Morocco: A tale of Sand, Snow and 1001 Nighttime Photos

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Huffduff, Mar 5, 2018.

  1. Huffduff

    Huffduff Adventurer

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    The Sahara, probably the most archetypical of all deserts, just the thought alone evokes images of caravans, windswept sand and wide dune fields. The desert attracts adventurers and travellers alike, despite the prospect of inhospitable sandstorm, blistering heat and a merciless sun.

    For me, this nagging pull has been present for quite a some years already. Until last october, when I followed an impulse and bought ferry tickets for Tangier. Morocco has been the gate to Africa and the Sahara for many travellers with or without a motorcycle and this will be the report of my ride, which took place in the first two weeks of 2018.

    My plan was, to depart from Zürich just after christmas, cross the alps and head for Genoa. There I will embark on the ferry to Tangier, where I will arrive two days later. Here, the journey starts and for everything that comes afterwards there's no plan (well, except for the fixed date of the return journey two weeks later). I never liked the idea of meticulously planning an adventure beforehand, after all, no plan survives the contact with reality.

    Nonetheless, improvisation needs some preparation; a glance at the climate charts for the maroccan Atlas and the prospect of alpine winter suggested to pack extra warm underwear and a thick sleeping bag. But apart from that packing was pretty much routine and the rest of the preparation included some maintenance and a new pair of tires for my trusty Tenere.

    Most of my time I was occupied with the photographic part of the voyage. A year ago, I came by a DSLR (a Nikon D7000 with a 16-85mm travel zoom), got comfortable with the camera and came to the conclusion that it is a capable all-round combination for travel photography. But my first tries at astro- and nightscape photography gave rather modest results, partly due to the rather slow lens with an aperture of f3.5, but mostly due to my lack of skills. To solve the first problem I got a f2.8 wide angle lens and spent the rest of my time reading every astrophotography guide that I could find on the internet as well as watching hours of youtube tutorials to solve the second part of the problem. Armed with the new lens and all the theoretical knowledge (or as much as I was able to remember ...) I wanted to try my luck at some serious nighttime photography. Long 14h winter nights and dark skies without light pollution in Morocco offered excellent conditions for this endeavour. And why else do you have a dual-sport but to get into the wilderness, far away from civilization, to capture magnificent nighttime vistas?

    As usual, here is a map with my route and some teaser photos.

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    #1
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  2. dave6253

    dave6253 GCBAR Explorer

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    Excellent start. In! :lurk
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  3. fabian_s

    fabian_s -new-

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    Perfect :) Going to Morocco this summer, starting from Germany (Ferry from France) as well. Can`t wait to see more of your report. Do you maybe have the GPX or a more detailed route? Just to get some idea where we could go.

    Schönen Gruß,
    Fabian
    #3
  4. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    Wow! More please.
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  5. Huffduff

    Huffduff Adventurer

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    Thanks everyone! I will try and post more frequent updates here.

    Nice, it's going to be good! But probably very warm in the summer.

    Here's a map with the route:
    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1_eMVMI-PHXz_ay5NWDtlq4zCAJ4&usp=sharing
    #5
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  6. Jonesn

    Jonesn Lost in the woods RIPN IT UP!

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    Pretty freakn Awesome! I'll leave it short and schweet
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  7. PARDAL1970

    PARDAL1970 Going somewhere...

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    The best season to travel in Marrocos is between April and May, and after the summer, from the second half of September to the end of October. Me and a couple of friends, we’re addicted so we have travel to Marrocos every year since 2015, always in the end of April. I love Marrocos and all it’s diversity, from the confusion of the city, the purity of the Atlas Mountains, to the heat of desert. Great photos and great travel report. Keep them coming!


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  8. Wonkyconk

    Wonkyconk Adventurer

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    Fantastic pictures mate.
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  9. horsti

    horsti Adventurer

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    Hi !
    Nice start, brings back great memorys.:super

    Subscribed !!!

    Regards from the wild Westerwald !
    Achim
    #9
  10. Huffduff

    Huffduff Adventurer

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    Hi everyone! Nice to see some familiar avatars :D

    Yes, spring must be very nice.

    ---------------------------------------------------------
    Crossing the alps and the mediterranean sea

    As already outlined in the introduction, the first leg lead me from Zürich to Genoa. At that time of year, there's no other choice but to take the highway and the Gotthard Tunnel. Passes are closed and even if they were open, it would have been way to cold. Even so it was fucking cold, down to -6°C. I was enjoying the 17km on the tunnel because it was warm enough to defrost the fingers until I exited on the southern side and faced the alpine winter for a second time.

