Because there is so very much mis-information about Cuba, I get a lot of questions about traveling there. So, here is a selection of questions I have received just about Cuba.
I am a little concerned about the size of the group. It seems like a rather conspicuous group to be moving and shooting together. From your past trip videos it looks like everyone is always together. Tell me more about the dynamics and how you manage the group and situations?
Great question about group size. Photography wise, in my opinion, anything over one person is a "group" when you are shooting. So, most of the time we are not together. I shoot videos of the group when they are together - which is, as I said, not the majority of the time. You have 100% freedom to go your own way or hang with me. I do arrange some very successful group shoots and the rest of the time I guide everyone on where to be and when to be there. I have never had a situation where the group size got in the way of photography. Generally, the group times are at meals and it's a great way for like minded people to bond over where they have been and what they have been doing. I guarantee you won't have a problem or issue in this regard!
What about non-photographers on the trip? My wife and I are much more into photography than our friends are ... which means that either (a) they will feel pressure to go along on photo shoots that they're really not into, or (b) we'll feel pressure to skip some shoots to do things with them ...and we all lose.
I know exactly what you are talking about as my wife is a non-photographer. But, Cuba is the one location where you could make that arrangement happen perfectly. Most places you go to for photography require additional travel to the "photo spot". So, for example when my wife and I went to Africa, we did game drives and I was (very) happy to drive 2-hours to find a great lion and wait 4-hours for that one lion to yawn to get my shot. My wife, however, was done after 15-minutes of the same lion.
Cuba is different. It's the ideal location for non-photographers. There is not really any "photo spots" per say as the whole country is a photo spot. I assure you that your non-photographer friends (partners/spouse) would be thrilled with the trip. I usually get 2-3 non-photographers on each trip. There is one general exception to the schedule for non-photographers vs. photographers and that is the early morning sunrise shoots. The non-photographers simply sleep in and skip the sunrise shoots and meet us at breakfast - somewhat more well rested than us photographers:-)
Other than that there are one or two situations where a photographer may stick in one location for an extra few minutes and in that case the non-photographers simply hit the streets and then meet up at the next spot. Since I get so many non-photographers, my trips are geared towards making sure everyone is taken care of and happy.
Also, keep in mind I offer non-photographers a 10% trip discount.
Here's a couple testimonials from non-photographers who have taken my trip…
It is rare to find an individual who combines artistic talent, organizational skill, and a charming funny personality, but Lorne does just that. He made our family's trip all that it could be. And we are hoping there will be a reunion someday.
Arda (non-photographer participant) – Amherst, NH
Lorne, if my returning to Cuba (where I was born) had occurred with a different type of tour, tour leader, or individuals, it could have never matched the magic that blossomed and continues...You, your knowledge, connections, parties, surprises and meticulous planning contributed to the amazing adventure. In addition, each photographer and non-photographer contributed so much to my personal journey. The genuine interest, curiosity, encouragement, laughter, joy, and concern that each individual showed during my own unfolding little novella of locating long ago connections, was heartwarming and will always be a part of me. Thank You, Lorne. From my heart and soul, I thank you for this life changing adventure.
Teresa (non-photographer participant) - Palm Beach Gardens, Fl
I came on this trip with my husband, who is the photographer, but it was such an enjoyable trip I would do this again in a heartbeat. If you've ever wanted to see Cuba, this is the way to do it. Don't miss it!
Liz (non-photographer participant) - Scottsdale, AZ
It's been a fabulous, amazing trip!..(Lorne) has unflagging energy...I can't say enough about this trip.
Thank you for everything you did to make this a most memorable trip. I found Cuba fascinating. I also enjoyed seeing you working with the photographers and I enjoyed sitting in on the lessons. I learned your philosophy and your steps to getting pictures that evoked passion and emotion. You are not only a great photographer, you are a great teacher and tour guide.
For all the years you have been conducting trips to Cuba, your passion and enthusiasm for the country and its people seems to continue and grow. Thanks for letting me see it through your eyes and my own. When Linda books the next trip with you, I will beg to come along.
Abe (non-photographer participant) - Lincroft, New Jersey
Is the trip legal?
Yes. If you are an American citizen or resident you must be issued a license from the United States Treasury Department to go to Cuba.
How do I get a travel license?
A license is provided to you.
Can I bring a GPS or GEO tagging device into Cuba?
No. You are not allowed to bring them into Cuba.
What if there is a GEO tagger built into my camera. Can I bring that?
Yes, but not a standalone GPS or GEO tagging device.
Can I bring my cell phone? The iPhone has a GPS in it, you know?
Yes, you can bring your cell phone or iPhone.
