I’m Back From 2-1/2 Days in Havana, Cuba


It’s a place I’d never thought I’d actually get to go, but when a good friend invited Kalebra and I to join of group of their friends (14 of us in all) for a Cultural Exchange trip to Havana, we were all over it.

I always just thought it was all but impossible for an American to visit Cuba without skirting all sorts of official rules (going through mexico or Costa Rica first, and then kind of slinking in without the US State Dept. knowing), but there were Americans EVERYWHERE down there. I even ran into a National Geographic Photo Tour down there, and once we were there we learned that our tour guide had taken our friend Laurie Excell’s photo workshop there earlier this year. Small world, and getting smaller every day.

Havana is such an amazing place!
Absolutely beautiful and very different in so many ways than we have always been led to believe. Havana is one of the most beautiful, vibrant, happy cities I’ve ever visited. The music, the food, and the warm Cuban people make it hands-down my all-time favorite island (well, not including huge islands like the UK). Truly authentic. Often breathtaking. Definitely enchanting. Charming, romantic and hopeful all at the same time in the same place.

I have so much to share about the trip that I’m going to try and arrange a live Broadcast just to share more photos and stories and just  talk about the experience, the place, and its people (and how you can get to Cuba now before there’s a Starbucks on every corner). If I’m able to arrange it later today, or tomorrow (more likely), I’ll post it here and invite you to join me online to hear about this incredible place which in many ways has one foot stuck in the 1950s and one in 2012. I’ve got some great Cuba travel tips for you, too!

A peek at my Photo Book from the trip
Until then, here’s a peek the photo book I always make from my trips (our flight home was delayed by more than eight hours so I had plenty of time to put it together). You know, Jay Maisel always says “Shoot what turns you on” and the thousands of 1950s classic cars on every street really turned me on so you’l see plenty of them throughout the book, just like you see them all over Havana. I have so much more to share (including more photos), and I hope I get the change to share Cuba with you soon! (click the images to see larger versions).

P.S. All shot with a Nikon D800 with just one lens: a Nikon 28-300 f/3.5 to f/5.6 VR lens. No HDR at all  (though I did shoot a bunch of bracketed shots so I will tone map a few soon).  — the post processing was done in Lightroom 4, except for Panos, I added extra contrast to a few shots, and I removed a couple of spots and a distracting sign here or there, but 98% was done in Lightroom 4 itself.

More to come during my photo talk. Gracias mis amigos!



  1. Awesome photo’s Scott! I’ve always wanted to visit Havana. All the 50’s era cars due to trade sanctions imposed against Fidel Castro’s regime and “The Bay of Pigs” incident. It must be like entering a time warp. What editing HDR software did you use on these? Nik Color Effex Pro 4? I am testing that software now  and am considering the complete collection but am new to Lightroom 4 and CS6 so am undecided. Thanks, Tom 

  2. Hi Scott.. This book and the Paris one you showed us a week or so back are inspirational. Is there any chance you could publish them please?

  3. Scott . . . what an incredible photo book of your trip to Cuba. I get lots of ideas and learn a lot from from your blog. Just upgraded to LR4 and CS6 over the weekend (thanks NAPP discount!), and have been watching a few video courses via Kelby training (thanks Matt K.!). Got it all. You guys rock!

  4. I am very happy you went to Havana and like it. As a cuban makes me very proud and I am looking forward to see more pictures and to know more about the trip. You definitely must go someday to my hometown Holguin, is another beatiful cuban city and is called the city of the parks but I must admit Havana has an special enchant. Excellent post and pictures Scott. Gracias por compartirlo con tu comunidad de amigos.

  5. Scott, glad you had a great experience.  I spent a week in and around Havana earlier this year, and would concur that anyone thinking about going should make it sooner rather than later.  Your photos inspire me to keep shooting, and go back again and shoot it better (but then I look at what I shot there a few years ago, and feel better about what I shot this time: http://smu.gs/IAAJTi).  Look forward to reading and hearing more.

  6. Scott, absolutely amazing as usual… so would love to get to go to Cuba, I absolutely love the old cars, it look like it must be a photographers playground.

  7. Scott,

    Ok, you’ve got me beat. How did you do post on the cars? I’m fascinated by the look, it definitely looks like HDR (I assume that’s why you pointed out that there is no HDR) but I really like the subtle feel. Any tips for how to do that in Lightroom?

