Ash Wednesday

I spent my morning Feb. 22  photographing an Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Agnes Church in Green Bay. Attending the morning Mass were students from Holy Family School, which is supported by St. Agnes and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishes.

In addition to shooting photos, I recorded audio and decided to put together an audio slideshow using Soundslides. The software has an option to convert the flash-based slideshow into an mp4 video, which I did and then uploaded it to my YouTube channel.

Below is the video from Ash Wednesday.


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Two archbishops who teamed up to help military family now cardinals

Funny how things work out. Two  U.S. prelates were among 22 Catholic Church leaders worldwide to receive the cardinal’s red hat during a Feb. 18 consistory led by Pope Benedict XVI. The two include Cardinals Timothy M. Dolan and Edwin F. O’Brien.

Both men have known each other for years, as they’ve attended bishops’ meetings in Washington, D.C., and were both rectors of the North American College in Rome. But who would have guessed back in 2003 that these men would represent the United States at the cardinal’s consistory in 2012? The thought never crossed my mind while in the presence of then-Milwaukee Archbishop Dolan in July 2003.

We were in Brookfield, Wis., where I was reporting on and photographing a special visit the archbishop made to the home of Mary Kay Kulla. Kulla’s husband, Scott, an Army lieutenant, was stationed in Iraq and Mary Kay had just given birth to the couple’s fourth child nine days earlier.

There in the Kulla living room, Archbishop Dolan sat on the sofa holding 9-day-old Blaise Augustine Kulla, in his left arm while conversing with Kulla and her three other children, 11-year-old Celeste, 6-year-old Gabriel, and 2-year-old Genevieve.

“Since the war broke out I’ve been praying for military families,” Archbishop Dolan told me. “I found out about (Mary Kay’s) story and I took a liking to her.”

During his visit, the archbishop offered a special blessing for Blaise, who weighed 6 pounds, 15 ounces at birth. He also made a phone call to a fellow archbishop, Edwin F. O’Brien, who was head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. He wanted Archbishop O’Brien to keep in touch with Kulla and her family while Scott was overseas.

So the two archbishops who teamed up to help a military family in 2003 are now teaming up to be part of Pope Benedict’s College of Cardinals. Yes, it’s funny how things work out.

In 2003, then-Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan cradled 9-day-old Blaise Augustine Kulla during a visit to the Kulla home in Brookfield, Wis. (Photo by Sam Lucero)

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Where would Jesus be born? A self storage unit perhaps?

Nativity scene taken with iPhone4, edited in Instagram. (Sam Lucero photo)


Note: This blog entry originally appeared as an editorial in The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay, where I work as News & Information Manager.


If Joseph and Mary were alive today, looking for a place where Mary could give birth to Jesus, where could they find solace? After some online and empirical research, I’ve concluded that it would not be in a stable filled with animals. No, today it would probably be in a storage unit.

This theory first came to me while driving to work recently. I noticed construction workers pouring concrete in a lot next to an already existing storage unit facility. Apparently the units were all filled and more were needed. On my five-mile drive to work, at least four storage unit facilities exist. Two of them are “climate controlled” and one is heated.

No swaddling clothes needed to stay warm here.

I confess to knowing something about storage units. Before moving to Green Bay in 2008, I rented one to store goods while waiting to buy a new home here.

According to the Self Storage Association (yes, there is such a thing), the self storage industry has been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. commercial real estate industry in the last 35 years. There are approximately 46,000 primary self storage facilities in the United States with rentable space that totals 2.22 billion square feet.

That’s a lot of space for wise men, kings and barn animals.

Nearly one in 10 U.S. households currently rents a self storage unit, reports the Self Storage Association, which is up from one in 17 in 1995. It’s a profitable business as well, with the industry grossing $22 billion in 2009.

What do these statistics tell us? I believe they indicate that we Americans are controlled by our possessions. Rental units are no longer used simply to store furniture while a family relocates. Today they serve as long-term rentals to store goods. We own so much that we have to rent storage space to hold all of our stuff that doesn’t fit into closets, attics and garages.

Not all Americans rent storage units. Not the estimated 2 million to 3 million who are homeless every year, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Most of these Americans cannot even afford to rent an apartment. Fortunately, churches and communities team up to provide shelters for the homeless, especially during the winter months.

