I have been leading Photography tours in Cuba for many years now, with over 150 students and travelers having attended these workshops; each with their own desires and expectations both at a personal and at a photographic level.
In this section of my website, I want to show you photos taken by some of them and review them. I think it makes for a great way to discover Cuba and learn about photography at the same time. The photographic language is sometimes obvious, and others a little more subtle and poetic. Here, you will see photos of all kinds, each of them with a little lesson.
I hope you enjoy this little “photo tour across Cuba” from your computer or phone.
Rap in Havana.
This is Adela’s favorite photo, and one of mine too. Adela was very active during her Cuba photography trip in August of 2016. In this photo, she managed to get “the photographer removed from the picture”. Cuba is a photographic paradise, and you can get very good portraits with people looking at the camera, but in this case that didn’t happen.
The photograph has it all: action, good framing (even though achieving perfection would’ve meant not cutting off the foot of the rapper in red) and color harmony, with a prevalence of red and blue. Furthermore, an interesting visual shape forms between the looks of the rappers and the direction of the car, forming a triangle that ends with the man in red in the background, who removes us from the picture.
Congratulations, Adela, and I hope to see you on some other photo tour during 2017 or 2018, since I know you wanted to get to know other places in Cuba :-)
Rick Bergstrom traveled to Cuba with incredible energy, both he and Amy, his wife, were very active at all times, eager to learn the details of a culture as curious as the Cuban and wanting to get great photographs.
Rick came to my last January photo tour in Cuba 2017, his picture was selected by National Geographic as the Photo of the Day for July 1.
Congratulations my friend !!
Faceless portraits, full stories
Jeffrey is a photographer from San Diego who surprised me every day with at least one or two amazing photographs. He thoroughly enjoyed being in contact with the people, and this reflected on his work, since he would always be close to the action.
In this case he looked for an original point of view and managed to tell a little story about something as important in Cuba as is tobacco, without showing the characters’ faces. This is key, since not showing the faces is a risky move, but if we look at Jeffrey’s photo we will notice that it also complies with many classic rules: a clearly-defined foreground and background, and above all, it perfectly complies with the rule of the thirds; the hand of the old woman with its wrinkles and her tobacco are at the perfect spot.
That photo took first place in an online photo contest at DP Review
You can see Jeffrey’s photographs at the following link
Three cuban elements
Kirkland participated with his Fuji in August’s Cuban photography tour.
August is a month that sees light rains during the afternoon, as can be noticed on the surface of the car. Kirk knew how to find a good frame, masterfully combining the car in the foreground with the graffiti in the background. He kneeled down and patiently waited until the girls turned up and shot at the decisive moment when they were walking at the same pace, right when the legs were farther apart; this conveys more dynamism to the photo.
A few other curiosities: chromatically, the girl’s shirt has the same colors as the car, and the small star in the eye of the face in the graffiti combines with the small sparkles arising from the water drops on the car.
Congratulations Kirk, you knew how to identify where to find a good picture and waited until you got it.
Roger took part of my photo tour in Cuba in August of 2017. In August I usually design a different trip, with visits to the Carnivals in Havana and the beach. Roger quickly overcame his shyness and, as can be seen in the photograph, spent his time close to the people, almost within arm’s reach. He got the permission of the children’s parents (who we can see smiling in the background) and took a photograph that, while seemingly simple, is almost a masterpiece of composition, since Roger skilfully combined over 8 elements in a way that they would not overlap, thus creating an “orderly labyrinth” of actions and looks.
Roger is a very tall man, but in the photo it is clear that he kneeled down in order to be at the same height as the children – a smash hit.
A gift from a friend.
This photograph is from Kevin, a classic portrait –in a square format, even– that is apparently symmetrical and direct, but without a doubt, there is something else to be discovered by looking at this Cuban man’s face. It is a very human photograph in which the model is proud of being photographed.
