In this article, I take you on a landscape photography tour into the Erg Chigaga, a stunning desert landscape in Morocco featuring towering dunes and vast expanses of golden sand.
For a long time, it has been a dream of mine to visit and photograph the desert. While we traveled through Peru a few years ago, we already went to a desert landscape near Ica. But despite the enormous dunes, this didn’t feel like a real desert. There was too much tourism and noise there.
On a recent trip to Morocco, I once again had the chance to visit the desert. And not just any desert. With Wild Morocco we did a tour into the Erg Chigaga, which is part of the Sahara, the largest hot desert in the world. The Erg Chigaga is located in the south of Morocco, near the Algerian border. It is situated in the region of Zagora and is one of the most remote and least visited areas of the country, which makes is a great place for desert photography.
If you travel to Morocco, you’ll typically arrive at Agadir, Casablanca, or Marrakech airport. Of those three, Marrakech is maybe the most interesting city. Before we started our tour into the desert, we explored the Medina of Marrakech for two days. It was different from any experience I’ve had during my years of travel. I have been too crowded and busy cities in the past, especially in Asia. But the bustle of Marrakech and the other Moroccan cities we visited was different.
For one thing, it was nearly impossible to take photos, especially with my large Canon 5DsR. Many people don’t want to be photographed, which I can understand. But even if I tried to photograph buildings, the looks I got were not very friendly most of the time.
Another quite annoying thing is that even if you know where you are going – the GPS on my self-phone worked pretty well – people will try to show you the way somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you want to go there or not.
Once I learned to ignore these people, I could enjoy all the new impressions I got while exploring the Medina. It’s like a mall full of colorful and shiny goods. And eventually, I even found a view where I could take a photo of the city and the famous Djemaa el Fna square
Traveling to the Erg Chigaga
It was good to leave Marrakech on our third morning and head over the Atlas Mountains towards the Draa Valley. After all, I had come to Morocco mainly for landscape photography. The first night, we had a wonderful stay in the Hara Oasis lodge*. This place of silence was the perfect contrast to the city.
In terms of photography it was difficult though. I had problems finding a good photo spot for sunset. When photographing with a wide-angle lens, which is what I tried to do, it’s important to find some interesting foreground. Otherwise, the photos will lack depth and interest. I was struggling with that at the Hara Oasis.
The solution presented itself the next morning when I decided to take photos with the long lens instead. Now I could focus on the important parts of the landscape, its different layers, and the beautiful morning light creeping over the mountains.
Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS | Kase 0.6 hard GND
Exif: f/9,5 | 135mm | ISO 100 | 1/20s + Bracketing
The following day we had another long drive past Zagora and Mhamid into the desert. After two hours of off-road driving, we finally arrived at the beautiful Camp Al Koutban. To get there, you need a guide who knows his way through the dunes.
Landscape Photography in the Erg Chigaga
Once at the camp, we didn’t waste much time, and with two hours to spare until sunset, we started our hike towards one of the highest dunes in the Erg Chigaga. After 45 minutes, we crested the top of the dune. It was worth all the driving of the previous days. Such views were what I had dreamt of when planning my trip to Morocco, and finally, I could photograph them.
Sahara Glow : Prints Available
Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS
Exif: f/9,5 | 144mm | ISO 100 | 1/90s + Bracketing
The way back to our camp in the dark was tricky, but thankfully the GPS on my phone worked. So we just had to walk in the direction of the markers, which I had set in Google Maps in advance. After a great dinner with typical Moroccon food – the best we had during our trip – it was time for our first night in our cozy Berber tent.
The next morning, I got up two hours before sunrise and once again found my way to the summit of the great dune. The wind of the night had cleared all footprints off the ridges, and it was finally time to get out the wide lens. It was a perfect day for landscape photography in Morocco.
Sea of Sand
Equipment: Canon EOS 5DSR | Canon 16-35mm f/4 IS | Kase 0.6 hard GND + 0.6 soft GND
Exif: f/9,5 | 30mm | ISO 100 | 1/15s and multiple exposures for focus stacking
Behind the Scenes
Besides taking all the photos I also recorded a behind-the-scenes video, in which I show some more places we visited. So, lean back and enjoy impressions from Marrakech and some beautiful desert moods.
Visiting the Erg Chigaga for landscape photography was worth it. So much, so that I returned one year later, leading my photography tour for Wild Morocco.
If you ever plan to visit, stay at least two nights in the desert. Only then will you be able to properly explore the sea of sand and find the best vantage points. If you decide to stay in Camp Al Koutban, you can also be sure to have comfortable accommodation with great food and friendly people.
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