February 11, Monday – A Havana Workshop

After landing yesterday, checking into the hotel, and meeting up with the rest of the group, we all set off on a walk down the Prado.

But let me back up.

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The Passionate Photographer: New York, October 2015

I’m here on a photography workshop entitled “The Passionate Photographer: Havana” led by New York photographer Steve Simon. Steve has published books, photographs events and spends a fair amount of time running workshops. I went on one with him several years ago in New York City, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  So when I noticed this Havana workshop, I immediately decided to go (1) .

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First workshop meeting, February 2019

This particular workshop had an interesting cast of characters. Along with Steve, we had a tour guide Rei and facilitator Vladimir (2). In addition to me, there were five other participants: two couples and one other guy. As a bonus, two of Steve’s friends, professional photographers from Toronto, happened to be in Havana this week and joined us for many of the activities. So we were a merry band of 12 traveling around.

Photography workshops are two things for me: instruction in some aspect of photography, and the opportunity to spend a lot of time photographing somewhere interesting. In this case, the subject is Street photography, and the place Havana.

(Geek alert – feel free to skip)

A note on technique (3).

A main theme in street photography is all about capturing the juxtaposition of people and objects as they go about their business with no intervention from the photographer. Street photography can be other related things, such as portraits of people you run across with their consent, but it generally involves limited interaction between the photographer and subject. This in contrast to, say, landscape or cityscape, which typically does not show any people and where the photographer carefully frames a relatively static subject. Or wedding photography, a combination of carefully posed and lit formal images combined with the choreographed chaos of the ceremony and party.

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Havana street, February 2019

Since the street photographer is often trying to photograph people in public places without their knowledge, one will often choose simple and small equipment. Many of the pictures in this blog series were taken with a prime lens (with a fixed field of view, like your phone camera) so that you don’t have to waste precious moments zooming your lens and deciding on where to stop. Smaller equipment is thought to make you less intimidating to any who sees you; you’re just another tourist. And a relatively wide field of view – again, much like a phone camera – forces you to get closer to your subjects, often making the resulting image feel more intimate.

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My primary camera & lens this week, February 2019

Modern digital cameras offer some tremendous advantages for the street photographer. One is unlimited image storage – film photographers had to deal with rolls of film with 12, 24 or 36 images before changing. Digital cameras can autofocus more quickly than most people, if used properly. Shutters can be set to fire continuously, increasing your chance of capturing the exact moment you are seeking (I set my camera to 8 frames per second, one of slowest speeds it offers). Exposure is set automatically, and digital images offer a wide latitude for mistakes in this area.

Things I changed in my settings for this workshop were

  • the previously mentioned frame rate
  • I set the focusing mode to track subjects as they moved (sometimes)
  • I set the shutter speed faster to “freeze” action, as the subjects were usually (sometimes)

The faster frame rate I set resulted in my capturing thousands of frames over the course of the week – over 6,000. And needing to review them all.

(Geek alert off)

I wrote about our afternoon photo walk yesterday.  After dinner, we all went out again to explore the streets.  Since most of us were in Havana for the first time, we started out walking together.  Of course, a group of photographers with big cameras is not condusive to inobstrusively taking pictures.  So we gradually spread out, walking a block or two ahead or behind the others as we made our way around the neighborhood.

 

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Havana housing, February 2019

 

The area directly west of our Centro location is no longer the nicer tourist or Habana Viejo district.  Here you can find low income people living in low income housing and conditions.

As the space inside the homes is so small and probably warm even at night, there are always people on the street and in the numerous small bars and cafes.

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Some street scenes, February 2019

Subsequent to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, and even more since 2011, Cuba has been gradually moving away from strict state ownership of everything and allowing more private enterprise.  There are many “paladares” or privately owned restaurants now.  And people can open small businesses – groceries, bars, tailors, auto maintenance, etc. – in their homes. Today 181 official jobs – taxi driver, construction worker, shopkeeper – are no longer under government control.

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Privately owned Havana bar at night, February 2019

Our walk continued after dinner – the night scenes are particularly compelling.  Much Street photography is done in B&W, harking back to the days of film.  But I found the colors of Havana seductive.


 

(1) After consulting with Sally, of course. Who was, as always, very supportive.

(2) Yes, he is Cuban.

(3) Only so you can fully appreciate the excellence of my photography in this blog.   Or you can just decide whether you like something or not on your own.

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