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Chefchaouen: Morocco’s Magical Blue City

I’m often asked, in one of many variations, which location is my favorite to photograph. There is no good answer to that question because every place is so different, each with its own distinctive charm and visual beauty. Trying to fairly compare locations, no less rank them, is a ridiculously futile exercise.

Some places are more photogenic than others, however. While many good destinations require long hours of observing and stalking before the spark of inspiration is ignited and an image emerges (this is not necessarily a bad thing: hard work, agonizing over compositional options, and waiting for precisely the right light is rewarding and illuminating), others are more akin to shooting fish in a barrel as inspiration awaits you around every corner in broad daylight. Chefchaouen, an ancient city nestled in northern Morocco’s scenic Rif Mountains, belongs to the latter catagory.

The blue doors and building os Chefchaouen, Morocco

© Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

Chefchaouen was established in the late 15th century, when Jewish refugees settled there after fleeing from the Reconquista of Spain. In the 1930s when Adoph Hitler began driving Jews from their homes in Nazi Germany, another wave of refugees sought safety and solidarity in Chefchaouen.

© Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

It’s during this period, and during World War II, that the city was painted its distinctive bright blue. In Judaism, the color blue represents the sky and the heavens, a daily reminder of spiritual inspiration. Houses, streets, and sidewalks were all rendered blue, not only as an inspirational reminder, but a form of solidarity as well as news of the terrible atrocities in Europe spread around the world.

© Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

Today the city remains the same: blue all over. For photographers, it’s one of the most visually striking places you could ever visit, experience, and capture with the camera. There is literally a great photo opportunity around every corner. In addition, the place is clean, friendly, with comfortable lodging and great restaurants.

© Richard Bernabe/Earth and Light

In May 2016, I am leading a photography tour with Epic Destinations across the country of Morocco and Chefchaouen is a featured stop where we will spend several colorful days. For more information on the Ancient Morocco tour I’ll be leading, follow this link or feel free to email me with a question.

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Here Comes The Rain Again: Tips For Shooting in Crappy Weather

Angry Bird: Drenched Cattle Egret in St. Augustine, Florida

I went down to Florida and it rained. No this wasn’t your refreshing spring shower variety either, it rained 12 inches in 72 hours – most of it sideways.

As I mentioned in a previous post here, bad weather is often welcomed by landscape and nature photographers for all the reasons you’ve heard over and over again. Bad weather can inject drama and mood to your images and then there’s the soft, diffused light that comes with cloudy skies, etc. And all of this would indeed be true. But sometimes bad weather is just a royal pain in the ass. I’m sorry, but there’s just no better way to put it. Last weekend’s rain would be one of those times.

During our bird photography workshop in St. Augustine, we managed to dodge the heaviest rain and got some photography in during the lighter showers and brief lulls between the squalls. Yes, productive photography can be done during light or moderate rain and it won’t kill you or your camera. Here are a few tips on how to manage rainy weather photography:

1) Keep yourself as dry and comfortable as possible. It’s difficult to think creatively when you are feeling miserable. A waterproof shell and pants helps keep you dry and happy, otherwise you’ll look and feel like our friend, the angry bird.

2) Use a rain cover over your camera to keep it as dry as possible too. In light rain, I really don’t worry too much about my camera getting wet. Most modern DSLRs handle light rain without any problems short of submerging it (the same cannot be said of saltwater, however). Still, if you need some piece of mind consider one of the following products: Think Tank’s Hydrophobia, Lens Coat’s Rain Coat, and the Vortex Storm Jacket. A shower cap, on the other hand – complementary at most hotels, works just as well.

I just don’t like working when I don’t have an unobstructed, intuitive feel for the camera and all its controls. The cover is always in the way and I can’t concentrate on what I’m trying to do. Therefore, in the rain I prefer to shoot naked.

3) Use your lens hood. I’ll admit that this lens accessory is one I rarely use, but it does keep drops off the front element of the lens – a major annoyance when shooting in the rain.

