How Would You Photograph a Funeral?
How would you photograph a funeral? Yesterday I received the following question email from Mandy, a DPS reader. I thought that together we’d probably answer it better than I would alone.
“This week a close friend of our family passed away suddenly. His family know that I’m a keen (hobby) photographer and called last night to see if I would be able to photograph the funeral to capture the service for the benefit of other family members who are overseas. I said yes – but I’m terrified. I’ve never photographed a wedding let alone a funeral – do you or any of your readers have any tips for me? The funeral is on Monday.”
Any tips on how to photograph this funeral that you can offer Mandy would be greatly appreciated.
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Some older comments
February 9, 2013 02:52 pm
These tips were quite helpful to me today. I was asked to shoot a funeral for my great Uncle who very recently passed away. I was very hesitant but at the end of the day I had to say yes. It was extremely uncomfortable and I would not do it again. This is mostly because of the people that were there to support the family. I have to say, if you ever have the chance to do this, do it. Only to see your stress breaking point. I had the older ladies (most of whom I knew) telling me I wasn't taking enough photos, I was taking too many photos, I wasn't in front enough, I was walking around too much, I wasn't doing enough, etc. It was horrible. I wanted to throw my camera at them and say "here, you take the photos then!" It was hard enough having known the deceased, but not being able to show emotion was the worst. The few tips I have are:
-Don't let people tell you what to do (the immediate family excluded)
-Use flash wisely.
For example this family was adamant that I use flash to get the photos looking the best, even though it was distracting. I still didn't when the moment came for the wife of the deceased to go up and say goodbye, but I probably should have.
-Wear sensible shoes. You'll be on your feet for upwards of 3 hours, so heels are out of the question.
-Don't hand out cards (unless asked)!!!!
I really hope you never have to do this, but if you do, use common sense. It's really that simple.
April 20, 2012 08:42 am
My advice on photographing a funeral would be as follows:
1. Get to know as many people as possible of those that will be attending.
2. Shoot from a distance except when otherwise asked.
3. Be alert for any signs of unease or discomfort amongst those in your viewfinder.
You are welcome to view the some of the photographs I took at a funeral late last year at: http://photogenics.eu/Old/gallerys/Eddie/eddie_findon/index.html
I hope this helps somebody.
July 16, 2011 11:27 pm
I just want to thank those who left comments regarding photographing a funeral because I was asked a couple of weeks ago to do just that...and I had never heard of such a thing. I googled and found these postings which helped me make a decision to do it, though I'm not sure I would do it again. I can't say I followed all of the advice here, as the culture of the family is very different and they often have photos taken at funerals...of EVERYTHING! There were even people with point and shoot cameras just clicking away all day. The rules I had to break were that I was expected to capture the faces, the open casket (of a baby no less), and the grief. It was difficult as I'm a close friend of the family, and I did lose my composure a couple of times. But I ask anyone to try to stand behind a camera for hours capturing the grief of friends who have lost their child and not lose their composure. My personal weakness was witnessing the 5 year old sister grieve. Some photos were so beautiful , sad, and moving that I still can't look at them without crying. But I am grateful for this posting as my initial reaction to the idea was rather morbid. My only advice would probably be to base your decision on whether to photograph a funeral on how close you are to the family (the closer you are, the more difficult it will be) and what you believe you can handle emotionally. I personally would refuse to ever do a child's funeral again, as it was too much for me.
June 30, 2011 09:41 am
My Father passed away in March of this year and my sister arranged to have a photographer at the viewing and funeral (I also brought my own small Canon pocket camera and snapped a few photos myself). It was an LDS funeral so no photos were allowed in the Chapel during the services itself. However, many photos were taken at the viewing (including the family posing in front of the casket) and many at the graveside (he had full military honors). When I 1st thought about it, I wasn't sure how I would feel about having these types of photos taken. When it was all over and we had returned home, my sister sent us all a disk with all the images. I am so happy to have them, I created a book and had it printed for my mom and the family. I understand why people feel weird about it. I don't want to see the photos of my Dad in the casket all the time, but I take great comfort when I see the family gathered together to honor such an amazing man. I agree that each person may feel differently, but in my case, it is something that I will cherish through my life. He was very sick when he passed and actually looked better in the casket. If you are a legitimate photographer and would like to see the album, please send me your email and I will share it with you.
May 19, 2011 10:05 pm
I've photographed a couple, not so creepy if you understand it's more for the living then the dead. One was for a friend who was famous, he had a military personal as an pall bearer, when they went to put him into the hearse, this strong brave man, fell to his knees, I was overtaken with emotion and.... missed the shot. That was 7 years ago and to this day I think about it.
I did some research and photographing the dead is actually something that they used to do in the 1800's, NOW that was creepy and if you look it up, they would prop the dead people up and shoot them in sitting positions.
I don't care for the family pics around the casket that to me is tacky but again, if I am being hired to cover an event, that is what I do. Cover the event for my client.
I also stay out of the way, zoom lens as much as I can, camera down at times that are not being photographed, it's a different type of venue, you're not there to capture "that expression, or emotion" like a wedding. It's more journalistic and covering an event!
May 19, 2011 03:48 pm
I was asked several years ago if I could photograph a funeral. This was 10 years ago. Since then I have photographed several of them. It's sad, but it really does bring comfort and closure to family members. I put the pictures on a DVD with music and the compliments I get are amazing. They don't even know I'm there taking pictures, and I also use a zoom lens. I won't take pictures of the deceased unless they insist. Families usually do this for the healing process. It really helps them.
December 5, 2010 10:14 am
I recently did a funeral set...
I try to be discrete all the time...
here's the link
November 22, 2010 02:23 am
As a former news photographer, I had to cover my share of funerals. They are never easy especially since news photographers have to identify the subjects in their pictures.
It's one thing to take a good picture, then the really difficult part is to go up the people and ask their names and how they are related to the deceased.
That means dress respectfully to blend in.
June 20, 2010 04:22 am
When I photograph a funeral, I remain as discret as possible, using zoom lenses to avoid having to be closer than necessary and stay out of the eyes of as many as possible. Flash is a LAST resort, and certainly not in the church. The quality is not as high as for a wedding, but, for a funeral, discretion and not interfereing with the natural flow of the action is priority 1.
April 9, 2010 04:16 am
I have done wedding photography for about 15 years mostly for family and friends. Recently we had 3 funerals in 4 months and I was asked to take photos. I treated it much like a wedding. Our funerals have specific parts: Viewing (at the funeral home when family come and give their condolences usually open casket), Church ceremony, graveside ceremony, luncheon, and family get together after.
i shot photos for each of these sub-categories and created a slide show for each one. Capturing emotion while being inconspicuous and resulting in tasteful photos is a bit of a challenge, but I found it quite easy to come up with about 500-750 pictures quite easily. The graveside pictures converted into black and white easily and I added the punch of color (red roses) to several for effect. The families have loved them all.
Just remember to capture the day and the emotion and you will do ok.
I will post photos asap (got to figure out how)
November 27, 2009 07:29 am
One of the most poignant photos I've ever seen was taken at the funeral of a stillborn baby girl. The picture is of her parents sitting together at the graveside in the snow with a blanket across their laps, looking up at balloons that were being released. Their faces are tear-stained, but they also have a tender joy in the symbolism of the balloons heading for the sky. I haven't seen the image in a few years, but it certainly stayed with me.