Will my cell phone work in Cuba?
Not if the carrier is US based.
Should I bring my US credit cards?
Yes. You can't use them in Cuba, but you may need them in the airport in Miami coming and going.
Can I use US based credit cards or travelers checks in Cuba?
You cannot use your US-based credit cards in Cuba. Travelers checks from US-based banks are not really accepted. Exceptions to this rule can occasionally be found at some banks, but with a stiff surcharge. Credit cards and travelers checks from non-US-based banks are fine. If you are an American citizen or resident, cash is the way to go.
How much cash should I bring?
Depends on how much you like Cuban rum and Cuban cigars. Cuban regulations prohibit taking more than $5,000 US into the country. Food wise, you'd probably be fine with about $40-$75/day. Plus you'll need some money for going to specific events; Tropicana Night Club, Cigar factory tour, ballet, etc. The complication with calculating a budget for Cuba is that if you run out of money, you can't just pop by the local ATM and pull out a few hundred dollars. I don't mind bringing much more than I think I will need and going home with what I don't spend. So, to be conservative, I recommend bringing no less than $175/day. You can leave the cash in the hotel safe or bring one of those neck or waist pouches that fits under your clothes.
Is there any problem bringing in our electronics (i.e., for trips like this one, I shoot with two bodies, lots of lenses, computer, back-up hard drives, GPS, etc)?
No problem bringing camera equipment and electronic gear in.
What's your philosophy of shooting the "must see" sites (i.e., touristy, but iconic and interesting) vs. off-the-beaten-path (i.e., more "insider", authentic, less known)?
Generally, we'll have time for a bit of both. Personally I like both. I like to see the main sights and also wander around where tourists usually don't go.
Are we restricted (e.g., by the government, safety concerns, schedule) as to where or when we can/can't go?
In general, no. I have never had a problem with having my movements restricted by government or safety concerns. Your safety issues will be similar to walking around a major city Like New York or Los Angeles with your gear. Well, having said that I think I'd rather walk around Havana than New York with my equipment – I think it's safer in Cuba. There will be things that I will be telling people not to shoot - military installations, army barracks, policeman, embassies, etc. So, common sense things.
Are you concerned about going during the summer, given the heat/humidity?
I've been to Cuba many times in the summer and love the heat. But, if you don't like hot weather, I wouldn't go in the summer. The Cubans love the hot weather; you'll see the kids are jumping off the Malecón wall into the ocean to cool off, occasionally some outdoor concerts will happen, etc. Lotsa fun. And remember, the trip is not a forced military march. People will be walking around for a few hours and then heading back to the hotel to rest. Everything is very centrally located and, most of the time we will never be more than about a 10 minute (about $5) cab ride back to the hotel. Lots of cafes around for cool drinks and to rest, etc.
It sounds like we'll be doing a great deal of street photography. Will it be impractical (and painfully hot) to trek around with my usual 40+lbs. LowePro backpack in really hot, urban environments?
Yes. Years ago that's exactly what I did and it was tiring. These days, I'm not such a masochist. I'll bring a big bag to Cuba with a lot of gear and a small over-the-shoulder bag. I'll load the smaller bag up in the morning and use that as a day bag for walking around. Then, for specific trips, I'll head back to the hotel and switch equipment.
Regarding equipment, will there be time/feasibility to use a tripod (with my tilt-shift lenses) for architecture shots during day as we walk around? Or will it be more hand-held street photography?
No problem at all using tripods. I'd try to bring one of the newer carbon fiber ones for weight.
Do you know if I could extend my "Cuba license" to stay on after by myself?
Unfortunately, that would not be possible. The license is a group one and everyone travels in and out of the country together.
When do you require deposit, and final payments?
The trips are first come first served. Since I'm only taking a small number of people the trips sell out quickly. A deposit will hold a spot for you and full payment is due 90 days prior to departure date.
Do the Cubans mind you shooting them on the streets and such?
I've never had a problem. It's the same as most places I've been (Africa, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, etc.). As long as you treat them with dignity and respect, I wouldn't think there would be an issue. I photograph a lot of people when I am in Cuba.
Is it safe to leave laptops in the rooms, hotel safe?
I feel it's very safe. I'd put it at the same level as the big chain hotels (Hilton, Marriott, etc.) in major cities in the States.
What if I have more questions?
Call Lorne directly by phone (323-876-6999) or email or call to set up an appointment to come by his studio for a coffee if you are in LA. Please keep in mind Lorne's workshop schedule when contacting him directly, by checking his workshop schedule page. If he is in town and does not answer your phone call or email immediately, he will usually return it within one business day.