Lots of times in photography we want to compose the scene we’re photographing so that it appears as if it is from a specific era. Professional photographers often want our images to appear timeless. This approach gives our images more staying power and therefore allows them to be used in any decade. As I travel the world, I make sure to compose a good percentage of my images so they don’t include elements from vastly different eras in the same scene. This is often easier to do in nature photography, but it can be very difficult in urban environments.
During a recent trip to Cuba, I was constantly struggling with this approach. Much of Cuba is stuck in 1959 but their nation is also struggling to fit into the modern world. For example, many of the cars are pre-1960 American vehicles, while the many of the buildings are from the 1700s and 1800s. Couple that with the modern imported cars from Asia and all the people with cellphones walking the streets and you have an amazingly diverse visual setting.
Trying to isolate a visual element while eliminating elements from different eras takes quite a bit of effort and patience! At some point during my trip, I decided that I would embrace the juxtaposition between old and new and use that as a thematic element in my story telling. Rather than fight it, I decided to embrace it! I set about tell Cuba’s story in a way that would show how the modern era is quickly emerging.
That’s a lesson I have to learn over and over again in photography. I go into a scenario with a certain mindset and find that reality is different than I expected. Rather than trying to impose my will on my surroundings, I find I get better images when I adapt to the scene. Next time you go out photographing on a trip, I encourage you to adapt to your scene as well. Your photographs will thank you.