Many grief and bereavement counsellors (including me : ) have written about "remembrance photos" and their importance to the families of stillborn babies. Baywood Publishing and Centering Corporation are two book publishers that have resources specific to these issues.
February 4, 2009 12:38 pm
I am by no means a professional photographer, but recently decided to get back into what used to be a hobby of mine (well before digital) in the days of the darkroom. Somehow I had come across this thread and skimmed it pretty quickly for no particular reason.
About a week ago, a senior member of our sangha had passed away and the pagoda (a Vietnamese Buddhist temple) held the services. Now, I am part of the english speaking sangha at this particular pagoda, while it is in turn run by the local Vietnamese community.
So I made the mistake of bringing my camera with the intention of getting some retakes of the statues I messed up on a previous shoot after the ceremony was over.
On the way in, one of the Vietnamese members (a kindly old lady) was all happy about the camera and asked if I was going to take pictures because they wanted to get some. I told them I was not planning on it - that's when another kindly old lady joined in and said I really should. Remembering parts of this thread I told the that I could take some photos after of the rememberances, and flowers and such - they let me go at that point.
Whew. At this point, it is worth explaining - and I am not sure if its a culture thing, or just the locals - that the Vietnamese sangha there does not DO anything without taking pictures of it. If a picture was not taken, the event simply did not exist (I exaggerate, but you get the point). These two were also the ones that kept the pagoda open for me late to do the previous shoot.
So I go and sit down for the service tucking my camera under my seat to avoid people staring at me.
Just before the service starts, one of them comes running up with a camera and thrusts it at me and tells me I have to take pictures now... I mentioned I was going to do them after, but she immediately counters with the age old Buddhist parry ~ "The Monk wants you too!" ~ referring to the Vn Monk that was performing the ceremonies.
For non-Buddhists, imagine trying to say no to your priest, when he does not really speak English, so all you can convey to him is that you are not going to do what he has asked. There is no easy way to explain why...
So I can't say no at this point. I tell her okay, but I will use my own equipment (I don't recall what she had for a DSLR, but I was more familiar with mine. Once again my mental agility kicks in and I head for the back of the room. I got well in back, and hoped that I could pull off shots with my 200mm and VR.
I got two shots off when the other nice little old lady comes running up and says "nooooo - you go to the front" and pushes me up the side and puts me against the wall right next to the family.
Now almost everyone in attendance was not Vietnamese and probably had the same qualms about this I did.
Well, what I did next was probably already covered in this thread, and I will just credit it all to the above:
1. Made sure the flash was off
2. Braced my strap against my arm and my elbow on my leg
3. Took photos only of the monk, laypeople assisting and the altar.
I did take one of the deceaseds son when he got up to make a speech. He also asked that his fathers wishes included everyone in attendence hugging someone they did not know. The ensuing chaos of that made for an easy way to get a shot of the crowd.
I also approached the family after and they seemed to have no hard feelings and I apologized for having done everything, which they blew off.
My biggest regret was that I missed a great shot of a Buddhist monastic hugging a Minister. Would have been great.
The photos themselves needed some adjustments after, but I did get a few that came out pretty nice.
Thank you to everyone above for the ideas
January 27, 2009 03:10 pm
I belong to a volunteer fire department and my sole job there is as photographer. Okay, not my sole job, but the only one that's my top priority.
As you can imagine, we have many funerals and many somber times. I absolutely always ask the family before I do anything, exactly WHAT they do and do not want photos of. This goes for the deceased, the casket (even if closed and in transport), the wake, sad emotive faces, and so on.
I also ask them to make sure that the entire immediate family knows and understands that I am doing this for them as a whole, and that all will be provided copies of a DVD. You'd be surprised how many people have seen me do our funerals before, and when their family member passes away, they come straight to me and tell me everything they want/don't want, and thank me in advance for the X number of copies I'll be making for the family.
I will say that most every one has been a Catholic ceremony, and I already know by having spoken to the priests of the churches in the past, that they really prefer no photos, even without flash, during the funeral in the church. Outside is okay, just not inside. Do respect the pastor/priest wishes.
Keep in mind, for fire department funerals, we are steeped in much tradition. We often have dozens of firemen in full dress uniform, some as pall bearers, and often enough too, military guests to play taps and fold the flag. One of my "favorite" shots is when the flag is handed over to the widow/family member - taken in silhouette (because I have the hardest time when the face is clear - the emotion is way too strong). I say "favorite" in quotes because it's definitely not my favorite thing to see, but the photos come out so special and are often the family's favorites.
The more you can do in silhouette actually, the better. People don't like looking back on their scrunched up, tearful faces sometimes. While it might be a great emotive shot - if you do take one, it might be best to keep it for yourself.
And I second anyone who's said to talk to the funeral director. One in particular comes to mind - he's always so grateful that I'm there, always so keen to make sure that I have time to get ahead of the procession without disrupting anyone (ie. having his attendants park my car for me in the best place), and making sure that I get the shots I need while making the entire thing seamless to others. He's AMAZING. We've even half-joked about offering me up as an optional service of the funeral home!
The true bottom line? Bring everything you need to not be conspicuous and get the job done in low light, quietly, and maintain the UTMOST level of respect for the grieving family. (I want to add that I've gotten some really strange looks and snarky remarks from distant family or friends [those sitting in the back of the funeral parlor or church] and whenever that happens I always make a point of letting them know that my presence was requested by immediate family, and I'd be happy to exclude them from any shots I take if they'd like. It usually quiets them down... and I say that because the immediate family doesn't NEED some well-meaning do-gooder to go running up to them and complain to them, for them... you know?)
Anyway, I wish I could show some of the photos here to help, but as of right now, I can't. I hope I've helped some, though!
January 27, 2009 11:02 am
With the funerals I've done, I've talked to whomever in the immediate family wanted the photos and what specifically they wanted. On the day, of the wake or the funeral I know, and don't need to approach them. The funerals I have done, have more so been "celebrations of life" than terribly solemn occasions.
January 27, 2009 10:09 am
9 years ago I photographed my mother's funeral. I was in my 20's and she was very young to have passed. I made sure my sister and Dad were OK with it. Now, I look at those phtos so very often. 1/2 the people told me that they thought I was nuts - and the other 1/2 gave me glares of horror. But now, I bet no one remembers - but me and my sister as we pull them out each March in her honor. And I know she must have loved it, looking down from heaven. When you get ugly looks, just remember the gift you are bringing the loved ones who are still living.
January 27, 2009 05:57 am
For me photography has always been about capturing people's emotion. I have come to reolize that through my own upbringing I lost the ability to recall things mentally such as memories and emotions. When I was to visualize a memory or a family member laughing or crying I couln't. When I was introduced to a camera I instantly began capturing people in a different way than anyone else was. I had a documentary type of view and no matter what kind of camera I used I was getting nat geo type shots. I always use a 50mm on my DSLR and try to always be candid. I recently needed some cash and was offered pay to do a friends wedding. The results were beautiful but unlike most traditional wedding photography I had ever seen. I seemed to focus more on behind the scenes. I was able to capture joy, anxiety, and a plethora of emotion from all people at the wedding. Even in moments of action, the action became the background and what the subjects were feeling were the highlight. For A funeral I would do the same. Rather than focus on the deceased focus on how much that person was loved. This will be easy to obtain through the emotions and grief exerted by the surviving family. I would candidly capture reactions to the deceased and the way the people interact with each other. Focus on smaller things like gestures and really look into people's eyes, sadness can be found there. Hands are also the silent tellers of all. Good Luck.
