Shared by Academic Travel Abroad’s Guest Service Adviser, Megan Burden.
As I made my way to Casablanca with my new Canon EOS Rebel 5, I could not contain my excitement to begin my National Geographic Moroccan Photography Expedition with world-renown photographer Gianluca Colla. As a beginner photographer, I tried to learn as much information as I could before I began my trip. Thankfully, the other 15 travelers were avid photographers, who happily shared their knowledge and expertise with a newbie like me. Traveling through sand dunes, ancient ruins and chaotic markets, I felt like a sponge, absorbing new photography skills while gaining insight on Morocco’s unique culture.
The expedition began in Casablanca, a city right on the edge of the sea. After one night there, we headed east to Marrakech, a city I loved. Marrakech is a vibrant city, full of energy and color. As I strolled through the twisting, maze-like medina, my eyes were dazzled by the piles of species and the rows of fabric. I saw iron being formed into locks and leatherworkers crafting sheets of dyed leather into shoes. At each new location within the medina I experimented with my camera, changing shutter speeds and aperture settings to try and capture the moments in front of me, gaining wisdom from the more experienced photographers around me.
Djemma el Fna square, the main center of the medina, was a particular highlight. I visited the square twice, the second time just as the evening sun was setting and square was waking up from its mid-afternoon slumber. I watched fresh orange juice sellers set up their stalls and food vendors with tables and chairs. Snakes charmers and magicians were everywhere, as were drummers and dance displays. Being able to capture these moments was amazing and being able to experience the bustle of the medina with my fellow photographers was a truly memorable time.
As we continued traveling east, we stopped at Ait Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A former fortified city situated along the ancient caravan route at the edge of the High Atlas Mountains between the Sahara and Marrakech, it was like no other ruin I had ever seen. Known for its beautiful earthen clay architecture, several films and TV shows have been filmed there, including Gladiator and Game of Thrones. With my camera strapped firing away, I slowly made my way through the mud-brick walls of this ancient city, taking my time to enjoy that gorgeous scenery surrounding me.
One of our final nights was in the Sahara desert, where we spent the night in tents under a starry-night sky. After taking a rather bumpy ride on the back of a camel into the desert I watched the sun melt into the dunes, capturing amazing photos as the sun dipped below the horizon. Gianluca, provided tips as we waited, as well as advice on how to capture the ‘blue hour’, the magical time of day when the light is just right. It was great to learn from an expert, as well as see him in action! Later that evening, we dined around a campfire while enjoying the sounds of Berber folk music. That night, Gianluca led a group of us out into the desert to do some night shooting. We all shot great photos of the night sky, including me, and those with the right lens and equipment were able to take truly spectacular photos of the Milky Way as it traversed the night sky. Surrounded by open sky and endless sand dunes, my stay in the Sahara was truly magical.
Capturing Morocco through my camera made me observe my surroundings with a more detail-oriented and careful eye. I was a sponge, soaking in all the knowledge I could, not just about photography, but also Morocco’s history and culture. The people we met opened their arms to our group, welcoming us to Morocco and all its mysteries and complexities. I would return to Morocco in a heartbeat and highly recommend this creative and inspiring journey with National Geographic Expeditions.