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Guest post: Cuba with the Nikon D800

Cuba with the Nikon D800
Today's guest post on Cuba is by Nemanja Rakic (Website | Facebook):

If you wanted a proper break from the rest of the world, Cuba is the place. WiFi is non existent. The dial up internet available is only supported in a few hotels and the computers are still using Windows 98. No more Facebook, gmail, twitter and other social media. Its just you now and whatever is waiting for you out that door.

With my current occupation I am able to visit many parts of the world in a short period. A lot of times I get to go back to some of them more than once. There is always something you have missed the first time so why not go there again and explore another side of it. However most of my favorite work comes from places I go to for vacation. Obviously I chose these places based on photographic opportunity. I prefer portraits and for me, a city is as good as its people are and Cuba is one of those places where even though they have so little, they manage to live a happy humble life.

Cuba with the Nikon D800
When you see Cuba, it is truly a place lost in time. While huge supermarkets and malls are rising around the world, here you rely on street markets and home raised vegetables. Majority of the cars on the streets are straight from the 1950s. Later I would find out that even though the outer shell is original, the insides of these cars has been changed many times by modern makeshift parts since they do not have anywhere a place that could supply them with original parts. Perfectly understandable considering their situation. Same goes for their architecture. Almost all the buildings have cracks or holes but that is what makes it authentic. Most of Cuba looks just as it did 50 years ago.

Cuba with the Nikon D800
Cuba with the Nikon D800
At these markets you are able to find National Geographic issues dating back to 1900s. They are all missing the front cover though. Another popular sales item are the baseball cards or coins from that era. This is when you wish you had WiFi to actually see if these are worth anything back in the modern world. The number one attraction obviously are the cuban cigars. They are sold everywhere. You will have to scout around for the best price since they all claim that their batch is the original one. What I mean by that is that there are cigars with "defects" that the factory does not use for their packaging. Instead they are given or sold for a small amount to locals who then wait for you, the tourist, to pick them up for a much higher price.

Cuba with the Nikon D800
The people are extremely nice and helpful. Each of them is a specific character. They don't have much but they get by with what they got and still keep their smile on. Cuba itself is one calm colorful city. Makes you wonder how it will look once the new regime comes into place. Will they try and keep it authentic or will they change most of it with modern buildings and skyscrapers. Time will tell, till then try to see it for what it is. It is truly a place where you can recollect your thoughts and for a few days or weeks escape the typical society lifestyle and sip on that cuba libre cocktail.

Cuba with the Nikon D800
For most of my portraits i use 85mm 1.8G but another one is the 24-70 which ends up on my camera most of the time for street photography until I manage to convince a person to pose for me which is when the 85 comes out.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • Maji

    A nice set of images and a good narrative… such an anachronistic place… feels like frozen in time.

  • Hillary Yasmer Shemin

    Great shots from Cuba…I share your affection for the people of Cuba and photography there.. I was there November 2012 and June 2013….Life changing experience to travel to Cuba.. Truly a living time-capsule. Thanks for sharing your images!

  • Kynikos

    Thank you so much for posting. The images are very well done and appealing. Most of the people from my country who “go to Cuba” end up in one of those cookie-cutter all-inclusive resorts, and never get to see what you’ve managed to capture.

    • Nemanja Rakic

      Thanks for the kind words. All of my travels I chose based on how authentic of a result I can get. I have nothing against spending your earned cash and resting at a resort in Varadero, however it is not for me :) I am more of a hostel type of guy and I like to meet and talk to locals which in the end gets me a chance to take a quality photo of them and avoiding any “paparazzi” shots. Everyone has a story to tell.

  • Spy Black

    I wish there were more environment and landscape shots of the cities, towns, beaches and countryside.

  • ConsciousConsumer

    Why shoot with a D800 if you are going to do this pseudo-HDR to your photos? (A simple, inexpensive P&S would have been just as good for this type of effect.)

    • Nemanja Rakic

      Besides slight sharpness correction the photos are shot as is. I do not use HDR or any other effects to get my result. Also the D800 is an amazing camera coupled with 85mm 1.8G is a great combo imo. You do not need to over post process to get results like these ;)

      • ConsciousConsumer

        I shoot with multiple D800/e/’s both personally and professionally and my files do not come out looking like that. To each their own but I am glad my cameras don’t respond like that!

        • gr8fan

          Cocky!

        • WC

          Sure you do !

