Marrakech – 1 More Adventure

One of the hazards of trying to squeeze in so much great stuff in a limited amount of time is the risk of both physical and mental overload.

The tour in the Atlas Mountains was amazing and both visually and intellectually stimulating and sometimes it takes a bit just to appreciate both the significance and the magnitude of what you have seen.

I did get out in the evening for a great dinner, in spite of being a bit lost!

After another peaceful breakfast on the terrace Mustapha arrived at 9:00 and we sat and talked about the day.

First on the list is the Ben Youssef Madrassa – an Islamic college that was founded in the 14th century and current facility was constructed in the 16th century and housed 130 students.   The school was closed in 1960, not bad – operating for 400 years.

The Madrassa was reopened in 1982 and is said to be one of the best examples Islamic Architecture.

Here are a few snaps from the morning.

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From there we headed to the tannery. Although I have been told of the many tannery scams in Marrakech and someone approached me I walked back to the car to meet Mustapha. He rescued me just in time!

We drove to the tannery with again had been operating in it’s current format for hundreds of years. Each process of cleaning, preparation and dyeing is done in permanently constructed ‘vats’.

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From the cleaning to drying in the sun, either on the rooftop or in the courtyard.

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There was a full array of natural pigments used in the dyeing process.

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The tannery is run as a co-op for 60 families, who’s ancestors came down from the Atlas Mountains to tan and make their leather products.

The tannery does have the reputation of being pretty foul smelling, so much so that upon entering you are handed a fistful of fresh mint to hold by your nose and mouth. I have always said that I am a lucky guy and once again it proved true, the cooler weather had the smell hovering right around Minnesota State Fair livestock levels.

Of course after the explanation of the tanning process and a bit of history is the showroom and push to sell you something / anything.

No pressure Mr. Paul, we just want to show you all that we do here! If you believe that, they’ve got you.

I will say the work was really nice and at least based on prices that I have seen are not too unreasonable. We moved away from the handbags, cushions and slippers, none of which appealed to me and on to the jackets.

As luck would have it, I have been looking for a jacket. I tried on several and although they had the cut and style of a moto jacket, the leather was so soft, I doubt that I will ever wear it will riding. We went back and forth on the price and I relatively sure I probably paid too much, but it felt good to me.

Our final stop of the morning was the Jardin Morjelle. Originally created over a 40-year period by French Painter Jacques Morjelle, is truly like stepping into and an oasis in the desert.

As Majorelle traveled he expanded the garden surrounding his workshop with plants he would acquire around the world. Subsequent to Majorelle’s death the property was acquired by Designer Yves Saint Laurent and was his residence.

Jardin Majorelle is now a public museum and one of the most visited spots in Marrakech.

It’s popularity made photos without a throng of people a bit challenging.

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I hope these few images convey a bit of the peace and cooler temperatures of the garden, oops Jardin.

After a stop for lunch and coffee we headed back to Riad El Mansour. Mustapha dropped me off and before I headed down the street remembering LEFT, RIGHT, RIGHT, I stopped and met Omar the Spice Merchant.  He invited me in, which I knew was a set up for buying something and likely over priced.

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Travel in Marrakech t

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Another great day!

More soon,

Paul

The Atlas Mountains – Stepping Further Back in Time

On the way from the airport, Mustapha had mentioned that he would be pleased to guide / drive me around Marrakech if I would like. The cost 20 euro for about 3 hours. Undecided and suffering from a caffeine deficiency, I told him I would let him know.

After spending several hours getting lost, I mean unintended exploring in the souks, which while fascinating would not hold my attention for all three days I was here. Wadi at the hotel called Mustapha on Thursday evening and we would leave at 9:00 AM on Friday.

Somehow on what was a short trip from the airport I had managed to learn a lot about Mustapha, whose family was Berber and from the Atlas Mountains. Mustapha thought the best day to head toward the mountains would be Friday, there was a weekly market we would see and Mr. Paul, I will show you the REAL Morocco! 

It did take about 40 minutes to get out of Marrakech, which has almost a million people. Marrakech was established in the 11th century and yet over the last 10 years the population has almost doubled with people coming in from the country for work, the primary business is tourism.

The four lane highway was really about 1 ½ lanes each way for autos and then ½ lane for mopeds, scooters, bicycles and donkey carts. Riding with Mustapha, there were a few things I immediately realized. 1 – I don’t want to drive and 2 – in Marrakech, there are no rules, only suggestions.

Turn signals while drive are strickly optional but remarkably I didn’t see a single accident. No automated turn signal, but eye contact, a motion of the hand or nod of your head and with an amazingly cooperative environment everyone eventually gets to where they are going and home alive at the end of the day.