The wonderful thing about this portrait is that Kevin spent quite some time with the man in the photograph in a small town north-west of Cuba. Two different languages, which didn’t prevent them from communicating and forming a small friendship. It was after these fundamentally human moments that the picture was taken – a photograph between friends; a photograph that was a gift for both.
A risky composition.
Pamela was the only woman on a photo tour of four around Cuba. I have come to realize during the last few years that, in general, photographs taken by women tend to be more candid, more human, and they definitely break the classic rules of photography. They are generally more flexible than men, and surprise us with their images.
In this case, the composition is risky; a swath of dark space that helps viewers focus their sight on the girl, who perfectly combines with the blue wall. Another important point for me is that the presence of the photographer cannot be perceived in this image. Pamela was quite close, but remained invisible, and that conveys a natural feeling to this wonderful photograph.
Pamela did an excellent photographic work in Cuba, which can be seen at the following link
Real Streets - Old Havana
Ora is a great traveler, she’s traveled many countries and in some of them has participated in photo tours, it was her first trip to Cuba and joined the group after traveling alone for a few days on the Island.
Although Ora has it very easy to approach to people since she is a very sociable person, we have chosen this photograph that was taken from the other side of the street because of the excellent composition it has, it is almost magic, it involves many elements and each one is in a perfect position, the eyes of the seated gentlemen go to different places and the two gentlemen who stand are the guardians of this fantastic scene that happens under the omnipresent Cuban flag and the "almost erased" graffiti of the hero of the revolution known as Camilo Cienfuegos.
Ora knew how to capture the soul of this scene in a very difficult situation since there were more photographers in the street, but she photographed this group of Cubans quite naturally, as if they were alone, only one of them looks at camera in an intense way, giving the photography some extra energy.
Congratulations on this iconic photograph which perfectly reflects the atmosphere in the streets of Havana.
Her web site : http://www.orabuerkliphoto.com/
Hidden Che Guevara
She is a discreet, calm photographer and with a continuous smile on her face, along with her husband Stephan made the same trip to Cuba, but with totally different photographs.
She saw photographs that the rest did not see, almost never present when something obvious and intense happened, she reserved her energies to find different, subtler, more hidden points like this photo of El Che.
It's a Graffiti I've seen for years, but the point of view that Isabel had was totally different, the photograph is well composed and it's clear that she took her time to find the perfect frame.
Although it seems a simple photo, I can assure that it is not, since other travelers tried to take it and their attempts failed to capture "the soul" Isabel got, perhaps because she knew to take 3 elements where the others only saw 1 or 2 or maybe because Photography is art and art cannot be repeated.
Portraits of the Revolution.
Stephan R. (web-site)
Stephan traveled to Cuba with his wife Isabel and his photographic equipment in which his tripod was always present. We enjoyed a great trip and although Cuba is a country where one of its great attractions is photographing people Stephan decided to work almost always with tripod making it more difficult to go unnoticed, but he got great pictures.
He made large photographs in vertical format (click here), very well composed and with a millimeter precision (he is an engineer and that can be seen in his photographic style), sometimes he got up very early to repeat a photograph in which he did not like the light of the day before.
I have chosen this photograph because it summarizes very well his photographic journey and his style, the great precision with which he framed the scene with his tripod, the slow speed with which he fired in order to work at ISO 100 and above all the ability to incorporate the human element in the scene at the right time, not only by the faces of the pictures but also by the person who crosses the scene like a ghost.
Janet is an American photographer who enjoys both the process of taking photography, as well as working in Photoshop, she’s calm, somewhat shy and very hardworking, when she leaves her camera, she takes her laptop.
I especially like this photo of her because she had to be very close to the taxi driver while he slept, it is a vertical composition and this adds complexity to the photo.
It seems to be a funny photograph, but if we look closely we will see that it is a great photograph, a very serious photograph, in the sense that it is very well composed, not only the forms but also the colors, mainly blue and red help guide the look at the main object (the man and his bike-taxi) and separating them from the large number of lines at the bottom, gives us "visual tranquility".
