Havana people with the Nikon Df and an old Nikkor 28mm manual lens

Havana people with the Nikon Df and an old Nikkor 28mm manual lens by Julien Hautcoeur (Web | InstagramFacebook | Tumblr | Flickr | see also his previous guest post):

Getting closer

Famous Magnum photographer Robert Capa once said: « If Your Photos Aren’t Good Enough, You’re Not Close Enough ». Here is the challenge I wanted to achieve when I went Havana in Cuba: getting closer. I always have been a huge fan of street photography but I felt like after these past years I never did master that style. I wanted to go a step forward and reach a point where I had never been before. Havana seemed to be the right place to do that. To be able to get closer and take the pictures I would be happy about, I found inspiration from three street photographers: F.D Walker, The Real Sir Robin and Juan Suarez who help me to get the right technique.

Camera settings and lens

The best way to do street photography is to be fast, fast enough to catch a moment before it disappears. Because of that, you don’t have time to think about the setting of your camera: chose the focal length, set the ISO, focus… and click. The moment is already gone. From F.D Walker I took the idea to set the camera with auto ISO (max of 6400 on my Nikon Df) and use it in manual mode with a speed of 1/500 to 1/1000 of a second. With that shutter speed you can freeze any action, and today’s cameras are good enough at high ISO to be able to let the camera pick what it needs to get the picture. For sure you can adjust the shutter speed and the aperture according to the weather. These values work well on a bright sunny day.

Usually, for street photography, people recommend a 35mm lens or a 28mm lens. I decided to go with an old Nikkor 28mm Ai lens that I found for sale for next to nothing. Because I like wide angle pictures, the 28mm seemed to be an appropriate choice.


From The Real Sir Robin I took the idea of guessing the distance to my subject and pre-focusing. Plus, if you use a 28mm lens closed at f11 or f16 and pre-focus at 2 meters, you will have a very large depth of field (1m to infinity) which will allow you to not worry about focussing super precisely if you get close enough to your subject. Try to guess the distance, always have the same lens to get used to framing with it and pre-focus if you have time. Look at this video to get the idea.

Don’t think, just shoot

There is always a big difference between theory and practice. Even if I know how to set my camera and lens, I didn’t really know how to get closer, how to enter into the comfort zone of the stranger in the street. Happily, on the first day after my arrival in Havana, I had a three-hour workshop with Juan Suarez, a local street photographer. He took us in the lively areas of the city and told us how to behave and approach the people. His main points were to not think if you see something, frame and take the picture, just frame and shoot. Then smile, be nice and continue your walk. After three hours looking at him and practicing I was able to take some pictures that I would have never taken before.

Settings summary

  • Camera in manual mode
  • Auto ISO
  • Wide angle lense, ideally 28mm or 35mm
  • Pre-focusing (28mm lens at f16 pre-focused at 2m is a good start)
  • Shutter speed at 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second
  • Aperture between f8 and f16
  • Exposure compensation at -1/3ev or -2/3 to save the highlight
  • Don’t think, frame and shoot

At the end it is an old and classic street photography technique but today with modern technology, the younger generations don’t really know about it. I spent almost all the rest of the week walking around discovering the beautiful city of Havana and trying to catch the life of the Cuban people with this technique. I am quite happy about my first experience and really excited to continue this way. Here are some of my shots, all taken through the old 28mm lens (more pictures can be found on my blog):

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

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