Cuba: Behind Closed Doors

photography workshop in cuba

Photos © Ardy Arani & Stuart Schwartz

An intimate, all-inclusive experience in a changing Cuba.

This workshop was formally known as A Cuban Vision of Cuba.

As the veil drops between the US and Cuba, change is accelerating in the island nation to our south.

Join The Image Flow as we team up with prominent Cuban photographers to show you Cuba as experienced by her native sons and daughters.

Your travel guides for this intimate, small-group workshop are veteran U.S.-Cuba cultural ambassador Jock McDonald and street photographer extraordinaire Stuart Schwartz, founder of The Image Flow. On the ground in Cuba, the group will also meet up with two prominent Cuban photographers.

Jock McDonald has been traveling to Cuba for more than 25 years. As our guide he will provide an all-access pass to the Cuban experience taking us into the nooks and crannies of Havana ordinarily reserved for the city’s citizens. Citizens like Ramses Batista, a renowned photographer in his own right, who will serve as our guide to a “Cuban Vision of Cuba.” Growing up insulated from the western world, Ramses Batista has a decidedly non-American way of seeing that guides his photography. Ramses’s point-of-view is sure to inspire first-time visitors and seasoned Cuba travelers alike.

This all-inclusive Cuba: Behind Closed Doors photography workshop will be limited to eight participants, offering a supportive 2:1 student-to-teacher ratio. The small group size will allow us to move freely and naturally through Havana, traveling on foot or in Cuba’s iconic vintage American cars, while the instructors add their knowledge and expertise of both Cuba and the photographic process.

Through portraiture, photographers will go deep into the Cuban experience and learn to capture the emotional spirit of each person. The instructors will demonstrate ways to approach and illuminate the human portrait incorporating not only the subject’s character, but also the emotional moment.

Throughout the week, the workshop will take advantage of the remarkable natural light and colorful surroundings Havana has to offer. You will benefit from group discussions, critiques, and one-on-one support from the instructors. Having access to four instructors will take your work to a new level.

Ballerinas in Josie's house, Havana, Cuba photography workshop

Photo © Jock McDonald

General itinerary:

Cuba can be a place of shifting sands. This itinerary gives an idea of what the workshop week will include. Exact dates and times are subject to change.

Day 1: Fly from Miami to Jose Marte International Airport 10AM. We will have lunch before checking into the Hotel Parque Central. Participants will have the afternoon to settle in and explore on their own locally before gathering to meet Ramses Batista followed by dinner a short walk from the hotel.

Day 2: Meet in hotel lobby at 6AM for dawn photography session. After breakfast at the hotel, participants will be split into small groups for morning sessions walking in Old Havana or Malacon. After lunch at the hotel and a rest period to download images and recharge the batteries, the groups will switch.
Dinner at 7PM followed by an early evening.

Day 3: Meet in hotel lobby at 9AM. Two groups will head out in classic American cars to shoot both cars and models near the lighthouse. After lunch nearby, there will be a photo shoot at one of Havana’s oldest mansions with the owner, Josie. The group will meet in the hotel lobby at 6:30PM for a photography review followed by dinner. The evening will conclude at the famous Tropicana Club.

Day 4: The group will have a unique opportunity to shoot a backstage rehearsal at the Cuban Ballet Theatre. After lunch, the group will shoot the Afro-Cuban Dance Troup. Dinner at 7PM will be followed by an optional evening at the Gato Terto Cabaret.

Day 5: This will be a free day for those who choose. Otherwise, the groups will photograph a Cuban retirement home and kids’ boxing. Dinner at 7PM followed by a photography review session.

Day 6: Meet in the hotel lobby at 9AM; groups will photograph at a tricycle repair shop and the music school with a break for lunch at the hotel to download and recharge. There will be an early evening final image review followed by a farewell dinner.

Day 7: The group will meet in the hotel lobby in the morning for transportation to the airport.

This workshop will be best for participants who are interested in creating more powerful portraits using dynamic photography tools and opening themselves up to a new way of seeing. Proficiency in the Spanish language is not required.

“To visit Cuba is to embark upon a pilgrimage of discovery. But each time I feel I am getting near to understanding, the island changes, keeping her deeper discoveries in reserve. It is a place that now rages in my blood, a place I will never know as the Cuban do. But they have opened their hearts to me, and let me have a glimpse at the deeper waters of the human soul.”

—Jock McDonald, Cuba, June 30, 2009

Price: $7450

Please review our Registration Terms & Conditions

Please call 415-388-3569 for more information or to reserve a spot.

February 1 – 7, 2016

Who should take this workshop: 

All photographers eager to see and photograph Cuba the way the Cubans see it.

Pertinent details:

  • Maximum eight (8) students

Workshop tuition includes:

  • Round-trip airfare from Miami to Havana,
  • U.S. travel visa
  • Cuban travel visa
  • Five-star hotel accommodations for six nights, single occupancy
  • Breakfast and dinner each day
  • An evening at the Tropicana Club
  • Airport transfers
  • Location, model, and guide fees

Not included:

  • Airfare to Miami
  • Some mid-day meals
  • Excess baggage fees (if any)
  • Alcohol
  • Souvenirs and other incidentals not listed above
  • Housekeeping Gratuities

This workshop is authorized as a people-to-people exchange program by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Washington, D.C. 20220, License No. CT-2014-310332-1.

What Makes Workshops at The Image Flow Different: 

  • Our workshops are some of the smallest groups you’ll find, allowing us to move freely and intimately.
  • More workshop, less tour. We travel to make photos and to learn about photography. Every activity is in service of making new images.
  • Travel is all-inclusive, which means that once you arrive on site, you can leave your wallet hidden safely away.
Roger King Cuba photography exhibition

Photo © Roger King

For Further Reading:

Instructor Bios:

Jock McDonaldOriginally from Vancouver, Jock McDonald opened his photography and film studio in San Francisco in 1986. He is a self-taught photographer whose work has achieved national and international critical acclaim for its distinctive use of wit, humor, pathos, and mystery. McDonald’s work has been widely published and exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, including exhibitions in the U.S., Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, and Cuba.



Stuart Schwartz

Stuart Schwartz graduated from the Art Center in 1979 and then spent 35 years as an advertising photographer in the U.S. and Europe. Stuart is comfortable working in the studio, on location, and with all sizes of productions; he recently returned from Tokyo where he was shooting with long-time client Applied Materials. Stuart’s personal work spans a variety situations and styles, from street photography to mixed-media. He first traveled to Cuba in 2006.