Cuba Beyond Travel Photography

Cuba may be the most photographed country in the world  – a multicolored tourist destination that captivates the eyes of any traveler who arrives on the island. 

It’s magic and its danger, and I mean danger “photographically speaking”, since there are millions and millions of photographs that have been taken of Cuba. Most taken mainly in Havana, but the vast majority of them are cars, facades and portraits – street photography that contribute little to the photographic memory of this country.

I do not consider myself a travel photographer since I live almost all year in Cuba.  I am mainly dedicated to teaching photography on the island to travelers from all over the world who seek to know Cuba and to improve their photographic level. 

I tend to say that to improve our Photographic level. In a trip we must try to go beyond travel photography, get out of the obvious, risk a little more and stick your noses in every door that we see open.

I remember my amateur times in which I was a simple tourist and I know how the travelers do not cease to make those photographs to document a trip in a wonderful country, full of cars from another era.

Buildings that look like museums and where, in addition, people let themselves be photographed in a way that is impossible to achieve in other countries such as the United States, France, Germany, etc.

Shoot unrepeatable moments

Cuba is experiencing great changes and there are realities that will not be the same again. This is my main photographic objective; therefore, I need to reach beyond travel photography.

There are situations that will not happen again,  like the young ones jumping on the wall of the Malecón, an activity that has been traditional in Havana but that the new prohibitions make it impossible to see again.

There are many photographs of the Malecón, but the big difference is to take them on a  trip where all the tourists pass or from below, near the sea, among the children who play with the waves.

No matter what photographic level we possess, there is something that I think any photographer should do and that is documenting any moment that may be historical with his camera.

Maybe we know exactly when an event is going to happen or maybe the luck puts us in front of it, in any way, we must photograph it, that is the DNA of photography.

Be attentive to document historical facts.

On May 2nd, 2016, the Adonis cruise ship, the first cruise with Americans arriving in Cuba in more than 50 years, entered the Havana Bay.

A small tip that I usually give my students is to always carry a small bottle of water, some food, a cap, in addition to our camera with enough battery and memory, so we can take a long time to take pictures if it appears to be a good photographic opportunity that sometimes lengthens in time and we cannot abandon.

Religions as a symbol of each country.

For years now I speak the Spanish that is spoken in Cuba and that gives me some advantage, since personal relations are easier and it allows me to ask all the doubts I may have. 

That is how I entered the world of Afro-Cuban religion, an exciting world that helps to understand the special idiosyncrasy of this country.

I have occasionally had the opportunity to witness and photograph authentic spiritual cleansings by Afro-Cuban priests to people seeking to improve their health.

Afro-Cuban religion is present in almost every corner of Cuba but the symbols are very discreet and pass unnoticed to travelers, others are more visible as the Afro-Cuban altars that exist in many houses.

Stick noses in every corner.

As photographers, we must be curious and stick our noses in every door we see open, in Cuba photographers are welcomed on 95% of the occasions, so if we are curious about something it is best to go and ask, our camera is like a key that opens many doors.

This was how I “collided” with Afro-Cuban dancer rehearsals, dance companies, religious altars and even the circus.

Cuba is a photographic paradise, it is the ideal country to practice street photography, but it is also a perfect place to try to go beyond travel photography.


Article by Luis Alarcon of

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