January 27, 2009 05:36 am
I'm a pretty amature photographer, so I can't give you many technical tips. But my cousin passed away a few days after Christmas and his funeral was a "perfect' example of what NOT to do.
"Someone" decided that the funeral should be photographed. As the cameras clicked away, us family members were whispering amongst ourselves about how uncomfortable this was. We assumed that his wife had requested the photos, so we just kept turning away from the cameras because we did not want to be photographed & no one had the courtesy to ask.
And if the funeral photography wasn't uncomfortable enough, a few people came to the cemetary for the grave-side service (which was clearly announced as FAMILY ONLY) to take pictures and video!
One woman seemed very put out that she was not able to get into the funeral procession between the hearse & the family, so she ditched her car in the middle of the cemetary road (blocking vehicles with other family) & sprinted to the grave, dodging around family members & JUMPING OVER OTHER PEOPLES' GRAVESTONES to get in front. She stood closer to the grave than most of the family members were able to get.
After the grave service, this same woman badgered my cousin's widow to stand next to the casket with their children for a family portrait! I'm sure his kids won't be able to wait to show that one off! "This is me, my mom & my brothers. My dad is in the box.". Unbelievable.
It wasn't until the meal when we were able to have a proper conversation & we realized that NO ONE from the family wanted photos.
We're a pretty strong-willed bunch, so had we been in our right minds, we would have told these people to go get stuffed. We were all feeling so raw & vulnerable, and so shocked at this horrible behaviour that we were unable to stand up for ourselves or his wife. Obviously the death was difficult but it has been that much worse because these people, who were supposed to be his friends, showed such a lack of respect. I still cry because of how much their thoughtless actions hurt my family.
So what would have made the day better? Respect, respect, respect, respect.
As previous posters have said, the decision to take photos / video must come from the family! Regardless of anyone else's attempts at "helping".
Second, the photographer should discuss with the family the types of photos that they would like & would NOT like. This includes who wants to be photographed or not. Also, roll with the emotion of the day. Someone may agree to a shot & later not feel up to it. And no pictures of the deceased unless the family asks for it.
Third, the photographer should be at the funeral location prior to the family arriving. After the family members have had a chance to say their hellos, the photographer could quietly approach them & say, "My name is X. I am a photographer and (family member) has asked me to take photos of the ceremony today." Then talk about some photos (family member) asked for, and make sure everyone is comfortable with them.
Fourth, stay back. You're not more important than the family.
Fifth, shut your ****ing camera noises off.
Sorry if it seems I'm spewing venom at you. I'm obviously still pretty upset about this.
January 26, 2009 12:41 pm
I grew up in the funeral business - my family was in it for 20 years before I was even born, and still are. You've got some fantastic tips here, but I would add to definitely contact the funeral director before showing up with the camera. He or she can make it a lot easier for you, give you tips on where would be good to stand, and they're trained on how to handle grief, and know the family by now, so they can help you know the best way to deal with it.
January 26, 2009 06:02 am
Oddly enough I've done alot of funerals. Maybe its cultural. Its always at the request of the immediate family. I've even been at a funeral and a family member would ask "Did you bring your camera?"
But back to the question, not being flippant, its much like doing a wedding. I've never taken photos in a Catholic Church, so most Protestant churches have a choir stand in the front of the church. During the wake (usually there is no Speaker), people are just coming in and viewing the deceased. I take a temporary perch in the choirstand, with my zoom. At this part of the event, I sometimes use a flash. The zoom allows me to get photos without being in anyone's face, and people will ignore the flash. I take photos of people and groups of people as they take their seats.
In my experience, the family DOES want a photo or two of the deceased. So during the wake is when I take those photos.
When the service begins, I'm out of the choirstand and usually towards the back of the church, with my camera on a tripod and my ISO kicked up to the max, and no flash. I photograph the normal stuff: the entrance of the family, any speakers, any soloists, the person the delivers the Eulogy, and really any thing that is going on in the front of the church. Then I photograph the recession out. I take pictures of the hearse and family getting into the hearse and the car processional to the cemetary.
Then on to the cemetary. This is easier. Camera still has zoom on . Photograph the group around the interment services. Sometimes there is a libation done over the casket by the minister, so I switch lenses and get in close. Get photos of the family seated. After the casket goes down, get photos of the it in the ground and of the vault with the seal of the person name and dates of birth and date. Photos of everyone exiting.
I've taken photos of the family gathered around the deceased. In one instance, the deceased's wife was a funeral director, AND she "did" her own husband. I took photos with her next to him in the casket.
Back to the repass if its held at a church. Here, it really gets more wedding-like. I get photos of various people and groups a family members or who every the family wants photos of.
So basically I just document the day and the event. Weddings and funerals are really the two events where families get together that don't normally come together. The families always just tell me to get photos for the family. Maybe its just cultural, but im not shocked when someone asks me to photo a wedding.
January 25, 2009 03:43 am
i did my first one last week and I think It came out very well. First of all i increase the iso to 1200 so I could shoot without flash. I stayed on the side and didn't want to be in anyones way. The setting was in a chaple and not a church.
Just stay low key, no flash and do it for the family.
January 25, 2009 02:59 am
If there's just one word to summarise how to shoot a funeral it's "RESPECT"..
To me the photos are meant to show how the deceased has Lived and the legacy and respect he or she has left behind.
Some one mentioned smiling.. it's a different kind of smile.. it's more of a nod of respect and acknowledgement. It's a total opposite of shooting a party... you should be respectful and slow while you move .. You may shoot people but don't get into their faces.. and you don't ask them to pose. The communications is limited to eye contact and a single nod with empathy and acknowledgement.
Shoot with available light, and don't use long lens to catch attention.. I use the 85mm which is enough to keep myself out of the way and still get my shots.
I become part of the procession, to pay my respects to the deceased. I pray with them, I sing along with them, I place my flower on the casket together with them.
Hope this helps a bit.
January 24, 2009 12:24 pm
get the pictures that mean the most. someone holding a hand whipping a tear heads bowed. you can make even the saddest things beautful. look at it from an art view not a funeral
January 24, 2009 06:38 am
My answer is rather simple. Keep it professional. Treat it as if you are shooting for a high profile client. Try and distance your self from the emotional impact that you will be a part of. Shoot some candids to capture the families emotions. This is the best advice I can give.
January 24, 2009 06:37 am
Something I forgot about is DO NOT use a flash if you're shooting the deceased! Funerals are all smoke and mirrors when it comes to the display of the deceased and we have special lighting (they're called red-neck bulbs) set up for that purpose so use a fast lens and shoot with the available light. In post processing set your color balance to give his/her face the most life-like color.
January 24, 2009 06:34 am
@Peter Bryenton is right...avoid face shots showing so much pain...(its too much to capture) come in from behind...capture hugs, and moments of encouragement...depening on the religion of the funeral service shoot some "artsy" shots with the info card of the decease with a bible or rosary...maybe a just blown out candle... good luck! im glad im not the one shooting...