        • Jim

          any image that is posted on the internet is downsized to fit internet requirements. Downsizing a photo can change its appearance. But one would not downsize a photo for other purposes (e.g. printing). So does “guest” have a website to view his photos?

          • Ff

            It isn’t about what he can do. It is his opinion, let him have one and move on.

      • http://z7photo.com/ Csaba

        Don’t take trolls too seriously ;) I think these are good photos, but there are disappointingly few of them. Would have liked to see more to add to the variety.

        • Nemanja Rakic

          I dont ;) I agree, wish I added more photos however when i sent the photos to admin at the time I was not sure how many we are allowed to post. So I sent a safe bet. Still I am glad Peter posted this on his blog. There will be another trip of mine in March so for next time I will make sure more are added. Thanks for the shout out and checking my website!

          • IndyReader

            Without the EXIF shooting data on the images we cannot readily tell how you shot them. They do seem to have more contrast than I prefer in mine with similar lighting. Possibly this is just a combination of lens and shooting style. It would be useful to know more about that.

          • JCA

            I’d agree. Fantastic photo’s which makes me want to see more of them. Nice choice of aperture on them as well.

        • ConsciousConsumer

          I am not trolling, just sharing my opinion, thanks.

          • mikeswitz

            You are the very definition of a troll, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet, while whining about having the right to your opinions. And just what exactly makes your opinions “honest”?

            • ConsciousConsumer

              Just because you label me a troll doesn’t make it true. Its funny how people get worked up over something so simple. I don’t like the photos and I said why I didn’t like them, the OP seemed OK with that yet you take offense to it.

              Negative feedback can often help a person advance their vision. It’s just simple communication but some seem to have a problem with it…

            • mikeswitz

              If you were so good at communicating you wouldn’t piss so many people off. Arrogant to the point of self-delusion. Have youever thought maybe its “me” and not the rest of the world.

            • ConsciousConsumer

              LOL, more name calling and other slights…and I’m the “troll”.

            • mikeswitz

              “Negative feedback can often help a person advance their vision”. Merry Christmas.

            • ConsciousConsumer

              Now that’s offensive, fuck you and your religious holiday.

            • JCA

              Yes, seems like that you are.

            • ConsciousConsumer

              LOL – Keep it up with your name calling and other slights…and I am the “troll” lmao

            • Aldo

              The reason you gave for not liking the photos isn’t sound… this is why your credibility went down the drain and people think your are a troll. Just a thought.

            • JCA

              Your feedback was sadly rather pointlessly negative. Just blurting out that they could have been taken by a point and shoot, which if you have some concept of photography you would figure out that isn’t true, doesn’t provide much by the way of insight.

            • Troolololololo

              Wow mike, you need to relax he didn’t say anything out of line. Just because you disagree does not warrant you spazzing.

      • Sundra Tanakoh

        Great photos and write-up Nemanja thanks for posting! It looks like an interesting place and I would love to go there someday!

    • umeshrw

      I don’t think it is Hdr(pseudo or otherwise). Sharpness on some pics looks unnatural though. Could be the aperture. Sorry saw the reply split second after I hit post button.

    • http://z7photo.com/ Csaba

      What pseudo-hdr are you talking about? They look pretty good to me, though I would have loved to see more. As it stands, this post lacks variety a bit, but each photos are excellent. Could we take a look at your portfolio perhaps?

      • ConsciousConsumer

        Your entitled to your opinion as am I. What does my portfolio have to do with this persons photography? It isn’t a competition.

        • Iamthesam

          T-rollllll.

        • Guest3, 4, 5 and so on

          “What does my portfolio have to do with this persons photography?”

          Nothing to do with his photography.

          Everything to do with the substance behind *your* opinions.

          • http://z7photo.com/ Csaba

            Exactly!

      • guest2

        agree with other guest, very high pseudo-hdr/clarity/high radius sharpening/some other hyper-reality processing technique. If you have experience with PS then you really cant miss it, no subtlety at all makes an interesting shot look generic sadly.

    • WC

      Always has to be some sarcastic, negative sod lingering !

  • http://www.davidkasman.com/ David Kasman

    Your photos and story inspire me to go … and soon … before it changes!

  • jackarm

    Thank you for posting. I missed a trip to Cuba in October and your shots convince me that this is a trip I will not miss again. I also carry the D800 with 24-70 f2.8 most of the time during my travels. I think your post-processing reveals what the scene impressed upon you at the time and conveys that to the viewer.

