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  • Nia Alexander Campbell

OMG I Need a Picture of That!

As an artist, a tourist, and a first time international traveler, I had an aching desire to take photos of everything. People, objects, animals, buildings, doors, textures, patterns, colors—the photographic potential of the country seemed endless. It was truly amazing to feel like everything within eyeshot was worthy of documentation. As excited as I was, though, I couldn’t just go crazy with clicks and flashes; there were rules I had to follow, rules that wouldn’t offend people, get me weird looks, or get me into trouble.

Here’s some quick tips:

Taking photos of people

  • Always ask before taking a photo of someone. Out of everyone I asked, only about 2/3 of them were comfortable with being photographed.

  • Don't photograph government officials (policemen, guards, armed forces, and the king if you perchance see him). Photographing them could get you into trouble. I’m not sure what kind of trouble, but enough trouble for it to be a part of multiple pre-departure info sessions.

  • Remember that taking a picture of a person is not the same thing as photographing food or a fancy door. Don't give in to your excitement and forget to treat people as people. Want to hear a story? In Fes, walking to the leather tannery, I saw what I thought was a pile of clothes against a gray wall. As an artist I thought it looked interesting, I thought I could maybe use the image in a collage one day, so I took a photo. Immediately after, I watched a man stare me down, giving me a look of disgust as I speed-walked down the alley with the rest of the group, and I thought to myself . . . What the hell? When I reviewed my photos upon returning to the States, I zoomed in on the image and realized I hadn't photographed a pile of clothes. I had photographed a woman asleep in the alley. I felt terrible in that moment, like I had treated her like a zoo attraction, and I understood why the man had looked at me in that way. Although it was unintentional, I felt god awful for making that mistake, and I advise against doing anything like that on purpose.

Taking photos of not-people

  • Food, camels, cats, sand, shoes—it’s all okay to snap a picture of unless someone says otherwise. In some shops, however, the owners did not want us to take any photographs. There’s also a rule about photographing government buildings (the rule being don’t do it), but otherwise I was free to photograph whatever I saw.


But what about when you’re an artist? When you go there looking for inspiration or find yourself stumbling upon it by chance? The experience itself is amazing, sure, but documenting it is not only exciting, but occasionally imperative. Reference photos are an artist’s best friend, whether you deal with landscapes, portraits, or nonrepresentational paintings of the color blue. There’s even the question of what you’re going to photograph all your amazing visual finds with.

So, what did I do as an overjoyed 20-year-old arts student in a new, visually stimulating country?

Taking photos as an artist

Everything is interesting

As an artist (and an aspie), I can find interest in just about anything. At home I am notorious for photographing seemingly strange things like garden weeds, bricks, and grocery store shelves. That said, Morocco was like a visual playground. I found interest in everything: The wood grain on our hotel beds, the way shadows played against walls, the patterns on walkways, the bark on palm trees . . . I could not have anticipated how many randomly beautiful things would cross my path.

I loved it.

Without knowing exactly what kind of artistic endeavor I wanted to embark on after this trip, I still felt compelled to collect as many reference photos as possible. Sure, I took the touristy photos of me posing in front of tiled fountains and overlooking the Kasbah, but my real favorites were photographs of full stems of mint floating in tea, details on embroidered pillows, and the worn away façade of the old city walls. These types of photographs symbolized a more holistic view of my experience in Morocco, the kinds of photographs that could serve as artistic fodder for any art project I chose to embark on.

A very useful art app

Before leaving the country, I was advised to download Adobe Capture CC. This was by far an extraordinarily useful app, especially for an artist. This app has an array of artistic bells and whistles, yet it was incredibly simple to use, and I didn’t need an Adobe account to use it.

The whole time it felt like I was taking art notes. I didn’t have to rush to quickly sketch a precise tile pattern. I didn’t have to stress and figure out which SD card had that one photo of that one wall. And I didn’t have to sear into my memory that exact shade of blue. Instead, I was able to take a photo, upload it to the app, and save whatever aspect of the photograph I needed. Whether it was the color, texture, pattern, or shape, I could simplify it and save it in the app.

Even more exciting is that if I had possessed an Adobe account, I would have been able to upload my saved images to the Cloud. This means that the next time I chose to hit up Photoshop or Illustrator, I could have had the exact images with the exact pattern, color palette, or whatever, ready for me to use.

(Adobe Capture CC )

Of course, this app can only be used with photos you can access on your phone. That said, using a traditional camera—whether it’s digital or disposable—will place you in a whole separate mode of arranging and organizing photos from your adventure.

So, what to use? camera or phone?

One of the most important things about photographing an adventure is the device you use to photograph it all.

I came to Morocco with a new mobile phone and a digital camera. In one of my rare and presumably tech-savvy moments, I decided not to get an SD card for my camera and instead opted for a micro-SD with an adapter. This meant that I could take out my camera’s micro-SD, swap it out with my phone micro-SD, and have my phone automatically back the photos up to the Google Cloud. It also meant I had two micro-SD cards yearning to be filled and refilled with photographs. I even brought my computer along with me, so I could not only write, but could also have extra space to unload photographs.

It wasn’t a bad setup, but it all fell apart when my camera decided to run out of juice.

I had a Nikon COOLPIX L340 which runs on batteries. So, when my new batteries and my replacement batteries died, the thing was useless. The pictures the camera took were nice, but not ideal. It was prone to blurring and was a bit cumbersome to carry around. Sure, as far as cameras go this bad boy was nice quality and fairly small. However, it hung awkwardly around my neck, bouncing roughly against my stomach as I walked. When I tried carrying it on my shoulder, it rubbed against my rib cage and was difficult to access. I always had to untangle it from around my body, pop off the lens cap, turn it on, let it load a bit, have it focus, and then it would be ready to take a photograph. By that time, though, I had usually missed the photographable moment (or my group had left me in the dust).

I looked and felt like an awkward tourist.

My cellphone, however—the LGV20—took FANTASTIC pictures! It had both auto and manual focus, a very big screen, incredibly sharp detail, minimal blur, and a quick reaction speed. It also had a few tricks like panorama, slow-mo, and time lapse (I was able to get some very otherworldly photographs with the panorama view).

And, since I have sold my soul to The Cloud, I allowed every photograph to be automatically uploaded and geotagged, nestled safely within the G-Cloud. On one hand, that’s basically the starting plot of a Black Mirror episode. On the other hand, I didn’t have to fret about losing any of my pictures, even if I lost my phone. I also am able to review my photos and see exactly where I was when I took the picture, which is terribly useful because many of the places we visited didn’t have clear (or English) signage.

It was quick to use, light to carry, and I could send my family pics on the regular, which was both fun and useful since this was my first time travelling internationally. Plus, since it’s a phone, it was always rechargeable! My phone camera truly served me well. About 80% of my best pictures were shot with my phone camera.

(This is just a photograph of my purse, but the phone camera makes it look glorious)

(This is just a photograph of my purse, but the phone camera makes it look glorious)


Taking photos was one of the best parts about being in the country, especially as an artist, a new traveler, and as someone minorly obsessed with documenting memories. I took roughly 2,000 photographs and each one was worth it. It was amazing being in an environment that gave me enough inspiration to want to take 2,000 photographs.


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