(if you can, get a known member of the main family to stay close to you in case someone gets upset at you)
January 24, 2009 06:33 am
Working in a funeral home we've had people want photographs a couple of times in the past year. The best time is at the visitation where you can capture people reminiscing and a lot of the time they will oblige and give you a quick smile just for the picture. Document the visitors and the floral arrangements, never the deceased in the casket unless they specifically ask (one time the family posed next to the casket and had pictures taken, a little creepy). As for the actual funeral there's not much to photograph. I would concentrate on the procession in and out of the church and whoever speaks during the service. There's usually not much time for people to talk before a funeral because they're going into the church (or funeral home) and getting seated straight away. Just tell people what you're doing before you take pictures, just say something like "so and so asked me to take pictures of everyone here, is that okay" and if they're taking it particularly hard, don't bother them. It's awkward (especially if you don't know anyone) but you'll get through it, and it really doesn't take that long if there isn't a huge crowd. And do talk to the funeral director in advance because you never know if he's going to get pissed off about it if he doesn't know that you're going to take pictures.
January 24, 2009 06:18 am
Years ago when my Granddad died, Mum organised a friend to take a couple of photo's of the crowd otside the church after the funeral. This was done very discretely and from a distance on a small rise.
Mum was then able to see who was at the funeral. At the time you are so overwhelmed with everything, and with everyone comeing up and hugging you, yo forget who was there and who wasn't. There will also be many there who don't come and speak to you, and so you aren't aware that they are even there.
This topic has come at the right time for me too - a nephew died 2 weeks ago. They didn't have a funeral at the time but are having a memorial service and laying of ashes next weekend. I have been debating whether to offer to take some photo's of them all. Not so much the service but the family groups & friends. They will all be together in one place which is a very rare occurance as they are a large family and one or another always seems to be missing.
January 24, 2009 04:19 am
I remember my Grandmothers funeral. A lot of family from different parts of the country gathered in one place. We laughed and cried the whole day. Only a few photos were taken and we all wished someone was there to take more. We were able to catch up with our lives and int he process we forgot to snap a photo or 2.
January 24, 2009 04:12 am
With Funerals, respect is the order. At the funeral home go before other people are there, or at the end.
Speak with the funeral director who can give a wealth of information, having a lot of experience
with each church and minister. They can tell you where to take pictures and not be in the way.
I serve at funerals and have only seen pictures taken once and I wondered why. Gerry
January 24, 2009 02:49 am
Can't remember ever having seen a photographer at a funeral where I live.
So I'm quite sure that nobody is going to ask me.
And quite happy to
January 24, 2009 02:19 am
You've gotten some great advice so I'm not going to restate everything.
Talk with the minister, funeral director, and as many of the family members that you can and ask them to let others know you're there at the request of the family. For myself, sometimes the right shot is NO shot, some moments are just too personal for me to capture. I try and focus on the happy moments, the smile of remembrance is a beautiful thing.
Talk to the funeral home / church and see if you can come when nobody else is there for photos of the church, flowers, building, etc. The last one I did the Funeral Director gave me a couple of hours and I was able to photograph all the arrangements individually. Several people contacted me afterwards who couldn't attend wanting a photo of the flowers they had sent. I’ll also photograph the exterior and signs of the buildings.
Also, someone already mentioned this but most of the times it’s a gathering of people who may not have seen each other for years. I've had a couple of times where it's been one group after the next wanting pictures with each other or as a group. (This was at the gathering at someone’s house after the funeral) People are dressed up and together and will take advantage of the photo opportunity. Take photos of people’s hands and of their backs. I think some of the best photos I’ve ever taken were of the hands. Sometimes you can see the emotion coming out.
I always think ahead, I scout everything from the church, funeral home, cemetery, to the grave site. Also scout for possible group photo locations. There is always someone who will say, let’s get a group photo while we are all here, then they look at you for direction. On a couple occasions I've had to recruit help and others I've been the recruited as the help. To stand at a distance and get people walking, standing, praying, laughing, etc.
I can tell you that afterwards it a very exhausting day, both mentally and physically. Good Luck and enjoy the little moments throughout the day. Remember you’re becoming part of the close family and friends circle, even if only for a short period of time.
January 24, 2009 01:58 am
Managing the politics sensitively is crucial for success. If you obtain the agreement of the "head of the family" (or the individual who invites you to photograph the funeral), that person can then deliberately greet you very publicly in front of the whole assembly, so that you are seen to receive the official seal of approval. Out of courtesy and respect, most of those attending will then accept your presence. Those very few who object, you simply leave out of your viewfinder, auomatically increasing your worth to the rest.
Taking pictures from behind those grieving, especially at the graveside, can often produce far more powerful images than full-frontal intrusions.
January 24, 2009 01:17 am
I was asked to shoot the funeral of my wife's grandmother because one of her sisters was overseas and could not make it back in time. It was obviously awkward for me but her family was very grateful and it helped provide some closure for her sister.
-Ask the MC to explain that you are there at the request of the family for the specific purpose of providing closure for those that could not be present.
-Shoot fast glass with enough reach for closeups.
-Make sure to get at least 2 shots of the entire audience. Funerals are about who was there.
-Dress attire should be appropriate and conservative.
-A monopod may help if it is an evening funeral or overcast.
-Be respectful of the family. Do not make yourself obvious or overtly visible. Except for the few wide shots of the audience, stay back and use your zoom to get close.
-Ask the funeral director for a few minutes alone to shoot the deceased before the "Viewing". That way you have a chance to shoot (using flashes) the deceased at his/her best.
-Be sure to shoot the details(flowers, guestbook, headstone, etc.)
-Make sure to get good shots of each of the speakers.
-Don't be afraid of the tears, they are a normal part of a funeral and demonstrate how much the deceased was loved a will be missed. Shoot reaction shots, the tender moments, etc. Look for shots of old friends re-uniting.
In some ways, shooting a funeral is like journalistic wedding photography. You need to get shots of everything from the sad to the hilarious. During my shoot the family all wore Hawaiian shirts with their suits. The pastor wore a $2000 suit with $3000 shoes--way OTT. And then there was the middle-aged guy who showed up in shorts and sandals with a bluetooth headset glued to his head.
The only thing I did not shoot was the viewing. I felt it would be too intrusive and I wasn't asked to and so I didn't offer.
Always remember, you are doing this for the family. This will give them a record of a major event in their lives when many of them were together. The family also understands that it is a sacrifice for you since there is nothing fun about shooting a funeral.
Please let us know how it goes.
January 24, 2009 01:13 am
I have photographed a few funerals. You can view them on my website undeer the proos page. Remember to tell a story. I just shot a funeral (first link on the Proof's page). The family was so excited about the pictures. Another memorial service was held a week after and all who did not attend the homegoing got to share in that day via the pictures. Also, make sure you capture the speakers.
January 24, 2009 01:04 am
I found this on MSN last night. The story is about a funeral home but the photos actually give one some pretty good ideas as to how to shot the funeral. http://tinyurl.com/cb9mt5
January 24, 2009 12:44 am
Lord, I wish I would have photographed my father's funeral. Anyway, like what has already been suggested: shots of tributes, friends, touching moments, and a few tasteful ones of the deceased--the idea would be to mostly capture the living, some of which may have not been in the same room for decades. Fast glass, high ISO, and a monopod--I definitely would not use flash. I would stay out of the way and be as unobtrusive as possible. One thing I would look into is some type of "blimp" (like that used on movie sets by production photographers) to deaden the shutter noise.
