At first it didn’t sound too promising. I’d been invited to Cuba to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and of course I’d want to take pictures. But I shoot nature images, photographs that feature no people or evidence of the hand of man, and it was likely I’d be limited to city streets on this trip. What lenses would I bring? Would I need my large tripod? How do I adjust to the change in subjects?
But I’d recently been shooting HDR images of classic cars and historic structures, and I’d found that working with radically different subjects improved my ability to see and capture a variety of images. Then I remembered what jazz great Duke Ellington had said in answer to a question about his favorite kinds of music: “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.” That’d work for photography, too. I packed my D3S, my 28-300mm and 16-35mm NIKKORs and my Gitzo GT-1541T Traveler tripod, and I was off to Cuba.
It took only a few short walks for me to see the urban world through the eyes of a nature photographer. Regardless of subject, photography is still a compilation of design ideas, simplification and spontaneity.
Here’s some of what I found.
Line Strength. I’m always on the lookout for strong lines in nature, and this view of Morro Castle provided plenty of them, from the diagonal at the bottom of the frame that leads the eye to the curved lines emanating from the bottom right corner, to the large angular rooftop. The lineup of cannons contributes, too.
Isolation. I tend to return to the same place many times, as conditions in nature are always different. I approached this scene the same way. The wonderful pastel colors drew me to the intersection and the changing position of the bike, parked each day by a nearby vendor, added variety and interest. On this day the bike was at the most colorful part of the building. All I had to do was wait for the area to clear of people to keep the image simple and uncluttered.
Perspective. One of my favorite techniques for flowers is to photograph their backs, which are often equally or even more interesting than their fronts. I had that in mind for a graphic HDR image of an old Pontiac, and the 16mm focal length accentuated the perspective distortion of the buildings to create a compelling frame.
Simplicity. A single tree is always a great subject in nature—and in downtown Havana, for that matter, where it was complemented by the sculpture on the side of a museum.
Spontaneity. For wildlife photographers, anything can happen at any time, so always being ready to shoot is standard practice. Walking around Cuba, people were everywhere, many willing to interact, others unaware of my presence. These two kids, with their colorful clothes and the neutral background, were made perfect by their holding hands. I was able to get only one shot, but that was all I needed.
So, a different environment, but many of the same guidelines and techniques applied. And in the end, there are still two kinds of photography: the good stuff and that other stuff.
And it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing…but that’s another column.