Isn’t something wrong in our country when there is such a disparity between the haves and the have-nots? When an estimated seven square feet of storage space exists for every man, woman and child in this country, yet homeless shelters struggle to find enough space to accommodate people living on the streets?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the modern-day Joseph and Mary wouldn’t take shelter in a storage unit after all. Storage units have locks to protect all of the worldly possessions inside. Jesus, the Son of God, was born to give hope to the hopeless, to unlock the hardened hearts that bind us to our possessions and blind us to the suffering of others.

Given the choice between a heated storage unit and a crowded homeless shelter, Mary and Joseph would choose the latter. For while the cries of the poor are heard here, so too are the voices of justice that give shelter and comfort. Isn’t their example why the Son of God was born among us?


Below is a gallery of stained-glass images I’ve taken over the years that relate to the Nativity.

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The helping hand

Every now and then, while I’m out on a photo assignment, I find myself the recipient of a volunteer photo assistant. It’s usually someone connected to the event at which I’m photographing; someone just trying to help me out.

The latest incident of the unannounced and unwanted photo assistant took place on the feast of the Assumption while photographing a Mass and rosary procession at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wis. For those unfamiliar with the shrine, it received international attention last December when Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay issued a declaration proclaiming that appearances (called apparitions) by Mary, the mother of Jesus, in 1859 were found to be valid and therefore worthy of belief by the faithful.

This Mass and rosary procession, an annual event since the 1860s, attracted about 3,000 people — double the crowd at last year’s Assumption celebration.

At the conclusion of the rosary procession around the five-acre shrine grounds, I spotted a young boy near the entrance of the shrine’s chapel. He was checking out a group of nicely dressed gentlemen whom we know as the fourth degree Knights of Columbus. The KCs were entering the chapel to change into their civvies. Shooting with a 16-35 mm Nikon zoom lens, I took a series of photos from behind the boy.

I settled into my spot at the top of the steps, just a few feet from the youngster. I knew that Bishop Ricken would soon file past us. This could be the photo of the day, I thought.

But my “assistant” made sure that the photo I imagined in my mind would never make it to my camera — or to Catholic newspapers and magazines across the country. My photo assistant had no idea that the boy was a focal point of the picture. She thought he was blocking my view, so in an instant, from the corner of my eye, I saw a hand grab the boy and move him out of the way. “No, no, no,” I said. “Oh, I thought he was in your way,” assistant said.

Assistant then told me she would grab the young photo prop and put him back. No, I said. I didn’t elaborate how staging photos isn’t a good journalistic practice. Instead, I was thankful just to get a few images of the boy and the Knights.

I need to hire a photo assistant who can be on the lookout for unwanted photo assistants. Here are three photos in a series from the day.

Young boy checks out fourth degree Knights honor guard as they enter the shrine chapel. (Sam Lucero photo)

Procession of fourth degree Knights is just about finished. Bishop Ricken should be next. (Sam Lucero photo)

The hand of my photo "assistant" reaches out to grab the little boy, who she thinks is in my way. Darn it! (Sam Lucero photo)

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Bugs up close

When I purchased my Nikon 60mm f2.8 AF macro focus lens last year, I did so for one reason: to take photos of miniature creatures that exist in my back yard. Since that time I’ve had a field day traipsing through the flower gardens and shrubs around my yard looking for assorted insects. It’s given me an appreciation for the world beyond my doorstep.

My Nikon 60mm f2.8 macro lens. Love it.

Most of the photos I’ve taken of insects were shot strictly with available lighting. On occasion I will grab one of my SB-800 Speedlights and use it to highlight the background or a spider’s web. The 60mm prime lens also serves as a decent portrait lens. What I love about this lens is its sharpness. When I’m on with the focus (not the easiest thing when focusing in about five inches from a subject), it’s incredible how the details of little bugs pop.

For anyone who has considered close-up photography — whether it be insects, objects such as coins, or flowers — I would highly recommend Nikon’s line of macro lenses. Some day I hope to purchase Nikon’s 105mm macro lens, but for now, the shorter 60mm is working just fine.

Recommendation: If you are serious about purchasing a macro lens but are worried about the cost, I would  suggest visiting Adorama’s refurbished lens selection. All lenses are refurbished by the manufacturer (unless specified otherwise) to the original company’s specifications.