  • reilly diefenbach

    It’s only a matter of time before Cuba is bribed and coerced into the economic “reforms” mandated by the bankers. May it be a long time. Very nice set marred by too much detail push.

    • MyrddinWilt

      Cuba would like nothing better.

      I wish people who wish others would live in the stone age so that they can feel good would consider the consequences for the victims. The US can hardly complain about Cuba’s government given that it runs a notorious torture center and gulag on the island. But they have kept the country in its present poverty for an ideological struggle that was over twenty years ago.

      It is the US politicians that keep the country that way. Pandering to a key voting block in Florida is more important than facing the fact that the economic sanctions have not broken Communism there and never will.

      Raising the sanctions on the other hand and flooding the country with Western capital would probably end the Communist party in a few weeks.

      The reason the US won’t do the obvious thing is that the people who are the arbiters of the US policy are a handful of Cuban refugees who did very well under the old regime and demand the return of their assets. Which is not something any of the internal opposition groups have the slightest interest in fighting for.

      There is WiFi in Cuba but it is kind of difficult to find and use. Much of the Internet there is accessed in short bursts. You go to a coffee shop and download as much stuff as you can onto a USB stick and then browse offline.

      • zoetmb

        While I completely disagree with the U.S.’s position on Cuba as well as the trade embargo, the U.S. does not keep Cuba in poverty. That happened when the U.S.S.R. broke up and the Russians could not longer afford to keep Cuba afloat. There are plenty of countries who could trade with Cuba today. Cuba is in poverty because of its reliance on a totally socialist state (although there’s been some recent movement). Almost all the former Communist states have discovered that a mix of private enterprise and socialism is ideal.

        I think that once Raul Castro is no longer in power, it will be “safe” for U.S. politicians to support normalization with Cuba. After all, we have normal relations with Vietnam. It’s not going to happen before Raul leaves power and it’s not going to happen in a U.S. election year. In fact, it’s not going to happen during a Democratic administration. It has to be a Conservative who makes that move, otherwise they’d be tagged as a socialist/Communist. Just like it was Richard Nixon who opened up China (for better or worse) to the West. A Democrat couldn’t have done it.

        But if Cuba does open to the West, what’s going to happen to it? It will be plagued with resorts and gambling, just as it was before the Revolution and it will also be plagued with western fast food chains and the like. Is that what they want? Not for me to say either way.

        • Neopulse

          What are you talking about NOT during a democratic administration? Obama has been trying have relations with Raul since his first term. And has caused problems since Castro doesn’t want to give power away yet. Raul is trying to make changes (can’t believe I’m defending that guy), but it is too damn slow in a world that has long surpassed Cuba’s timeline. And you DO KNOW that Cuba is FULL of resorts like in Varadero y Santiago and especially Cayo Coco that is banned for Cubans to even go there. So you are kind of speaking for yourself.

          And also, the “embargo” actually keeps the Castros happy believe it or not since they don’t know sh*t about economics or how to run a country well for that sort. There is NO real economy in Cuba except the kind that involves charging people from the outside for sending money to relatives in Cuba or charging people for using their monopoly money at a price when switching from US Dollars. They blame all the things they don’t get on America when in fact their system is terribly setup since the beginning. They’re actually happy to have the blockade believe it or not. Do you think a Cuban citizen would actually pay $5 for an imported T-shirt when in fact they only make around $15-$25 a month alone? I’ve had doctors serve me food at a restaurant there since waiters make considerably more money than them. Communism sounds good on paper, never works in real life.

  • Marko Drazic

    Svaka cast!extra !

  • gr8fan

    Beautiful TRUE pictures! Thank you!

  • http://inthemistphoto.com/ InTheMist

    Wonderful work! So gritty, so REAL!!

  • MyrddinWilt

    Those cheap ‘cuban’ cigars are likely imported knock offs from Honduras.

    The real ones are expensive even in Cuba.

    • mikeswitz

      A friend of mine once brought me back a bunch “Cubans” from Havana as Kramer once said. Fortunately they were cigars. they each cost almost as much as they do in Europe or Canada. And all but a few were just awful. No idea where they were made and not nearly as good as these pictures.

    • Neopulse

      Yeah, mostly. Luckily bought a box of genuine Cuban made in front of me by a woman who buy the raw tobacco and rolls them. Although they don’t look pretty with all the branding they do, it’s still tobacco. I bought them for $20 a dozen of them. Paid more for it since I was grateful for the opportunity to chat with her about history there. And then at the airport they didn’t let me take them since I didn’t have a formal receipt of their purchase. So I decided to cut them up into little pieces into a trash can so they wouldn’t confiscate it and chances are resell it.

