Taking Photos at a Funeral
Can I take pictures of the guests during a funeral? Can I take a picture of the casket? Is taking photos of a burial service inappropriate? Since everyone has a smartphone with a built-in camera, these are all valid questions if you attend a funeral in the near future.
While most modern sensibilities shudder at the thought of posing with loved ones after they pass away, funeral photography is nothing new. As photography became mainstream in the late Victorian era, it was a mark of prestige and honor to take a formal photo of the deceased (called a memento mori), often with the deceased person in a lifelike pose or with the whole family gathered round.
Always Ask Permission
Photos of the event may be important keepsakes to you, but it is wise to ask the host for permission. If they feel uncomfortable, they will ask you to refrain from photography. If they allow you to take pictures, do so discreetly and without using the flash, to avoid disrupting those who are mourning at the service. Because funerals are often an occasion where friends and family members who haven’t seen each other for many years are in the same room, the temptation to capture the moment may be strong. If you would like to snap a picture of relatives at the service, do so outside of the building either before or after the service. The wake is a time when tears often turn to smiles, and memories can be captured.
Can I photograph the body?
In almost all instances, photographing the person who has passed is considered to be in extremely poor taste. In fact, there are some cultures and religions that prohibit the taking pictures of a dead body. If you are attending a funeral, it’s a good idea to ask before you take photos with your camera or phone. Some of the guests may feel uncomfortable being photographed, especially when emotions are running high and some people may be crying. Respect the difficulty of the situation and give these people privacy. There is no need to snap a shot of someone who is clearly in mourning.
Photographing the burial service
A burial service provides for some great aesthetic opportunities for photography. Pictures of the pall bearers carrying the casket, a variety of guests gathered around a grave, servicemen performing “Taps,” or a folded military flag. If done tastefully, these photos may become keepsake reminders of significance for a family. If you’ve been given permission, focus your camera’s lens specifically on the burial proceedings. Be discrete and tread carefully. The burial is often the most emotional part for friends and family members of the deceased. It is not the time to ask anyone to smile for a photo. Be sensitive and stay aware of mourners feelings during this time. It is probably a good idea to avoid getting close-up photography of anyones faces.
Remain sensitive to those who are in attendance. If done correctly, photography of a burial service can be a beautiful reminder of the love shared and the care taken to honor and celebrate the life of a dear loved one. While you may not be ready to look at the funeral photos for quite some time, they can become an important future reminder of love and loss. And remember, always ask for permission.