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How-to's Travel Stories

Street Photography in Cuba with Nikon Z7

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens)

Keywords: street, photography, cuba, cropping, d500, z7, nikon, conniecassinetto, via_the_lens

I would never classify myself as a street photographer, although on occasion I have taken images that could be classified as street photography. Generally, I identify more with wildlife and inanimate objects or landscape and nature scenes and so these scenes are what I mostly photograph.

So, why did I find myself in Cuba on a Street Photography Workshop? My answer to that question is that I wanted to learn something new and to push myself into a photographic situation where I was not comfortable in order to learn new things and to continue to progress in my photographic journey (and to see and photograph Cuba). Whether I met this goal (aside from seeing and photographing Cuba) is debatable but I did confirm that I most likely will never fall into the street photography category as a photographer. The reason for this statement is the often-stated belief among street photographers that one should not change the image in any way other than some very specific criteria set forth, apparently, based on a long time ago premise on some ancient idea of what street photography is or should be.

I really like to play with my images and I am compelled to edit out things that I think do not add to the overall image as well as to do other fun things. I had a great time in Cuba and I think I got some good shots that reflect life in Cuba, my personal goal, and I did try to stay true to the street photographer’s basic premise of no major changes (which, apparently does not include anything about cropping to the maximum extent possible). The area is rich with potential for images, both urban landscape and people. 

A typical street in downtown Old Havana, Cuba.
Nikon Z7 with a Nikon f/2.8 70-200 on an adapter. 1/2000, f/8, auto-ISO 640.
Click for an enlargement


Street photography, like any other genre of photography, has its own “rules,” if you will, or at least guidelines. This type of photography is viewed along the same lines as journalism or documentary work and the basic belief is that the photographer must take the scene as presented, trash and all! This works for me if the trash in the scene is telling some of the story I want to tell but if the trash is simply getting in the way my inclination is to remove it! (Be off with you, white Styrofoam container!)

Since I don’t consider myself a street photographer and would not lay claim to being one I believe that my removal of the trash (or anything else), for the sake of art, is perfectly fine. My instructor and I discussed this issue and his take was that once you are known to remove things in the overall image no one will trust any images you take. Some of my street scenes were about the trash and decay and how people live in such conditions and surmount these obstacles and so the trash does tell part of the story and was left in. 


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Dave Austin (AlbanyDave) on February 1, 2019

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” --Dalai Lama

Gavin Duffy (Gaduf) on January 10, 2019

Hi Connie , Very interesting and informative article. I have found in some of my International travels that the 'street photography' experience differs from country to country, and one has to be very cautious before taking a picture of a person,or in some cases a public building. I have found it always advisable to check what common practices prevail in that particular location,and, that asking permission beforehand has often worked successfully - on one occasion,in Vietnam, I was asked to email the picture I had taken to the person which I subsequently did, and received a lovely reply and thank you from them. Regards Gavin

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on January 6, 2019

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

Agin, thank you, everyone for your comments. I'm learning a lot just reading what you all have said. It is too bad that one of the other photographers in our group did not get a shot of me trotting quickly away looking over my back with the woman running after me with a very big stick. The lady who ran after me was not the same woman in the shot shown, obviously I was "loved by all". I did get the shot of the lady in the story. She was actually fast enough at first to barely get me and that is what speeded me up. Afterward I thought, "wow, I could have ended up in a real altercation, gotten pummeled, and maybe gone to jail in Cuba! Not my idea of a good time. I apologize if I painted a "grim picture" of street photography as that certainly was not my intent. I had a great time trying it out in Cuba and most likely will take additional street photos in the future. The issues around street photography and grappling with them are really no different than grappling with the issues around, for example, animal photography. Each genre has its issues and own "personality" and I think many photographers might like one genre best over the other. I actually have no problem talking with strangers as I've quite forward by nature, but somehow taking a picture of them directly with their knowledge is unnerving to me. If they don't know I'm there I can snap away. I think Geoff's idea of enrolling in a self-defense course may be a good one! One of the things I love best about photography is that all of the images I take have a side story, my story about taking them and I always hope they also tell their own story for the viewer to figure out.

Aart Louw (AartPapaya) on January 6, 2019

I found your treatment of the boos and taboos on street photography very entertaining. Together with very interesting pictures. You painted a rather grim picture. I am surprised that your leader preferred the cropped onion shot. I agree it is the better shot but showing the lattes work on the top and to the side more revealing as a street shot. I also love the shot of the angry woman.

