Alain Perez





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Behind The Lens

The photo was taken in Old Havana. Since Alain Perez is one of the most respected musicians in Cuba and since he recently returned from an extended stay in Spain, I really wanted to highlight both his "Cuban-ess" and the fact that even as a celebrity he can feel at home in any part of Havana.
This images was taken late in the morning. Both due to his schedule and how hot is gets in the afternoon, I needed to wrap by noon.
I wanted to be able to use as much natural light at possible to create the uniquely Cuban atmosphere, while lighting him so he stood out in as natural a way as possible. It was very important to me to show him centrally in the context of the patina of the background wall and the contrasting pop of the vintage car. The sun in Cuba has a very special quality, so I tried to mimic it using a Profoto B1 and an Elinchrom small square softbox.
I used my go-to portrait body, the Canon 1d X with a 70-200mm. A Profoto B1, an Elinchrom small square softbox, and I had a fabulous assistant using a paint pole to position the light.
So for the last 10 years I have worked on a number of projects in Cuba. One of the more recent is to document some of the more influential and well-known, though not necessarily commercially successful, musicians. This project came pretty naturally to me since I have loved Cuban music for some time, and the project allowed me to explore this passion much more in depth. I came across Alain in a video I found. I immediately was grabbed by his intensely physical and charismatic on stage performance style. Then I discovered how renowned he is both in Cuba and internationally as a singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist and educator (he even has TED talks!). I was fortunate enough to be working with a music manager in Cuba, and she was able to arrange the shoot. As it turned out, I was photographing Omara Portuando the next day without knowing the he was producing her next album! For this shot, I wanted to show that Alain lives and breathes music. Wherever he goes, whatever he does, music is along for the ride. I also wanted to show some of his on stage passion, so the hand gesture was very important. Since he had recently returned to live in Cuba again after many years in Spain, I wanted the image to convey as much of Havana and Cuba as possible without taking the main focus off of him
Yes. I toned down the white balance a bit. There was some cropping to remove part of the front of the car that was distracting.
In my camera bag
When I travel, I typically over pack. This is especially true in Cuba, as it is almost impossible to buy any gear and/or have repairs done. I always have two bodies along for the ride: the Canon 1d X and the Canon 5d3. In terms of lenses, the 15-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm are my all purpose "run and gun" lenses. When I have ample time to set up and/or have a very particular depth of field in mind, I will go to one of my primes, including a Canon 85mm and Sigma 50mm. I usually will take 2 Profoto B1 lights, as well as a selection of Elinchrom modifiers, mostly soft boxes and octas. If you are traveling in a country with limited resources like Cuba, it is essential to have extra batteries and memory cards.
In Cuba personal relationships are everything. My close colleague/friend introduced me to a music manager who knows Alain. So there already was a built-in level of trust with him before we did the shoot. When you are in a city as photogenic as Havana, do not over plan or try to box your talent in to a specific type of shoot or shot list. There literally is a ton of settings and background around every corner. Trust your talent to offer you more than you could probably draw up in advance. In this case, you are a facilitator and documentarian, not a director, especially since there is a major cultural difference. Remember that your subject is the main focus -- in a place like Havana it is very easy to get carried away trying to show as much of the surroundings as possible, but try to be economical in how you frame your subject. Most of all, never forget how lucky you are to have the opportunity to work with such incredible talent, so have fun with it!

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