The broken soles of the shoe say much of the hard life of the taxi driver and the girls in the background also tell us about a very lively Havana, people are always on the street, although our "friend" has sought to flee a bit of that crazy and wonderful Havana sleeping a little nap.
Candid girl - Countryside.
Rick Bergstrom traveled to Cuba with incredible energy, both he and Amy, his wife, were very active at all times, eager to learn the details of a culture as curious as the Cuban and wanting to get great photographs.
The vast majority of photographs they took were portraits and street photography in color, this photograph is more calm and evocative than the others, in it there is a wonderful play with lights and shadows, the face of the Cuban girl and her reflection on the wall, but this is not all, in the whole picture you feel a kind of spider web of lines, both the girl's hair and its reflection as well as the shadows of the trees and the lines of the woods on the wall get it to be at the same time a candid and relaxed photograph but with a lot of dynamism, something difficult to obtain.
It is also important to note the distance that Rick was from the girl, he did his job well and got accepted and able to shoot his camera from such a short distance.
Congratulations Rick !!
Colorful portrait. (Tino Soriano and Louis Alarcon photography tour in Cuba 2012)
Tino Soriano : Tino is a friend and teacher of mine; a Spanish photographer of great renown. He works for National Geographic and holds awards such as the World Press Photo, UNESCO Photo Awards and a long list that would be too long to detail here.
National geographic profile: click here
We started conducting our photo tours around Havana in 2014, and have done so again several times. We also expect to keep doing so in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
During these photography Workshops, Tino particularly speaks about color, and more importantly about the way to combine them to obtain a harmonic photograph. He usually avoids obvious photos, and this is an example of that. Many photographers would have taken a photograph taking advantage of that magnificent red background, but Tino smoothly added yellow and blue, the last one matching the pendants of our friend Indira.
In the following video you will see how this photo was taken. This is how masters work, without hiding behind the camera; attempting to elicit the look of their model with their own – a true lesson for anyone willing to obtain portraits filled with humanity.
Afrocuban couple in a show. (Fabian and Louis , next photography workshop in Cuba 2017)
I worked with Fabian on a photography tour across Havana and Viñales in August of 2016. He is a photography and music teacher in his school in Laredo, Texas, and in addition to being a great person and a great teacher, he knows perfectly how to take great pictures, as you can see.
In order to take this photograph, which freezes a moment of dancing, he had to work hard. This means he arrived 30 minutes before the show started and picked a good spot where he wouldn’t miss a thing. Behind Fabian there were hundreds of tourists who couldn’t get quality pictures because they were positioned as tourists, not as photographers.
Fabian worked on the dances in this urban setting for almost an hour, so I can assure that this great picture is not a product of chance. These were the ingredients to accomplish this great photo: anticipation of the action, good spot selection, technical photographic knowledge, working skill, and endurance to be 1 hour at the same spot until he obtained what he was after.
Cuban cigars. Mario Rubio and Louis Alarcon night photography tour to Cuba in 2014. (2017 will be the next one)
I have shared 2 trips with Mario Rubio, where we have led groups of travelers interested in both daytime and nighttime photo tours in Cuba.
Mario may be the best night photographer in the Spanish-speaking world, and his book dealing with this photography skill is the most important. He is a career teacher, and working with him was a true pleasure.
Here I show you a picture that is uncommon for him (even though it is still a night photo), since he usually shots using a tripod and electronic trigger. It was the first night after arriving in Havana, and as we sat at the Malecón, he used his Nikon D700 and his 200 mm f 2.8 to capture to Orlando Lazaro (painter in Havana) lighting a Cuba cigar.
Here you can see his nighttime photography gallery on Cuba, a true delight for night photography and light painting lovers.