A few minutes off the highway we came to a village and their weekly market. Somewhat like the souks of Marrakech but this time there are no tourists, well except for me. You can buy any vegetables you desire, pick up fresh meat.Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

You know it’s fresh because you can see them men carrying it from the slaughter rooms to the butchers’ booth. Mustapha said in the slaughter rooms there is a government inspector to make sure good conditions are maintained.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas MountainsWe walked through the market, where you could also see a doctor / dentist / barber, all of which are in adjacent booths. Not what you would think of as health care, but it has been done this way for hundreds of years.

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Of course there was the café, which except for the ambiance and attire could have been the Starbucks in my neighborhood. Probably the same guys every Saturday morning.

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I shot a few images and trying to be noticed as little as possible. I really don’t think that the people minded having their photo taken, but they more likely viewed it as a revenue generating opportunity.   There were kids who offered to let me take their photo for a few Dirham – not the candid shots I had hoped for.

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We continued our drive up into the mountains turned off the main road to a dirt road – to see a beautiful view for photos! Indeed it was amazingly.

Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

Next up we pulled off the road near a Berber Museum. When the Berbers moved down from the High Atlas Mountains in the seventh century they settled here but it was a strategic error in judgement, since their enemies had the high ground. Later that would eventually move further down and found Marrakech in the 11th Century. This should give you a reference when the locals refer to something as really old!

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Travel in Marrakech travel to the Atlas Mountains

 

While I was wandering around the souks yesterday I couldn’t help but wonder where all of the products came from. Of course there are vendors for small electronics, household goods and typical apparel which is easy to understand, but where are the Moroccan products from. It really didn’t seem like the Souk owner was just the front man for the family weaving the rugs or making leather goods. Bargaining here is a highly refined sport and well, I am not good at it. I think I have pretty good negotiating skills but not for individual items.

With the souks and the vendors in mind, Mustapha took me to a Berber Cooperative, where 250 families from various villages in the mountains brought their carpets and other products to sell. Truly amazing work and as the man showing me carpets said, no pressure, no bargaining. I didn’t believe it for a minute, but then we never got to that point! I just told him I thought the work was beautiful but I would not be buying a carpet today.

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Our three-hour tour was not past 4 hours and we will still in the mountains. I said that I would be honored to take Mustapha to lunch. A bit more of a drive and we stopped at a wonderful spot, ate on the terrace with a great view. I had grilled chicken with lemon. When ordering, the waiter asked: Leg or Breast? I said breast. Without cracking a smile, he asked: Right or Left? And then started to laugh!

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Although we had seen very few tourists since leaving Marrakech in the morning and there was not American among them. Sitting on the terrace at lunch, of course there was another American at the table next to us. A visiting professor of Comparative Religion, who at one time lived in Minneapolis. A small world indeed.

The trip back to Marrakech had few stops but a bit more traffic, but still great things to see.

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Back at the Riad El Mansour for a bit of a rest and edit the images that I shot prior to heading out for dinner.

A full and amazing day, not only enhancing my adventure but expanding my life.

More soon.

Paul

Canon 1Dx Mark II – Part 2

Now 36 hours into the ownership of my new 1Dx Mark II body, I have yet to have time to take it out for a real test, but after sitting with it for a bit on Tuesday evening and just a few shots this morning, I do have some initial impressions to share.

The set up, both physical and the menu content is virtually the same as the 1Dx. Please keep in mind I haven’t been through everything yet, nor have I opened the manual. I will likely find a few differences, as I get deeper into it.

The first noticeable impression is that 14 fps is really fast and that shooting with Live View at 16 fps is REALLY, REALLY fast. I did hold the shutter down to see how many shots I could fire off in a row and it slowed down at about 140 frames.

Having a burst mode of 140 + frames goes into the category of just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. To translate that into a practical use, as I am shooting in 3 to 5 image burst from the back of the moto, I truly believe that I will never be inhibited by the transfer rate to the CFast 2 card.

Since I have a couple of hours to kill here at the Las Vegas Airport before my ride arrives to go to the race in St. George, this is a good opportunity to check the high ISO capabilities.

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ISO 20,000, 1/800, f/4.0

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ISO 10,000, 1/800, f/4.0

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ISO 5,000, 1/400, f/4.0

The above images are full frame and as shot, with NO post processing and to me they all look pretty good.

To test a bit more, here are some higher crops of the same 3 images.

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ISO 20,000, 1/800, f/4.0

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ISO 10,000, 1/800, f/4.0

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ISO 5,000, 1/400, f/4.0

Again, except for the crop there has been no post processing to these images.  Yes 20,000 looks a bit edgy but not too bad and I think the 5,000 looks pretty good.

Now you may be thinking why is this guy shooting at 1/800 in such low light?  I sure hope he can hold the camera steady. The fact is that I shoot sports and if I want to stop the action I need a high shutter speed. High ISO and a tripod will not work for me.

In the final image in each series. I dropped the shutter speed to 1/400 to accommodate the reduction in ISO, but still pretty fast.

Finally here is an image where I have done a bit of post in Lightroom.

