© Nevada Wier Camagüey, Cuba.
Canon 5D MarkIII
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II USM 19mm 0.6sec at f/6.3 ISO 800
Aperture Priority. Evaluative Metering
No flash fired, on a tripod.
I don’t remember who said, “If your photographs are boring then find a better subject”. I certainly cannot argue with that statement. Most of us search for interesting landscapes, story and project ideas in our hometowns. However I have an opposite problem: Because of all the place to which I travel — I am overflowing with interesting subjects, in fact, sometimes I think I am cursed with them.
I think travel photography is one of the hardest genres because of this. I have seen some of the best editorial and commercial photographers show some of the most boring, mundane travel images in presentations. The elation of travel trumped the artistry of photography
Travel is an elixir. I am addicted to travel; I am a sensory junkie. I love the smells, the feelings of adventure, newness and self-discovery. I revel in the unknown and being off-kilter. I love meeting new people, eating unusual foods, and not knowing what the next minute will bring my way. Photography is fine friend with which to travel – it has forced me to interaction intimately, non-verbally, and honestly with strangers. I am forced to come in close and initiate the relationship. I have become a better person because I travel.
So of course we are emotionally attached to our travel photographs. They are snapshots of us, the ultimate selfie. When we exhibit a photograph made during our travels, we are showing a little bit of our soul. However, honestly, any photograph is a bit of our soul. It is not enough to render an image of an interesting person that we met, or a stunning statue, or intricate architecture. Our job as a photographer is to make an interesting image of whatever we decide to immortalize. There is no such thing as a boring subject, just boring ways of photographing it. An interesting subject also demands an interesting or unique viewpoint.
I have the luxury of traveling to some of the most intriguing places in the world, primarily to photograph the cultures that live within.
Cuba is on the photo radar! And, it is a photographers dream: imaginative decay, intriguing people, unexpected color, and exuberant expressions! Color, light, action, pattern! And, plenty of gestures!
It is too easy. Just walk down a street in Cuba and without thinking you will find your hands on your camera “click”, “click”, “click”. It is infectious and joyful. There are very few shy people and very few “no!” I open my arms and I feel as if I can hug Cuba. That is a great travel feeling.
Yet, as a photographer I have to not only feel, but think. I have to not only experience, but also interpret. I have to make an interesting image of an interesting subject.
This is a long preachy, preamble to talking about the above image. But it is part of its anatomy.
The image above was taken early in 2014 when I was traveling throughout Cuba with a two photographer friends, American and Cuban. Carlos, my Cuban friend, had met Luis Antonio (80 years old) on previous trip. He lived in a one of those sad, beautiful, decrepit, extraordinary, run-down, “how-can-anyone-live-here!” houses that is too prevalent in Cuba.
If you are only a street photojournalist, trying to be an unobtrusive observer, then you can wait find the “decisive” moments. I have a bit more in repertoire and often find that I have to compose a portrait, and that requires extending myself in order to create a relationship. This time I had an entrée, and that makes it easier of course. Often times I have to be open and outright, and invite myself inside someone’s home (“Puedo?”). Often amusing (or horrifying) them with my pathetic Spanish (or non-existent language since I primarily travel in Asia).
Luis was charming; his neighbors were charming. I loved the entire experience. But, I wanted to make a different portrait of him. I walked all around his decaying house. I marveled at the colors in the “how-can-he-cook-here!” kitchen. It was dark. I had my workhorse Canon 5DMarkIII but photographing handheld would have required cranking the ISO to such a high degree that I knew the image would fall apart upon close inspection. I rarely travel with a tripod but this time I had one with me.
I decided to photograph Luis from the within the kitchen with my widest-angle lens. The colors were a subtle pastel palette. I used the highest ISO that I knew would hold the most detail with the least amount of noise. Since it was still image I knew a slow shutter speed was fine… but not too slow.
I like environmental portraits where the environment is as important as the person within it.
So tomorrow I head to Cuba again. And, it WILL be fun!! And, I will enjoy being a traveler there. And, I will also have to see differently and make images with impact, intent, and originality. Not an easy task!