of the population, particularly in urban areas like Marrakesh and Fez. There is also a culturally-rooted adverse association with images around much of the country. Thus, photographers really have their work cut out for them. Here are some tips to help you with photography in Morocco:
Photography in Morocco: General Tips
- Photographers who are discreet and polite, ask permission, and tip occasionally when asked, generally make new friends and have a pleasant experience. Anywhere in the world, it is respectful to ask to photograph a person or a person’s shop before taking a photo. Strangers on this street will usually decline. But they will be much happier you asked and you never know. Every once in a while someone will say yes!
- Most shop owners will agree to have their photo taken, particularly if you’ve just spent some money in their shop.
- If you’re learning Moroccan Arabic, this is the time to practice. If you can ask in darija to take a person’s photo, you’ll have a better chance of success.
- Occasionally you will be asked to pay, generally a token of 5-10Dh.
- On the Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakesh, it is customary to pay for photos of the performers. This is how they make their money. However, if you spend some time watching the monkey handlers and snake charmers, you probably won’t like how they treat their animals.
- For a quieter experience, head out early in the morning for the magic hour. Most cities don’t really wake up until 10am or so.
- Most people love selfies. Moroccans are no exception to the selfie-craze. If you have an experience with someone and would like to mark it with that person by taking a selfie, snap away!
- Street photography is easily the most difficult sort of photography. Photographers, remember to pack your patience. A good strategy is to tuck away in a quiet corner, carefully compose your shot, and wait for the right person to walk by.
- Be smiling, friendly, and if someone gives you a hard time, be humble and apologetic.
Photography in Morocco: Gear Tips
- Like any other trip, you’ll want to decide ahead of time how much gear you want to pack. Typically, a good all around zoom lens, like a 24mm-105mm, along with a good prime lens should be enough for most types of photography.
- A telephoto lens can help immensely in photographing through crowds and across distances, though you’ll miss out on the interaction between the photographer and subject that can make for truly great photos.
- Don’t skimp on packing the SD cards. High-speed SD cards are notoriously difficult to find in Morocco.
- If you’re obviously shooting a landscape, you likely won’t be bothered at all. Feel free to break out the tripods and take in the scene.
- Make sure you’re equipped with rain gear. A rain shell (or plastic bag) will come in handy both for the rain and to protect your camera from the dust and sand in the desert.
- If your camera has a silent shutter option, this can be a good way to be more discreet with your photography, though you’ll want to watch out for banding in your images.
- A smartphone camera can work wonders. People are much less likely to hassle you if you’re using your phone to capture images or video.
Photography in Morocco can be just as challenging for professionals as it is for amateurs. However, by following the above tips, you will have a great chance to capture the sort of images that will make your friends back home truly envious as you post updates of your journey. Just remember—even though you’re shooting, it’s not a war! Have fun, keep that smile on your face and be as agreeable as possible. Along with that big scoop of patience you packed with you, these make the best elements of any photographer. With a little empathy, all the patience you can muster, and a lot of a discretion, you can nab those Instagrammable moments.
About the Author
Text and photos by award-winning writer and Morocco expert, Lucas Peters. After spending years traveling to the distant corners of Morocco and writing about his adventures, he penned the best-selling guidebook Moon Morocco. He is now based in Paris, where he lives with his wife and son.