Competitive Image Blog

ISO 20,000, 1/800, f/4.0

Just some minor post and it cleans up quite well.

Will I be shooting at 20,000 ISO? Probably not too often. The last time I did was at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

It’s not really about being able to shoot in the dark, which I could probably do, it is about shooting in low light. This whole photography is really about the light. The light reflected off of your image, as well as how much image noise is inherent in the image and what you in post.

Although this is very preliminary, I am pretty impressed. I am looking forward to the pre-start shots at the Ironman St. George 70.3 this weekend for the real test.

More soon!

Which SLR Should I Buy?

Without a doubt this is the most common photography question that I get this time of year. As we approach the holiday season and the amazing Digital-SLR technology continues to decrease in price, more and more people are considering a purchase of a SLR.

Although some people are referring to Digital SLR cameras as D-SLR, I think it’s time to drop the D! Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras (as opposed to TLR – Twin Lens Reflex) have almost completely replaced Film cameras. Searching the web, I can only find 5 film SLR cameras that can be purchased, and three of the five are targeted at students who are taking photo classes.

These are the people who want a bit more creative control over what they are shooting, as well as additional flexibility in lens choices and quality.

Based on my totally unscientific conversations, my sense is that this group is made up of people that have previously owned a film SLR and also have a digital point and shoot.

There are very few instances when I can offer advice and unequivocally know that it is good advice, but here it is –

1. First decide how much you are going to spend –
• Put a total dollar limit on the amount you want to spend since it is easy (and I mean VERY easy) to get carried away with an additional lens or two, memory cards and a card reader. Based again on my totally unscientific research, my sense is that there are several price points in which you will have cameras from several manufacturers and great alternatives. The price points are: $750; $1,200 and $2,000.

• With your budget in mind, go to a camera store! Not Best Buy, not Wal-Mart, and not Target. This is your opportunity to become a more informed consumer, so you want to talk to sales people who understand photography. You want to talk to people who are passionate about photography and particularly those who want you to have a successful photo experience. If you have a friend who is a photographer and they are willing to join you, invite them along!

• Within your price range, look at Canon, Nikon and one or two other brands. Make sure that you are comparing apples to apples when you compare them. Some may have several lenses and other things included in a kit, but you should be looking at comparable priced cameras – this should be below your total budget.

2. There are a few key features that each of these cameras must have:
a. Inter-changeable lens;
b. At least 10 Mega-Pixels;
c. Ability to control shooting modes, beyond programmed modes, including: Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual.

• Don’t worry much about the additional features such as, frames per second, start up time, number of focus points, ISO range and others, at this point you are likely only comparing things that will have nominal importance to you, and in each price range these attributes will be quite similar. However the higher your price point, the better the features will be. One key attribute will be the increase in the number of frames per second (fps) that you can shoot.

3. Finally, here is the deciding factor, which camera feels the most comfortable in your hands, the most intuitive and the easiest to use? Pick it up, see how easy it is to access the controls, see if you understand it or immediately feel compelled to pick up the manual.

I shoot Canon and I have for years. The functional set up of the camera is completely natural to me. It is easy to pick up and shoot. Nikon’s are in many ways set up exactly opposite of Canon. I am not advocating one over the other; both are great cameras, just different. As you consider which brand to buy, keep in mind that substantially all professionals that shoot this format choose either Canon or Nikon. Beyond the sheer quality of the products, from a professional standpoint, you are buying a matched system and not just a camera.  Personally, I rely heavily on Canon Professional Services for equipment loans and repairs.

Most of these cameras are sold as Kits, with a zoom lens that is typically a moderate wide angle to a medium telephoto. If you are considering getting an additional lens with your camera, instead of getting a longer lens, consider getting what has always been considered a normal lens. A 50mm, f1.4 lens from Canon is about $370 and is really a great value. Although, the zoom included as part of your kit will give you the same focal length as this lens. However, an f1.4 lens will let in almost 8 times as much light as an f4.0 lens and will dramatically expand your ability to get good photos in low light situations.

Where to buy your D-SLR? If you are an online shopper, consider B&H Photo Video or Adorama. However, for the first time D-SLR user, many local camera shops offer classes with the purchase of a camera. This will go a long way toward having a successful experience with, and ultimately getting the most value from your new camera

The good news is that the technology has come so far that you can’t really make a bad decision. Have fun with what ever you decide upon, always remember keep shooting, those photons are free!

Somehow I couldn’t post to the blog without a couple happy snaps.

First we have Aussie Luke McKenzie on the Queen K heading back to transition at the Ironman World Championship and being shadowed by the media truck. Try to see what gear they are using and if you can tell if they are shooting stills or video.

Finally, this is not a yard sale of photo gear, it is the finish line photo area taken in the time between the Men’s and the Women’s finish at last week’s Ironman Arizona! Indeed we are a pretty trusting group!

If you have questions, let me know and I will try to help.

Cheers!

Paul