Photoessay: Havana reflections

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Imperial purple

A conceptually simple photoessay today, focusing on the difference between the real and virtual, hard and soft. Usually, the reflection of something is soft because it is indistinct and formed in a physical object that is clean, polished, crisp, and thus well-defined; however, in the case of Cuba, it’s the opposite. The physical objects are old, not always clean, have decaying or faded edges, and it’s the reflection that becomes more solid thanks to the hardness and intensity of the sun reflecting off them. The idea becomes more tangible than reality; it can be simply an interesting visual juxtaposition, or perhaps a metaphor for something politically stronger – especially in the case of Cuba. Beyond that, Havana itself becomes very visually interesting after a rain: the clouds don’t linger thanks to the sea breeze, and we land up with either a clear or Magritte sky and great texture in everything else. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D800E, 70-200/4 VR, Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 and Ricoh GR.

Finally, for those who haven’t seen it: How To See Ep.5, Havana is here, free and in full. 🙂

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Merry Christmas: a free How To See Ep.5, Havana

Ming Thein’s How To See Ep. 5: Havana from Ming Thein on Vimeo.

Happy holidays! The traditional Christmas humour post will return in a couple of days, but in the meantime I’ve got a present for you all: a special edition of How To See – Ep.5: Havana, Cuba. Unlike the other videos, it’s a free, full episode in 720P HD (a little shorter at 1h than the usual 2h+ epics, and you may need to click through to Vimeo to get 720p because of the page width). Paypal won’t let us take payment for anything that’s Cuba-related, so we’ve decided to give it away instead for all of you to enjoy – perhaps something to watch in the afternoon once the presents are done and the post-lunch food coma has set in on the rest of the family…just hit the play link in the embedded video window above. If you did enjoy it, there’s always a handy donation link in the sidebar (but please don’t use the words ‘cuba’ or ‘havana’ anywhere 🙂

The How To See series is what a lot of people have asked me for in the past – the ability to look over my shoulder as I shoot to see what I notice and and how I compose when I’m in a given situation, of course with explanations. You can get a feeling of the ambient surroundings to get a sense of context, plus what’s outside the frame to understand the compositional choices I had  at the time. In addition, I talk about the structure and composition of each final image shown, what attracted me, what the the artistic, compositional and postprocessing considerations were, and what my thoughts were at the time of capture. It is a vicarious exploration through five exciting cities; a travel guide of sorts for photographers, and a personal masterclass in learning to see the unusual in the ordinary.

I’m also using this opportunity to put out a special How To See video bundle – travel vicariously for more than nine hours over the holiday season and get all episodes 1-4 covering Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Penang and Melbourne for $92 off at just $160 (regular price: $252). This offer is valid for a limited number of customers only, and is available right here from the teaching store.(1 Feb 2015: all gone!) Trailers and testimonials for HTS 1-4 after the break.

Merry Christmas!

HTS xmas bundle

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Photoessay: A little Cuban architecture

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La Fabrica.

Havana’s buildings are a mix of a bit of everything: colonial spanish, modern, neoclassical, Soviet brutalist concrete and a whole bunch of other things I can’t even begin to identify. All I know is that the visual contrasts are extreme, and the range of textures quite sublime – especially in that wonderfully strong and directional Caribbean light. How could I resist photographing the buildings – more than the cars?

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Photoessay: May Day in Havana

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Against the crowd

And now for something a bit different, both from an experiential standpoint and a content one. As part of the Havana Masterclass, I arranged a massive demonstration of communism to create a realistic photojournalistic scenario we attended the 1st of May parade at Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana – perhaps the biggest socialist event in the entire Cuban calendar. Rather than being observers of the parade, as I’d expected, we got sucked into the enormous number of participants – I would say easily in the hundreds of thousands, covering the entire length and width of Plaza de la Revolucion and beyond. And as you are no doubt aware, the best images are made when you’re not just watching it, but actually in it.

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Photoessay: People of Cuba, part II

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Soldiers, I. Apparently you are not supposed to photograph them, or secure installations. When faced with this kind of challenge I invariably have to get an image…

Today’s photoessay is the continuation of the curated collection of people I photographed in Havana – (part I is here) the tricky part was to try to avoid cliches (unsuccessful, I think) but at the same time get a decent representation of activity. I think many of my students did this better – my Asian reserve prevented me from sticking my head into doorways and windows of homes (though that’s different if I’m on assignment) – but beyond that, I prefer to photograph people in a natural state without them being conscious of my presence and changing their behaviour to suit; whatever it was they were doing that was interesting in the first place would almost certainly cease and change.

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Photoessay: People of Cuba, part I

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One suitcase, many possible professions

Today’s photoessay is the first part of my report from the streets of Cuba. I tried to go in with as few preconceptions as possible, to just observe and shoot; there’s a little bit of movement away from the anonymity I’d been pursuing in my previous images. Perhaps it’s because the city itself is not anonymous or uniform or soulless or a cookie-cutter copy of every other first world city; the individuals mattered again – even when they were in groups.

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Photoessay: People and cars, Havana

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1957

In the modern age, the car is a machine, a tool, something utilitarian. Features are added to meet regulations or to make you spend your money on something slightly better than what you had, or so Brand A can win a spec sheet comparison against Brand B. There’s very, very little soul; whatever little there is has to be engineered in. I don’t think this is the case with cars that are 50, 60, even 70+ years old; even if they had no soul to begin with, over the years they’ve certainly acquired patina, and with it, a history.

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Photoessay: Havana cityscapes, part II

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Sunset

Today’s photoessay is the second part and conclusion of the previous photoessay-review. It’s a little broader in scope and less human-scale than the previous one; this is deliberate as there’s definitely an element of the brutalist in Cuban architecture; my theory is that it’s the influence of socialism. You may find the majority of these images to feel toned; that’s mostly a consequence of atmospheric conditions: the best hours of the day to shoot proved to be early morning and late afternoon/ evening, both of which were extremely warm. In any case, I believe it fits the feel and mood of the city well: it’s just a lazy afternoon kind of place, even when it’s ten in the morning. I’m going to stop looking for excuses why I was lighting up a cigar at 9.30 now.

This series shot with a Nikon D800E and 70-200/4 VR. Enjoy!

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Photoessay-review: the Nikon AFS 70-200/4 VR and Havana cityscapes, part I

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This will be the first in my new review format for ‘light’ reviews – pieces of equipment that perhaps don’t necessarily need a full blown magnum opus, but benefit from some context in deployment and typical usage. A short piece on the D4 will follow next.

One of the few lenses in the Canon system I’ve long been jealous of is their 70-200/4 IS (in addition to the 17TSE). Until not so long ago, Nikon users have been missing a light/ compact high quality telephoto option. Sure, there’s been the 70-300/4.5-5.6 VR, but that was only a decent performer up to 200mm; anything else was emergency territory. And it simply wasn’t that good on the D800E, nor a pro build. Finally, we have the AF-S 70-200mm f4 G VR ED IF (what a mouthful). I’m going to address two questions in this review: firstly, is it any good, and secondly, f2.8* or f4? I suspect the latter question is going to be of interest to many still sitting on the fence.

*It’s important to note there are two versions of the 70-200/2.8 G VR. I’ll go into the differences in more detail later.

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The Havana Masterclass report

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I’m going to break from tradition a bit – rather than me show you a whole bunch of photographs of my students photographing, I think it would be better to let the results speak for themselves: instead, most of my students have graciously agreed to share a few of their images and thoughts from the recent Havana Masterclass. It should give you a fairly good idea of exactly what we do during a Masterclass…

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