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Friday, July 27, 2012

Photography and the Funeral - Part 1 The Family Perspective

Photography and the Funeral
Part 1 – The Family

(This is written following the death of my father-in-law. My wife asked me to photograph his funeral as I had done for her mother and her older brother. This is written from the perspective of a traditional Visitation and Graveside service. As funerals take on many different forms, please feel free to read between the lines and adapt to your belief system and style of funeral.)

- First, do you have photographs of the person? If you have a loved one near the end, start pulling photos together. Why? Because today, many funeral homes or other means of service incorporate a large screen television to display those photos.

- Wait, they aren't digital! Most won't be if the person is older than 30. Digital cameras didn't really take off until about the year 2000 so a lot of those images will be prints or negatives and not digital. That's why I said that you need to start pulling them together now so prints can be scanned it. When my father-in-law passed away, I was shocked at how few pictures we had of him. When you take out the ones of him in his t-shirt around the house (in his later years). We had even fewer. Luckily I was able to crop images to provide some head and shoulder shots.

- Do they have to be studio formal shots? I know what I just said about the t-shirt but we had plenty of good shots casually dressed and some of the best ones were when he was looking away talking to somebody else.

- Old photos are GREAT! Some of the family found old photos of pop when he was in his 20s walking down the street smoking that infamous pipe he always smoked until his later years. I loved seeing his wedding pictures.

- Bottom Line, NOW is a good time to pull together photos of family members. Makes for some good family discussions and if you do it beforehand, you can get the stories about them from them. (Please don't tell them why you are gathering photos!)

- OK, now I have bunch of photos with old prints scanned in. What now? Well type up the stories behind them. The story of my great grand-father's gun (civil war shotgun) is an amazing love story of how my great-grandparents met but that's for another day. Type those stories down so others will have them and know who the faces are in the photos.

- Now for another question. A big emotional one. Do you want the funeral photographed?

- Why would you want a funeral photographed? Well, it preserves the memories of who was there. Images are one of the most powerful factors in memory behind smell.

- Isn't there a Guest Sign-In Book? Yes but a lot of people don't sign it for various reasons, they didn't see it, they felt like family doesn't need to or shouldn't, the list does on but for whatever reason, it won't be a complete show of who was there. Also, many may attend the graveside service and not be at the funeral home to sign the book. The photographs will preserve memories that you will want. I know some friends that could not go in and view the body of their loved one. Perhaps years later they will want to look. (I put the images of the casket and body in a separate folder than the guest images so the family can see the people without seeing the loved one until they are ready.)

- Should I ask a family member, “Uncle Bob” (inside photographers joke. Uncle Bob is the family member who often photographs weddings with a point & shoot or basic DSLR). To be blunt, No for several reasons.
- - Most family members may favor certain gusts and omit others.
- - Also, they most likely won't have the equipment and skills to pull it off, at least at visitation. Visitation almost always occurs in very low light, similar to a wedding if not worse.

- Family members do have one advantage, they know the family and know who to be certain to get shots of.

- Who should I ask? Find somebody with low light experience.
- - They will need to shoot with no flash (except perhaps discreetly off to the side out in hallways). (This means they will need a “fast lens”.)
- - They will need to shoot Raw format due to the lighting. (I had some shots that were affected by the lamps with red globes near the casket that through the colors off terribly. Shooting Raw allowed me to fix it easily. Shooting JPEG (like a a Point & Shoot does) makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to fix.
- - They need to be able to shoot at high ISOs without a lot of noise in the image.
- - They need to have a long lens for photographing the graveside service from a discreet distance.

- Now you are sitting there saying, “What is fast glass? What is Raw? And how high an ISO?” You don't need to really know but when you ask somebody, if they don't know the answer, they aren't the right person. (fast glass are lenses with an aperture of 2.8 or lower, useful for low light shooting. Raw is a format that allows a much greater deal of adjustment for photographing in difficult situations.) The person you are looking for will be somebody who may have shot weddings.

How will images be made available for everybody? I have mine on my website but they are permanently locked up under a password that I provide the next of kin. That part of the site will never be open for anybody but the family and whoever the password is given to by the family. If the family member wants photos removed, they are gone, no question asked. If the password leaks out, it can be changes. But the folder for the funerals will never be made available to anybody else for any reason. Period. If you want to see what my work looks like, go look at weddings or something else.

One last question that I hate to bring up but it has to be addressed. What should they be paid? Certainly not what a wedding photographer is paid. If they are family or friends, they should do it as a favor to you. If not, I don't know what to say but the expense of a funeral are so great that most people can't afford a lot. (This is one reason you don't see funeral photographers like you do wedding photographers.)

When you talk to them. Be sure to ask that the photos of the deceased and the casket be put in a separate folder from the other images.  

Part 2 The Funeral and Photography from the Photographer's perspective. 

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