Leica – A Journey Through the Sahara

Leica – A Journey Through the Sahara

Earlier this year I was asked by Leica to take their new Leica X-U shockproof, weatherproof outdoor camera on an adventure. I ended up in Mauritania. I have a particular fascination with the Sahara desert and I have always wanted to hop onboard Mauritania’s iron ore train. As I began researching this unique country I became more intrigued. Not a lot of people go here and even more have never even heard of the country which is astounding considering it’s twice the size of France and takes up a large portion of north western Africa. The vast desert, the nomads, the shipwreck graveyards, no people, this was my kind of place. I thought it would not only be a unique adventure but one that could really put the Leica X-U to the test. So the adventure began.

When I was young I used to look through National Geographic magazines and dream of adventures like this. Train hopping through the Sahara on one of the world’s longest trains. This was one of those rare times in life where the expectations of your dreams and reality converge and it plays out how you imagined. I had dreamt of the oceans of sand, the loud noises of the train, the cold, the wind, the scorching sun, the unknown smells and sounds of the desert and the discomfort that goes with it. That visceral experience is exactly what we got as we slithered night and day through the desert while sleeping on an iron ore train. Our 700km journey took us through the Sahara to the coast where we were hoping to find a place of forgotten shipwrecks and unknown surf.

We finally made it to the coast. One of the many interesting things to be found in the Northwest area of Mauritania is that it’s home to one of the largest shipwreck graveyards in the world. In the last few years many of the shipwrecks have been sold for their metal and have been dismantled but there are still some to be found.

One of the many interesting things I came across during my travels were the Imraguen fishermen. The term Imraguen means ‘the people who fish while walking t on the sea’. These traditional fishermen live within Banc d’Arguin National Park, a world heritage site.  The Imraguen tribesmen have maintained age-old lifestyles, based almost exclusively on harvesting the migratory fish populations using old traditional sailboats.They still use techniques unchanged since first recorded by 15th century Portuguese explorers.

To see the whole story from my Leica adventure, visit the Leica camera blog. If you have any questions about the new Leica X-U, please contact me.

Some Behind the Scenes and Unpublished Photos

Adventure , Travel
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9 thoughts on “Leica – A Journey Through the Sahara

  1. Vance says:

    I love your photos. Period. Your composition is great and tells a good story. Where are you based out of in the states?
    Would love to grab a coffee some time and pick your brain! http://www.vancewalstra.com

    1. Jody MacDonald says:

      Hi Vance. Thanks so much for the nice compliment. I’m glad you like my photos. I currently live in Sun Valley, Idaho.

  2. Frank says:

    Hey Jody, I just read about your trip and wanted to check out more of your work. You captured perfectly the mood, the loneliness of this vast area. Especially two picures gave my goosebumps. (last set 3×3 pix the “brick village” and the “double framed blue men”) Hopefully you read this and maybe write how you processed the pictures. Those colors are unbelievable!

    Grettings from Germany

    1. Jody MacDonald says:

      Hi Frank,

      Thanks so much for the comment. I actually did very little processing. The color and tone of the images comes from the Leica X-U. It give the images a beautiful pastel hue. I took some photos from my Canon body in the same scenario and they looked completely different. The only processing I did do was some sharpening and a little contrast. Please let me know if you have any additional questions. I’d be happy to answer them for you.



  3. Congrats, beautiful and intense work ! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

  4. Steven H says:

    Hi Jody!
    Just read about your adventure, nothing like a good story to go with amazing pictures!
    (Can’t imagine how intense that heat must have been on the train!)

    The composition of the photo with the guy walking past the window in the half built house was perfect, I also loved your shots from the water. Your pictures really tell a story about the place, I think it would have been hard to work over there as there’s so much sand and nothing much else, you’d really be looking for that perfect shot, maybe that’s what I love the most about them, how creative you are!

    Would love to see you venture over to Australia one day and come photograph the outback! =)

    1. Jody MacDonald says:

      Hi Steven,

      Thanks so much for the nice comment. Ya, Mauritania was a very challenging place to photograph but it’s those challenges that force you to be more creative, which I love. I did live in Australia for a year but never made it over to the outback. I would love to spend some time there. Thanks again!

  5. Jörgen says:

    Hi Jody,

    Absolutely lovely pictures! Great compositions and the color palette matches what one would expect from such an arid place. Great work! I also enjoyed the behind the scenes photoes – finally we (my girldfriend and I) found someone who can mess up a hotel room up better than we do when we travel.
    Obviously I landed here after researching the Leica X-U camera as it ticks a lot of boxes for the photography I currently do. Still I have a question/concern regarding it. I see it handled well under the circumstances and probably harsh light conditions you were in, however I can’t help but wonder if the shutter-speed didn’t force you to make comprises at times. I mean a minimum 1/2000s shutter speed with a F1.7 lens in the desert? There has to have been instances where you told your self – wow wouldn’t it be great if I could slap an ND filter on this baby now! Or does it just handle highlight clippings so good it’s not really an issue? Would be great to get you insights here.


    1. Jody MacDonald says:

      Hi Jorgen,

      Thanks so much for the comment. Ya, I had a lot of stuff going on in that room;) The one thing about cameras is that it’s hard to find one that can do it all. The Leica X-U comes close though for size, simplicity and durability. It would have been extremely difficult to do this project with any other camera. Ya, I think if you wanted to use an ND filter you could just hand hold one unless of course you wanted to do long exposures. It also handles the highlight clippings well. I didn’t really have any issues with it in that regard. It really comes down to what kind of situations you want to photograph in and the kind of photography you want to do but for a project like this, the X-U was ideal. Good luck with whatever camera you go with and hope you have some great adventures with it!

      Thanks again!


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