January 24, 2009 12:35 am
Over the past several decades I have photographed all of my deceased relatives in open caskets. This is not unusual for me having been involved in serious photography for over 35 years. Look at old photos. You'll see the dead propped up in chairs, etc. where their pictures were taken as a reminder. On my mother's last day alive on this earth I photographed her final moments with my father and a nurse in the room. No one complained. As painful as it might have been at the time I'm glad that I documented this just as I did the funeral. The images are powerful.
January 24, 2009 12:26 am
I've done a funeral, and I've done a ton of weddings, by far that funeral will forever stick out in my mind. A lot has been covered in what to do and not to do. Funerals are not "creepy" they are a part of life, the final part of this life. Many people do want a memory of this event as any other as many relatives come that they have not seen and it's not unlikely for people to want a picture at the casket!
Make sure to get a few photo's of the departed but do this only after everyone has been seated, or arrive early.
If you're close to the family, do not allow emotion to get in your way. When I am behind the camera I am working and have an ability to stay in control. The funeral I did was of a famous and close friend. One of the pall bearers was a Vietnam Vet and when he put the casket into the hearst he fell to his knees and wept like a baby.....the emotion caught me, and I missed that shot. It's been 5 years and I still regret missing that shot!
Let me know how you do, and if you need any other advice or tips, you can contact me.
Oh and a btw, in the 1800 it was very very common to photography the dead and funerals!
January 24, 2009 12:08 am
There are public funerals, and private funerals. Except for permission I would photograph them in the same way. I have photographed a few funerals, so here are my rules of thumb for them.
1. I would only photograph a private funeral at the request of the head of the family of the person who died, and only as long as no extremely close relative objected. I have walked away from photographing a funeral when requested by the spouse, but the children objected.
2. Dress as if you were one of the mourners. I would personally wear a dark suit. You want to be as inconspicuous as possible.
3. No flash.
4. Long lens or telephoto zoom - You don't want to "be in the face" of any mourner.
5. No photograph of the deceased if the casket is open unless you discuss it with the head of the family and other close relatives first and they request it.
6. No tripod and only use a monopod if essential. I'd rather bump up the ISO to 400 and open up the lens if that would work.
7. Like a wedding you've got to let the officials know you're photographing the funeral (minister, rabbi, priest, cleric, funeral director).
8. Like a wedding you need to know how the ceremony will go, where people will be, etc., in advance.
9. Like a wedding you should check out the venue in advance to look at light levels, possible photographic situations and shooting vantage points. This would include the ceremony location (funeral home, church, synagogue, etc.) the cemetery, and if there is a gathering afterward, that location as well.
10. Like a wedding you want to stay out of the way of the ceremony when photographing. You don't want to become part of the ceremony.
11. You want to consider ancillary shots of the funeral, not just the obvious (sign-in book, candles, bugler if military, riflemen if military, room where family sits waiting for the ceremony where they have a private spot, greeting area prior to ceremony, unused chairs and tent at graveside, people holding flowers prior to setting them on the coffin, etc. Try to get these photographs with context.
12. In fact try to get all photographs with as much context as possible so the photographs themselves tell you what's going on.
13. Never run around or flit from location to location. After all it is a funeral.
14. Go luck. Photographing a funeral is not easy.
January 23, 2009 11:57 pm
Wow! A lot of great responses. However, if I were asked to photograph a funeral, I wouldn't! But if one does, I would definitely check into the religious protocol of the service. Check with the minister/priest/etc. and ALL the closest relatives of the deceased.
Coming from the "Bible Belt" of the USA (translation: many, many very conservative fundamentalist religions), one could run into some avid opposition to such a practice. Many years ago, when I was in college, a friend who was a Southern Baptist, asked me to photograph her father's funeral. I politely as possible explained the above to her and said that I would not do it. She obtained the services of a photographer friend of mine, and wanted the entire service and graveside eulogy pictured in detail, but did not check with other family members or the minister. The poor kid arrived at the church early and got some shots of the body in the casket and the surrounding flowers, but when the service started the minister stopped the proceedings and gruffly ordered (not asked, loudly ORDERED!) him out of the church.
A similar situation sometimes occurs with weddings. The bride and groom adamently requested photos throughout the ceremony in a small fundamentalist country church in rural East Texas. The minister, the groom's father no less, got wind of their requests, called me and my associate into his office, and emphatically stated no photos were to be taken inside the church, i.e., no procession of the bride -- nothing! Even assuring him that no flash would be used, he replied something to the effect of, "I said no photos in the church, and if you attempt it, I will stop the service and have the church deacons forcefully remove you!"
My associate sneaked around the church building and slightly opened a door near the choir loft (fundamentalist protestant churches do not have "altars) and got a shot of the bride and groom facing the minister. I sat on the back row of the church, and focused on the pews about 10 feet in front of me, and when the ressessional occurred, I slipped out of my seat, squatted in the middle of the aisle, and got a nice shot of the couple coming up the aisle. Having taken all the wedding party groups shots earlier, and the fact that the reception was being held in a public building away from the church, we did get quite a few photos for the couple.
January 23, 2009 11:54 pm
First of all, I would like to say sorry for your loss!
Just take pictures like you would on any other occasion.
It's about the feeling shining through, and since it was a close friend of the family, there will be enough feeling there. I find that when I'm behind the lens, I'm not really a part of the scene I take pictures of. Take them in this sense, as if you were an outsider looking in, but knowing the people there.
I was uncomfortable with the idea of shooting a funeral but then, my father who's been into photography since he was fifteen showed me some of the pictures he took on the funeral of my mother's aunt and told me how appreciative everybody was after they saw the pictures. All I can say is go for it!
January 23, 2009 11:50 pm
Being a priest and a photo hobbyist, I would urge everyone to take the opportunity. Furnerals are the most beautiful service in the Church. There are just really some basics that should be followed.
Tell the priest you are going to shoot the service.
Make sure the senior members of the family request it.
Never (at any photo shoot you're paid for) show up in a t shirt and sneakers. Dress like a professional and blend in. This isn't a grunge tour.
Concentrate on candles, long shots, meaningful things like clasped hands, rosaries, crosses, and smiling faces.
Lastly, blend into the walls.
January 23, 2009 11:15 pm
I don't know if I could. About a month ago one of my husband's nephews died and we attended the informal memorial service. There was a photographer there, one of the dead boy's teachers/employers (he was into photography himself), by the request of my sister-in-law, the boy's mother. He had a high end point and shoot and seemed a bit uncomfortable about taking the pictures. I had left my camera in the car because I didn't think anyone would want photos of a memorial service, and I didn't think it was something I should take photos of. But at the end my husband asked me if I was going to take a photo of the memorial display they had set up at one end of the room, and I said I didn't know if I should, and he said something like "You're the photographer, you decide". Then he mentioned that his other sister, who couldn't be there, might want to see them, and so I got my camera and took two shots.
So based on all the uneasiness involved in just shooting a memorial display, I don't think I could shoot an actual funeral.
January 23, 2009 09:41 pm
1) Make sure there is an announcement, or a note in the card provided at the service, about who you are and why you're photographing it, that explains the ground rules (that they can signal to you not to shoot if they want, etc).
2) After the funreal, you'll have lots of candid shots of small groups of people (maybe individuals). Get personal clearance from those people on every single shot before publishing any album (to all the attendees, relatives & friends etc.) Let your subjects be the judge of how they appear. Nobody should feel that any of the photos are intrusive to their personal grief. Some people might be adamant that they shouldn't appear in any photos at all - respect that. It's a lot of work after the event but it's important that nobody feels exploited.
