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Monthly Archives: February 2013

girl with doll 1

I spotted this little girl standing in a doorway in Havana.  She had a radiant smile, and was the total “girly girl” from head to toe.  Even her doll was “all dolled up!”

She loved showing off her doll, and posing.  I didn’t have to try to coax a sonrisa (smile) out of her.  A perfect model…  I love to photograph kids who aren’t camera-shy.  And she was quite happy to oblige me.

When kids are happy, they can’t hide it.  They don’t even try.  Love it!

girl with doll 2


Havana crosses 1

The morning after yesterday’s image was taken (“A Night In Havana,” 02.24.13) I was out of my hotel room while it was still completely dark, stumbling through the dimly lit streets of Havana in search of more photo ops the way zombies stumble about in search of brains.  Despite being a confirmed night owl, since this was one of the hotel rooms that was very musty and moldy due to the fact that a) it had no windows and b) the plumbing leaked under the floor every time I showered, I was not too unhappy about leaving the room, even at zero-dark-thirty.

I shot this church from the time it was still completely dark until just before the sun rose.  When there was enough light to see the sky and the details in the architecture, but still before dawn, the golden domes warmly reflected the brightening sky in the east.  My shots in full darkness showed little detail in the black domes.  And I knew full sunlight would make the metallic domes too hot (bright) and wash out the detail in the white stucco walls.  This little window of soft violet light lasted only a few minutes, wedged between the “Blue Hour” (which never lasts anywhere close to an hour, unless perhaps you’re in the higher latitudes) and the “Golden Hour” (which can last from a few minutes to several hours, depending on weather.

I love the way the gold crosses stand out against the soft purple sky.  The detail in the delicate metalwork can be appreciated because there’s no hot glare bouncing off the highly reflective gold finish.

These may not be “typical” Cuban images, but I like them nonetheless.

Havana cross 2

Havana night

Photographers who put their cameras away right after sunset miss some cool stuff.  I know, because I used to be one of them.

Fortunately, no one seems to mind too much if you lug a tripod around in Havana.  I mean, you get a lot of quizzical looks just because you’re American, and you dress differently and talk funny.  (And despite over three decades of practice, I know my Spanish still leaves much to be desired!)  So the tripod and camera gear don’t add that much interest.

One thing that makes night photography that much more challenging in Cuba is that there simply isn’t that much light…even in Havana.  I thought the buildings would be much more brightly lit, and I had high hopes for the dome, but the lights were never turned on!

So even though this image was taken right in the middle of Havana, it has a different look than, say, an image taken at night in San Francisco or New York.  Times Square this ain’t!

With a long exposure, the light-colored buildings reflect enough light from the widely scattered streetlights and very occasional headlights (this was a 30-second exposure between sunset and dark–notice how little traffic there is on the street?) to give them a pretty and yet almost surreal glow.

So my night images in Havana weren’t what I was expecting…but I like them even more because of that!

Havana smoker 2

When I spotted this man sitting on the edge of a fountain in Havana, smoking his cigar down to the point where I couldn’t believe that neither his fingers nor his lips were catching fire, I immediately thought of the lines from the 1964 Roger Miller classic:

“I smoke old stogies I have found,

Short, but not too big around.

I’m a man of means by no means,

King of the Road.”

Now this man is probably not a vagrant and he probably bought the cigar from which he was getting his money’s worth, but the words to the song wouldn’t leave my head.  Speaking of “King of the Road,” I certainly stayed in at least one  “8 x 12, 4-bit room” of the sort that Roger sang about during my stay in Cuba.  Actually, the rooms Roger stayed in, in America during the early 60’s were probably nicer, if not bigger.  They probably had windows and stuff…  Fortunately, I spend almost no time in a motel room when I’m traveling other than to sleep, shower and change clothes, so I survived admirably.

One last comment about the song…I grew up singing that song, and for many years I sang it with the following mondegreen:  “8 x 12, 4-bed room.”  It made perfect sense to me as a kid that the poor guy singing the song was so down-and-out that when he was finally able to spring for a motel room, it had four beds in it and he had to share it with three other people.

Now you’re probably wondering how they could fit four beds into an 8′ x 12′ room.  Easy:  bunk beds!  Remember, we’re using kid-logic here…

When I was older I learned that two bits equals a quarter, and therefore Roger was paying $0.50 for his 8′ x 12′ room back in 1964.  Which was quite a steal, considering he really got the entire room to himself.  I can see why he felt like the “King of the Road!”

Santeria drummer

One of the cool things about watching the Santeria dancers in Havana last month was listening to the accompanying sounds.  The drummers, gourd-players, etc. outnumbered the dancers.  The beat was very fast and energetic, and of course the dancing was similarly fast-paced and frenetic.   Drumming is the heartbeat of this frenzied dancing.

As with so many of my Cuba images, I love the colors in this photo.  The woman’s bright red and white gingham dress looks downright sedate next to the even brighter red drum and the flamboyant mural in the background.

I was torn between watching and experiencing the performance, and documenting it via photography.  I think experiencing won out over photographing this time around, but I’m happy with the images that I DID get.  Sometimes we just need to “be there.”

