Street Photography Guide in Centro Havana (Cuba)
Cuba is often crown as one of the most photogenic cities for street photography lovers. I’m sure you have all come across the extensive work on this magical place by famous Magnum photographers such as David Alan Harvey, Alex Webb, Elliott Erwitt…etc. No difference to those of you who are inspired by and are curious of this place, I decided to pack my bag one day and off I went on an almost 30 hours journey to Havana.
I had a lot of fantasies about this place before I actually arrived at the airport. My head kept replaying some of the scenes I saw from movies and Instagram. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but certain for one thing – to try live with the vibe and capture something that represents the Latin America colours.
One Step in and You Enter a Different World
You don’t have to wait till you land at the José Martí International Airport to feel that you are officially separated from your family, friends and loved ones (if you’re not traveling with them). Everything in Havana exists as if time has frozen. Highly restricted internet access is probably the first and most significant hit you would get on your first day but to be honest, I actually grew to enjoy time with no instant messages and social media towards the end of my trip, it made me appreciate the time and attention for quality conversations with my traveling partner and the new friends I met.
You know those vintage cars that you see in the opening scene of Fast and Furious 8? Well, they are literally everywhere. They are also known as ‘almendrones’, a popular means of local transportation. If you are feeling touristy, there are car tours that you can sign up so you get to enjoy the sun and breeze while zooming through the allies and lanes of Havana.
One point to note, its vibes during the day and at the night are very different, I still remember vividly the moments when I stepped out of the airport arrival hall to when I was greeted by my first hostel owner, I was in this super intense yet excited mode the whole time; these mysterious scenes and landscapes hidden in the dark corners and shadows were constantly challenging my visual perceptions.
Navigating your way in the offline world
I love unplanned trips and city explorations but one thing that I can’t live without here is to have a map that orientates me to this new surrounding. Language barrier is one thing and there are too many split roads and back lanes that branches off the main streets, you can get lost very easily! Also, the meet up points for collective taxis are dispersed around the city, the map always comes in handy when you ask for direction, at least there’s something that the locals can point to!
Maps.me was my lifesafer, download it in advance. This app has a library of maps that covers other parts of Cuba and continents. Anyway, when in doubt, follow the main road, it’ll eventually take you to the city centre.
A Natural Street Photography Heaven
Every corner and person, each sunshade and moment, anything that came into my eye insights had my attention. The ever changing sceneries made it challenging to decide what I want to focus on, so I strongly recommend you to have a careful think about this and have a list ready, so that you don’t get too carried away with the buzz that goes on around you.
Some might think it’s easy to capture unique shots in Cuba but in fact everything is so typical that it looks as if it is staged: that perfect natural sunbeam and warm bouncing sidelights against the colorful walls and people, you’ll need some creativity on composition to add your signature to the photo. If you’re truly into street photography, I challenge you to take this extra step and visit other towns and neighborhoods located on the South East of Cuba, you may unveil more surprises. I personally like Trinidad a lot more than Havana, I wil explain the reasons in another post.
- Calle M Area
- Avenida de los Presidentes Main Road
- Monumento al General Antonio Maceo (Cross section)
Street photography tips in Havana
- People in Havana are more alert than other parts of the country, so you either do it quick or you make an effort to communicate with your subject so that they don’t feel ambush and less of a shock. This will also avoid you being asked for money after you pressed the shutter.
- Don’t get me wrong, Cuban people are kind but just stay alert to those who act overly generous, in case they have their eyes on your money instead. And for those who offer you restaurant suggestions, make sure it is the place that you want to go and not been forced into, the locals get commissions for bringing in customers.
- Sunglasses are the go-to neutral density filter (even better than your camera viewfinder!) And it saves you from the harsh highlight from the sun and gives you a better idea on composition.
- Always wear comfortable shoes. I walked an average of 25,000 steps each day and I have to lift my legs up for better circulation and reduce swelling when I go to sleep at night.
- Follow the light and the main road to the Malecon, there is always something interesting to capture.
- Bring a few more spare batteries, unlike other cities there is no way you can find a spare battery that could fit into your cameras.
There is an auto money exchange machine at the arrival hall of the Havana airport. But I also did some exchange at the banks in the city center. The best way is to ask your Casa owner for advice, it does take some time to familiarize yourself with the money system and the way they work.
This is essential for you to keep in contact with your families and friends and of course for sharing your amazing photos on social media. Usually the wifi cards are available for sale at the park, you can get 1hr, 2hrs and 5hrs card. I would suggest you getting the longest hour option so you can go without wasting another hour in the queue. I was very conscious with the time limit, I have my eyes on the watch regularly and spend less than 20 minutes online each day. From my experience, 10am is the best queueing time because the sun isn’t too bright and there should be plenty of stocks. Look for the end of the queue when you get there, give a head nod to the person before you so the he acknowledges that you’re behind him, then you’re free to move around the area. When it’s almost your turn, just join the queue again.
TAHUSA Recommended Film ISO and Focal Length
I would suggest bringing your favourite film camera because it has a lot to shoot in the city itself. The light is always perfect so ISO100 film is good enough but if you want to do something more extreme in zone focusing, you may use ISO400 film and stay at F11 without worry about focusing and a 35mm lens would be a perfect match.
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