A Four Day Whirlwind Havana Street Photography Adventure in Cuba

“You’re flying half way around the world for only 4 days? You must be mad!” I’ll admit I had questioned my decision a number of times in the lead up to this trip. Taking in the travel time and flight costs, it was quite an investment for only 4 days.

Those doubts disappeared as soon as I walked out of the airport and jumped in a 1950 sky blue Chrysler taxi (yup like one out of the movie Grease). Cuban Salsa was playing on a tiny radio and the late afternoon sun was warming my skin. Even after a 9 hour flight I was feeling fresh and ready to dive in.

As we approached the city centre my excitement grew and grew. From the colours and light to the old buildings and people going about their day. There were so many occasions where I just wanted to jump out the car and start shooting. Around every corner there was something new and exciting to photograph.

Looking back, it was the people that really made the trip for me. From Jorge who invited me into his home for coffee or Noel who shared a juice box of rum on his front step with his two dogs Whiskey and Champagne. To people who took time out of their day to share their stories and explain how Cuba’s Communist model impacted their lives (a mix of opportunities and challenges) and how they saw it changing with the recent growth of the private sector.

I took in so much during my time in Havana that four days felt like ten.

Photo of young Cuban men playing basket ball outside in the sun taken by Havana Street photographer Matt

Top Tips For Photographing in Cuba

  1. Get Lost. Often the best way to discover a city is to get lost in it. Havana with its street grid system is perfect for this. Just wonder around and follow what draws your interest.
  2. Speak to the locals. Most of the highlights of my trip came from chats with the people of Havana. Smile and appear friendly and people will usually start speaking with you. You’ll get more access if you’re on your own versus a large group.
  3. Best times to shoot – Morning and Evening. Not just because of the beautiful light and the heat but also of the more peaceful energy of the place.
  4. Don’t be afraid to get close. Most Cubans appeared happy to have their photo taken and just went about their business as if I wasn’t there. The few that don’t want their photo taken will tell you straight away.
  5. Get out of the tourist areas. Higher prices, more crowds and more cliches. Plus a lot of people will ask for money if you try and take their photo in these areas.

Street Photography Gear – My Trusted Fuji X-T2

As always I like to keep things simple when I’m shooting. By keeping my gear simple I can spend more time focused on what makes a strong photo – light, moment and composition. On this trip I brought with my trusty Fuji X-T2 and the F2 23mm Prime (equivalent to a 35mm full frame lens). All the photos you see below where taken with this combo.

Old men drinking Havana Club rum and smoking on a street corner taken by Havana street photographer Matt Badenoch

My Favourite Spots for Street Photography in Havana

  1. Old Havana (south of Veija). The Veija is the main tourist hot spot in town and too much for me. But just south of here you can enjoy Havana’s Old Town in all its beauty without the mobs of tourists. Take a walk down the street Habana for a range of interesting sights.
  2. Central Havana. Just the other side of El Capitolio (the Capital Building) you start entering Central Havana which offers more hustel and bustle and a better insight of real Havana.
  3. The Malecon. The coastal road that runs along Havana’s Northern side offers relaxed scenes of fishermen, couples and musicians. Best enjoyed at sunset.
  4.  Streets Lagunas and Animas. Possibly my favourite streets to wonder around in Havana, they are situated just inland from the Malecon. Here you’ll find a nice balance of a busy/relaxing vibe and loads of little stories going on.

Here’s my personal favourites from my Havana street photography adventure

Things To Know When Visiting Havana

  1. Accommodation. Hotels are expensive. Instead book a room in a casa (homestay) many of which you can find on airbnb.
  2. Money. Cuba doesn’t accept most foreign visa/debit cards and you can’t buy the local currency outside of the country. So the best bet is to bring in cash in the form of Euros (preferred) or British Pounds. Changing US Dollars will cost you a 10-15% tax so best avoid bringing these.
  3. Internet. The only way to get online is via one of the state owned hotspots. These can typically be found in the big hotels or parks. The WiFi parks are easily to spot; just keep an eye out for a cluster of people on their phones. It’s quite a surreal sight. You’ll need to buy a voucher to get online. You can buy these in the hotels for 1 CUC (€1). Avoid buying these in the parks as they’ll usually over priced and sometime fake.
  4. Taxis. You have the shared Taxis (called the people’s taxis) and then the tourist taxis. The shared Taxis cost about 50 Cents (less than €1) where as the tourist taxis can be quite expensive (€25 for the 35min journey to the airport).

Will I Be Returning To Cuba?

Definitely. I believe this trip only provided a taste of what Cuba has to offer and I can’t wait to discover more.

Behind the Scenes

A big shout out to the awesome trio from the US who organised this trip and kindly invited me to join. I’m so thrilled you did!

We had the one and only Jide (this was our second street photography adventure together after India), the expressionate Nicole and the early morning booze hound Danae. Hanging out with you all was a barrel of laughs and it was amazing to share this experience with you. Plus I certianly picked up a few things shooting along side you. I’m already looking forward to the next adventure :)

Here are a few behind the scenes photos of our street photography gang in action (well, most of the time…).

 Any thoughts or questions? Shoot a comment below and I'll reply pronto