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    This photo is the only one from the rider to Genoa. Taken not far from the southern tunnel portal, it proves there was some snow. As I descended into Ticino, the temperatures rose and I the rest of the ride to Genoa was just tedious and uneventful highway. I arrived rather late in the evening, found a hotel room and headed for the harbour in the next morning.

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    Boarding the ferry. There were two other motorcyclists beside me and almost all the rest of the passengers were moroccan.

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    The boarding process was super chaotic. The moroccans had loaded their cars up to the brim, and then continued to pile stuff on the roof.

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    The boarding process took the entire day, I arrived quite early at around 12am. Here the sun was setting and they were still loading cars.

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    The last view back to the genoese port, shortly after departure.

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    The ferry was named Splendid, but that title was rather anti-programmatic. The thing was old, run down and dirty.

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    After two dull days aboard, we arrived at the strait of Gibraltar, where I got the first glimpse of Africa in the setting sun.

    The landing happened after nightfall and I got off the boat rather quick thanks to a parking spot just next to the exit ramp. Customs seemed chaotic from a central european point of view, but if you ever crossed a border in the wilder parts of this world, getting into Morocco was rather smooth. I left the port area and rode for 50km in search of a campsite, which I found just 10km north of the town of Tetouan.
    #10
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  11. fabian_s

    fabian_s -new-

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    Thanks for taking us along :) and thank you for sharing the link of your route! I will have a close look on that one later :)
    We know that Summer will be hot as hell...but there is no option for us to go in Spring or Autumn time...we are hoping for the cooling height of the Atlas and all the other mountainous areas in Morocco..
    We`ll be leaving Sete (France) on July 31st ...:fpalm
    #11
  12. mr.joke

    mr.joke Adventurer

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    very nice pics, subscribed !!! :clap
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  13. PARDAL1970

    PARDAL1970 Going somewhere...

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    Even in the spring I already experienced days /nights up to 42-35 degrees celsius down south, in the Atlas and Sahara. Take care and take lots of water with you.




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    #13
  14. Huffduff

    Huffduff Adventurer

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    Oh yea, I know, did something similar once. Iran in August, riding at 48° is not fun. But yes, I expect the higher parts of the Atlas to be cooler.


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    Across the Rif Mountains

    After the first night in Morocco (which was already quite cold, almost down to freezing) I departed eastward, following the mediterranean cost. A nice winding road brought me to the fishing village of El Jebha, where I had my first maroccan tajine (with fish of course) and tea. More on the tajine in general later, but I can tell you, that the maroccan mint tea is outstanding, albeit with a lot of sugar.
    After lunch I turned southwards into the Rif Mountains, the center of the maroccan hashish production.

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    Somewhere in the Rif Mountains, I followed secondary roads through rural landscape towards the town of Taza.

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    I spent a night close to a ruin in sight of several villages, I would have preferred a more remote location but the region was dotted with small villages and nightfall left me no other choice. But the ruin, illuminated by the rising moon, offered a perfect foreground for my first nighttime photo.

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    Morning haze.

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    On the road towards Taza.

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    Rif Mountains

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    The mosque at the crossroad. If you have a keen eye, you might notice, that the Tenere isn't facing in the right direction.

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    Southeast of Taza, there's the Tazzeka National Park. I met a hiker, who recommended me to follow this dirt road.

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    Scenic viewpoint on the way.

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    At the end of the road there was a pass where I set up camp.

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    There's a point in life, when every travelling photographer (or photographing traveller...) has to take a picture of an illuminated tent under the milky way. This is my second photo of that type, with bonus points for the shooting star.


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    That selfie from the introduction was also taken here, just after moonrise a few minutes later. It's surprising how bright a full moon can be.
    #14
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  15. Tikitour

    Tikitour Adventurer

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    I'm looking forward to seeing more of your photography, some very nice shots sofar
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  16. btrrtlwtr

    btrrtlwtr Adventurer Super Supporter

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    As Tikitour said very nice pix. thx for posting
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  17. Huffduff

    Huffduff Adventurer

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    Thanks, photography was a main activity for this trip and I spent a ot of time on it, taking the pictures and postprocessing. I'm glad to hear you like them. And if you don't like them, constructive criticism is also appreciated.

