First days photography in Essaouira

Out and about in Essaouira

After a good nights sleep and and enjoyable breakfast; we started our first lesson – the basics. After getting a bit of background about everyones experience with photography, we started right back at the beginning with exposure. One theme that became apparent with the group was that a large selection had never really taken their camera out of fully automatic before. Of those they all want to learn how everything works so that they can produce the kind of shots that they want to see – not what the camera has decided for them. Jon explained about aperture and shutter speed and about the relationship between the two. He gave example of depth-of-field and the effects that shooting with a fast or slow shutter speed can achieve. I wish that I’d had this explained to me so simply when I first took my own camera out of auto. It’s a frightening prospect for people. Cameras, particularly SLR’s do a very good job in auto – producing constantly usable images time after time. To walk away from the comfort zone and start right back at square one can be incredibly frustrating; as I well remember.

I think most people picked it up pretty quickly. Any confusion came mainly through the unfamiliarity of the camera menus and controls although that little nugget of confusion that the smaller the aperture f-stop the larger the hole in the diaphragm raised its head. That was another hurdle that it took me to overcome.

There is a nice selection of cameras in the group. Nikon leads the way with a good showing. Laura has a D700 that I would love to take down to the Rec and try out. Carlee has a D300 and the rest of the Nikon range down to entry level is pretty much covered. Canon hasn’t been left out, with a few entrants. In fact only one person hasn’t brought a Canon or a Nikon. That same person has not even brought an SLR. That one person just so happens to be me. I’ve left the D80 at home and brought my Panasonic GF1 with me. Of course it is still a perfectly good tool for the job and will handle anything thrown at it – its real week point is the operator!

Until today I had not realised how small the GF1 really is in comparison to the SLRs. Carlee’s Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 (A lens that I would love to have in my own collection) is thicker, and about the length of the GF1 on its own. My little baby almost look like a toy in comparison. Of course it has a huge weight advantage and is extremely portable. But it does lose out a little on the handling side of things. I do wish that I’d had the money to get the electronic view finder. As soon as I have a couple of hundred quid spare (could be some time!) I’ll have to get it. Composing using the screen is OK, but I find I lose about half a stop at the wide end because I cannot brace it against my face. It is also hard to judge colour when in direct sunlight.

After a beak for lunch (pizza) we were let loose to out into the medina and shoot. Our brief, so try and keep our shots in the sweet zone of the histogram. Composition does not matter, purely exposure. It has been quite a while since I picked up a camera in anger, and I will confess to a fair bit of ring rust. What I did not expect was to forget pretty much everything that I know about exposure. I became so focused on trying to get the exposure right, that I ended up with camera shake or blurred imaged for exposing correctly with far too low a shutter speed for the subject. One such shot was of a man throwing fish guts to seagulls. Now I know that I’d need a nice fast shutter speed to freeze the birds, or maybe a little slow to show action. What I shot was a blurry man surrounded by blurry streaks that may or may not be birds!

Walking through the Medina I was approached by a man named Abdul. He decided to take it upon himself to show me ‘great spots for photos’. The reality of this is that he wanted to take me to all the shops and get me to spend my money. He did succeed as I bought a small silver pendent from a man named Mohammed. We did a little haggling. I got a pendent to go with my Navajo pendent and Mohammed got his sale. Everyone happy except for Abdul who wanted to show me more shops. Having spent my daily budget and with an eye that was now becoming very irritated by a small piece of grit I eventually shook him off and headed back to the rial for a break and to sort my eye out.

Whilst there I downloaded my shots onto my laptop. The horror that was before my working eye was unpleasant. I washed my eye out, and headed back out into the medina; this time with sunglasses as protection from the girt and sand. I bumped into Jon and he took me to the West Wall. The wind was incredibly strong, whipping in from the ocean. It was actually very hard to hold the camera steady and remain upright. But now remembering to pause and think about shots, I got some photos that were of a much better balance than my earlier efforts.

So photography wise, today has been a very frustrating day for most people here. Those that are new to manual exposure (and being mainly and aperture or shutter priority shooter, I guess I’m one of them) had a steep learning curve. Myself my frustration was entirely self inflicted. But seeing as I’m out of Guernsey I can look at the positive; that today was a really useful exercise in shaking of that ring rut. What I have to is not forget to pause, think and set-up the shot before pressing that shutter button.

For the evening we to a delightful little restaurant. A completely relaxed and jovial atmosphere. I think that everyone had a good time. I had a Moroccan salad – mainly tomatoes, peppers and onions with a few spices thrown in to give it that kick. Then some wonderful couscous with mutton and veg. Really nice and loads of it – I couldn’t finish the bowl. Then a couple of us headed to a bar – which we finally managed to get to after a long walk and two closed bars.

Overall a good day. Good to shake off the ring rust and good in the sense that I’m getting to know everyone in the group.

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