Here you can check my gallery of night photography: Louis Alarcon night photo
Yany is a Cuban living in Italy. I was surprised to see a Cuban taking part of a photo tour in his own Cuba. Yaniel is obsessed (in a good sense) with photography, and documents each of his visits to Cuba. He mainly enjoys street photography and portraits.
Here I show you some of his pictures, taken at a very photogenic spot in Havana, across their famous Capitol. Thousands of photographs have been taken here, but Yaniel has managed something else. First, he crouched all the way down to the floor, giving importance to nearby elements such as the kid on the bike. The photograph is clean, has many items that do not interfere with each other, and each of them provides us with information about Cuba: architecture, people, old cars, monuments, etc...
There is a sense of livelihood in the direction of the car and the child; it looks as though they were trying to escape the picture, opening a hallway toward the impressive Havana Capitol.
The photo editing gives it a more poetic look, since it strays from the highly recognizable multicolor street photograph; a risky move which I think turned out great.
Ballet in malecon
Martha came to take part of a photo workshop in Cuba from Laredo, Texas, with great expectations, and would not rest for a moment until she obtained the photo she was after.
She got very good photos of Cuba in this photo tour, but I have selected this one since I believe it managed to capture a moment all other photographers missed. This ballet session was arranged with a professional ballerina, and we were all focused on the leaps the dancer made, something that was maybe more spectacular, but Martha saw past that – something inside her prompted her to shoot during a moment of concentration and harmony, thereby obtaining this unique moment with great artistic beauty.
On the beach
In July of 2014 I organized a photo tour across all of Cuba, including Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa, Holguín, and we spent a couple of days at a beach hotel in Guardalavaca.
There, I offered a family portrait workshop on a morning when Cuban families where enjoying a day at the beach. Pedro is a likeable person, with a great heart and a great smile, albeit a bit shy. This was not an issue when he noticed families would say ‘hi’ and let their pictures be taken. We made portraits, were invited to a glass of rum, had a chat with people and even got in the water with our cameras – an unforgettable morning.
What Peter managed makes me envious of him, because I was right next to him, and mine doesn’t have the soul Peter achieved on his. If we pay attention, it looks like a black and white picture. The sobriety and combination of the colors is perfect; there are people looking into the camera, and others at each other. The raised hand provides dynamism and verticality to the picture, and the old lady’s smile succeeds in conveying the joy and peace of that family day.
Angel has been participating in photo tours around the world with a deliberate and very precise way of shooting photos. During this photography workshop in Cuba in 2016, like many of my students, he met the looks of many people who allowed themselves to get photographed.
In his black and white portrait, he manages a great intensity in the model’s look. That is how great portraits are – you just have to consider the works of Steve McCurry or Sebastiao Salgado. The man’s look is deep and evokes on us a confrontation of personalities, further taking us to look beyond and imagine what that person is like. The torn shirt and thinness also tell us a lot about him.
The choice of using Black and White is personal, but I must say I personally like it. It also enables us to homogenize the background and have the entire focus fall on the person.
Fidel and the people
Carmen took her photography trip just with her mobile. She is the first student to use this device exclusively, without taking a camera. Her extroverted character led her to take great pictures and get to know Cuba in-depth, but in this case, the photo I’m showing you is something different; it is a waiting game.
She found a storefront with many of the Cuban icons and waited for a person to complete the frame harmoniously. It is an iconic photograph, but also a peculiar one, since normally, the face of Fidel Castro tends to be earnest, and that of Cubans is associated with joy. In this case, Carmen manages to turn things around, and capture Fidel with a mischievous smile, and the woman being completely earnest. Another interesting thing is that each look takes us to the edge of the photograph, thereby managing an interesting dynamism.
Panoramic view of Havana
Javier, just like most of my students, took photos of different kinds during the trip, but he is accustomed to taking landscape photos.
It is for this reason that I have chosen this landscape of Havana. I selected it because it is clear that it is important to Javier; he made a large printout and is now a part of the decoration of his apartment.
