Last month I fulfilled one of my greatest desires to visit the distant country of Cuba, which is situated on the other hemisphere, very far from where I live, my country, Greece. At this journey I had with me the new Fujifilm X-T3 camera and 3 zoom lenses plus a prime one, which helped me move quietly in the streets of Havana and Trinidad.
I call this journey “a great desire ” as I always admired the culture and the harassed people of this country. What I earned from my stay there, was an outstanding photographic experience and much more. Wandering for several days in the streets of these cities and mingling with amazing unknown people coming from a different cultural background offered me the experience of feeling the cultural pulse of this country and certainly left its mark on me.
In this article ,which is neither a photographic reportage nor a travel shooting, as probably expected, I ‘m going to try to analyse my thoughts, starting from the type of photography I worked on, my personal concerns and the way I moved. In addition, I ‘m referring to the technique and the equipment I used as well as the creation of a personal photo project, shooting constantly all these days.
The type of photography I worked on
In general, when I shoot, I let myself go, since my aim is to express a hidden part of me through the Art of photography and this is my way to it.
I acted in a free style in Cuba, as I always do, similarly to the street photography which cannot be defined or confined. Therefore, I started shooting the active life around me. I ‘d describe it as love of conceiving the simple and spontaneous which is unnoticed before our eyes and is converted into something special in the viewer’s eyes. I might call it “art of observation”. The result of a cerebral response. A constant challenge that keeps provoking my senses as a photographer. The reason I emphasize the kind of photography I chose is because the sights in a country like this are several like the architecture, the nature and all the details which, by the way, may lead to confusion. Therefore, choosing to focus on a particular type of photography made it easier to complete a photographic project.
Study of the environment
To fulfil my goals successfully on the first week, I had to walk for miles in the city; to talk with the locals; to discover and feel this new-for me – world before I touch my camera and start shooting. That’s in opposition to the most photographers who visit this country, as I found out from discussions I had with them. The reason for this is that they take quick photos of everything they see, recording everything from this “Mecca” of photography where it seems like time has stopped.
My main concern was to avoid a plain, repeated recording of life and social events about which several articles have been written and published for this country. For me, the dominant elements are the mystery and the feelings in combination with harmony and simplicity which play an important role to my frames and cannot be obtained other than focusing on each place by studying it.
The theoretical and practical part
I believe that a photo should tell a story and trigger the viewer’s imagination making him feel like he was present. So, every time I picked up my camera , I didn’t want to shock the viewer showing the poverty and people’s hardship but, instead, to communicate the way of life of the local community through my personal view, staying unnoticed and moving around like a resident of the city.
As for the practical part, I was walking for many hours every day and needed loads of patience to support my effort daily. It was also essential to carry a pair of comfortable trainers, a hat, suncream and lots of bottled water as the temperatures were high and the sun very hot during the day. As Cuba is known for its tropical climate, I also needed a transparent, waterproof, protective wrap for my bag in case of rain, which saved my equipment a lot of times -even though it was waterproof by construction-as I even came across floods.
My concerns and the equipment I used
Quite a lot of times I ran into photographers who gave seminars and showed their students techniques and spots in the city regarding to street photography. A lot of questions crossed my mind I ‘d like to share with you. Can something beautiful be repeated? Can street photography be taught?
Undoubtedly, the right technique and the equipment help a photographer to his work plus that the technique can be improved over time. In my view, however, talent and personal view come from within, someone’s inner self and cannot be copied or imparted.
The equipment I used was Fujifilm XT3 exclusively with the XF18-55, XF55-200, XF10-24 and XF56 1.2 lenses. The zoom lens offered me the easiness I wanted so as to have focal distance at my disposal ,as well as its Prime 56mm lens which gave me portraits of excellent quality with its amazing bokeh ,using it wide open at the aperture 1.2.And all these fitted in a small shoulder bag.
A lot of times other photographers stopped me in the street and asked me about my camera showing interest in its size and efficiency. Some of them insisted that a good camera should be full frame like theirs but as soon as I showed them the quality of the image and explained the insignificant differences between the “ff sensor” and mine, then surprised asked me for its price since the quality of the camera and the lenses was much better than theirs and was combined with its small size.
A project is born
As mentioned above, the study of the environment played an important role as I was wandering a lot trying to avoid the usual touristic sites. My decision about what I would ultimately capture at my frame and if I would follow the common philosophy was important as well. When referred to Cuba, our mind inevitably travels to colour, body language and the wild pulses of life in this lively city giving us a vivid effect. This way “streetview in colour” was born joining each frame with everyday life and vivid colours dominating everywhere. It includes images with shadows, figures, movement; thousands of moments, infinite possibilities, lines intended to show the magic that gives the instant and as if the unexpected face of the art of Street Photography.
Techniques, settings and incidents
The distinctiveness of this country led me start creating timeless images. Paying attention to entire scene and things like the unique colored backgrounds, the affective lighting, perspective etc. all these days across the city, I was starting imagining my frames through my camera before I captured them!
My interaction with my subjects was vital during the shooting, since I could not sit back in all this burst of emotions. So, a lot of times I had to talk or spend time with the locals in order to blend in with their feelings and the existing environment naturally.
Most of all, street photography is about spontaneity. Everything happens in a split second. Therefore, wandering in the streets and shooting was not just a walk. My camera was the whole time hung upon me or I held it in my hands and in combination with its quick autofocus XT3, which is the best of Fujifilm’s X-series-especially at the night shots-was a big help to achieve the desired capture. From the settings I used pre focus and, sometimes, CL (low-speed burst) in drive mode as everything was happening within seconds.
Al the photos I present are in JPeg format. They ‘ve been under minimum editing as I chose the vivid film simulation from my settings and depending on the lighting conditions I increased the contrast according to my taste.
As far as the incidents are concerned, since I was always alert for the unexpected, there were many times that I popped into streets full of traffic seeking for the moment and the drivers hooted constantly at me as they are used in Cuba. Luckily, nothing worse happened.
To sum up, I would like to highlight the beautiful feeling that street photography gives me. I enjoyed the procedure more than anything! And that’s above all! My constant experimenting with amazing Fujifilm XT3,which has the best ergonomics in camera I ‘ve seen so far, the addition of its touch screen, it’s small size and the exceptional image quality, made me forget about the numerous kilometres I walked every day in the streets of Havana and Trinidad and apply myself to what I love the most :true photography ;the one you meet spontaneously in the world’s streets, unstaged and unplanned.