Yellow Cuban dancer

This vibrantly dressed woman was another one of the  Santeria dancers in Havana (see the post “Cuban Dancer,” 02.10.13).  She was dancing in a shady alley, and her outfit definitely lit up the place.  That, and her smile.

I love that her smile is genuine.  (Either that, or she’s a phenomenal actress!)  The expressions on most of the drummers’ and other dancers’ faces ranged from haughty to bored to sullen to spaced out.  This young lady, as well as one of the drummers, were the only two in the ensemble who looked like they were really present AND truly enjoying themselves and their performance.

Here’s to doing what you love, and loving what you do!

Havana painter 1

This is another person I spotted on an early (read:  predawn) walk through Havana.  This man was standing carefully balanced on the second to the highest step of a six-step a-frame ladder, painting the front of his apartment building.  I actually noticed his bright yellow shirt from about a block away.  Who wouldn’t have?  On closer approach, I could see that the yellow bucket and paintbrush were an almost perfect color match to his shirt.  I love the way the bright yellow stands out against the soft blue wall.

I noticed during my visit last month, and while looking at my images afterwards, that bright yellow is a popular clothing color in Cuba, among the men as well as the women.  It’s a color that not many American men would wear, but the Cuban guys pull it off with aplomb.  It happens to be a shade of yellow that looks fabulous against darker skin.  Someone with pale Caucasian skin would look putrid in this same shade!

I also love this gentleman’s pastel blue and lilac shorts (which harmonize wonderfully with the wall, did you notice?)  Again, not clothing colors most American dudes would select, but they look great on this guy, don’ t they?

So I realize that people don’t wear their best clothing for painting, but I was very happy with this gentleman’s wardrobe selection for the day.  I’m sure he put on old clothes that he didn’t mind getting paint-splattered, and didn’t give a moment’s thought to matching his shirt color to the color of his bucket and paintbrush, or the color of his shorts to the color of the wall, anticipating that an American photographer would come stumbling down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street before sunrise to take his picture.  Which makes this image that much more delightful to me.

Tomorrow:  a yellow outfit that will make this shirt PALE in comparison…

Havana painter 2

Havana woman 1

While I was visiting a museum on a large square in Havana, I went out on the balcony of the second floor to get some fresh air and take a look around from an elevated vantage point.  As I was surveying the scattered groupings of people milling about below, I spotted this woman walking around by herself.  I couldn’t help but notice her, as she was dressed very flamboyantly… even by Cuban standards!

I’m not sure what she was up to.  She may have been a professional poser.  I did see her go up to a group of people who were obviously tourists, talk to them for a while and then walk away.  She then sat in front of a building with another woman who was also dressed in bright colors, but not as eye-catching as these.  Woman #2 wore a scowl and clearly did not want her picture taken.  By the time I left the museum, they were gone.

I was also able to grab an image of Woman #1 walking in the opposite direction from the image above.  While it shows her face, I don’t like it as much as the first image.  What do you think?

You can render an opinion since you’ve seen her from…both sides now.

Havana woman 1-2

A boy and his dog

I spotted this young boy and his companion hanging out in the doorway of their apartment building in Havana.  This is a completely candid image, though the boy’s arm position looks a bit unnatural.  I remember being made to pose that way by the kiddie photographer at J. C. Penney’s when I was little.  And I remember thinking back then “Boy, this is dumb.  Kids don’t sit this way.”  Fast-forward several decades, and this young man proved me wrong:  sometimes kids DO sit this way!

I saw a lot of dachshunds in Cuba, particularly in Havana.  I guess they make good city dogs.  They’re small and they don’t eat much.  They don’t require a huge amount of exercise.  Their short hair suits the tropical climate.  All in all, a good fit for a family living in a small apartment in the middle of the city.

One thing I love about this image is how the boy and his dog have almost identical big, round, dark brown eyes.  Puppy eyes.  I don’t think I could turn down a request from either of them…

Cuban Car

I love photographing old cars, but after shooting dozens and dozens in Havana, I began to get a bit bored.  One way to overcome boredom while shooting cars is to shoot them while they’re moving.  To make it more challenging, reduce your shutter speed, and practice panning and/or zooming in or out.  No fair using a shutter speed of 1/500 or faster to freeze the action.  No, we’re talking 1/15 or slower!

If you haven’t tried this, you need to know that many of your attempts won’t work.  It’s hard to match your pan speed to the speed of an object passing you and not raise, lower or jostle the camera in the process.  And while zooming in or out is fairly easy when your camera’s on a tripod and your subject isn’t moving, hand-holding AND shooting a moving object is a bit more of a challenge.

The beauty of digital photography is that all your experiments cost you is a bit of time.  Back in the film days (remember those?) this would’ve been a costly experiment.

When skill marries luck, I get an image like the one above, which is a combination pan and zoom.  Since the car’s in the middle of the street, you can tell it’s moving.  Both the classic styling of the car and the bright red color are eye-catching.  And the zoom lines add another layer of impact.  With the zoom lines zeroing in on the car, and the entire background thrown entirely out of focus, there’s no doubt but that the red car is the subject of this photo.