Tips for Shooting with Only One Lens in Havana, Cuba

Tips for Shooting with Only One Lens in Havana, Cuba

This past June I packed the bags and headed back out to Cuba to connect with some existing projects and share my experiences with my friend Gabriel. For this trip, I wanted to try to keep things as light as possible, so I rented a Nikon D750 and a Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD lens to accompany my existing Nikon 70-200mm lens for the journey. I already own the Nikon D3S and D810, but I was looking for a camera that sat in the middle of these ranges. I didn’t really need something with that high of a megapixel count but wanted something with a little bit more than my existing D3S. Based on reviews I saw online I figured the D750 would handle well for the trip. With the D750 being at 24 megapixels, having great video, and an articulating screen, I figured I’d be best set for the trip.

(Want to download a couple of pictures to play around with? Click on this link!)

Exploring Cuba: Wet Floors Rock! Get Low

Sitting and making a shot with the Nikon D750 in Havana, Cuba

As we walked around the streets of Havana, rain constantly chased us out of any shooting opportunities. That’s not to say that you pack away the camera and stay indoors when it starts to rain. On the contrary, I think that having foreground elements be wet tends to give you a great amount of interest to the images that you make – so make sure that you explore them. As we walked, we noticed a cool car and background in the street. Ducking into a building’s covered overhang, I was able to sit down and look to see if I could make a shot while safely protected from the elements.  

A closeup of the Nikon D750 screen in Havana, Cuba

Setting the camera low when making a composition often gives the subject you are trying to shoot a more commanding presence. The problem here is usually that you can’t really see what you are trying to shoot when the camera sits so close to the ground.  This is where having an articulated touchscreen can really be helpful. I sat crisscrossed and placed the camera on my shoe for some stabilization. Tilting the screen up, I was able to set the frame that I was looking for using the D750’s Live View feature. Once that was set, I just clicked a couple of pictures and we were good to go.

A car after a rainstorm in Havana, Cuba

With the ground wet, we can get some of the elements at the top part of the frame reflected into the bottom part of the frame, as well as pull out some of the grit that you normally have in the street. This, along with a little clarity adjustment in Lightroom, and you can really get some good detail which makes for a better picture!

Forgo the Shallow Depth of Field – Go for Zoom

A closeup view of an old car in Havana Cuba - Shot with the Tamron at 300mm

Whenever I talk to photographers who are going out for a trip, most always want to make sure that they are renting some of the fastest lenses that they can go for – often opting for an f/2.8 lens. While I would normally agree for most situations, I think that it’s wise to consider the shooting conditions that you are going to be in and see if you can forgo the extra stops that you get in depth of field for a little bit of zoom instead.

Let’s take this trip for example. Shooting in Cuba, one of the things I want to emphasize is details and scenes of a beautiful location. I would assume that a lot of my travel photography isn’t really going to want a lot of subjects that are going to have blurry backgrounds – the backgrounds are a part of the ambiance of the environment! For this, something like the 28-300mm can go from f/3.5 to 6.3 on the long end and be good enough. This variability still gives you a little bit of shallowness on the wide end, but the sacrifice you make at this range allows the lens to be a lot more portable. Second, it gives you quite a bit of range.  

An old car in Havana, Cuba - shot with the Tamron lens at 28mm

This is the image of the car that I saw when I was walking around. Here, you have three different things that can work to your advantage when using a lens like this:

  • By having a long enough range at your disposal, you open yourself creatively to see smaller portions of a bigger scene for a picture. Instead of trying to think about how to fit the overall environment into the picture, you can get in closer to the thing that caught your attention and really make it the star of the shot.
  • The amount of lens compression that you get at that range will take the elements that sit behind the subject that you want to shoot and make them appear a lot closer. If you made this same shot at 28mm, the columns and the back of the wall would appear further away from the car and not really give you a good background to set the car against. By shooting it with a zoom, all of those elements are perceived as compressed and brought closer to the subject, giving you a more interesting shot.
  • The range frees you up to compose a lot faster. If this car had been at a red light, I would have had to walk into the street, watch for traffic, run closer to try to find the frame, compose and shoot. Sure, it seems like seconds – but those seconds could be the difference between making the shot and not getting it at all.