  • Gorji

    Great images of Cuba. You are very talented. Congratulations.

  • Marko Pavic

    Great job….in a few years,with a lot of spare time and material put everything that you shot in one place,write something and publish a good Travel book :)

  • zoetmb

    Pictures are wonderful and I’d love to see more. It’s just a matter of time before this old Cuba disappears, so it really is going to be a record of what will one day be a “lost civilization” of sorts.

    Ignore the critics. They probably can’t achieve the sharpness and contrast that you have and they don’t know why, so they criticize your work so they can feel validated.

    • Nemanja Rakic

      Thanks!

  • Aldo

    Great shots of cuba cliche!

  • broxibear

    Hi Nemanja how are things ?
    I think Peter (admin) deleted some comments that were made about post processing and hdr, maybe I can add some light (no pun intended) without the rudeness that particular person was vomiting.
    A friend who’s a photojournalist was in Cuba a few years ago and was using film not digital, and his colour transparencies had a slight hdr look to them…it’s got something to do with the quality of daylight in that part of the world.
    That added to the vibrance and clarity adjustments you’ve made is why it looks like slight hdr even though it’s not.
    Don’t take any silly comments to heart, sometimes people get carried away on forums like this and say things they normally wouldn’t…everyone likes different types of photography, it would be a very boring world if we all liked the same things.
    Did you try any cigars when you were out there ?…my friend brought back a few boxes of Cohibas, I don’t smoke but I tried one and it was the most disgusting thing ever, lol…definitely not for me.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7CddL4dv8c

    Anyways, have a good Christmas.

    • broxibear

      P.S. Like the “blue” Sadhu shot on your website, was that shot in India, which part ?

      • Nemanja Rakic

        Hi! That was actually shot in Cambodia about 2 weeks ago.

    • http://nikonrumors.com/ Nikon Rumors

      I did not delete any HDR comments.

      • broxibear

        “I did not delete any HDR comments.”…the rude ones from the person who started off talking about hdr ?

        • mikeswitz

          Admin first changed his name from Conscientious
          Consumer who has a Disqus Profile to “Guest” with no profile. Then he deleted a response from Guest to me wishing him a “Merry Christmas” when he (Guest) went a bit over the top.
          Disqus was introduced to help get rid of trolls. Unfortunately I think it has made it worse.
          Your response to Mr. Rakic was kind and thoughtful. Conscientious Consumer was not helpful and deviod of any photographic knowledge.

  • stormwatch

    This is superb, shame there are only a few photos…

  • guest

    Nice images- thanks for sharing them! I would respectfully echo those who say there is an unnatural HDR appearance to the first 4 photos- the bandanna man’s skin looks like cranked clarity to me, and the following 3 car shots just don’t look natural. That’s not to say they’re “bad”, but in all honesty they look unnatural. The last 2 portraits, however, are totally realistic and if you applied a similar post-production, you did so with more restraint.

    Nice work!

    • Nikette

      It’s the equatorial sun, and the ‘vivid’ option on the camera. Not an issue, only a matter of taste. It’s like heavy metal music. No nuance here, just punch to show the colors and contrast.

      You have to have been in Cuba or similar places on the equator.

      • guest

        Nemanja said “color and contrast” have been adjusted. Clarity is defined as mid-tone contrast. I would bet $50 that there has been fairly significant mid-tone contrast added to the first image. You’re right, not an issue, but whatever blah blah blah.

  • Guest

    The color enhancement (specially the first) makes the pictures look like HDR. Period.

    • Anonymous Coward

      At the risk of feeding the troll, you have no idea what you are talking about :-) period. Nikette has it right, there are places in the world where colors and sunlight are just different. Get out and experience the world and you will see for yourself!

    • mikeswitz

      You really don’t know what HDR really looks like if it’s done well.

  • Tony Mateus

    Thanks for sharing these, and you’re editing style is fine. High contrast, super sharp and a little saturated combined with interesting subjects make for very memorable images. Naysayers can go there themselves and take their own pics.

  • Scott M

    I love your photos! The first one is great.
    I think Cuba will get out their time warp soon. Really sad how they have to live there. Most have no idea how bad they have it. I lived in Miami for a while and became friends with lots of expats (who left in 1959) and children of expats. All they want to do is go back and fix it. The ones who had a few dollars left when they could. The rest had to stay in this “model of socialism.”
    people tell them how is sucks and they say, “hey, we have great free health care!”