Geoff Baylis (GBaylis) on January 6, 2019

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I love your story Connie, reflecting on a 'non-practitioner's' view of a photographic genre and it also replicates some of my own experience of trying more street photography in 2018. A few of us were learning from a friend who had been a photo-journalist all his working life, generally in some pretty tough and challenging situations. Although he is of the 'small camera, stay unobtrusive, exclusively b&w, high contrast' school, his definition of Street very much includes close-ups of interesting people as well as the wider street scenes that show the 'warts and all' urban landscape, which you (and I) clearly agree with. When I subsequently entered some images in a 'Street photography' competition at my local club, the judge had his own very specific interpretation, so many great images were brushed aside with a cursory "good image, but doesn't show the wider street scene" comment and were thus assigned a low score. I like your range of images, which are just the sort of things that I would take. I think that the 'angry woman' is my favourite...but even better would have been the 'rear shot' with her chasing you as you ran off. My friend received a good number of beatings during his career, but he got a lot of great shots as a consequence. Maybe we should both be enrolling on a self-defence course next. Were you on Steve Simon's recent trip to Cuba? Geoff

Russell Whittemore (rosewood_ltd) on January 5, 2019

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Very nice article, Connie. In my mind, what most of us generally classify as "street photography" is actually at least a couple of different things. In the "classical", Cartier Bresson school, the "fly on the wall" approach is valued for allowing the notional un-noticed photographer to unobtrusively record dramatic moments without intruding on or affecting the captured scene in any way. The unguarded moments which are caught using this approach are deemed to be "authentic." In many respects though, this "school" of photography seems to be evolving into an outmoded discipline, not because the fundamental precepts are invalid, but because the rapidly moving world of digital imaging has fundamentally changed the notions of what constitutes individual privacy. This is nowhere more apparent than in the EU, where there are now countries where the street photographer may actually have an affirmative duty to obtain explicit permission for taking a picture of a recognizable individual. At its core, this requirement completely invalidates many of the fundamental precepts of the Cartier-Bresson approach. It also places a significant barrier in the way of photographers who may not be comfortable interacting with potential individual subjects, which is unfortunate. The second area of "street photography" which appears to be evolving from the original roots is what might be loosely referred to as "street portraiture," which I would consider to be somewhat separate and distinct subcategory of "environmental portraiture," which more generally encompasses images that show an individual subject in their actual living/working environment. This obviously requires a fairly in-depth interaction (and of course, explicit permission) and creates an actual relationship between the photographer and the the subject. I have always felt that Cartier-Bresson was "indirectly humanist" in his work, in the sense that by being the un-observed observer, spontaneous interactions, unguarded moments and events that show us as we really are can be faithfully preserved in an image. The difference between this approach and street portraiture is pretty obvious. The questions a "street photographer" must grapple with include deciding if the classical approach is where the artistic muse wants to go and if that is compatible with local social expectations and legal issues, or if part of the artistic reward derives from establishing a bit of a relationship with the subject. Particularly in the context of travel, this can be a difficult decision, as often, the most memorable aspects of any trip are local interactions. I envy folks who have the knack for getting to know perfect strangers.

Chapman Solomon (CorVette98) on January 4, 2019

Thanks for sharing your clear and crisp images and impressions of street photography in Cuba. The man smoking a cigar and the boys boxing demonstrate your skill with capturing the moment and the spirit of the street If you enjoy Cuba, NYC offers similar opportunities.

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on January 4, 2019

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

Thank you, all, for your comments on this article. I do think the mirrorless 24-70 is a good lens for non-intrusive street photography but it does limit the shot to a wider scene, much more difficult to get a close up with the actual shot taken when using this lens.

Phil Weston (PhilWeston) on January 3, 2019

Very nice work Connie and thank you for sharing. It seems the acceptance tenor of street photography can be so different from country to country and city to city. In the major metro areas of the U.S. it seems easier & more acceptable than in other places. Is that because people the major U.S. metro areas are more into themselves than the surroundings? The thing I like about the practice of street photography is how it forces one to concentrate more on making a photograph rather than the mechanics of one's camera. This element has taken me awhile to get use to with the Z7 compared to "arriving there" as I moved through the DSLR genre. I appreciate your showing images taken with a variety of glass including AP-S with the FTZ and the new Mirrorless 24-70 S lens. I would think the later lens would be excellent for street photography because of its lighter weight and less obtrusive size over a honking 70-200 AP-S in front of the FTZ.

Tom Jacob (sevendayimages) on January 3, 2019

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Very well written Connie, thanks for this. Indeed ‘street photography’ is a prickly pear, because once an argument starts, it will fill a book about how or what ;) I guess most of the people agree on the Cartier-Bresson definition being there without being noticed and at the right moment (..don’t get me started on this Do I myself like street photography? Yes. More than anything else. But I like to shoot At The Street Being Seen, and take time for a shot. I love to walk up to people, engage them in a small talk and maybe then take their picture. I love emotions which you see are connected to you. The few times I had some people with me, I told them just that, how to ‘interact’ with people first, before going through technical stuff…Anyway, very nice write-up and lovely images to go with. I loved Cuba and I know how hard it is to turn an image into monochrome ;) Cheers, Tom

Rohinton Mehta (Rohinton_Mehta) on January 3, 2019

Wow! I loved the write-up and the pics. I feel the same way as you do when it comes to street photography and I think I would have a verbal duel with any 'instructor' who would restrain me from shooting what I like and the way I like. For the very same reasons as you mention, I too do not go for street photography. Just like you, I like to photograph landscapes and wildlife; they don't grumble at me taking the shots. Thank you for the lovely write-up.