3) Treat it as any other event shoot. Take two cameras - one with a fast-ish wide-normal zoom, one with a fast prime (85-135mm-e). No flash.
January 23, 2009 08:19 pm
I was on the other side of the world, at the start of a 3 mth holiday, when a young friend died at home. My parents attended the funeral and read my eulogy on my behalf. Dad took some pictures for me, just a few, of the crowd gathered around the grave (taken from a distance), and the floral tributes. There were no close-ups of the gravesite (the headstone hadn't been completed yet, so there wasn't much to photograph), I was comforted to see so many people had attended, and seeing the posy of flowers my mother had picked from my garden was lovely.
January 23, 2009 07:33 pm
I once had the chance to photograph a funeral.
My piece of advice is to be as silent, slow and discreet as you can. Try not to use any flash and always show respect for the family and friends gathered there.
As you are friend of the family, you don't have these problems (to heart people's feelings), but try not to disturb anyone.
Try to get different close-ups (flowers, hands...) and wide angles (the church from behind). Think before going there which ones will be the most impressive moments (the corps entering the church, or leaving the church...).
If you are interested, I made this audio slideshow out of a funeral of an ex-IRA member. This one was a crowded one, but maybe you can get some ideas.
And the best picture is this one:
January 23, 2009 05:24 pm
Interesting question, and all those feedback!
If I would add the following:
* A few intimate group pictures for example in the living room with sisters/brother/parents/friends together.
Recently a grandma of my wife passed away, and the sisters together were working together for the preparation of the funeral. That was one of the best pictures. (not mine) It shows the trust and seeking support from each other....
* half a year later when we returned from a short holiday weekend, we visited the graveyard. The stone of grandma had been placed and it has snowed. It was quiet and sereen. Those pictures were very nice and add to that remembering of the funeral.
* Don't focus only on the main characters. For example also look what some small kids are doing.
I think all those pictures are part of reminding you of your beloved people....
Like with weddings you can create a list of key moments of the ceremoney, before, and after that.
But like all photography but especially this type of emotional thing, the key challenge is to capture the mood, the emotion in a discrete manner. Some like to see tears on their eyes afterwards on a picture. Others are ashamed for it.
January 23, 2009 04:23 pm
Great suggestions, support and sensitivity from all... the point about access to the environment/funeral home when family isn't there could really expand the scope of a photo-journalistic presentation. As a hairdresser who has had the opportunity to work with some family friends, this alone time can be really pivotal. In the photographer's circumstance, especially regarding the flowers, cards, displays and such without being in the midst of everything you can take your time and work your best shot. Honestly I used to live in fear of such an occasion -- but in truth, when asked to perform such a task I feel it really is a special opportunity to alleviate some grief - their loved one is in trusted hands. I think this is so important. Recently, perhaps on Flickr, I read an article about postmortem portraits and such -- around the turn of the 1900's (I think) this was a very common and esteemed practice. Also, "Now I lay Me Down to Sleep" (web site is nowilaymedowntosleep.com) is a beautiful organization which works with families with fetus' which are diagnosed with fatal diseases - the testimonials from the families are heart-wrenching and awe-inspiring. Photos are all some ever have. And as several have mentioned many are so gracious and artistic. This is in essence a last shot -- no do overs, but a very special moment. Finally I would check with the family, but agree that an inclusive approach with the wake, visitation, service/s, and reception can be a wonderful sequence which helps many find closure. Depending on the time frame I would probably try to get a "finished" image of the grave as well, or perhaps a subsequent visit. I too have made slide shows as a gift to family, and people call for years after for a copy. I recently learned of animoto.com which does a beautiful job. Photos and music are rendered for you and can be sent by email or burned to a disc. Hope this too helps -- and hope someone compiles a reference list of all the suggestions for future needs. Really think this is a growing/returning trend.
January 23, 2009 03:55 pm
Speaking as someone who has been to funerals of close family members very recently, I can tell you a few things from the perspective of the attendees (since there are already a LOT of good suggestions here about the photography aspect).
The most comfortable I would have felt being photographed was at the wake the night before, where we basically all gathered at the funeral home, hugged each other, caught up with old friends, and laughed over a slide show with some old cheesy photos. There were a few people who were emotional from the viewing, but for the most part, it was a very happy time and there were a LOT of people there. If you're good at candids without being noticed, and something like that is going on, make sure you attend.
I would say that during the service is definitely the time to get the flowers, the casket, the minister/speaker, anyone playing music, things like that. If you must get people in the audience, get profiles, holding hands, rear views, things like that. Nothing that would make people self-conscious or look back later and wonder why you were busy taking pictures of their red swollen noses. ;-)
After the funeral is always a good time too, if they have some sort of reception afterwards. Usually people have recovered from the weeping a bit and are going back into "reunion mode"--at least in my experience. And it would also be a pretty good time for some family pictures if people are up to it-but something like that you really have to play by ear as you see how people are doing.
If there is a graveside service, it might be nice to get up close shots of the casket and flowers, but then bring a telephoto lens to capture some of the service in a more unobtrusive manner. Since those are generally outside, you'll have a better time with the telephoto than you might inside a church or funeral home. If the graveside is particularly scenic it'd be nice to get some of the surroundings as well (the place where my grandpa is buried has wind chimes hanging from every available tree branch).
January 23, 2009 02:04 pm
Before I was a photographer I created photoslide shows for funerals from photos provided by the family. I literally received a pile of photos with less than an hour explaination then had to tell their loved ones story to the family in less than 48 hours - with music. I loved doing it; it was such a moving and reflecting experience. I learned how important photographs truly are.
I say take the photojournalist approach. If I could have asked for photos at my fathers funeral I would have liked to have asked for photos of all of the people who came to see him. He would have been pleased with the turn out. :)
January 23, 2009 11:27 am
Working in a hospital allows me to see the aftermath of the loss of a loved one. It seems the raw emotion involved with that loss could make for some proufoundly artistic photography in exploring humanity itself. It may seem scary but you should embrace the moment for how often does an opportunity like this come along. In doing so you can even learn things about yourself. I think as long as you have respect for the deceased and their survivors in your heart you'll do fine. I guess this isn't really advice but simply words of encourgement. Good luck in your endeavors.
January 23, 2009 11:19 am
Excellent tips from DPS readers. Gosh..I wouldn't dare photograph a funeral but why not give it a shot..just for the learning experience. A friend recently photographed a funeral and like what Allordrien suggested, he did exactly that and caught the whole atmosphere of the funeral..which gave a very good end result and it wasn't creepy or morbid at all!
January 23, 2009 10:51 am
One thing we found when my father passed away was taking photos of the memorial flowers and plants made it so much easier when it came to write the thank you cards. My BIL took pictures, being careful not to get direct shots of my father at my mother's request. And he took pictures at the visitation and the graveside, but not during the service itself - again at the request of the family.
So when my aunt passed away, I offered to do something similar to help out my uncle. I photographed every floral arrangement immediately followed by the sympathy card attached so that he could remember later who gave what and what they looked like (my uncle was pretty much in shock). At the visitation the night before, there were several family members taking photos of family together. I let one of my younger cousins use my camera and he got some really great shots of family members.
The tips you received were all great ones, but I think the most important one is to confirm what it is the family wants and make sure that you honor their wishes.
January 23, 2009 10:37 am
after all of these comments and reminders...u are in a tough job! goodluck!
