A photographer’s dilemma: Sometimes preparation isn’t enough

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | February 20, 2010

As a religious journalist, however, most of my work takes place inside churches. When a photographer arrives on assignment, the first duty is to inspect and assess the location; in my case it’s usually church interiors. I first notice the lighting; is there natural light that creeps in through windows and doors? How intense is the artificial lighting and what type of lighting is used — incandescent or fluorescent?

Next, I study the church’s layout for opportunities to move around in the church during services. I like churches with numerous aisles that lead to the sanctuary and I like churches with pillars, behind which I can stand and not be noticed. Other important elements are: interior (liturgical) decorations such as stained glass windows, statues, crosses and banners that can be used for backdrops in photos.

By studying my surroundings I can determine which environmental elements I can control, such as best locations to position myself inside the church. I also determine the camera’s speed (ASA) and color balance setting, what lens to use and whether I must use a flash in certain situations (I tend to shy away from flash photography during liturgies).

Then come the uncontrollable elements, such as what took place at Our Lady of Lourdes in De Pere on Ash Wednesday. I’ve been to Our Lady of Lourdes before and it’s one of the nicest churches in which to photograph because of the church’s layout and lighting. However, when it came to photographing Fr. Tim Shillcox and Deacon Michael VanderBloomen distributing ashes, I was faced with one of those uncontrollable situations.

Both men, along with two lay ministers, distributed ashes on the south and north sides of the church. The sanctuary is on the east side. To remain unobtrusive I stood near the baptismal font, close to the church entrance on the west side.

Fr. Tim distributed ashes to people in the north side pews and Deacon Michael on the south side. However, Fr. Tim is left handed and Deacon Mike is right handed. Because of my location, the hand they used to cross ashes on foreheads obscured the faces of people. There was no way to photograph from the opposite side, so I did the best I could. Luckily, the lay minister standing next to Fr. Tim was right handed. Most of the close-up shots I took were from the lay minister.

It just goes to show, all the best planning sometimes isn’t enough. To view photos from the Ash Wednesday service, go to this link.

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