Three men and an illegal tripod – the Portuguese Cistern, El Jadida, Morocco.

While taking a break from a lazy weekend at the fantastic beach resort Mazagan, I broke away with two great buddies for a trip to El Jadida to see the Portuguese Cistern.  From Wikipedia –

Built in 1514, this former warehouse (possibly an armory) was converted into a cistern in the 16th century. The underground chamber, measuring 34 meters by 34 meters, was constructed with five rows of five stone pillars. The cistern is famous especially for the thin layer of water that covers the floor, and which creates fine and exciting reflections from the little light there is and the spartan shapes of the columns and the roof. Its visual qualities are such that several movies have been filmed within the cavernous space, of which Orson Welles’ Othello (1952 film) is the best known internationally.

Joe, MC and I dodged guys shaking keys at us (“rent our apartments, please!” or something like that) and sardine-fueled bonfires roasting away along the route into the medina and finally into the Cistern.  I brought a “small” kit with me – camera, lens and full size tripod with a large geared head, hoping that the walk wouldn’t be too long.

If you are looking at this image on your work computer, I guarantee you that you are not seeing all of the detail / range of the image and are left out in the cold and that all of your friends are going to think that you aren’t as cool as they imagined. 🙂 Just check it out again when you get home.

We each paid our 10 dirhams – errr, MC covered it for us – and made our way into the Cistern.  An elderly / ancient local guide unsuccessfully attempted to latch onto us on the way into the Cistern and appeared to be less than excited when we passed on his services.

After walking down the stairs, the Cistern bouncer / uniformed guy from the door ran down after us and yelled “no tripods!” as I made my way into the room.

Yeah.  Right.

Note to the audience – I’ve traveled the world with tripods and have come to adopt the “shoot now, ask for permission later” approach to using them in restricted areas.  Begging for forgiveness after making an image sits better with me than being told not to set up the tripod, doing so anyways and then being scolded for being a jerk. 

The Cistern bouncer lost interest in me as I dealt with my severely fogged lens – standing in place and playing with a Giotto rag for fifteen minutes will do that.  Note to self – when dealing with a chilly lens in a hot environment, attempt a proactive approach as opposed to merely blotting the condensation off of the lens / filter;  wrap your hand around the lens filter threads / filter and warm the metal ring up.  It will speed up the process of the lens reaching the ambient temperature, thereby minimizing future fogging and condensation.

While dealing with the lens, I had the opportunity to take the room in.  The Cistern is a large room with multiple vaulted arches and columns.  The center of the room is a vessel filled with water, much of which has spilled over to the floor and causes the incredible mirroring of the room and the shimmering reflections on the ceiling of the vault.  Bugs landing in the otherwise still pooled water reflect on the vault ceiling like a shimmering LED light.  I have never seen anything like this place before.

I walked around and surveyed the scene, making a few images with my exposure set to Auto / shutter speeds no slower than 1/60 of a second.  The images are as noisey as can be, as expected.  Yuck.  ISO 12000 is not for me.

I asked MC what would happen if I opened the tripod and got to work.  He replied “well, nothing too bad” and proceeded to distance himself from me as much as possible.  Hmmmph.  Joe was walking around making images of his own and provided no cover.  I was on my own.

I positioned myself behind a large pillar, opened the tripod and quickly leveled the head.  I made a series of bracketed images at ISO 100 and quickly broke the kit down, literally tucking the tripod back into its case as the 1000 year old guide entered the Cistern and immediately took stock of what I was up to – just minding my business and counting ceiling tiles, of course!

I was partially satisfied with the straight image, though some of the highlights were completely clipped – I am not aware of any digital camera that can handle the range of light as I saw it.  I corrected the image with moderate sharpening in Aperture, imported the image into Photoshop and used the corrected image as my background layer.  I then created a new layer and pasted the highlight optimized image onto it before erasing all of the surplus / non highlight material.  I then reduced the opacity in order to further blend the images and produce the image as I saw it in person, including the wild shimmer on the left-most reflection.

No stinking HDR needed.

Please “like” us on Facebook –


  1. I see the photo of the cistern and just think what a wonderful Goldeneye level it would make.

    1. You know it! My life is a giant N64 game!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s