  8. Scott,
    Your travel shots never fail to impress and Havana is certainly no exception. It looks like a city made for photography. I especially like the two portraits of the women and their Cohibas.
    To those asking about the HDR look, Lightroom 4’s Clarity tool will get you that faux-HDR look if you crank it high enough. Add a little extra contrast and maybe a slight increase of the highlights and presto.
    Trev J.

  9. I love your photobooks !! I just started trying this in Lightroom 4 and it seems pretty straight forward. If I may ask, where is the best/easiest to get Lightroom books printed and bound ?

  10. One of the things I dearly love about your travel photography is the way you cover all the details!  Not only do you shoot gorgeous vistas, but there are also people, food, cars and everything in between also incorporating various techniques and styles.  I really love it when you share your photos from trips on the blog, thanks again for a Monday full of inspiration! :)

  11. I LOVE LOVE LOVE The ladies on with the yellow wall! How fabulous that they posed for you!

    I’m so glad you share these books you put together from your trip. Great way to share the experience!

    1. It’s only $1 a shoot. ;-) They come out dressed like that to pose for tourists and get a Cuban Peso or two. They are great subjects, but just about every tourist to Cuba has similar photos. :)

  12. I gotta say, I enjoyed this series of your travel photos more than any other you’ve posted, ever. Fantastic work, Scott…I’m envious.

  13. Great Photos, I am so Jealous.  My father spent several years in Cuba as a small boy and Cuba played a large part in his family’s life.  My wife and I have been trying to get there for many years now, hopefully soon!.  Thanks for posting the pictures

    1. Comrade Ken:

       To Fidel Castro you are nothing more than a Useful Idiot.

      If Cuba is as awesome as you say, why are Cubans willing to die to escape this Socialist Workers Paradise?

      1. It may not be the place. But when you put yourself out there and celebrate a country that is socialistic (your freedom of expression, assembly, religion, press, and a number of other human rights are limited or not existent) then you have to take the heat. 

  14. From your photos I feel like I visited Cuba. Great work and there is a sense of joy and wonder in the photos. (Am I reading too much into them?).  The D800 and LR4 come shining through also. Blessings…….

  15. Beautiful shots! It’s nice to see that Cuba hasn’t changed much in the 20 years since I’ve been there. I’ve wanted to go back for the past couple years but just haven’t got there. Hopefully soon though. I love the details you took pictures of.

  16. Great and pretty comprehensive set of photographs, plenty of colors, character and Latin charm.
    It has been on my list, as a place to visit, for long time and frankly I don’t know what the hell I’m waiting for!!
    Looking forward to more, Thanks Scott.

  17. Scott…  your Photobooks are really nice.  Very professional looking.  What SW do you use?  How about a kelby training class on Photobooks?

  18. HI Scott, I’ve been in Cuba a few times in the past and each visit has been absolutely an unforgetable experience. You right, great place and great people. It has been at least a couple of decades since I set foot on the island, but looking at your captures I get the urge to book a flight and this time bring my cameras along. Twenty five years and not much has change…Muchas gracias por la inspiradora imágenes.


  19. Enjoyed reading this post and I love all of the photos – you are truly an inspiration.  Can you provide the name of the font that you have used for the title of the book and “the end”?  

  20. Some awesome shots!

    Untill Scott gets to his talk, I will point out a couple things. First, not all the cars look that nice. There are many that have painted with what ever they find around (including house paint). Second, the 2 cigar smoking ladies, they sit in old town Havana, and charge a peso (about $1 US) to let you take their pic. If you don’t pay, they will cover up their faces with the fans and turn the other way as soon as you point a camera at them. They are VERY good a knowing who is going to “steal” a picture!

    1. Hi Ryan: You are right on all counts. Although an amazing number of cars look great down there, there are also a lot of cars that are traveling “Bondo” and patched together. Of course, I didn’t want to shoot those, so there’s none of them in my book. As for the 2 cigar smoking ladies, if you want a photo, it’s a Cuban Peso for sure. They come out dressed like that for a reason. :) Funny thing; I’m shooting a church in the square and some detail shots and I see a big group around one of the ladies and they’re taking photos of her and posing with her, and I wander over and it’s a National Geographic Photo Tour group of photographers. After they left, I got those two snaps, which cost me $2 (which will be part of my talk). However, it’s the only pesos I spent for portraits while I was there. The rest went to Cervesa. I mean, location scouting. ;-)

  21. “Hollywood” 
    Tell me enjoyed a cigar, Cuba has many colors and a lot of great old cars, nice book, great job as always, can’t wait to here all about it.