Views of Havana from the fortress called “Cabaña” are spectacular at sunset. On this day, we had the luck of getting clouds, which gave Havana a fantastic look. Javier is well aware of the basics of hyperfocal shooting, which is why the picture is in perfect focus.
Children and balcony
The year Gustavo participated in my photography tour of Cuba, he was just a young 22-year-old, but his fun, relentless attitude kept him active at all times and with his camera always on his shoulder.
I’m showing you this picture by him because its geometry caught my attention. Besides, tourists tend to take pictures of smiling children playing on the street, but Gustavo went a little bit past that and managed a different view, the harsh look of a child who wouldn’t wave or smile; he just stared in defiance at the photographer who had invaded the privacy of his balcony.
Attempting to obtain different pictures beyond the multicolor smiling Cuba theme is important, and Gustavo managed to do just that.
Father and son.
John is specialized in travel photography, and particularly in bird photography. He takes photography trips several times a year, but this photo tour was different. Here, he had the challenge of approaching people and establishing a relationship in order to obtain good portraits – a type of photography that was totally unlike shooting fauna.
On our photo tour of Viñales I guided my students to get to know different farmer families who harvest the best tobacco in the world, that that’s where the magic happened. We were inside a house in the countryside, and a man and his son approached the door, with the light coming from the side providing good lighting. Nobody else noticed it; just Joan did, who obtained this great “atmospheric portrait”.
The father’s harsh, yet kind and serene look, and the blurred outline of the child close-up; a photo that speaks of time, generations, and the personality of the country man.
Manaca Iznaga Tower in Trinidad
Laura is a plant, insect and landscape photo enthusiast, but in the last few years she has traveled on a couple of photo tours in India and Cuba.
During our photo tour in Trinidad, Laura managed to obtain this harmonious and balanced photo, both in regards to color and weight of the shapes of its main components. A few moments later she would approach the Cuban woman to show her the picture, but in the instant she took this photograph, she managed to capture a unique moment when the young woman was lost in thought, and she stands at a “yellow triangle” in the sunset which casts a light on the Manaca Iznaga Tower in Trinidad.
During my guided tours, I like taking my students to the best spots at the right time, and Laura knew how to take advantage of that situation. A little bit later, the photo wouldn’t have worked, since the girl would have been in darkness, and she would already have collected her white sheets, therefore losing the charm and information offered by the photograph.
With a more poetic outlook, we could say that those white sheets they weave for selling to tourists are a divider between the everyday life and the tall tower we see in the background, and symbolizes the colonial past of a valley that was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Manuel shows us here a different photograph of the Manaca Iznaga Tower in Trinidad. It was taken during a photo tour of Cuba specialized in night photography, led by Mario Rubio. It was the first night photography trip made in Cuba.
In this long exposure photo he obtains a sky spotted by moving clouds; the tower is impregnated by the warm light given by the lampposts in the background (wisely hidden by the car, in a good execution of composition). The fire effect was obtained by using sparks, leaving their trace in the camera’s lens, which remained open for approximately 45 seconds to take this wonderful photograph.
As a footnote, I want to clarify that these types of photographs are obtained while working on a tripod, with wide-angle lenses, electronic trigger, and using hyperfocal distance in order to obtain a perfect focus across the entire image – a simple technique enthusiasts learn fast.
More photos of Manu in Flick : https://www.flickr.com/photos/manu26/
Family of farmers.
Mirian got little sleep in Cuba – she lived the trip with intensity, and on the day when you had to choose between going horseback riding or visiting Cuban farming families, she decided to join me on this intimate photo tour to the heartland of the Cuban countryside.
We visited farming families who welcomed us with the unassuming and affectionate outlook particular to Cubans from Viñales. There, Mirian capture this family portrait with a strange by affective combination of colors, between the red of the land and the cool colors dressed by the family. It is a photo of many contrasts; the sunlight trying to burn the picture on the upper right corner while the family calmly poses in the shade. Even the dog looks relaxed.