    • Neopulse

      Not even the health care is that great, because they don’t know of any other kind. I would say Argentina which is quite in a shitter now has better public health care than Cuba. And I say this from experience.

  • Phonton

    I like the colours and the sharpness (except the first one might be a bit over the top), nothing HDR about them. Saturation is abundant yes, but HDR is a very different look. These pics don’t even have much contrast (apart from last one), so no need for HDR really. I like the portraits, they are not easy to get of strangers, as opposed to paparazzi shots. The cars on the other hand I find very cliched (if that’s a proper adjective) and not well framed at all, so I’d work on composition of those shots for your next visit to this magical place. You made me want to go too :)

  • http://www.povazanphotography.com/ Jozef Povazan

    Nice pictures. The week when I got to Cuba D800 was just being released, so here is couple my shots with D700 just to compare :) http://www.pressthetrigger.com/index.php/2012/09/street-photography-in-cuba/

    • mikeswitz

      Great images. Just goes to prove its not about the camera, its about the photographer and his/her eye.

      • http://www.povazanphotography.com/ Jozef Povazan

        Thanks. That D700 is still running strong and making $ which I can not say about D800 I had bought, shot a wedding with it and returned it back to Nikon for AF issues right after I came back from that Cuba trip :)

  • just an opinion

    waaaay too much exaggeration on the clarity slider (or just too much topaz). it’s sharp to the point that it gets revolting. less is more, remember? as far as the picked frames go, a couple of portraits and a slideshow of “how to create a left/center/right composition with basically the same 1950’s car is far from impressive. sure, we all know the d800 is a quality camera, for the price tag it should preform just as good as any other camera in that price range. so I get a bit baffled. What is this post really about? is it about the d800 being a quality camera (which we know it is, or at least should be, in my opinion it’s totally overkill for anything that is not real studio work) or are we commenting on Nemanjas ability as a photographer? (nemoj ovo shvačat osobno brate) Hell I’ve seen it in the hands of people who consider themselves pro shooters, yet still they produce images not even worthy of Flussers “opium dens”. Check out Dave Hobby’s take on Cuba with the Fuji, good stuff, not brilliant but good. Nemanja, my advice, take it down a notch with the clarity, this is one of those examples where sharpness is waaaaaay overrated. instead of searching for cliches to put in your frame, try to go deeper.

  • Guest

    Great, intriguing images..
    Reminds me of a trip to Cambodia where the initial shock was how colorful the people and scenery were.
    The only hindrance that could be waged is ironically the camera they are taken with. What is meant by that is services like DxO do not evaluate what the images produced actually look like, they only evaluate the intensity of color, noise, etc. They do not evaluate whether the images have an over-processed extremely digital look, whether they produce distracting unrealistic levels of detail, etc. The primary failing of the D800 is that the processor has so many pixels to reassemble that it sharpens and defines where it should have left as captured, which ends up producing “digital” looking images..
    The best advice one could give anyone shooting with a D800 is to start every image processing sequence with a slight blur filter.. and not because the camera captures so much detail, but because it processes ‘in’ more detail than actually exists.
    If you cannot see the detail with your eye, it does not need to be captured – it is the difference between an image that looks natural versus one that looks digitized and processed.

  • Neopulse

    Just got back from Cuba day before yesterday from visiting family and friends. And I have to admit, yeah there are a lot of nice people there still. Especially after so long. My brother on day one, left his family’s passports including mines in one of the luggage trollies when we unloaded the luggage into the rental car. He didn’t realize he had lost them until the next day (from this point we all wanted to murder him and still do). Then that same evening when he went out to Jose Marti Airport hoping to be there in a Lost & Found section of the airport, a person with a close friend took a bus all the way to my aunt’s place where I was staying at and handed me the passports for no reward or anything. And he came from a neighborhood some kilometers away (Alamar) and went through 3-4 hours looking for the place (the addresses are NOT easy to find since there are no street signs either) and got them to me. Couldn’t thank him enough, paid a cab for him and gave him 100 CUC even though he was quite reluctant in receiving anything from what he did. In Cuba you have one another, and you depend on one another to live there.

  • heinrichmack

    hi what was the WB here? thanks

    • Nemanja Rakic

      Hi. WB I kept on “sunny” since it was beautiful weather with barely any clouds in sight.

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