A Trip to Cuba: Renan Ozturk’s Story of Photography and Humanity

National Geographic photographer and filmmaker Renan Ozturk recently led a group of photographers of varying skill levels on a photography adventure in Cuba, hosted by Adobe. Upon his return, Renan shared with us some insight into his adventurous career, capturing humanity in his photography, and the unique landscape that is Cuba. Renan’s adventure career began when he was fresh out of college – traveling, rock climbing, and documenting his surroundings with paint and canvas. From there, the introduction of the digital camera and a trip to the Himalayas brought about an epiphany for Renan, who shifted his adventure storytelling to photography and video.

The Art of Capturing Humanity

Myanmar Climb with Mark Jenkins and Cory Richards. Photo by Renan Ozturk


With countless expeditions under his belt and photos in his repertoire, Renan says, “My favorite photo is the one I took of Mark Jenkins and Cory Richards on our Myanmar expedition, emaciated and exhausted after 300 miles of jungle trekking and a failed summit attempt on the highest peak in Southeast Asia. What makes this photo special to me is that it captures a raw, real moment, and a rare state of the human condition, not a beautiful landscape.” This sense of emotion and realness is something that can be seen throughout most of Renan’s photography.

On his approach, he says, “I am drawn to humanity and I try to capture emotionally inspiring stories of people in landscapes, and of cultures that haven’t yet had a voice and who want their story told. Most often, I find myself photographing humanity on my way to the mountains, so high alpine communities like those in Nepal are where I really developed this love for listening to and documenting people.”

In 2016, Renan had the opportunity to document one of the last “honey hunters” of Nepal, a man named Maule from the village of Sadi. On his experience, he says, “We spent weeks with their honey harvesting crew, deep in the jungles below the Himalayas. Hanging on ropes hundreds of feet in the air, covered in swarms of bees, photographing Maule for National Geographic was an incredible experience, but the real honor was getting a glimpse into the spirituality and deep connection with nature that this crew had and believed in in order to stay safe from harm.” Renan labels this adventure as one of the coolest of his career.

Cuba, Mobile Photography, and Collaboration

Photo by Renan Ozturk.


After several trips to Cuba, Renan says, “Cuba is an incredible, target-rich environment where everywhere you turn is a scene full of life and movement and color. I think as tourism increases, the challenge will be finding ways of getting off the beaten path.”

On his most recent trip to Cuba with Adobe and a group of photographers, Renan wanted to ensure that, no matter their skill level, everyone felt challenged. For the less experienced members of the group, Renan says, “I focused on helping them dial in their camera settings and simple tips for composition, as well as guidance on how to interact with subjects and people on the street.” And for the more experienced, “we got deeper into selective editing in Lightroom Mobile, use of curves, and the finer aspects of subject matter.”


Photo of Renan Ozturk by Lex van den Berghe.


Photo of Renan Ozturk by Josh Haftel.


On his own experience with Lightroom Mobile, Renan recalls the main obstacle he faced prior to mobile editing: “I used to struggle with my workflow because I would always Wi-Fi transfer photos from my Sony A7rii or A9 directly to my phone while in the field, edit, and then use those selects for ‘live-reporting’ social media. When I got home, though, I would have to start entirely from scratch, dumping all my photos to my home system and going through selects all over again since I wasn’t working within my Lightroom account initially. Using Lightroom Mobile not only saves a ton of time, but the editing capabilities in Lightroom Mobile are beyond any other mobile editing software and it’s just as capable as the features I use within Lightroom on my computer.”


Photo by Renan Ozturk.


Photo by Renan Ozturk.


Another key member of the Cuba photography trip with Renan was his wife, Taylor, who he met five years ago when he was just getting into expedition filmmaking and she was graduate school-bound to study anthropology and environmental media. He says, “We started taking a lot of trips together and I really appreciated how much time she would take to listen to everyone we interacted with, and to try to understand what the people were going through wherever we went – politically and environmentally. She has always challenged me to include that greater social context in my storytelling and photography rather than just focusing on the imagery alone. She also helps make sure I sleep occasionally and don’t walk off the edge of cliffs while looking through a camera.”


For more of Renan’s work, check out his website and Instagram page.