4) When not worrying about getting yourself and your camera wet, look for some unique photo opportunities in the crappy weather. Reflections off wet surfaces can offer creative options that fair weather doesn’t provide. Backlit raindrops are yet another. The image above is a good example of that.

5) Have dry cover nearby. Don’t leave yourself exposed to a torrent of a downpour. If you are going to photograph in the rain, plan on having shelter that is relatively close in case the bottom falls out of the rain clouds. This makes infinitely more sense if there is a chance of a thunder storm in the forecast.

6) Dry your gear as soon as you return to your home or hotel room. Storing it while wet just invites mold growth in the camera and lenses.

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Incredible Iceland in Pop Photo

“Behind the Falls” Southern Iceland’s Seljalandsfoss on a bright, sunny evening.

I have a new article published in the May issue of Popular Photography magazine entitled Incredible Iceland. That’s their title, not mine. My preferred Warming up to Iceland was a bit too cute for them, I suppose. Anyway, the article begins on page 50 with the above image as the opening spread. The colors in the magazine are printed rather dark and dull, so enjoy this version before you read the printed word.

“Behind the Falls” at Seljalandsfoss was created during last year’s Epic Iceland tour and it was my favorite take from this location. I experimented with different shutter speeds, as I usually do, and this one – 1/250 of a second – projected the look and feel for which I was aiming. I really like the cascading water effect rather than the smooth, silky look of a longer exposure for this image. I’m often asked about “rules” concerning exposure times when handling moving water. No, there are no rules but I do have a few guidelines.

First, and this is strictly personal, I prefer to keep some detail and texture to the water. Long exposures that turn moving water into featureless white blobs smeared across the image frame do absolutely nothing for me. I want to keep the water’s texture and detail while still creating the illusion of motion.

Second, the heavier the water, the shorter the shutter speed. This goes back to what I just said above. It’s much more difficult to retain that texture and detail with heavy, fast whitewater than lighter water flows.

Third, since I am almost always much more interested in how the image will make people feel rather than how it will look, I want to ask myself how the choice of shutter speed will affect its emotional impact on the viewers. My own experience and emotional reaction to the scene will dictate that choice. For example, large waterfalls that move heavy volumes of water project power and rage and I want that emotional trigger embedded in the image so that viewers can feel that power, rage, or fury too, even if they can’t feel the ground vibrate or hear the cascade’s thunderous roar. A faster shutter speed seems to express the heaviness of the water and by extension, its power as well. Conversely, slower shutter speeds express lightness, grace, and fragility. Waterfalls and cascades with gentle water flows or elegant, stair-stepping design characteristics project an air of fragility and grace. That’s how I want those images to feel to my audience.

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A Beautiful Relationship

Capybara and Cowbird, Tambopata River, Peru. Canon EOS 7D, Canon 600mm f/4, 1/1600 second @ f4.5, ISO 400

This is a beautiful, mutually-beneficial relationship between the capybara and the cowbird, or what science would refer to as symbiosis or mutualism. The poor capybara, the world’s largest rodent, is unmercifully pestered by biting insects. Just have a look at all the bloody bite marks on its outrageously bulbous nose. The opportunistic cowbird stays perched upon the capybara’s head or back and just feasts away on a seemingly infinite source of food while the capybara gets some temporary relief from the constant torture from above. The patient look of near bliss on the capybara’s face almost tells the whole story in one single image frame.

Capybara, Tambopata River, Peru. Canon EOS 7D, Canon 600mm f/4, 1/1200 second @ f4.5, ISO 400

I could not find a single image frame without biting insects on its nose or flying in the vicinity of its head. The Capybara is native to South American rain forests and has an average height of 20 to 25 inches and can weigh between 75 to 150 pounds.

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Image Round Up from Patagonia – January 2013

Here are a few final images from my January trip to Patagonia. I’ll be heading back down that way next month for our annual Ultimate Patagonia Workshop and Tour that I co-lead with Ian Plant. Enjoy!

Cordillera del Paine

Under Malbec Skies

Siempre

Paine Paradise

Rift

Guanaco Heaven

Pehoe’s Fury II

Red Hot

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