Difficult lighting and quickly moving subject matter made photography tricky at times, during my recent trip to Cuba. I relied on a combination of planning and technique to bring home the types of images I envisioned.
When I travel I usually have an initial photography plan for the day, before leaving my hotel each morning. My plan considers where I am going, what type of photography I anticipate, what lenses to carry, weather conditions, and whether I need a tripod. I also decide on initial camera settings so I am ready to start shooting as soon as I am out of the hotel. I review what I have learned from previous days of shooting and use that knowledge to improve my technique for the new day. None of this is a science, and the plan is very fluid.
I visited two dance troupes while in Havana. The first performed on a pitch-black stage with spotlights. The audience was in total darkness. When I planned my day for the first dance performance, I had decided that I would use my Fuji 35mm f/2 lens as a starting lens. Since I knew I would be shooting dance movements indoors with little light, I had anticipated an initial shutter speed of 1/500 and a wide open lens. I also knew that I would be shooting in continuous mode, and continuous focus. The only question in my mind was what my ISO needed to be, to get an accurate exposure. I knew the ISO would be high, and I was comfortable my Fuji X-T1 could handle it. Due to the fact that the stage was pitch black, I actually had to go as high as ISO 25,600 at times!!
During the performance I monitored the histogram in my viewfinder and checked my images, to determine what adjustments to make in the exposure, as the dancers moved across the stage and as the lighting changed. I typically “shoot to the right,” keeping the highlights to the far right side of the histogram without clipping them. For the below image, shooting shutter preferred at 1/500, and an ISO of 25,600, my f-stop was f/2. (I do recommend testing your camera to see how high you can comfortably go with your ISO setting.)
Jumping forward to the second dance performance, a few days later–what had I learned at the first performance that helped me at the second? I learned that shooting dancers can be challenging, when there are several dancers on the stage. It is straightforward to take a group shot, but to create an image that captures the energy and emotion of the scene is more difficult. I found that if I focused on one dancer at a time and followed him or her through the dance, alone and in relation to others, I was better able to get the shot I wanted. Learning this technique, plus realizing my previous process for determining low light settings had been successful, I more easily prepared for and shot the second dance performance. This image was shot with my Fuji 56mm f/1.2 lens at f/1.4, shutter at 1/1000, and ISO 6400. Since the dancers were moving very quickly, I tried to maintain a shutter speed of at least 1/1000.
Cuba is all about classic old cars. There are cars everywhere. Finding one is easy. The problem is the scene surrounding the car–finding the right combination of color, background, simplicity of setting, and people both inside and outside the car.
I suggest making a checklist, even if it is only in your head, of the different types of images you would like to shoot. I had lots of “wants” on my checklist. I wanted: a hot pink and white car, a yellow car, a car with fins, a moving car, a stationary car, and a car I could process as an HDR image. I also wanted a car with a passenger wearing cool sunglasses, and I wanted a background that said “Cuba,” like Che Guevara’s Tomb and Monument.
Knowing ahead what I “wanted” put me on alert. When I found the right location for my photograph, like Che Guevara’s Tomb and Monument, I patiently waited (and hoped) for my car to come along. Since I wanted the car sharp in the foreground I shot at 1/2000. If I had wanted to pan the shot, and blur the background, I would have shot at a 1/30. I used my Fuji 18mm f/2, shooting at f/8.
We didn’t see many sunsets during my trip to Cuba. We had lots of rain. However, when we arrived in Vinales, an agricultural area that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the rain stopped and the sun broke through just before the sun was setting. In my plan for the day I had hoped to get a sunset shot with the famous hills of Vinales in the background. Despite the rain, I had followed through with my plan and had brought along my MeFoto A0320 tripod. A very small, lightweight travel tripod, it is my tripod of choice when I know I won’t have need of a taller, heavier tripod and when weight is a concern. Since I shoot a mirrorless Fuji X-T1 camera, I am better able to use very small tripods. I typically use a remote shutter release to avoid camera shake when pushing the shutter release. If I forget my remote shutter release, I use the camera’s self-timer.
As I was walking around the streets of Vinales looking for my sunset image, I found a soccer game with the sunset and famous hills in the background. I quickly put the camera on the tripod with a 35mm f/2 lens, and set the aperture at f/8 and the shutter speed at 1/1000. My ISO was 800. After taking the first shot, I bracketed my exposure with one stop more exposure and one stop less. Since the soccer team was in the shadows and the sunset was so bright, I knew I would have to merge three exposures in Lightroom, to get the shot. (Fortunately Lightroom has a de-ghosting setting which eliminates the effect of player movement.)
Planning ahead, learning from previous shots, and making checklists take a lot of the stress out of travel photography, hopefully helping you bring home memorable images you are proud to share with your family and friends.
o 2 Fuji X-T1 bodies
o 18mm f/2 lens
o 35mm f/2 lens
o 56mm f/1.2 lens
o MeFoto A0320 tripod
o Remote Shutter Release
o Extra batteries and memory cards
o Microfiber lens cleaning cloth
o Umbrella and rain poncho