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5 Tips for great photography in Cuba with Przemek Strzelecki

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In October 2014 one of my favorite photographer died.

His name was Rene’ Burri. He has died aged 81 and he had the great honour to photograph incredible iconic people as Che Guevara and Pablo Picasso.

He documented the Cuban life as nobody else. I still remember his photography tips for Cuba which I followed in my first trip in the island, over 20 years ago.

What I loved the most was street photography in Havana. The capital was so full of character, it was like stepping back 100 years.

I had my film camera and unfortunately I moved so much in my life that I left behind my old films, gone forever. I enjoy looking back to my digital photos. I would have loved so much looking back to that photos done 20 years ago. Such a pity.

I am not a big fan of photographing with an SLR today, however Cuba is a bit different. Anything in this country is so 50s/60s that an old camera fits so well.

Yes it is true that you may find a Photoshop or Lightroom preset that simulates an old processing method however, again, is not just the same. Cuba deserves to be documented with films.

I contacted Przemek Strzelecki, a Polish photographer living in UK. I like to see him as a great interpreter of soul photography. It is not just about street photography, it is about capturing the right composition at the right time.

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When you see a Przemek shot you start thinking about the story behind the person or the people in the photo. Przemek is able to catch the story and not just an image.

I had a talk with Przemek about making photos in Cuba. I am so looking forward to go back.

Q. Przemek tell us a bit more about your experience of photography in Cuba
I was lucky to travel to Cuba with the camera in my hand. Up till now it has been one of the most memorable journey for me.

For photographers Cuba is like a paradise. Open and easygoing people, fantastic light, great old architecture and thousands of vintage American cars make this place amazing for artists with camera.

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What are the best photography locations in Cuba

Przemek : For me the best place to take pictures was Havana as well as Trinidad but every corner of that country is great for photographers. The best way is to turn off the beaten tracks and that is it.

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What subjects would you suggest

Przemek : You have thousands of possibilities, from skinny old dogs roaming freely between old dirty cars to cock fighting, from old people with a cigar in their mouth to great shadows on the walls.

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How do you organise your photography day in Cuba

Przemek : I used to wake up really early in the morning, quite often still with the taste of Cuban rum in my mouth, then I had a coffee on the street and then I put a roll of slide into my old canon camera (eos 30) or the black and white film to the second camera I had with me (Contax g2) and I started.

After an hour or two, the amazing light was gone so I hid my stuff and waited few hours to dawn for another portion of great Cuban light.

Again an hour or two with the camera in hand and than the best way to finish your photographic day was to go for a bottle of Havana Club.

In Cuba I used only the two cameras mentioned above. Two lenses, canon 17-40 f/4 and carl zeiss 35 f/2.

I had some rolls of slides with me, fuji provia 400 and some black and white negatives, usually fuji neopan 400 and ilford hp 5. That is it.

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How to communicate with Cubans

Przemek : I don’t speak Spanish but it was not a problem.

Some courage, smile on your face and openness that is all you need to meet the Cubans.

I stayed usually with families at their houses or in cheap hotels (Havana).

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The first thing I have done after my chat with Przemek was to look for a flight to Havana!! I love Cuba, and even better the people that live there.

I met so many Cubans in my life, both in the island and overseas. Everyone with the own story, everyone with an incredible life experience.

Sleep in the island

There are two options.

You can stay in Hotels and usually they provide a great service.

You can rent a room or a house, probably the best experience. Google “casa particular” and the town/city/site you want to visit and you should be able to find a spot. Also, AirBnb has made an agreement with a network of casa particular in Cuba, however you may end up with an higher price to pay.

Remember that internet is not the everyday Cuban experience. You can travel and look for the accommodation also when you arrive to a smaller town. Just go to the main square and ask around.

Have a good photography trip

Check Przemek Strzelecki website for more photos and projects: bawgaj.eu

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Stefano Ferro
Stefano is a cycling, movie and life style photographer with a big love for landscape & travel photography. When in Melbourne, his hometown, you will see him cycling around at sunset or sunrise looking for the best spot for a photo of this beautiful city. It is quite amazing how much photography gear he can pack on his bike :o

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