Week 52 of the 52 Week Project: “El Khorbat”

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My topic this week is El Khorbat, an ancient Ksar in Southern Morocco. It was one of the most interesting places I visited in Morocco. Here are some of my favourite photos:


Ksar El Khorbat is a fortified village made of soil in the 19th Century in Southern Morocco. I visited the Ksar while on tour with a few fellow photographers and tour guide Darren Lewey from Images in the Sun. We actually were able to stay in the Ksar for a couple of nights – such a cool experience 🙂

Approximately half of the homes in the Ksar are still inhabited. One highlight of our stay included tea and a fantastic portrait session with one of the locals in her home. El Khorbat is also a great place for street photography, especially the local market and village alleyways. Night photography was possible from the top of the ksar terraces too – the village was so dark at night you could even see the milky way!

The Ksar has a series of tunnels which run underneath it. Fellow photographer Eric and I spent many hours in the tunnels taking photographs.  It took a lot of patience but we finally had a few perfect subjects walk into our frame. Here are a few tips for taking photos in the tunnels of El Khorbat or similar locations:

Scout out the Location

If you are fortunate enough to spend several days in one location, it’s a great idea to scout out the location to find the best spot to set up, the best lighting and the best subjects.

If possible, visit it several times to check the lighting, as it can be different at various times of the day. For example, at certain times of the day, the lighting could be quite harsh in the bright spots of the tunnels.

Spending a fair amount of time at one location can also enable you to pick up the schedule of your subjects. There was a small school located just off of the passageway we were set up and we noticed that the tunnels could get quite busy when parents were dropping their children off at the school. Otherwise, the tunnels could be quite quiet at times. 


One of the keys to gettings good photos in the tunnels was exposing for the highlights. Because the tunnels had both very bright and very dark sections, it was important to choose which areas I wanted to have the correct exposure. There were two choices:

  1. Choose the correct exposure for the dark areas of the tunnel. Had I wanted the moving subject to be properly exposed in the dark areas, I would have needed to set my camera settings so that the dark areas were bright enough. This would have led to the bright areas being far too exposed and having no detail. Generally, details in areas which are quite overexposed are lost and cannot be recovered in post production. 
  2. Choose the exposure for the light areas of the tunnel. This means that the light areas of the tunnel would be properly exposed and the dark areas would be very dark with little detail. However, the detail in the dark areas can often be brought out while editing in Lightroom.

It is easier to bring out details of the dark areas while editing in Lightroom than it is to bring back details in the overexposed areas. Thus it is often better to expose for the highlights rather than the shadows in your scene. I also liked the way the light fell on the subjects when they moved into the light areas of the tunnels. Underexposing the shadow areas also created a neat dark frame around the light areas.

Check out a few great articles by Photography life for an introduction to exposure (including aperture, shutter speed and ISO) and for more information on exposing for highlights in a photo.


It could be tough to focus on the subjects while they are moving, so I found it easier to focus on the light area of the tunnel that I knew they would be walking into. This enabled me to react quicker and get more photos while they were moving in the light section of the tunnel. 


I found that I preferred photos where I only had one or two people in the photograph. It narrows the viewer’s focus and is less distracting than having several people in the photograph. This was something I picked up during a street photography workshop with Marius Vieth in Amsterdam. Check out my Amsterdam Street Photography blog post for more street photography tips.


If you visit Morocco, I highly recommend visiting El Khorbat. It was such a fascinating village and it was a lot of fun to photograph in the tunnels, the village itself and with our portrait session. Have fun!



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