How I got the shot: Francesco Lastrucci on capturing island life in the Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, the surprises and serendipity of everyday life stood out during photographer Francesco Lastrucci’s photo story. He reveals his favourite shots and gives advice for aspiring photographers of people.

The work of artist, illustrator and art director Evaristo Angurria centres on Dominican culture and identity. His murals — which can be spotted in Santo Domingo, as in this picture, as well as the rest of the country — often focus on the everyday beauty rituals of Dominican women, such as their hair routines.

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci
By Francesco Lastrucci
Published 28 Apr 2022, 06:06 BST

On location, what elements are you seeking out for a successful shoot?

Before embarking on a new trip, I study and read a lot to pick up some background information and keywords that stay in the back of my mind while I’m out photographing. I create a list of places to visit and a route to follow, but only stick to it loosely. I try to stay flexible and able to improvise.

I’m always in search of elements that can stand out in the story’s narrative. I often won't be able to identify those elements until I’ve gained some confidence in my surrounding environment though.

Variety and a good visual narrative are pivotal, but the fun part comes when you can find a sparkle of unpredictability and depth, which I believe makes a story visually attractive.

I’m definitely looking to compose a puzzle that’s iridescent and multifaceted, yet honest.

What was the most unexpected thing you discovered while shooting?

Every day you wake up in the Dominican Republic, you can expect to be surprised by someone or something, and that kind of serendipity always makes for good travel photography.

I was impressed to find such a pristine side of the Dominican Republic, away from mass tourism. Leaning against the mountains and lapped by the Atlantic, the lush northern part of the country is a vibrant sequence of colourful towns, waterfalls and lagoons, sleepy villages, sandy beaches and engaging stories.

Who was the most interesting person you met?

In 2003, Juan Alberto Martinez, or ‘Maestro del Cigarro’, decided to open a restaurant in the countryside where he was born, nearby Cabrera, east of Rio San Juan. He called the place Babunuco, referring to the rolled cloth worn by country women on their heads to carry heavy loads.

By the entrance to the restaurant — a former ranch — is a small, rustic cigar factory. Here, Juan Alberto makes the freshest Dominican cigars — cigars are his passion. He shreds and trims tobacco with his wife, rolling the dried leaves into bespoke cigars presented in wooden humidors.

A biting, ironic and extrovert character, Juan Alberto also created all the extravagant upcycled furniture and decorations in the dining rooms and kitchen, as well as on the patio. While I was there, he said, “A lot can be done from a little!” — and that’s a running theme at the ranch. I remember how much I enjoyed chatting and laughing with him while photographing him and his work.

Was this shoot typical of your career as a travel photographer?

I would say it is, but on a smaller scale. I’m constantly in search of layers and serendipity and I mostly work to develop a specific mood for each story. I can research a lot, but things only really take shape once I’m in the field, which is what happened with this story. I travelled around the area for just one week, so had to condense things and take some shortcuts. I’d have liked to have spent more time there hanging out with locals, which I find very important when photographing people.

Which is your favourite image, or set of images?

The series with the boys playing at sunset on Punta Rucia beach, between the towns of Puerto Plata and Monte Cristi. I particularly enjoyed this time when, come sundown, the community of Punta Rucia gathers on the sand. The boys play baseball, the girls joke and practice some new dance moves, the fishermen make their way back to shore. There’s something extremely mellow and serene about this community, as they all reunite under the glowing light of sunset after a long day. It was one of those moments where everything seemed connected.

Left: Top:

People gather on the beach at sunset in Puerto Plata to play baseball, joke around and practice dance moves.

Right: Bottom:

A mellow vibe is captured on Puerto Plata, as the sun sets and people gather to play games.

photographs by Francesco Lastrucci

What do you take into account when selecting your kit?

Travelling light is essential for me — everything has to fit in a small bag while out on a long day of shooting.

I prefer a shoulder messenger bag for most of my shoots as I find it very useful for things to be handy around my waist. I feel it’s easier to move, too, especially in crowded or narrow spaces. I only use backpacks when my shoot involves hiking.

I interact with people a lot while out in the field and I want them to focus on me rather than on my equipment, so a more discreet mirrorless camera just works perfect for me.

What I carry around is generally one body, one general short zoom lens and one or two prime lenses. Plus a few extra memory cards and batteries. Then, depending on the specific subject I’m photographing, I might add a longer zoom, a compact flash or small bouncer, or (rarely) a tripod.

What advice would you give someone starting out in travel photography?

As a photographer who loves to use people as the subject, the first thing that comes to my mind is quite obvious: mix with the locals, try to connect with them and understand who they are. Don’t rush. See the person in front of you before seeing the photograph.

Everyone has their own way of approaching people, but as long as your intentions are transparent, you’ll be able to interact, give and receive — often more than you could ever expect.

I’d also suggest not obsessing over your equipment but focusing more on your vision and narrative. It might take a while to find your own voice, so give it time to develop.

Photograph your surroundings, learn how to see the world around you and re-evaluate the obvious. If you learn to see the stories in your own environment, you’ll see even more in a different environment.

See the photos from Francesco's shoot in our gallery, below.

See more of Francesco’s photography at, or follow him on Instagram.

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