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What Every Photographer Needs to Know Before Heading to Cuba

Author: Libby

Summer is just around the corner, and that means road trips, wandering, traveling and getting lost in new places! If you are looking for a new place to visit that will excite your photographic soul, look no further than Cuba. Photographer Andrei Gere is from Canada and has traveled to this beautiful island. He shares with us what every photographer needs to know before heading to Cuba. Hint: Be prepared to fall in love.
Tell us a little about yourself
I am a Creative Director in the web/e-commerce industry, from Montreal, Canada and photography is my passion. I love traveling, discovering new places, different cultures, experiencing and capturing it all through the viewfinder of my camera. I have had the chance to explore and photograph much of the United States (on road trips that took me across the country on a couple of occasions), as well as parts of Europe, Cuba, and Mexico. My photography includes landscapes, cityscapes, and urban street scenes with a focus on people and the city life. I like to create images that are positive, rich and vibrant and that capture the essence of places and people. Those familiar with my work often describe it as revealing, as it brings out the raw beauty of places that would otherwise seem ordinary, making them memorable and unique.
You submitted a photo book about your travels to Cuba – tell us a little about the book.
My visit to Havana of about 6 hours was relatively short. Although I would have liked to spend more time to explore the city for more photo opportunities, I felt I had enough good images to call it a day before leaving the city.
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Because I was hot on the heels of my first photo book, Two Days in Paris, also printed with Printique, I wanted to maintain the momentum and get another book done, with a minimum investment in the time needed to design and create the book. I started thinking about this book and the images that would give some insight into the city, the people and my own personal journey of that day. I wanted to show the colorful places, the aging buildings, and architecture, the many layers and textures everywhere.
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Although Cuba has been through a difficult period under the socialist regime, I wanted the book to offer a real look at aspects of the city, but with a tone that does not overdramatizes the hardships of its times. There are pictures of people working, walking, laughing, singing and some of people that do, well, nothing. It’s balanced and diverse, reflecting much of what I noticed and experienced myself walking around the streets. I marveled at the old cars and took pictures of even older buildings not with sorrow or regret, but rather with nostalgia and appreciation of the opportunity to find myself surrounded by all these elements. The images in the book of busy balconies and narrow streets, the mix of baroque and neoclassic architecture, the colorful storefronts with their original wood crafted signs show character, endurance and an identity of a vintage time, much like a good cigar or the emblematic label of an aged rum.
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The book seeks to celebrate these rich visuals and preserve them before new times may transform them into something different. The design of the book is minimal and clean, leaving room to the photography to be browsed and enjoyed easily, as a coffee table photo book.
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With tourism recently opening up to Cuba for US residents, what should photographers know before heading to Cuba?
What makes Cuba truly special is the people. Cubans are known to be generous, educated, hospitable, and vivacious. They also make the best cigars and some of the best rum. Whether you go to Cuba for its beaches, world-class mojitos or its history-filled cities, the people of Cuba you will encounter in your travels will surely make a lasting impression.
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1. It’s Warm and Welcoming 
One of the first things our bus guide reassured us of on the way from the airport to the resort, is that Cuba is a safe place at all times of the day or night. As tourists, and especially as photographers, this is an important aspect to consider, given that we often may carry expensive photographic equipment and laptops. And indeed, at no time did I feel in danger, nor did I get the vibe of getting odd looks from locals. The people are warm and understanding of the benefits of tourism and what it can bring to their country. I can’t say this is the case for other countries I visited in the Caribbean or Central America.
2. Check into Excursions
If you go to Cuba for a resort vacation, there are excursions available to cigar factories, private beaches, parts of the countryside and also day trips to major cities, like Havana. Such excursions allow you to get closer to the Cuban people, catch a glimpse of their daily lives, eat authentic food, all of which offer plenty photographic opportunities.
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 3. Old Cars Run the Streets
Lovers of old cars will find themselves in basically a rolling car museum everywhere in the country, and especially in Havana. American classics used to be imported into the country up until 1960 when the United States declared an embargo that stopped the imports. Despite the long period of time that passed, most of the cars are still operational, thanks to the creativity of the Cuban people who came up with ingenious ways to keep them running and in a good shape.
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It is not unusual to feel like you’re on the set of an old movie, where antique cars, colorfully painted houses, eclectic architecture and tropical environment come together to create a unique experience and endless photo opportunities at every corner.
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 4. Go Now
Overall, as a photographer, Cuba is one of the most fascinating places to visit in the Caribbean. Its proximity to the US makes visiting it accessible and cities like Havana can be enjoyed fully in very few days. If you only have two to four days available for a quick getaway, just pack a suitcase and make the hop. You’ll have plenty of time to dive into the rich culture and come back with striking images. If you consider going, I’d recommend going sooner rather than later, to be able to capture and experience what still remains of the old times.
 
What is your favorite image you took from your trip in Cuba?
My favorite image from Cuba has to be that of a family riding down the Malecón in a ’55 Chevy Sunliner convertible. I snapped this shot on the go while being in a car myself, from the passenger’s seat.
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I caught a glimpse of the car approaching from behind in the little rearview mirror mounted in the front, next to the hood. I quickly lowered my window and tried to set up the shot in a way that wouldn’t be that obvious to the passengers of the other car. As they drove by, I fired a few shots hoping to be able to fit as much of the car as possible into the frame.
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The way this image came about, the quick timeframe it happened in, mixed with the elements captured in the image ( the classic car, the driver’s hat and the expression on the girl’s face who seems to simply savor the feel of the wind ( the classic car, the driver’s hat and the expression on the girl’s face who seems to simply savor the feel of the wind in her hair) puts a smile on my face every time I look at it. I ended up printing it as a 24×36 canvas and hanging it in the living room.
5. What gear do you pack when you travel?
The images in the Havana book were shot mostly with a Nikon D300 fitted with 17-55mm f/2.8 and 70-300mm lenses. I also had an Olympus OM-D E-M5 with a 12-50mm lens as a second smaller body for detail shots like the interior of the ’54 Chevy. My current travel kit, that I used in trips to Italy and California recently, consists of a Nikon D800 with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-300 lenses. I pack this when I know I will be shooting a lot of landscapes under possibly mixed weather conditions and where getting maximum dynamic range is essential, or when ruggedness is required. As a secondary kit, I have grown very fond of the Micro Four Thirds system. Due to its high versatility, small size and lightweight, the Olympus PEN-F is now my go-to camera for daily shooting around the city and getaways where I don’t want to carry heavy gear. If I was to go back to Cuba tomorrow, I’d take only my mirrorless kit: the Olympus PEN-F with the Olympus 14-150mm lens and a 35mm equivalent fast prime – like the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 or Panasonic 20mm f/1.7. The small size of the kit will allow me to easily walk the streets without raising much attention from locals and bystanders, while still having all the flexibility I need as far as controls and creative options go. For support, I use a MeFoto GlobeTrotter carbon fiber travel tripod and I fit it all in a ThinkTank Airport Essentials bag.
Thank you Andrei Gere for your inspiration and advice. You can see more of his work HERE. If you this article has peaked your interest in Cuba, we invite you to tune into  AdoramaTV, on May 12th at 12 pm EST for the premiere episode of Through The Lens Cuba. Click HERE to meet the squad of photographers headed to Cuba.