    ----------------------------------------------------------
    Across the Rif Mountains (Part 2)

    The next leg took me from the Tazzeka National Park to the town of Midelt in the foothills of the mighty Atlas.

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    I continued to stay off the main roads, instead following narrow and winding backroads, sometimes paved ...

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    ... often unpaved (my preference) ...

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    ... and on few occasion even frozen. Thanks to the Michelin Anakee Wilds, there's no problem with all the different surfaces. I tried them for the first time on this trip, I had Heidenau K60 Scouts before, and I have to say, that I'm really impressed with the Michelins.

    For the rest of the day I was in full on riding mode, so no more pictures until the arrival in Midelt. But it was a bliss flying along sandy desert roads and rolling through tiny villages with houses made of clay. But the flow was broken by a trench and a heap of earth. Construction works for a new road had cut off my dirt road and no one had bothered to take care of a detour. So, I left the road to find a way around the trench (nearly getting stuck in the sand while doing so) and continue towards Midelt. On the other side of the trench, I met some workers, who told me that I wasn't allowed to be here, but gave me directions nonetheless. I still managed to get lost in the extensive construction site, until I was found by two engineers in a pickup truck who guided me to the road towards Midelt (and also told me I wasn't allowed here).

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    After 3 days of camping I stayed in a riad (a traditional maroccan guesthouse) in Midelt. This is the entrance, ...

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    ... this my dusty riding gear (someone probably had to clean the carpets in the entrance hall after I went trough there) ...

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    ... and this is the obligatory night time photo for this episode, taken in the riad's courtyard.
    #17
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  18. 86_Aidan

    86_Aidan Been here awhile

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    "extra points for shooting star!" haha yeah that's an awesome shot!
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  19. longslowdistance

    longslowdistance Long timer Supporter

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    Excellent RR.

    Can you share any tips for getting these fantastic night shots? Thanks.
    #19
  20. Huffduff

    Huffduff Adventurer

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    Thanks, not so uncommon though, I happen to find them in a lot of my nighttime photos, see here (even 2) and here (faint).

    Sure, there are basically 3 parts, the technical, the shooting itself and the postprocessing.
    On the technical side, a tripod is essential since exposure times are >10s. Generally you want a larger sensor with good noise characteristics at higher ISO, fullframe is king, but APSC or m4/3 also work well (depending on your tolerance for grain ofc). I had a Nikon D7000, not exactly the newest model (8 years old by now) but decent and the lower sensor resolution reduces high ISO noise. As a lens I used a Tokina 11-20mm f2.8. But in hindsight I can say that a prime instead of a zoom would have been better, almost all my night photos were taken at a focal length of 11mm. Generally, the faster the lens the better.
    As for the exposure, I started with 20s shutter speed, f2.8 and ISO 3200 and then adjusted shutter speed and ISO according to taste and light condition. The shutter speed can't be too long though, otherwise the stars will start to smear due to the earth's rotation. The exact numbers depend mainly on the focal length (among other things), the wider the lens, the longer you can expose (there are tables for that, google the 500 rule).
    Focusing can also be tricky, since the autofocus doesn't work in the dark. I use liveview with max magnification to focus manually at a distant point of light (bright stars, the moon, distant houses or lamps, sometimes even my own torch placed 10m away).

    To shoot the milky way you need first of all a dark sky without or little light pollution (check http://darksitefinder.com/). I like to have interesting landscape or other eyecatcher in the foreground. Artificial or natural lightsources (like the moon) can create amazing moods, but also reduce the number of visible stars. I also achieved interesting results by illuminating foreground objects with the flash or a torch. Finding a good scenery, composition and lighting for nightscapes is probably the most challenging but also the most rewarding part of night time photography. Location scouting during the day does help a lot in that regard.

    For postprocessing I use Lightroom and all pictures got individual treatment to reduce high ISO noise without softening out feint stars, contrast and shadow/highlight adjustments to make the stars pop and to adjust the relative brightness of the foreground as well as a custom white balance (the automatic never gets that right). Oh yea, and definitely shoot raw, jpgs are useless for postprocessing.

    Check out this site: https://www.lonelyspeck.com/astrophotography-101/ for extensive and well written tutorials. There are also many smartphone apps that can help planning not only nightphotography (I use PhotoPills, it offers a lot of useful features for photography in general)
    #20
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