Saturday, August 27 presents
Rick Sammon and Professor Denis Defibaugh

Photographing Cuba
March 15, 2001

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Mattb: I've heard Cuba is full of some amazing old architecture. What tips do the two of you have for photographing it?

Denis Defibaugh: The first time we went to Cuba, we had a perspective control lens on a 35mm camera and that was helpful in getting the verticals on the buildings. So that's one aspect to consider. You definitely want to consider lighting, and I'd have as much light on the building as you can. I like shooting in the morning or evenings for the architecture. As Rick mentioned, the architecture is fabulous there, anywhere from Art Deco to Colonial, and there's just a very great variety of architecture that's there. Also having a tripod can be very helpful, especially if you're going to shoot larger formats.

Rick Sammon: I agree that a perspective control lens would be helpful, but if you have photo shops, you can use the image transform tools to somewhat create the effect of a perspective control lens, but if you don't have Photoshop, and if you can't rent a PC lens, don't be shy. For $1 you can go into someone's house and ask to go on their roof and get up on their roof to photograph these buildings. Denis also had a great point about the light. Most buildings are flat and to create at least a little sense of depth, you need shadows, so Denis' tip about shooting in the morning and afternoon is excellent. And at night--don't forget night, please! Many of the buildings are lit up.

Ariel: Rick, Did you have restricted access to people? Or could you photograph people at random? How long?

Rick Sammon: I've taken more people pictures here than I've taken on my trips to India or anywhere else. The people love posing. Sometimes they'll ask for a dollar and sometimes they won't. But you can spend as much time as you want photographing the people. And in 1 or 2 months, I'll have a feature article on Cuba mostly with people pictures.

Suprstarz2: Are the Cubans nice to Americans?

Rick Sammon: Cubans love Americans. I feel so safe, and I'm sure Denis and his students felt the same way. So safe, so welcome. One night we saw someone walking on the street and they invited us in their home for dinner. We did that. In the small little town we stayed in again I stayed in someone's house, stuff I probably would not do with strangers in the U.S. So it's a different place, and I think what makes it so special to me is the warm feeling that I'm getting from everybody.

Denis Defibaugh: I would agree. I think the people are very generous and welcoming, and they do love Americans. I think they love to talk about the U.S. Many of them have relatives in the U.S., and almost everyone I talked to had relatives in Miami or Michigan or NYC. There aren't many places where a total stranger will invite you into their home and invite you to photograph them. That's what's enlightening about Cuba and the people in Cuba. They're excited to see you and they're excited to be photographed by you.

Rick Sammon: For photographers coming to Cuba, especially those who are going to stay in Old Havana, if you could only bring one lens, I would bring a 17-35mm zoom because that's great for the street shots, the car shots, nice people shots. You can do buildings with that. If you could bring another lens, a 70-200mm would be nice for tight headshots of people, more portraits. But you don't need to bring a lot of lenses, and if you have a digital camera like the Kodak 4800 ( ), they have an accessory lens kit for that with a wide-angle, snap-on lens and a telephoto lens, and macro lenses too. But please remember, cameras don't take pictures, people do.

Denis Defibaugh: One of the major discussions we had with students is what kind of equipment to bring. At RIT they have an unlimited amount of equipment, and I agree with Rick that the minimal amount of equipment the better, and it's about making photographs and not what equipment you'll need and how to use it, and his suggestion about the wide angle zoom lens is a great suggestion.

Rick Sammon: One of the reasons I'm very excited to be here is because three of my photographer friends are here, one is Gerry Oar, and she's having a great time photographing the people. She's shooting the SW ( ) and the VS ( ). She is as inspired as I am when it comes to the people pictures, the car pictures, and just great shots. And two other photographer friends of mine are here, Sarah Leen, and she's doing a workshop here, and my other friend is Bob Krisp. He's doing a workshop here. So it's great to be with Gerry and Bob, and we'll meet Sarah later. This has become a mecca of photographers and photo instructors from the U.S.

Java Chick: To you both - impressions, the people? The place? How did you get around in Cuba? Rental car? Taxi? On foot?

Denis Defibaugh: We did all of those. We walked, we took taxis, we rented cars, and we even had a bus for a couple days because we were doing things as a group. You can get around Cuba every way imaginable. It's very similar to the U.S. in terms of transportation available. It's not similar where you can find people offer to rent you their car, so you may end up taking a 20-mile drive in a 1951 Chevrolet. In terms of getting around Cuba and I think Rick mentioned it earlier, Havana is wonderful and fantastic, but it's great to get outside of Havana as well and see the country.

Rick Sammon: As far as getting around goes, I would say that Gerry and I spend about 6-7 hours a day walking. We get up before the sunrise and walk the streets. We walk the streets taking people's pictures until about 10am, then we have lunch and walk afternoon, dusk and at night. You can't be in a taxi or a car to get great pictures. We had hired a guy for four days, and we've seen the guy for about 4 minutes, because we needed to be on our own. Get a comfortable pair of shoes and be prepared to walk a lot. Drink a lot of water, because it's very hot here, and you might want to bring salt tablets. We sweat so much. Our clothes are soaked. My expression is this, "it's not easy having fun." And we are walking a lot.

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