For most of us, most of the time, photography is a fun and joyful activity, where we get to do something we enjoy and share it with others. Indeed, all the time and all over the world, professional photographers are asked to immortalize the happiest times of people’s lives: beginnings of families and lives, important rituals, celebrated accomplishments. Having someone ask you to photograph a funeral is obviously very different – on many levels.
Note: All the images in this article have been approved for use here by the families. No images have been used without written permission for this sensitive subject matter.
Photography of a funeral
Although a funeral may not seem like the kind of event people would seek to remember, it often is. After all, it’s an important ritual, a celebration of a life, and a gathering of people who may not know each other well but who are united in their mourning. In my experience, many people find it important to have their loved one’s funeral documented, even though it’s a photography service that isn’t advertised or discussed as much or in the same way as most others.
To some extent, preparing to photograph a funeral differs little from any other photography job. There are obviously some unique considerations, though, and in this article, I’ll go through both the similarities and the important differences.
Remember, don’t photograph a funeral as your first photography job – or even your second. It’s something that calls for a professional and calm attitude, a lot of experience, and high-quality work.
Before the funeral
The funeral is a very important event to the person asking you to photograph it. However, funeral photography isn’t discussed as much as other kinds, there are no magazines or fairs about it, and there’s little sharing in social media. So good communication with the customer is even more important than usual. Remember that the person you’re dealing with may not be able to express exactly what they want and that they will naturally be stressed and upset.
Note: If you can, taking some photos before the mourners enter the venue is a good idea. Always ask before entering, though.
The most important things you need to find out before the ceremony are:
- When and where will the ceremony take place? If possible, visit the place beforehand to familiarize yourself with the venue and the lighting situation.
- What kind of ceremony is it? If it’s one that’s unfamiliar to you, make sure you learn all you can about it.
- Which photographs are particularly important to the customer? For instance, someone might want you to focus on the sermon, the eulogy, the mourners, or the religious details.
- What kind of relation does the customer have to the deceased?
On the day of the funeral, wear something dark and shoes that will let you move around without causing a disturbance. Naturally, be sure to be at the venue on time, greet your customer and offer your condolences.
The biggest challenge when photographing a funeral is finding the right balance between getting beautiful photos and not disturbing the ceremony. Make sure to be quiet and to avoid blocking the mourners’ view, but remember that you have been paid to capture the event. They’ve asked you to help family and friends remember a momentous day and the life of a loved one.
The photos you need to make sure to capture depend on the kind of ceremony in question, so these are very general points:
- Mourners paying their respects.
- The essential parts of the religious (if it is religious) ceremony.
- The burial and final goodbyes.
You’ve been asked to photograph a very intimate event, so remember that photographing the guests needs to be done discreetly and with respect. To many, these are some of the most important photographs: they signify different parts of the deceased person’s rich life and represent the people in whose memories the deceased will continue to live on. Some might want a group photo of all the guests.
Another important part is the details and specific parts of the ceremony, such as the flower arrangements, the lowering of the coffin, and the priest or leader of the ceremony.
After the funeral
When the ceremony (or the part of it you have been asked to photograph) is over, let your customer know you’re leaving, offer your condolences again, and compliment them on how beautiful the event was.
Immediately afterward, go home, and back up your photos. Then, give yourself a breather and take care of yourself. Being a part of this kind of event might affect you more than you realize.
The processing happens the way it always does. Just remember to be very respectful and create the most tasteful pictures you can.
Funerals are events of sorrow, of remembering, and of togetherness – it’s important to capture all of that, not only the darkness. What do you think?
Do you have any other tips or warnings for someone who has been asked to photograph a funeral? Please share your advice and opinions in the comments below.