What I learned traveling and photographing in Havana

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It Takes Time to Feel Comfortable

Prior to landing in Havana, Cuba, I heavily did my research on the city. Is it safe? Is there internet? Are the people nice? Tourist reviews? Crime rate? Things to do? Where to go? Asked friends who’ve traveled to Havana about their experiences.

For the most part, friends and online reviews had nothing but positive things to say about their time in Havana. In fact, it was rather encouraging, friends would mention that there’s “so much to shoot in Havana, you’ll have a field day, the locals are so photogenic”. I was really excited on this personal photographic journey.

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With those insights, I thought I would be able to capture many special moments…and do it with ease. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as I had envision. It took me a few days to feel comfortable with my surrounding and get a feel of my sense of place. For one there is no internet, two I traveled on this journey alone, and three being in a new place with info that I had only read on the internet and gather from a few friends can only do so much. From this experience I’ve learned that you really don’t know until you put yourself out there.

Shoot Like It’s Your Job

My first two days, I would say I photographed like a tourist. In awe with the cars from the 50’s and colonial colors and architecture. I definitely got the cliche shots for memories. I had a photographer’s block my first two days (very short trip 4 1/2 days). I wanted to create and capture something innovative. Nothing stood out to me. I walked a total of 40,000 steps each day. From Old Havana to Central Havana, to Vedado, all along Malecon, and would come up unsatisfied with my photos.  I would be honest with myself and say I was not as assertive because I was feeling my way around town.

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It wasn’t until my last 2 days where I was more assertive and aggressive with my shooting. I was being more proactive, clicking the shutter regardless if I thought the moment was interesting or not. I would shoot as if I was shooting at an event, shoot, move, repeat. Your limits are all within your mind. If you want to go out and accomplish something, only you can slow yourself down. Shoot as if your on assignment, either will be paid or you don’t come back with any usable photo and be fired from your job.

Shoot Through The Window

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Shoot while in the car, Lee Friedlander style. Photographing while in the taxi was one of my highlights. Being in the car you know you’ll cover so much ground and you’re not seeing the same mundane neighborhood or work district as back home. Some of the images I’m happy with were through the car. Just snap away and enjoy the ride. Photographing through the car offers a unique perspective, a different taste. This Point of View really captures the POV of the photographer.

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I think if I had a few extra days it would have been perfect. I would have ventured out to other areas in Cuba. To summarize, I’m thankful for this Cuban experience and to have had this once in a lifetime opportunity, to communicate with people in a country where both our governments have had decades of tension. This experience will continue to help me understand this complicated world we all live in. And this was done through verbal discussions and visual documentation.

What I learned shooting on Halloween

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For the first time, I spent the spookiest night of the year not dressed up in a costume but instead shooting others dressed for Halloween in Waikiki. I didn’t really know what to expect. I was just hoping to capture some surreal moments, nothing in particular. Something special to add to my collection. While I wasn’t able to capture anything spectacular, I walked away with more knowledge for next time. Here’s what I learned from shooting on Halloween night.

Mask have no Emotion

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My first 15 minutes in Waikiki I was noticing a lot of people wearing mask and not so much costumes. I realized although some mask are unique, they lack emotion. Maybe because it covers the eyes and there’s not much of a emotional attachment, I don’t know, mask’s feels stiff to me. I was afraid I wasn’t going to see anyone in customized costumes or anyone unique. I started to doubt myself with a feeling of regret for having drove into town so late at night. I continued walking down the strip, it was busy as ever, everyone squeezing through tight spaces. Even though I realized that photos of people wearing masks make for boring photos, I couldn’t resist to not take them. After all, Halloween is once a year.

Note: IMO photos of people wearing Mask works best if juxtaposed. See photo below.

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Flash is a Must!

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Flash is a must! Especially on my micro 4/3 camera (olympus M5II). One rule in street photography is to be stealth and go unnoticed. Unfortunately, when using a flash you can’t help but to be noticed. Most people were aware that I was photographing them, most loved the attention, some thought I was photographing something behind them (as usual), and a few said the “F” word. But that was it. If you shoot without a flash at night, regardless how high your iso can go up to, your photos will suffer more often than not (unless you’re going for a grain effect similar to Daido Moriyama; he’s the master of that). My recommendation…Use a flash! No one cares or don’t even knows that you’re photographing them!

 

Experiment…Motion Blur

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I’m a fan of motion blur and slightly out of focus photos if used properly (again…Daido Moriyama). If used correctly, I think these effects can add more emotion and drama to your photo. Referencing my photo above, I saw this couple kind of tired and swaying back and forth (drunk and in love? maybe).

Their intimate bond caught my eye and without wasting time by checking my shutter speed I made clicked my shutter. My observation of the photo is that regardless of how much craziness, booze and weed in the air, or obnoxious groups around them, it doesn’t really matter because they have each other and want no part of their environment. In short, “Life’s a Blur”.

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Stay in One Spot

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For most of the night, everyone was pacing back and forth, lots of movement, and I wasn’t really feeling nor seeing anything. I was capturing a lot of the same type of photos of people walking right past me and not much was happening. I decided to settle in one spot and let the action come to me. Finally, a person in a Trump costume came around the corner and caught a lot of people’s attention both positive (wanting a photo selfie) and negative (people saying insulting remarks).

A group of teenagers approached the person dressed as Trump and said some negative things all in good fun. Apparently, the person as Trump decided to stay in character (Trump’s hand gesture) and not back down from the harassment, causing the scene to be more hostile. Initially, I was focused on the two teenagers and Trump but then realized that around them were some older folks who seem to be laughing it off or having a good time with it. The US flag behind the kid with the mask adds a nice layer that reminds us all that this is how divided we are in the United States of America. It’s quite spooky knowing who our options are for 2016 Presidency.

Lesson from that night is to be patient, let the action come to you. Good things come to those that are patient. Try new things, be open to experimenting. Street photography should be fun and therefore you should try new things and push your limits/boundaries. Don’t add any pressure to your photography…to remind myself to have fun and enjoy the moment. And last, shoot more flash! Flash is fun!

Enjoy the process

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” When you’re in the day-to-day grind, it just seems like it’s another step along the way. But I find joy in the actual process, the journey, the work. It’s not the end. It’s not the end event.” Cal Ripken, Jr. Continue Reading