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Cuba: A Photographer's Paradise
By Michael Sloyer and Alan Sloyer
Dec 7, 2010

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© Alan Sloyer

With so many contradictions, it is hard to make much sense of Cuba. It is a land where revolutionary talk is omnipresent, but nothing seems to ever change; a land where free enterprise is forbidden, but everything has its price; a land where personal freedom is not always a right, but the two most uttered words are "estoy contento." Specific to Americans, it is a land where we are forbidden, but where the locals welcome us with open arms. Just 90 miles separate Cuba from the shores of Key West, but Cuba has remained firmly isolated from the United States.

While Cuba is a journey back in time, you might find yourself calling out loud for progress. You might find yourself lamenting the economic, political, and social stagnation. However, it is only when we refuse to let these contradictions trouble us and only when we take the time to get to know the people and the culture, that we begin to realize just how dynamic, unique, and magical a place Cuba can be.

© Alan Sloyer

The four of us (two sons and two fathers/two brothers and two cousins/two uncles and two nephews) came to Cuba over President's Day 2010. We landed in Havana with our Nikons in hand and had a hard time putting them down.

For a photographer, Cuba is the ultimate experience. It is a true visual feast with opportunities for an award winning shot around every corner. Stoop sitting elders puff away on their freshly rolled Cohibas. Lime green and fluorescent pink Buick classics roam the streets as if setting the scene for a 1950's Bogart film. Young salsa dancers strut their stuff to the tune of live music played in outdoor cafes and plazas. The architectural variety is stunning with neoclassical, baroque, Spanish colonial, and art deco styles randomly adorning every street corner in Old Havana. And then there is rich and diverse natural landscape. With the lush tobacco fields, egg shaped limestone cliffs and turquoise seaside landscapes, even multiple memory cards were not enough to capture it all.

© Alan Sloyer

We spent much of our time in the culturally rich capital of Havana, but also had the opportunity to visit the cities of Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, and the Vinales Valley. We stopped for a refreshing snorkel at Playa Giron, enjoying crystal clear aquamarine water and spectacular coral and tropical fish. This beach is also the historic location of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in the early 1960's. Our favorite city was Trinidad, famous for its lovely cobblestone streets, pastel colored houses with elaborate wrought iron grills, and majestic palaces and plazas.

© Michael Sloyer

With full knowledge that this would be a fast paced and exotic journey, we tried to pack light.  We came armed with our camera bodies, one or two lenses, and multiple large capacity memory cards.  No tripods or other accessories. Our on the fly portraiture was facilitated by personal interaction with the locals, sometimes aided by a small tip of a few pesos. Most locals were friendly and accommodating to us as photographers. Tourism thus far is limited (especially for Americans) and perhaps it was this novelty that accounted for our ability to get up close and personal with the Cuban natives.

© Michael Sloyer

We took many bracketed photos (@ 0, +2, -2 f stops) in preparation for HDR processing with Photomatix pro software on our return to the States. Despite warnings to the contrary, we have found that handheld exposures with a steady hand and a VR lens can give more than satisfactory results.

© Michael Sloyer

Going through our photos is like watching a movie with a compelling plot and complex characters. The photos tell a story of a people, a people with an intricate history who have struggled to find their nation's place in the world through such historically important events as the Spanish American War, the Cuban Revolution, the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban Missile crisis. The journey is a time warp and a living history class rolled into one. And for anyone with a camera and an eye for the wonderful, it is a journey not to be missed.

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