January 23, 2009 10:37 am
Two years ago my parents asked me to photograph my grandmother's memorial service. I wasn't sure how to do this either. The first thing I did was run out and get a 50mm f/1.8, because like everyone here has said, you don't want to use a flash. All the technical advice mentioned is great and really helpful.
But as far as content goes, I started taking photos of those that were being supportive of my Grandfather. Then of those being supportive of my Father and Mother. Then people started talking about my Grandmother and smiling as they were telling stories about her, and when they first met her. These are the photos that we treasure. The happy faces recounting how much they loved her too.
Like was mentioned earlier knowing what the family wants is really important.
I hope it goes well for you!
January 23, 2009 09:57 am
I was asked to photograph a funeral last year. Fortunatly for me, I didn't know that I would be doing it until that morning, so I didn't have a lot of time to think about it. I did ask the family if there was anything in particular that they wanted pictures of, and what they did not want pictures of. I tried to stay in the background and use telephoto, so as to not seem intrusive. I never got over the weird feeling of taking pictures of something so solemn, but knowing that the family was OK with it made it easier. I would just keep in mind the people that can't make it and the service that you are doing for them.
The funeral that I shot was a full blown firemans service with honor guard, and the casket was taken to the gravesite in the back of an antique truck (that the deceased fireman used to drive himself) accompanied by dozens of fire trucks from departments from all over our area. The deceased was also a very close friend, so another tip to you would be to take Kleenex, it's hard to take pictures through tears. You could probably find out if you can get in the funeral home before the visitation, that way you can take some of your pictures without other people around.
Good luck to you!
January 23, 2009 09:45 am
Try to capture the story of a life well lived. While I understand and appreciate the advice that you need to be a fly on the wall out of respect I think you will miss the most important work of the day if you approach it that way. Catch the critical still life images of the commemorative flowers, stone and decorations, but please, above all else, try to catch the ongoing life story in the family and friends that attend.
The people are likely there because the deceased person made a positive contribution to their life. Before the ceremony (ie. before the make-up runs and the eyes get bloodshot) approach the guests, tell them that you are doing a photo documentary for the family of the numerous lives that were touched by the deceased and you would like permission to take their photo. Ask them about their favorite memory and be ready to catch the smile that follows.
That smile... that memory... it's the greatest legacy a man can leave and you will have about two seconds to catch it. Those will be the most important photos you take all day.
January 23, 2009 09:21 am
I think you have a lot of good tips here!
Definitely speak with the family beforehand and get a clear understanding of what they are wanting so that you don't accidentally go out of bounds. Flash off, high ISO, long lens will also be helpful.
I've had to video-tape a funeral before, it was awkward but the family was very appreciative of my efforts.
Best of luck!
January 23, 2009 09:14 am
I have photographed a funeral (graveside and wake) and it was actually an enjoyable experience. Furnerals are not always sad and gloomy. The people had such a huge range of emotions from being sad about the loss to being happy to seeing family and friends who then may not have seen in years. The entire group were very happy to have a photographer document their family get-together. During the wake I mingled among the people and took photos. During the graveside I stood off at a distance with my 70-200 and quietly took photos. Do not use a flash or a tripod, try to be invisible. Be very respectful of space. SMILE!!! Others have said to avoid photographing faces. I photographed everyone's face. Faces are important. A funeral brings out a longing to remember and people reconnect at funerals. People came up and asked to get their pictures taken with others. I posted the pictures on my website for the friends and family to view and purchase. I sold a lot of photos from that event more than some weddings. I did not pass out cards, instead I gave cards to the person who hired me and let them hand them out. Hope that helps.
January 23, 2009 09:14 am
1. Dress appropriately and respectfully
2. Use available light, so long lens and monopod high ISO with image stabilization on.
3. I would see if the family could make an announcement to introduce who you are and your intentions. That usually puts everyone at ease that you're there on behalf of the surviving family members. Once that announcement is made, you won't have to feel like you're being creepy. After all you're doing them a big favor.
4. Have a flash handy, but only for group shots afterwards. Remember some of these folks might not have seen their relatives in years and are coming together for 1st time in years. Funerals can be bittersweet and people will appreciate these pictures.
January 23, 2009 09:08 am
Being a mortician, I can say that I've photgraphed a few funerals at the request of the family. I'd first establish who in the family actually wants your service. Make sure your permission is coming from the nearest relative. (ex. spouse or next of kin) The son or daughter of the deceased may want for you to take the picutures, but the spouse of the deceased (the wife) may not wish any photos to be taken. If this is the case, then you'll have to explain to them that their mother is in disagreement, and that you can't photograph the funeral without her permission. Once permission is established, it wouldn't hurt to ask the person in charge for the type of photos that they'd want for you to take. If they don't have any idea, and they've asked for you to use your own discretion, then, you'll have to establish what would be some nice memory pictures for them. If your photographing in a church, I'd try to stay away from using a flash, if possible. Don't rush up to the casket, WALK SLOWLY. Use common sense. Keep a relative distance between the family, the deceased and your camera. A lens having both a wide angle and telephoto design will help significantly. (ex. 28-105mm lens or a 18-200mm lens) If the church has a balcony, you can take a few photos from this angle, too. Use discrection when photographing their relatives and friends, especially when they're expressing their grief. Those usually sitting on the first row or pew of either the funeral home or church will suffice. Take wide angle shots of everyone else. When you're at the cemetery, remember to keep your distance. Remember....photograph respectfully. You can photograph the casket being removed from the hearse and being placed onto the lowering device. If the deceased is having a military funeral, you can photograph the "honor guard " with their rifles and the presenting of the flag to the next of kin. If the family, relatives and friends are accustomed to depositing a flower on the casket as a farewell jesture, you should photograph it. When the family is finally dismissed at the cemetery, and are returning to their cars, you can then approach the casket and take a few up close and distance photographs of the casket, flowers, etc. Just relax and be yourself. Good Luck!
January 23, 2009 09:05 am
Wear black. And remember that like a wedding, funerals will not be all be the same. My grandfather legislated that my grandmother wear her bright red dress, and that we all meet up afterwards at the Officer's Club for a party (and to take shots of whiskey in his memory).
Also - don't insist on the family seeing the photos immediately. That has to be their decision. I filmed a movie of my grandfather a month before he died, and I still haven't been able to watch the movie five years later.
Maybe ask the family what shots of the service they would like in particular - different religions have different rituals, so be sure to familiarize yourself with them.
If the family would like to have pictures of guests, prepare a query in advance: "The family requested that I take photos of other family members today. Would you mind?" I don't know if that would be the best way to ask, but whatever way you do it, it has to be tactful - you don't want to incite anger on what should be a day to mourn.
January 23, 2009 09:03 am
I had often thought about what photographing a funeral would entail. Personally, I came to the conclusion that it's just one of those times that you don't photograph regardless of the reason. You should get in contact with the funeral director a few days in advance and ask their opinion. I would even ask the family again if they are sure this is something they want as they are probably still in shock and looking to still "keep" their family member around as long as possible.
Whatever happens, good luck and my sympathies.
January 23, 2009 08:59 am
Travel light and give your subjects room to breathe. Eye contact can be a big thing too. If you can somehow communicate to your subjects (nonverbally) that you're not trying to exploit the situation, it'll go more smoothly.
January 23, 2009 08:54 am
Long lens, stay out of the way, respect the mourning process - put it before your art. One commenter mentioned bringing his tilt-shift lens - really?