It is a classic photo which perfectly captures a family and its environment in a sincere, intimate manner.
Silvia and Canon Reflex experienced a nice and productive photo tour of Cuba in 2015, and she has promised to come back in 2017 :-)
As can be seen in the photo, it was a rainy day at the old park of Havana. While everyone sought shelter from the rain and ordered something at the restaurant, untiring Silvia focused on the lost look of this girl who was heading for school in her official dress.
While it is true that the background of the picture as bit confusing, the soft light lighting the child’s face has such a force that it makes us forget about the little distractions in the background. Maybe by photoshopping it a little we could eliminate some things, but Silvia has decided to leave the photo just as she saw it – natural, simple and with no tricks.
Video: they danced in the rain, recorded few minutes later in Havana click here
Undressed afrocuban dancer
Valentin was one of my first students, and even though he was concerned during the first few days because he wasn’t used to approach people so much when taking pictures, little by little he lost his fear and enjoyed the “humanistic photography” I propose in my workshops.
In this photograph we took during the rehearsal of a group of Afro-Cuban dancers in Havana, Valentin not only focused on the image of the group dancing as a whole, but also got up-close as much as possible to capture details; in this case, a dancer tying up his shirt. The photograph has a strange energy; there are three different alignments formed by stone (pillars), iron and flesh (the arm), and it also places the dancer’s chest in one of the thirds of the photograph.
Even though the background is a bit confusing, the dancer does not overlap with any important line of the background. Lastly, I would say that the photo could be retouched a little in order to give the face greater significance, but if we give it an honest look, the face of the character is not the star of this portrait; the action of his arms and chest are instead.
More photos of Valentin: click here
Sweet little girl
Meeting Carlos was a surprise for me. He had learned about me through my YouTube videos; we had talked a lot by e-mail, and when we met, it was as though we were old friends.
Right away I noticed Carlos was a “photography-hyperactive individual”; always active and with a watchful eye. This attitude led him to take this photograph that all of us missed – the Cuban girl on the bus, lost in thought and with a wonderful side lighting that makes this photo a unique moment. Another great thing about this photograph was that it was taken without the girl realizing it, which provides it with a natural look. The framing also looks great to me; it is centered on her face, which is the emotional center of gravity of the picture.
Great work, Carlos!
Hairdressers in Havana
Juan Miguel arrived to Cuba worried about the quality of his pictures. We were talking about the difference between beautiful pictures, those everyone likes, and good pictures, the ones we were interested to take. Juan gradually forgot the obvious, and risked more by going deeper.
I’ve chosen this picture because you can see the risk Juan took. He decided to get deeper into this hair salon located in a building hall, and he knew how to split two scenes in the same photograph. The one on the left side is the human zone, where the characters form a very interesting triangle, framed with cleanliness and clarity. The right side is the inanimate side of the picture; where an interesting light shows the soul of this kind of places.
An old car in Havana sunset !
This was Nacho’s third trip to Cuba. He likes portraits, nighttime photographs and old cars. He got an obsessive way to work, with no breaks even for a moment. This effort produced great results.
I have chosen this photograph because of the light, the moment and the person who was photographed. Many tourists in Cuba take pictures to every old car they see, even with the hard noon light. Nacho knew how to capture the evening Havana ambient, with old cars, low light, el malecon, the Caribbean Sea and the buildings at the background.
In other words, this picture is a great night Havana postal card.
More pictures of old cars in havana. click here
Two visions about the same model, by Hector Aura.
Hector is crazy about photograph. He belongs to many photographic associations and takes several photo tours across the year, but they usually are during weekends, so this was the first one who lasted more than a week, according to him. Hector performs all kinds of photography; he is very open with people and has a very broad view.
Here you can see a couple of photos he took during a session we made with models in an ancient colonial house. I wanted to show two pictures to emphasize Hector’s different views from a single situation. Like I said before, Hector works with a very broad view and knows how to capture great and different pictures from a single point of view.