Practice, Practice, Practice – Preparing for Cuba

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Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A: Practice, Practice, Practice

I will be soon going my first travel photography workshop. I am joining Eddie Soloway and the Sante Fe Photographic Workshops on an 8 day trip to Cuba visiting the cities of Havana, Trinidad, and Cinfuegos.

Sometime in early 2012, I set my sights on photographing in Cuba in 2013. I don’t know exactly why I picked Cuba, but my life is filled with examples that follow the same basic pattern. I get and idea of doing something and just decide to do it. At the time of my decision often have little understanding of what it will take to get there or even what it will be like when I arrive. I just know it is the right thing for me to do and I set out single-mindedly to achieve the objective. The pattern includes both a long-term vision (I want to be a classical oboist) and lots of little short term activities (I need to master the Strauss Oboe Concerto, I need to study with the 1st oboists of the major US symphony orchestras).

So it was with this trip to Cuba. I announced to my friends: “I’m going to Cuba in 2013, who wants to come along?” I did not wait for answers, I just started my planning and preparation.

My preparation for the trip has included finding the right trip, studying Spanish, reading about Cuba and its history, studying other’s photos of Cuba, studying with master photographers to find myself, and practicing my particular brand of street and social documentary photography. The last part included shooting exclusively with the Olympus OM-D E-M5, memorizing as much as I can about where the settings are located (I’m really bad at memorizing details), and doing as much street photography as my schedule allows.

Over the past several months, when I went out shooting, would say to myself: If you were in Cuba today shooting, what would you come home with. And I would evaluate my results and experience by asking myself several questions that run the gamut of exploring my craft, my vision, and my inner strength.

  • Did I capture the mood?
  • Did fear keep me from taking a picture of spending the time required at a venue to get the right shot?
  • Did I keep and open mind and try new things?
  • Was I conscious and intentional with my camera settings?
  • Did I have any issues with efficiently using my camera?

This approach is completely parallel to the lessons I learned when I studied music.

  • Study with the greats – study great photographs, take workshops with the right people, read about their processes
  • Practice your scales – take practice pictures in different conditions isolating different techniques
  • Run dress rehearsals – go out and shoot as if you were on the assignment
  • Know everything about your instrument – study the manual and practice finding those hidden, but needed, menu items
  • Be unconsciously conscious about the state of everything while you are playing – It needs to be second nature that for every shot you know what your aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focal length, and white balance are.

Each time I went out I produced more good work and became more comfortable with my approach to photography and the OM-D system.

I will be bringing 2 Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera bodies, 5 fast prime lenses and one zoom (as a backup). I’ll also be bringing my Induro CT114 tripod with Acratech bullhead. I’ve prepared and run my dress rehearsals. I’ve concentrated on prime lenses so that I am super conscious of composition and framing. I’ll be warming up with a couple of days in Miami before the trip and the concert starts on January 29th.

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2 Comments to “Practice, Practice, Practice – Preparing for Cuba”

  1. I did a workshop in Cuba in 2001 with Antonin Kratochvil. I am a professional photographer and don’t do enough personal enrichment stuff like this. That trip is still my photographic highlight – along with another workshop with Jay Maisel in NYC last year. The culture is so rich. The people are incredibly photogenic and open. You are in for a great week. Here is a link to some of the shots I took with the brand new Nikon D1 2.7mp camera! http://johngillooly.500px.com/cuba_street/#/0

  2. This is a heck of a blog. Wow! How do you find the time to write so much? Any shots you have to get before going to Cuba? TB? Cholera?

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