As usual, Adriana made sure we took advantage of the long weekend in the UK. We had Monday off, so flew out Friday evening for a holiday in Tunisia. We had tickets for a trip last year, but ended up having to cancel just as the Arab Spring was getting started. So it’s been on our list for quite some time and I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint!
We had three major objectives – we first wanted to see Sidi Bou Said, the famous blue and white city in northern Tunisia, about 20 km out from Tunis. Then, being fanatics for ancient ruins, we wanted to see the remains of Carthage which is right down the road. And our third objective was to simply relax. I’m happy to say that all three objectives were met, but I only took pictures of the first two 🙂
We started with Sidi Bou Said – we took a bus from our hotel (which was it’s own adventure) and walked through the main area of the city, heading towards Cafe des Nattes, shown below. I was fortunate to capture this image as a girl was getting her picture taken; she was dressed perfectly for the occasion. The pink is a great compliment to the blue, I only wish I had more time to compose the image more effectively.
The city is incredible – the walls are stark white stucco, with all trim, windows and doors painted in a bright blue. We had a day with white clouds and blue skies, perfectly complimenting the colors of the city.
When we first arrived in the main area of the town, I was greeted by this incredible blue door with this local man sitting beside it, shown above. I asked if I could take his picture and he simply smiled and nodded.
As we walked throughout the city I was obviously struck by the doors – they’re such a bright blue and the color scheme is striking. I tried to capture the doors with the white clouds and blue skies as much as possible.
I also wanted to capture the stairs and footpaths of the city that lead to the doors; I did this in the images above and below. Compositionally it captures a little bit of that “wonder what’s around the next corner” thought. The picture below also has a birdcage; this is one of those strange things the city is also known for. Apparently canaries are held in high regard and there were a great many souvenir birdcages for sale throughout the city.
While walking around the place, I also took several pictures of the various markets with the vendors selling their goods. I just love markets in North Africa and the Middle East – they are so full of unique trinkets including jewellery, plates, hookahs, and everything else you can think of. I particularly like the picture below of the merchant smiling – this was taken as he was trying to sell a piece of jewellery to a passing tourist – judging by the smile, I think he succeeded. In my opinion this picture is made by the shallow depth of field; the foreground trinkets are blurred and the focus is squarely on the man smiling, drawing your eye into the image.
We also found a small house where you can pay to go in and walk around; we paid like 3 dinars to enter and spent some time checking out the small complex and garden. I love the picture that I took of this door through the dark hallway. Again I think it draws the viewer into the frame and the darkness accentuates the blue door on the white wall. Darkness can be used as a great negative space and I cropped it with this purpose in mind.
This little house tour was also where I captured my opening image at the start of the post – we were allowed to go on the roof of the building and get a good picture of the surrounding rooftops.
Finally it was time to eat; after talking to some locals we figured out where this cafe was, pictured below. It’s a bit difficult to find, it’s essentially behind the more famous Cafe des Nattes. It’s called the Cafe des Delices and the view is pretty awesome (although the food and prices leave something to be desired). At the bottom of the hill you get a view of the marina.
After visiting Sidi Bou Said, the next day we spent a few hours in Carthage, the ancient Phoenician city that challenged Rome for dominance of the Mediterranean 2000 years ago. The city had been sacked numerous times, so unfortunately the ruins weren’t as impressive as I’d hoped. Furthermore most of what exists today is Roman, and not Phoenician or Punic.
There are two primary sites to see (although there are others). We spent time at the Roman Villas and the Antonine Baths, the latter being the most famous ruin there. The Roman Villas have some great mosaics that are well preserved, including a dark hallway where they’ve safely stored many of the mosaics. I took the image below with a shallow depth of field and used the hallway as a leading line.
When we left the Roman villas our next stop was the Antonine Baths, or what’s left of them. These were pretty impressive to see but I really struggled with composition (and it didn’t help that we there in the noon day sun, so the light wasn’t great).
I took the picture above of Adriana at the end of this tunnel. This is a picture that’s rather difficult to expose for and one of the few times that I’ll use something called Spot metering. This basically lets the camera use a very small area (a.k.a. a spot) to determine what settings will properly expose for that “spot”. If I didn’t use spot metering here, the tunnel would be properly exposed but Adriana, the blue sky and the columns would be completely blown out.
The pictures below were also taken at the Antonine Baths. The first I used again a relatively shallow DoF (Depth of Field) to get the stone in focus in the front and then a slight blur of the columns in the back. The second I captured the natural marble texture of the fallen column.
That’s it for the Tunisia pics! I will note that this was also a trip that I started experimentation with video on my DSLR. I’ve got a long way to go (and apparently a stabilizer to buy, as everything is so jittery you’d get nauseous watching it) but I’ll probably try to post a video soon to share what I learn. I also have a few tutorials in the works but I wanted to share these pictures from Sidi Abu Said in particular as soon as possible.
I’ve also posted the whole range of pictures from the trip on Flickr if you’d like to get a wider view of what images I took. I hope that you get some ideas for your own photography from this and use this write-up as a tool to take some great pictures while on holiday in Tunisia!