The Cuban capital is a melting pot of culture. This is a place where lives are lived in the open. Not inside houses, but in the lanes of Old Havana and beyond. This country has certainly had its hard times and is still under an embargo that results in crippling shortages. But instead of woe, you’ll find people beaming with smiles with the sounds of music seemingly coming from every corner. You could spend years photographing in Havana and still find new photos every day. So, here is a simple photography guide to Havana.
If there is one reason only for visiting Havana, it would be for street photography. The crumbling facades of old houses play backdrop to street scenes that come alive minute after minute. Most people will naturally start in Old Havana. The redeveloped Plaza Vieja is a gentle introduction into this city. But start wandering further away and you will begin to see more of the authentic side of Havana. Go further away and into Central Havana and you might just believe that you have reached street photography paradise.
The best way to approach street photography in Havana is on foot. You just need to wear some comfortable shoes and walk the streets. You will come across picturesque street corners and graffiti that will be the perfect backdrop for your street photography. You just need to be patient and wait for the right moment.
Just the mention of its name conjures up exotic images of travel. There are two great times to take a walk along the Malecon for photography.
Early morning will provide a great location for sunrise photos looking towards the fort across the bay (El Morro). You won’t see many people around at that time of the morning – just the odd person finishing. But the combination of water and coastline will be great for some slow exposure photography. If the conditions are right, you may even get some waves crashing over the barrier and onto the street. This can provide you with some dramatic photos but be very careful where you stand. The waves can drench you and your camera and the salty seawater can cause serious damage to your camera gear.
The other best time for photography along the Malecon is late afternoon. During this time the Malecon becomes the world’s longest sofa. You’ll find everything from people fishing and kids jumping in the water to canoodling couples. You can also try to capture some sunset photos of the skyline in the distance.
Nothing says Cuba more than classic cars. You won’t have to look long or hard to spot one. Your first glimpse will be the moment you walk out of the airport. These cars are all over Havana and are wonderful subjects to photograph. You can of course capture some parked around the city. But often these cars will look great when they are parked or driving on one of the narrow roads of Old Havana. So, find the right street or background and wait for the car to arrive. Often you won’t have to wait long.
Another good place to photograph classic cars is on the Malecon. You will see car after car driving along and you can either capture them with the backdrop of the ocean or the buildings.
By far the biggest number of classic cars are parked around Parque Central. Here you will find every colour, style and make. This is a good place to capture some close-up shots of the details of these cars including the insides.
Lastly, if you do decide to do a classic car tour around the city (highly recommended) then make sure you also take some photos from the inside of the car whilst it is driving as well as it can give a completely different perspective.
The actual fort itself isn’t very photogenic from inside. But it does provide a great location for sunset photos of Havana and the Malecon. Head up to near the lighthouse and be sure to bring a telephoto lens as you may find that the skyline is too far away. With something like a 70-200mm lens, you will be able to zoom into a section for some stunning photos. Just be sure that your tripod will be able to take the weight of your camera.
The grand building in the centre of Old Havana has recently finished its renovation. The latest addition has been the gold plates added to the roof that was donated by Russia. The building is rumoured to be bigger than the state capitol in Washington and is equally as impressive. Find your spot on the paved area in the middle of the road and wait for the right opportunity when that classic car zooms past (you can also photograph the cars with the backdrop of the old building opposite El Capitolo as well). This is also a good area for some Blue Hour and night-time photography as well.
This vast open area is hard to miss. In the centre is a gigantic monument to national hero Jose Marti. You won’t miss the iconic Che Guevera and Camilo Cienfuego outlines on the buildings opposite. But arguably the most impressive feature in this place are the views from the top of the monument. A lift will take you to the top of one of the highest building in Havana. You will see as far as the ocean and classic cars parked downstairs will look like toy cars.
Callejon de Hamel
Take a narrow lane in Central Havana and paint it throughout with various paintings. Created by Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, this hip place is great to visit at any time, but its highlight occurs every Sunday with an outdoor afro Caribbean music and dance concert. You will find various costumed dancers performing from 12 – 3 pm and it makes for fantastic photos. But you will need to arrive early to get a good spot as it gets incredibly busy. Also, be very aware of pickpockets and thieves. It’s best to only take a small camera bag and have it hanging in front of you.
These are just some of the highlights that Havana has to offer. This is one of those places that you will need to spend considerable time in to really get under the skin of. But for now, these places should provide a good range of photography opportunities.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.