See Cuba in Black and White

Picture of an Old Building in Havana, Shot in Black and White on a NIkon D750

While color is the primary motivator for any of the images that I make, I feel like there is a great amount of timelessness that comes out of being able to shoot in black and white. I believe it’s often a good idea to see the scene you are working on in Black and White so that you can make exposure and contrast adjustments in-camera to get the shot.

Most Nikons have the option to set the picture mode to a variety of different moods. I like to go into the camera and switch it from a color mode to Monochrome for a good look. Further, you can go into the menu and adjust color filtration, contrast and sharpness to really get the best out of the picture. This information is not passed along to Lightroom for you to work on but it gives you a good feeling of the picture when you are at the point of making the shot. If I really want to make sure that I capture the mood of the scene, I just switch over to shoot in RAW+JPG. That ensures that the color, contrast, and sharpening information gets baked into the JPG. The file can be finished with that one shot or can serve as a basis for working on the RAW file later.

Be Open for Opportunities

Using the Live View Mode on the Nikon D750 in Havana

As I make pictures, I am often talking to the people around me and asking questions about the area and seeing if I can offer any help where I can. While out there, I met a man who was in the process of trying to make a video of a small band that he has – nothing too big, just a couple of video clips showing what they can do.  

Portrait of a Young Singer in a Cuban Band.

With the 750 being pretty handy for video, it was just a matter of switching over to video, setting up some audio on their board, and we were good to go. As a thank you, the band manager in Cuba allowed me to try another picture with some window light in the restaurant.

When making pictures, you will go out and come back with either a picture or a story. Sometimes, you come back with both. While this wouldn’t be something that I’d add to a portfolio, it’s a great reminder for me of a time when I was able to help. To that, I’m grateful.

Be Open, Be Helpful, Experiment

Portrait of a Young Woman doing Laundry in Havana - 300mm

Overall, traveling with the D750, the 70-200, and the Tamron 28-300 yielded me some pretty good memories of a place that I am quickly falling in love with.  

The versatility that I had with shooting something that was this light really let me open up and try different things in Cuba and be more open to the environment around me.  That presence, as well as a desire to not let adverse weather bother me, let me make what would have normally been a rainout of a time something that was a bit more productive.

Portrait of a Young Woman Doing Laundry at 28mm in Havana

Now, I’ve kept a lot of the pixel-peeping and measure geek-outs to the absolute minimum here because I believe that one of the best ways for you to judge what gear you want to use is to have it in your own hands.  I believe the Tamron 28-300mm lens is great for this kind of work – but I would encourage you guys to rent it before you try.  Hit up Borrowlenses  and check it out for a weekend, put it through its paces, and see if you come back with your own conclusion on it.  I’m pretty sure you will.  

If you guys want to learn more about how I post process images, and work inside of Photoshop and Lightroom, make sure you check out some of the classes I have on my training site – First Shot School.

Here’s to great pictures!

The following two tabs change content below.
RC is the founder of First Shot School, an award winning photographer and author of the best selling books Get Your Photography On the Web , The HDR Book, and The Enthusiast's Guide to Lightroom. He worked as Director of Content and Education for Kelby Media Group and host of the popular podcasts Photography Tips and Tricks and The Grid. A sought after public speaker, he has held training seminars around the world and has served as guest instructor for the Digital Landscape Workshop Series with Moose Peterson, Advanced Flash Photography at Jade Mountain with Joe McNally, and His Light workshops with famed landscape photographer Bill Fortney.


  1. Just bought the new OMD EM1Mark 2 with 12-100 lens for my trip to Cuba next week. Half the weight compared to my bulky Canon 5DIII with 24-105 mm. I was tempted to just get a new Oly lens 17 mm F1.8 for this trip but I don’t want to miss close ups. Do you think it’s wise to carry camera with longer lens all around? Im just an enthusiast but I’d like to make a photo slide in B&W for our Camera club this year with a little punch on my shots

    • I would stick with the zoom. I often think I am not going to need the reach on trips but then end up regretting not having it. I used the EM-1 and a zoom in Peru and loved it.


Share your great shooting tips and lively on-set stories!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.