I just returned from Cuba…yup, Cuba, and it was such an amazing experience on so many levels. It is now possible to travel (legally) to Cuba under limited circumstances, including humanitarian and education purposes and what is called “people to people” cultural exchange. It was the latter category under which I traveled and I went with a photography group led by John Barclay and Tony Sweet. This wasn’t a workshop, but a photography tour and Tony and John were always there to provide expert advice whenever questions arose. The trip was extremely well organized and run, to say the least. Cuba is such a fascinating country…and I must admit that I had some trepidations about the trip before I left. Knowing that Cuba is a poor country, I expected to find many homeless people on the streets and lots of begging for handouts. This was not the case. While there was certainly some begging, many times what people were asking for were basic items that we in America take for granted…soap, shampoo, pens, pencils, candy and gum. I photographed a number of people and when I went to give them a few pesos…they actually refused. The woman featured above in this post was one of those. She had very poor eyesight due to cataracts, but her warm personality and friendly nature knew no boundaries. I found the people in Cuba to be warm and wonderful. They touched my heart and I’m grateful.
Since this is really a photography blog, I should write about the amazing photography opportunities that are simply everywhere. From the old cars (and yes, they are everywhere, particularly in Havana) to the crumbling, old, but magnificent architecture that evidently the country cannot afford to repair. You simply cannot visit Havana and not photograph the wonderful old cars that are in surprisingly good shape. Our group enjoyed panning the cars using a slow shutter speed, approx 1/15th of sec (I used shutter priority for this) to get the sense of motion in the background but with the objective of getting some degree of sharpness on the cars. Havana is also HDR and grunge paradise…there are so many possibilities with the old cars and architecture. If HDR and grunge are not your thing, there is beautiful scenery and lots of color, particular if you visit the little town of Trinidad. And then there is the people and street photography…no better place for this than Cuba, in my opinion. Apparently, Cuba does not have a drug problem and there is very little crime (note: one should still be smart and be aware of surroundings, etc at all times, but it is relatively safe).
The people and street photography are terrific…I don’t really consider myself a “street” photographer, but being in Cuba made it really easy. The people were willing and happy to be photographed, particularly in exchange for a small gift or a CUC (Cuba currency). The children and elderly are particularly photogenic. In the afternoon, you will often see the schoolchildren walking home, wearing their uniforms.
I mainly used a single camera, a Canon 5D Mark III, and an all-purpose 24-105mm lens. While I brought a wide-angle lens as well as a longer telephoto, I barely used them. I did find a circular polarizer to be very helpful and a tripod is essential for low-light shots. I did not bring a flash and I never missed having one. I also brought a camera that had been converted to IR and there were many IR opportunities. If you go to Cuba, travel light…there is lots of walking involved. I would not recommend a backpack but a lightweight shoulder bag that is easily accessed. I also did not bring a computer…internet access is very, very limited and when it is available, it’s very slow. I brought an iPad and a Sanho hyperdrive to upload my images to.
If you get the opportunity to travel to Cuba, I urge you to make the trip sooner rather than later. My hunch is that Cuba will see a lot of change in the next few years, perhaps not all good for the traveling photographer.