Habana Vieja, Cuba - Photo Shoot


Shooting in Havana Vieja always feels like a dream because the colors, the people, and the architecture are so unique. It's almost overwhelming to make a decision which location you want to stop and shoot at because it's not like you're able to plan ahead and location scout. Besides the historical locations like The Tropicana & Partagas Cigar Factory,  we are literally driving around in a van and pulling over when a street corner or wall color really stood out to us.


For the Habana Vieja Collection, we created a custom teal and pink print which represented the distressed painted walls in the city. Vibrant colors of photo realistic walls. These fabrics are dye sublimation that we make in our factory by hand. The printed fabrics mix and match with a number of our solids as well.



Here’s my Top Tips and Tricks for shooting in Cuba


Do I need a Cuban Journalist Visa?

There are a few things here to consider. If your production is big, I mean lots of cameras, lights, and enough people to stick out like a sore thumb, then you will probably need to go through the proper channels of getting a Journalist Visa for each person on your crew from The Cuban Interest Section in Washington DC.

For a Cuban Journalist Visa, Travelers interested in requesting a journalist visa to work in Cuba must clear his/her project with the Consular Section of the Cuban Embassy. The interested person should proceed as follows:

  1. Send an email or fax containing the following information:
    1. A detailed explanation of the objectives to be pursued by the project (photo, radio, television, film, interviews, to collect information to publish articles on scientific or other developments, tourist guides, books, etc), describing places to visit, persons to be interviewed, (if any) Cuban institutions that are of interest in order to coordinate the relevant appointments.
    2. Application Form.
    3. First name and surname, nationality, citizenship, Passport No., date of birth, profession of each of the members of the team (Director, cameraman, sound  technician, script-writer, photographer, etc) ;
    4. Length of the stay in Cuba for the project, tentative date of arrival and departure;
    5. A detailed list of all equipment needed and brought into Cuba for the project; also copies of documents (ID, etc) identifying each member of the team as worker of the media.
    6. If a detailed program does exist, it must also be sent as part of the report required to process the project;
    7. Areas of interest must be pointed out clearly: arts, culture, music, tourism, education, science, sports, etc.
  2. Visa’s approval is granted, exclusively, by the International Press Centre (CPI) in Havana.
  3. A minimum of three weeks is required for clearing the project and receiving the approval.
  4. It is advisable not to submit a project with a wide approach, including many different areas of interest, because clearance might take more time than usual.
  5. Any project must specify the media company/newspaper supporting it, and all the information regarding address, telephone and fax numbers, e-mail address, etc.
  6. Every press project must have the written approval of the relevant media company/newspaper that supports the project. That is particularly important in the case of freelance journalists.
  7. Accreditation at the International Press Center is a must before starting to work. The cost is 60 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) for each member of the team.
  8. As soon as you arrive to Cuba, you have to report to the Centro de Prensa Internacional for accreditation to receive your Press ID. This is a little card that you wear while working. Bring 2 passport photos for this.

 International Press Center (CPI)

Address: Calle 23 No. 152 esquina O, Vedado, Ciudad Habana, Cuba.

Phone:(537) 8320526

Fax:(537) 8333836  E-mail: cpi@cpi.minrex.gov.cu

Here is what the Cuban Press ID Card look like. Yes, that's me :) So bring 2 passport photos with you to Cuba to get this pass made there at the CPI offices. Don't underestimate this important step of getting the proper paper work. The military stopped us a few times to ask what we were doing and to see our IDs. 

If you are just planning to shoot for fun or with one model and you, I don't think you would need to go this route. You just would not have the same opportunity or presence to shoot in certain locations.




Since the chances of you finding a WIFI hotspot are slim to none at this moment, make sure to bring a detailed printed map. Yelp will not work, or Google maps. You have to do it the old fashioned way and look on a map and ask for directions. It's actually pretty funny. Everyone you ask for directions will say (In Spanish) "It's over there and then there". We got lost a million times then found the way. I know there are few apps with non wifi working maps. Download and check them out before you go.



Creating a story board or mood board I think is key to any photo shoot no matter where it takes place. We created a few to make sure that all of the different locations would compliment each other and tell the story of the entire collection. Also, it was also important to plan ahead any props or accessories that we would need per look. Walmart, Target and CVS are not available. Or anything closely representing these luxuries we have here in the USA.

I remember we did not bring enough fake eye lashes and it was a goose chase finding them in Old Havana. So, plan ahead and bring 2 of those important types of items.

When I create story boards, I usually go onto PINTEREST or open up a Google Doc and start to collect images there. On Pinterest you can create a secret board so it's private. For this shoot in particular, I was pulling images of the most iconic places to visit in Cuba.


Reliable transportation is important. A Van will be the more expensive option, but if you have a crew of 3 or more, this will be the only way to travel. We were able to set up hair and make up in the van, cool off in between shots and travel from one end of the island to other easily.


Although the van doubled as a changing option for the model, sometimes we were not able to park the van close to the shoot setup. Especially for the beach shoots, going back and forth to the van was not ideal. I ended up buying a indoor outdoor portable changing tent and it worked amazing. I still use this tent even on studio photo shoots. It saves time for the model going back to the bathroom or room to switch looks. It folded up and fit perfectly into my suitcase. Only weighs 6lbs.


Buy 1-2 bottles. They usually eat me alive.


Casa particular (Spanish for "private house"; plural casas particulares) is a phrase meaning private accommodation or private homestays in Cuba, very similar to bed and breakfast although it can also take the form of vacation rental. Staying in a Casa I think is better because of budget and experience. You are usually renting a room in someones home. They offer a light breakfast and can also cook dinner at an additional cost. I love it! It makes the entire experience unique and unforgettable. I have never felt unsafe even traveling alone in Cuba. It's easier than ever now to book a casa through such sites as AirBnB.


Having some help on set is so important. Extra muscle to carry lighting equipment, finding directions, asking other locals to use their dog in a shot. The best way to find someone is to ask the person where you are staying if they have a cousin or brother. I can also connect you with some trusted help as well. Just comment below.

I'll be honest, I totally lucked out when I got to hire my local crew. Hair and Makeup was amazing. I had no idea what type of product they would have access to. But my MUA had tons of experience and great product.

The Cuban Model I hired through a local Agency Director, Katia Gil. She was a top model in Cuba and now trains these models for runway and photo shoots. The Production Assistants were referred by the photographer's friend who traveled to Cuba on a prior shoot. Then he had his friend come too. We needed a ton logging equipment to the beach.

I think working with the locals is so beneficial to your production photo shoot but also giving them a great work experience. 


Nicole Di Rocco

____________________________________________________________________________________________ If you found this post about having a photo shoot in Cuba useful, please comment below :) If you have any other questions, I'm happy to answer and connect you with great talent in Cuba.


Also, you can see more of the photo shoot in Cuba in our Documentary, Pastport Cuba The Search for Nicolita.

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