  22. Great photos of the romantic side of  Havana, Cuba.  But lets not forget about the very poor conditions outsite of Havan. It’s not all well kept classic cars.  When I was there last year people were asking me for the basics soap, laundry detergent, toilet paper and toothpaste.

  23. Nikon D800= $3000.00 and  Nikon 28-300 f/3.5 to f/5.6 VR lens = $2000.00, Total= $5000.00 + Tax = $5350.00. This is humiliation to the poor Cuban people… and in addition… is saling the book… Great bussiness…

  24. Scott,

    Congratulations on a fine set of images, both from Cuba and also from your recent Paris trip (can’t wait to see the Jay Maisel sessions!). I’ve just returned from a few days in Bergamo in northern Italy, an area that is steeped in traditional buildings and great characters, but never felt that I quite got my eye in. Your images put mine to shame. All the best.

  25. Speaking of D800, I would much appreciate your take on D800 left autofocus sensor problems as discussed on some forums. Have you and friends checked for or experienced it? Opinion?

  26. Love Cuba, been there many times, they love us Canadians and it has arguably some of the best beaches in the Caribbean.  Havana is a great city, full of interesting history and architecture, and the people are fantastic.  So glad you had the opportunity to experience what we have know for many…many years !

  27. Who knew that pictures of Cuba could attract so many politicians? ;-)

    Awesome shots Scott. A couple of weeks ago, I read an article stating that Cuba’s streetview would probably change soon as regulations regarding allowing modern cars would become less strict. Hopefully, it doesn’t mean those fantastic cars will leave the streets altogether. 

  28. Caralbel2000 – you know he had to carry this in a camera bag, so your figures are off by a couple of hundred.  Your tax rate is probably off too.. 

    – and you spelled “Selling” wrong. 
    Oh wait – I thought we were just pointing out all of the things that have -nothing- to do with the pictures here.

  29. Scott – First of, I’m a HUGE fan of you and all the work you do, ALL of your images are nothing but spectacular and just screams inspiration and dedication all around..

    One comment (personal thought) – All the images are wonderful and shows a beautiful side of CUBA that most people haven’t seen and probably will never get to see, I would probably would have not post the “political” images as it might offend some cubans in the states that probably lost families and properties due to the communism in the country.

    Again, just my personal opinion… Can’t wait for the Chat tonight!

  30. Scott-
    The book and post are beautiful.  I enjoy your Photo-book posts very much.  I do remember the post from sometime last year that described how you made the books but don’t remember if you described how the images where upload to the Blog.  Where they screen shots or something different?

  31. I appreciate the concern for the Cuban people and their plight, but having just been there it looks to me like they are much better off than those on many islands and those in many dictatorships that the US Government supports or works with.  There is much hope and goodness with these people.  They deserve what we would want for our own children and loved ones. I hope this can happen soon.     

  32. Next time you visit Cuba, I will love to know you, I´m a photographer and belong to an small academy non government who begins his first steps after the new changes in Cuba allowing private business, it will be an honour to share our vision of Cuba with you and learn from your experiences. 

    Thanks for sharing photos from our country and your kind words from Cubans like me. Hope you enjoy your travel to Cuba.  See you next time.


    PP Rey

  33. As a Canadian I have been to Cuba many times and to Havana twice and Cuba is definitely my favourite place in the Caribbean because of the wonderful people who sing and dance constantly in spite of all they don’t have, their wonderful culture and the great respect they show women and I always feel safe there. Plus they have the best beaches in the world. I’m glad you got a chance to experience Cuba, Scott.

  34.  Thanks you, Scott Kelby, for your beautiful words about Cuba and our people, great pics and you did your work with love. Thanks again. Teresa de Jesus Hernandez.

  35. Scott:  Are those photos of the actual book or is there some secret in LR 4 that makes it look like an open book when you go through the panels?  I have looked thru your LR4 book, Kelby Training, etc and have not seen a reference to this.   Thanks for your assistance.   Wonderful images BTW!

  36. Hi Scott – I know this comment arrives a bit late – but stunning images.  Thanks for the great stories in each photo.  Cuba has long been on my list of places to visit.

  37. I am looking at your peek of picture book (presumably it was made in Lightroom 4 too) and all those pictures are awesome.  Maybe you should put an article (or a book for that matter) about travel photography on what to shoot and most importantly how to put all those pictures together in a good picture book… Thanks for sharing…

  38. Caralbe2000, you can easily find 100 things wrong on others, while all you need is to find one thing good on others and apply it to yourself to become a better you…

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