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NOTE: The January Cuba trip, our very first X-Pedition, has filled. If you would like to receive early notification of future trips, please click through via the link at the end. -DH



This January I'm leading a small-group trip to Havana, Cuba. It will be the first in a series of X-Peditions for photographers.

The last time I was in Havana was 2013, teaching for Santa Fe Workshops. But that was someone else's curriculum. This time the program is ours to design, and we are planning a week of exploring, learning and lots of time behind the camera.

If that sounds like your thing, keep reading.


An Immersive Week



This is not the typical photo tour group, which invariably ends up as some version of a photo walk with everyone getting versions of the same pictures. I'm working with Focus On The Story, a D.C.-based organization for photographers. The trip leaders are myself and fellow journalist Joe Newman, whom I've known for over 30 years.

X-Peditions have a maximum of 12 participants, and are very photo-centric. They include daily instruction as well as plenty of time to explore on your own—or with a teammate, if you prefer.


Photography and Learning

We'll be out shooting at the edges of the day when the light is good, and at other times as dictated by the locations we have lined up. But during the harsh light of midday, we'll typically be in instructional mode. There will be daily talks that not only help prepare you for the day's experiences, but build on your general knowledge around the intersection of photography and travel.

You'll learn how to prioritize your day to become more efficient at producing higher quality photos. This will help you reserve the time to just be a traveler; to absorb the city and watch the world go by. That downtime is important for you (and for your family, when you travel with them.) It also makes you more receptive to the insights that lead to better photos.

We are traveling to Havana under a people-to-people license, which means you'll get interaction with locals throughout the week. We'll work both individually and as a group. We'll be editing, comparing notes, evaluating what we can do better and preparing to go out and do it again.

In the evenings we'll continue the conversation and share our day's experiences, perhaps over a mojito or a glass of Cuba's famous dark rum. This sort of thing is typical when photojournalists are working together (or competing) in a foreign city.

Nights in Havana are vibrant, with the sound of music filling the city. Its economic hardships may be well-known, but life and culture always find a way.


The X-Factor



The "X" in X-Pedition is a nod to Fuji's X series cameras. Small, light, quiet and unobtrusive, Fuji X series bodies are near-perfect tools for photojournalists. And they are ideal travel cameras. I took a leap of faith on my first trip to Havana, bringing only a Fuji X100s with its fixed 35mm equivalent lens. In retrospect, it was a great decision. And it has changed the way I approach travel photography ever since.

So if you are also a Fuji shooter, you can expect tips and advice on how to get the most out of your cameras. Or to even borrow a lens if you like.

Do you have to be a Fuji shooter to come along? No, you don't. (And don't worry, we promise not to try to convert you.) But we do strongly suggest that you travel very light with respect to photo gear. It's good travel photo advice in general, but also culturally respectful in a place like Cuba where the economic disparity is a factor.


The Bigger Picture

Havana is a unique opportunity for photographers. It goes without saying that it is not going to stay unique for very long. The island is experiencing rapid change.

Our goal with this trip, and future X-Peditions, is to help you grow as both travelers and photographers; to gain the skills and confidence to choose future destinations that are off the beaten path.

__________


The Havana trip has filled. If you'd like to receive notification of future X-Peditions before they are publicly announced, please visit Focus On The Story's X-Pedition Cuba page and submit your contact info.
Abstract: Don't just look to still photos for inspiration. Great inspiration also awaits you on your TV.



We may think we are getting a good feel for color as photographers. But you know who kicks still photographers' butts every day? Cinematographers, that's who.

Today, a look at some examples from 2010-era Dr. Who, which we have talked about on this blog before. These guys are near and dear to my heart, because they are unabashedly fearless when it comes to using color to manipulate light—and their viewers. Read more »
It can be scary to add a lot of color to your light. But it's easy to underestimate how much color it takes to transform a scene and set a mood. Don't be shy. Those gels won't bite.



This nighttime portrait of soprano Alexandra Rodrick was a big step for me. It was made about five years ago, when I was just starting to realize how color-fluid real light could be. I kinda knew it, but I still didn't have the nerve to actually do it.

So I took a deep breath and threw way more blue into the environment than I normally would. And not only did I come out alive on the other side, but I ended up pretty happy. Read more »
Abstract: When complementary-gelled lights are falling on the same plane, they can easily rob each other of color. So it is important to make sure your lights are hitting different areas, with minimal overlap.



Above is a two-speedlight portrait against a white wall. White walls are the natural enemy of a gel, and practically live to wash out your color. Especially when using two flashes with dense, complementary gels. Knowing how to keep your multi-colored lights operating on different planes will help you retain more saturated color.

Let's walk through the portrait above to get a better look at how our two lights are working separately—and together—in a variety of ways.Read more »
Abstract: So, did you do Greg's gels assignment? I did. Twice. Below are my results, and what I learned.