January 23, 2009 08:43 am
I photographed my stepmother's mom's funeral, and it was a bit awkward at first, especially since I don't know my stepmom's family super well. But eventually, I learned to just step to the background and look for moment. I looked for moments of emotion and sympathy--there were lots of hugs going around. Find the smiles, but remember the reason too. Try to find moments of grace.
January 23, 2009 08:41 am
As a minister, I take an awful lot of funerals, and have virtually never had any of them photographed. I would have no problem with it, but would always appreciate knowing before hand. You'll probably be taking photos over people's heads, so ask the person taking the funeral when the congregation will be standing / sitting - it would be annoying to find that the perfect shot you've just set up is suddenly turned into the backs of heads. It is also important to discuss with the funeral directors, and whoever is in charge of the venue where the service is to take place - either a church or a chapel. You may be able to get some shots of the venue either before or after the service that would be distracting during the service. If the coffin is to be carried up a pathway or drive to the church/chapel, a side shot of the procession could be a good one to take, and when you're inside, if you don't want to be distracting, and the aisle is long enough, a shot from the back on a tripod with no flash during the service is probably the best shot to be taking, especially if the venue is beautiful. Other than that, find out if there is anything different about the service (horse-drawn hearse, particular flowers, bagpipes, etc.) and make sure that they're included (and you have their permission, if necessary). The sight that I've always found most poignant (over in the UK, where I am) is when the coffin is in the grave, and a few handfuls of soil and several single red roses have been scattered on top of the coffin. Very sad, moving, and beautiful.
My guess is that what the family want is the venue, the flowers, the people paying tribute, the minister, the hearse, the bearers, but not intimate close-ups of them crying.
Good luck - it's not an easy thing to do, especially if you knew the person yourself.
January 23, 2009 08:39 am
If you want to capture faces, but not be so obvious as to point a camera lens in the face, try the SPY LENS from PHOTOJOJO.. this could help a lot.
January 23, 2009 08:38 am
As a person who recently had to plan a funeral (for my grandmother, who was 90), I want to point out something that hasn't been mentioned - The funeral director and the casket are likely on the scene long before any mourners (even the family) show up. At my grandmother's funeral, we (the family) were expected to be there at 8:30, but the publicized viewing didn't start until 9:00. Our director informed us that he'd be there as early as 7:30 and would likely be set up by 8:00. The family can get you in touch with the funeral director (and possibly warn him/her in advanced). You can likely get some shots of the deceased for the half hour before the family shows up...and you may even be able to get some shots of the family mourning before any of the crowds appear. That should be a fine window of opportunity to get some of your more important shots. Especially since I expect you'll want to pack up the tripod before any questioning eyes appear.
January 23, 2009 08:33 am
I was recently at my Grandfather's funeral and my grandmother was adamant that no photos were to be taken while my father was adamant that I would be taking photos. Being one of the family, front row, dropping the coffin in etc, it was a bit hard to be conspicuous with a camera, but I managed to slip away for a few different moments and take some shots with my mini 35mm Leica (sorry I know it is not digital but I did scan it so maybe that counts?) that I could just hide in my pocket. I was lucky that I had a scenic Scottish highland backdrop to the funeral and so got some beautiful shots from afar of the church and burial. Afterwards I got some good shots at the wake of family and friends together.
Anyway things I learned:
-Keep your distance during the funeral and burial, use a long lens or get scenic landscapes, but (if the funeral is anything like a Scottish one) at the wake/post funeral get some good shots of people together.
-Talk to the priest before hand, I managed to get him to pose for some quite dramatic fire and brimstone shots with my father outside the church.
-It really helps to go for the photo essay/story approach, if you knew the person then try to find things that relate to them at their funeral; inanimate objects, moments and people.
Hope this helps.
January 23, 2009 08:05 am
I'd see if I could go to the funeral home (at about the time the service is supposed to be) before-hand to help visualize what kind of light will be available, what space you have to work with, and see if the Funeral Director has any recommendations. I mean... he sees a whole lot of these things, he might have a few pointers, and he definitely knows the location.
January 23, 2009 07:55 am
I'd be very careful about who you photograph. A lot of people will probably be very hesitant to have their picture taken while in mourning, so if there's an opportunity to ask first, consider doing it.
I'd focus most on the service itself, as opposed to the wake, unless your friend is looking for group shots. Have you asked what kind of photos they'd like? That might help.
January 23, 2009 07:54 am
This might sound disrespectful and creepy, but I've always wanted to photograph a funeral. There is so much emotion to be captured, and there is nothing scary about a dead body.
I'd use a monopod (less conspicuous) and do what you can to document and capture everything, all the while being respectful. Good luck.
January 23, 2009 07:54 am
I'd start by capturing things like tributes - piles of flowers with photos of the person among them.
Little details of the venue to start with. Taking pictures of inanimate objects, candles etc at the beginning will get people used to your presence and the fact that you are taking photos.
Perhaps introduce yourself to some people who are attending who you haven't met before and explain that you are taking some pictures to share with those who could not attend.
Maybe they would like a photo taken? If not, they might pass the message on to others in the gathering that you're taking pictures in a sensitive manner - not to splash on your Facebook profile or anything inconsiderate.
Be respectful of others' grief (I'm sure you are feeling it yourself), and let them know how you will use their picture if they allow you to take it.
For the benefit of those who are not attending, make sure you get the size of the gathering, the location, special vehicles, flags or anything individual to the celebration of this person they knew and loved. If they were a keen sailor and there is a model boat on display for instance.
The immediate family, partner and children will be faces friends recognise so ask if they are comfortable with you taking a few pictures of them.
Perhaps avoid using a flash as it's liekly to irritate attendees.
Good luck and share with us how it goes :)
January 23, 2009 07:51 am
I never had such a hard assignment, but I think I would be terrified.
Alain, your tips actually made a lot of sense to me, thank you.
It would be nice to know what was the experience of the photographer and how he felt while shooting there. I'm not asking for the morbid details nor even the photos, of course, but rather a brief description of how people reacted and the way to approach them.
January 23, 2009 07:47 am
How would I photograph a funeral? I wouldn't. The mere thought of it is just plain creepy. :(
January 23, 2009 07:42 am
Might seem obvious... dont use a flash!
Also, make sure the people know what you are doing and why.
Generally, people are not really in the mood to be shot at a funeral so if you have to do it you make to be quick to show respect and not disturb anyone. The best trick I could say would be to pre-visualize the framing of every shot before even putting the camera up.
Also, if your camera has a low noise shutter mode, use it!
One the artistic side, funeral home are a very nice place: luxurious and interesting lightning. Try to make use of it. Dont forget that you dont have to have the faces well exposes, what is important it to shoot the event and capture the mood.
If I had to do such an assignment, I would bring my 17-40, 50, 70-200 and a 24 Tilt -shift.
January 23, 2009 07:41 am
I have photographed several funerals. Very sad, but a wonderful gift of memory to honor the loved one who has passed. I have a few rules I follow. I try to never photograph mourners faces, this is difficult to accomplish when it is a military funeral and the flag is being presented. I try to be as unobtrusive as possible and set my camera so I don't use flash. Meet with the family to ask what they want. With the last funeral I photographed, the family asked for pictures of the deceased in the casket. I set the pictures in a video cd (set to play in a dvd player) with music and use a fade feature and gift it to the family.
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