What funeral photography is about in 5 (there’re more!) steps

When I tell people I’m a funeral photographer they can be slightly taken aback. They remove “funeral” from the occupation and replace it with “wedding”.
They think, “How can you be a photographer at a funeral? How can you ask people to smile?"
Well, that’s not quite the point. And here are 5 (there are heaps more) points I’d like to share about being a funeral photographer. It might not be what you first imagine!

Not what people expect

Grandchildren at their grandfather's wake - not the kind of image people expect from a funeral. (The family were thrilled!)

i. A funeral photographer isn't a wedding photographer!

When a wedding photographer turns up at a wedding everyone knows what to expect and how to behave. When I turn up at funerals people don’t know what to expect. They're not in a familiar situation and didn't expect a photographer to be present. There’s no protocol with a funeral photographer so once they've seen you they tend to ignore you. You thus become invisible and it’s at that point that you can take really good photos.

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The widow leaving the church; in the foreground, the priest hugs her son.

ii. Discretion is key to funeral photography

As you move around discretely, you can capture love, tenderness and genuine emotion. No one is performing for the camera. You also do have images of people smiling and laughing, it’s not all blubbering and red eyes from weeping, as people so frequently imagine.

iii. As a funeral photographer you get to capture tenderness

At funerals people are at their most human and it's this that I love capturing.

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I’m interested in people’s humanity. Capturing tenderness. It’s the emotion that people give to each other that is the most moving.

iv. As a funeral photographer you're enabling people to grieve

You perform a service. You’re recording a gathering of people who’ve loved the deceased and it’s that love that you’re capturing. You’re giving them something that they can remember and look at and see a family/friends united. So you are preserving the memory of a person.

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Viv's living room. Viv was an academic who spent his life collecting objets d'art and books/fine prints and would rearrange his room after each purchase. His family wanted this room, so painstakingly cared for, to be recorded as they said, "It's just so Viv. It was his pride and joy."

 

v. As a funeral photographer you're giving something tangible to preserve memories

In the west we’ve dispensed with death. The reminders of death (gravestones) are diminishing. Photos are one of the few ways left of preserving that memory by something tangible.