Reporting in from our last assignment, in which you were asked to shoot a portrait in three different ways: clean white light, warm/cool light, and warm/cool light with the shadows muddied up with a little green. I did this one along with you—twice—and learned a lot in the process.

Which brings up a valuable point. You can read about this stuff all you want. But until you actually get off your ass and do it, you're not going to learn it.

In other words, learning to use color in your lighting is just like anything else. Read more »
Abstract: The best way to get a better understanding of light and color is to just do it.



In the last part of our conversation with Greg Heisler, he gave what I think is a very good piece of advice about light and color:

"I think what you have to do to be able to see it, is to shoot it. And then shoot it.

Like, shoot it the clean way, with white light. Then the next way is to shoot it with a warm and a cool. And so you see that. And then muddy up the light a little bit, and then see it that way."

So that's exactly what we're gonna do. Read more »
The Swiss government last month issued a recall for ten models of Jinbei studio flash units. While the recall notice has made the rounds on message boards, I am frankly surprised that photo media outlets have not picked this up. Read more »
Abstract: Chromatically complex light adds much more realism to your lit photos.



Today’s Lighting 103 post features excerpts from a bar conversation with Greg Heisler. It's just as if we cornered him at a conference (which I did) and he agreed to have a drink and talk color (which he did).

This is roadmap stuff. It's above and beyond the specific info he includes with each of the assignments in his book, 50 Portraits, the companion text to L103.Read more »
Abstract: You can use your knowledge of color temperature and gels to improve the quality of light in your home.



So far, everything we have done has centered on gelling a single light to create a single desired color shift. But before we make the jump into using multiple colors and light sources, one quick hack for your home's lighting that will help you to improve the quality of light in compact fluorescent and LED bulbs.

Like the gawdawful green-tinged lamp above, for example. Read more »
Abstract: By combining a white balance shift in your camera with a complementary gelling of your flash, you can easily and efficiently alter the ambient color temperature of an entire environment.



In addition to controlling the color of light from your flash, gels can also allow you to alter the color of the ambient areas of your frame. The portrait above, done for the Baltimore Sun, is a good example. I made it as a storm approached, and the light was gray and pretty neutral.

The light was okay, but not great. I really wanted was a stronger color environment for the photo. And I also wanted the subject to pop more. So instead of daylight white balance, I shot it on incandescent (tungsten) white balance. This shifted the expected light source from 5600k to 3200k. In essence, the camera was expecting to shoot under tungsten lights. Read more »
Abstract: You can alter your camera's white balance and gel your flash to "correct" nearly any ambient light color shift. But should you?


Read more »
Abstract: Don't bother gelling a scene that is completely lit by a single flash. But if a second light is involved—even ambient light—it's always better to control color at the source.



PIctured above is Midwest Camera President Moishe Appelbaum. He wandered into a lighting class I was teaching at Midwest last fall, so we pulled him aside and shot him. He's lit by a single LP180 speedlight, fired through a white bed sheet.

(Pro tip: A speedlight fired through a bed sheet will rival the light of the most expensive octabanks in the world—in quality if not in quantity. It all comes down to square inches in the light source. And a bed sheet has a crap ton of square inches.)

After our previous lesson, you might think that this photo is an ideal candidate for a warming gel: caucasian skin, warm background, warm-colored clothing. Why not unify this with a little added warmth?Read more »
Abstract: Warming your flash will greatly improve skin tones. Which warming gel you use depends on your subject, the lighting environment, your camera's color palette and personal preference.



I still remember the day I was introduced to warming gels. It was nearly 30 years ago. I was assisting photographer Chris Usher in 1988 on a shoot in Washington for Businessweek. As he was setting up his light he asked me to hand him his gels, absentmindedly muttering, "Always gotta warm the key light..."

And I'm thinking, "Wait, what?"Read more »
Abstract: How to economically gel umbrellas, beauty dishes and soft boxes



When using bigger lights (such as an Einstein e640, seen above) gelling gets a bit more complicated and expensive. Why? Big lights have protruding flash tubes and modeling lights, and potentially big modifiers.

But for each kind of modifier, there are workarounds that will allow you total gel coverage without having to buy large sheets of gels.Read more »


Just a quick heads-up for anyone headed to Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai that I'll be holding a drop-in studio session on the afternoon of Weds., Feb 15th. It's not an official class, just something cool happening on the side.

You can learn more about it here, but basically it is free and we'll be experimenting/learning/failing/etc. Specifically, we'll be working with gels in the context of future posts in the just-started Lighting 103 module. So I thought it would be espcially cool to possibly incorporate photos of some of Strobist's international readers as we get further into the course.

Which is why you are getting this invite!