According to Adorama, all refurbished cameras and lenses “are checked over by the manufacturer by hand, inspected very thoroughly, diagnosed, and calibrated by experienced technicians, and could therefore turn out to be more dependable than a new item.” In addition, all  refurbs sold by Adorama come with a 90-day return-to-manufacturer warranty. (Canon gear comes with a one-year return-to-Adorama warranty.)

However, refurbs are not always in stock due to availability, so patience is a key when purchasing a refurbished lens.

Below is a slide show of macro images taken in the last year. Enjoy.

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Facebook: ‘Repost if you agree’

Facebook is a great place to connect with friends and family across the country and around the globe. It’s also an easy way to reconnect with classmates from long ago. But with the excitement of communicating with people from our past comes the reality that we don’t always share the same views.

This fact was driven home recently as I read a status update from a grade school classmate now living in the southern United States. Like many people on Facebook, he shared an opinion and then ended his comment with the challenge, “Post this as your status if you agree.”

To be honest, I’ve never reposted anyone’s comments on Facebook. The closest I’ve come to doing so were two pithy status updates: “If you agree, repost,” followed by, “If you disagree, repost.”

Those comments led to a few curious responses. I guess the sardonic humor evaded some folks.

Now back to my Facebook friend’s comments.  Not one to reply to opinions contrary to my own, lest I open myself up to an electronic scrum, my friend’s words struck a chord and I found myself writing a quick response. His topic: immigration.

He wrote: “If you cross the North Korean border illegally you get 12 years of hard labor. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally you get shot. If you cross the U.S border illegally you get: a job, a driver’s license, a place to live, housing benefits, health care, education, child benefits, tax free business for seven years. No wonder we are a country in debt! Post this as your status if you agree.”

Not only did the comments take a complicated issue (one that our federal government and state governments have grappled with for years without consensus) and boil it down to the supposed overriding source of our country’s economic woes, it unjustly condemned our brothers and sisters south of the border who had no vote for the choice of country in which they were born.

To top things off, my friend uses analogies from countries with fascist leanings to describe supposedly better options for treating people who cross borders illegally.

No one denies that immigration is a critical issue that has to be resolved on the federal level. But the problem is that simplistic, draconian solutions will not end illegal border crossings. In so many ways, unfair trade policies and illegal drug use in the United States have caused the migration of Latin America’s poor, seeking a better life, to our country and the onslaught of murders by drug lords along the U.S.-Mexico border.

I had an opportunity to visit the U.S.-Mexico border in 2007 during a border immersion experience sponsored by Maryknoll Lay Missioners (see photos and video below). We visited with missionaries who serve the undocumented along the border of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez and we met many people who crossed the border illegally. Their stories were always the same: An inherent desire to provide for their families, even at the cost of imprisonment and death.

Yes, there are bad apples among the flocks of immigrants, just as there are within any group of people. But to condemn an entire group as thieves, terrorists, law-breakers and worthless freeloaders is inaccurate and an affront to the God who created them.

Back to my Facebook friend’s comments. Without being preachy or condemning, I wrote in response: “And aren’t you lucky you were born in America? Can’t say the same for those not as lucky as me and you.”

Facebook isn’t the place to debate political or religious issues. It’s a platform to state one’s views on these heavy topics and then hope friends will give a “thumbs-up.” It sort of satisfies the shallow approach we take to forming opinions on life-and-death issues. Sometimes I wish Facebook offered a “thumbs-down” option.

Here is a photo slide show with images taken during my border immersion experience in 2007.

Below is a YouTube video I created during my 2007 visit to El Paso. It features West Cosgrove describing the border immersion program sponsored by Maryknoll Lay Missioners.

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Meet the man who photographs the pope

I had an opportunity in early May to visit with Paul Haring, staff photographer for Catholic News Service who is based in Rome. Haring has been shooting images at the Vatican since 2009 and his photos are used by Catholic print and electronic publications around the world.

Before moving to Rome, Paul worked five years for CNS in Washington, D.C., where he edited and captioned photos used by the wire service. “The bulk of the editing I did was photos of the pope and the Vatican,” he told me over a bottle of Peroni in the lounge of the Hotel Cicerone, about a 15-minute walk from the Vatican.


Paul Haring photographs in St. Peter's Square during a rare snowfall Feb. 12, 2010. (Photo by Giovanni Lin)

While editing photos from the Vatican, Haring said he realized he could be taking the photos.

“The opportunity came along in 2005,” he said. “CNS wanted to create a staff position. … I volunteered myself for it and in August 2009 my wife and I came over here and we began this grand adventure in Rome.”

Haring says his schedule is based on events at the Vatican.

“I adhere to the schedule of the Vatican, following the activities of the pope. He has two regular events every week — the Wednesday general audience and the Sunday Angelus,” he said. “I photograph both those events and other events the pope has and many other Catholic events throughout the city.”

Haring also does a lot of international photo editing. “I work with L’Osservatore Romano and another agency, Catholic Press Photo. I try to get some of that editing done and some of my own pictures.”

Many of Paul’s images of Pope Benedict are shot with long glass. Most of the close-up shots of the pope are taken by Vatican photographers. Haring said he is within close distance to the pope only on rare occasions.

“I consider it a very privileged opportunity to be close to the pope … maybe less than 10 times a year,” he said. “For the most part we work with long lenses and we try to do the best that we can in that way.”

Asked if he had a favorite image he’s shot, Haring described a photo taken in 2010.

“Every photographer wants to get a good picture of the pope kissing a baby or something like that,” he said. “There was one moment in the basilica where the pope spontaneously went over to a baby. Sometimes the children are brought to him by ushers, but this was completely spontaneous. He was processing out and the baby gave him this angelic look and I got the moment.

“It was very rewarding because it’s very hard to get” engaging photos of the pope, noted Haring. “We have to compete, in a sense, with other photographers who are closer and are trying to get that moment as well. That was a special picture for me.”

Check out the audio slide show I put together for The Compass, which features numerous photos shot by Haring in Italy — including that angelic baby.

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Ordination season

May and June are traditionally months set aside for celebrating ordinations in the Catholic Church. In the Diocese of Green Bay, six men were ordained to the diaconate by Bishop David Ricken on May 21. Four of the men, who are married, are permanent deacons. The other two are transitional deacons who will be ordained to the priesthood next year. Next month, Bishop Ricken will ordain two men to the priesthood.

Poor lighting and lack of close proximity to the sanctuary make ordinations — as well as any service — at the Green Bay cathedral a challenge. I usually focus on interesting shots that happen before and after the liturgy, as well as scenes in the pews. Below is a slide show of photos I put together from the May 21 ordination.

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iPhone in Italy

I recently spent 10 days on a pilgrimage in Italy. The trip included stops in Rome, Assisi, Florence and Venice. In addition to shooting lots of photos with my Nikon D700 camera, I used my iPhone 4 to take pictures and videos. This slide show includes photos shot with the iPhone camera as well as my ProCamera app. Some of the images are unedited. Others were tweeked using Hipstamatic, AutoStitch and PS Express.

I have found that taking photos and editing them with my iPhone is an exciting way to express my photography skills. Take a look at the photos posted below and let me know what you think.

iPhoneography in Italy – Images by Sam Lucero

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Panorama pics on iPhone

I’ve been experimenting with iPhone apps that create panoramic photos. The two I like actually create different results. The traditional panorama app I’m using is called AutoStitch. You take two or more photos of the same scene (there should be an overlap within adjacent photos) with your iPhone camera then open up the AutoStitch app. Load the photos you want stitched and watch the app do its thing.

What I love about the AutoStitch app is that it creates large file sizes, large enough to make impressive prints. It takes some practice keeping your horizon consistent within each photo to avoid obvious distortions and stitched seams. You also want to avoid having people in the overlapping parts of the photos. Another neat benefit of AutoStitch is its Help mode, which includes a video tutorial. It’s the best $1.99 I’ve spent for photography software.

The other app I recently downloaded (this one’s free!) is a new release from Microsoft called Photosynth. This app creates more than the typical panorama. It allows you to take numerous photos of the same scene and automatically stitch them all together into a 3D viewing experience. This is the first app I’ve come across that can create 360-degree scenes. To experience this, however, you need to download Microsoft’s Photosynth viewer, which is free and works within your web browser.

According to the Photosynth website, the program uses techniques from the field of computer vision.

After creating your Photosynth image, the app gives you the choice of uploading it to Facebook or directly to your Photosynth account, where people can view them in their 360-degree glory. You can also grab an embed code and post it to your blog (see below). The Facebook panoramic view doesn’t do the images justice.

Here are a few of photos I created with AutoStitch. (Click on thumbnail to see larger image.)

I have also embedded two images using Photosynth. Hope you enjoy them.

Basilica of Sacred Heart of Jesus, Notre Dame University

Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee

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