Can you have a photographer at a funeral?

A photographer will sensitively document a funeral’s poignant moments. It’s an art that’s quite different from other event photography - and there’s a growing demand for it.

There’s a growing number of professional funeral photographers, and it’s perfectly fine to hire one if it feels right for you and your family.

Why have a photographer at a funeral

Photographing big events and occasions is normal in the age of social media

It’s up to the family or funeral organiser if they view a funeral as this sort of occasion. Some may consider it off-limits to the camera - and see it as intruding on people’s private sadness. 

For others, it may feel right to photograph the day, perhaps because:

  • they see it as no different from other big family events like weddings and christenings;

  • the send-off they’re creating is more of a celebration of life, emphasising happy memories rather than loss;

  • it’s a chance to photograph relatives all together - which can feel special even under sad circumstances;

  • they’d like professional photographs rather than pictures taken on guests’ phones;

  • they’d like to share the funeral with people who cannot be there in person.

You can photograph all or part of a funeral

Some people like to document every aspect of the funeral, from the arrival of guests through to the wake – and all the quiet moments in between. For some, the graveside may feel too private for photos. Every family or funeral arranger’s decision is different.

Covid-19 made cameras at funerals more normal

During the pandemic, the UK government limited how many mourners could attend a funeral. With people looking for ways to allow more people to see funerals without being there in person, there was a rise in live streaming. This is where you watch the funeral online as it happens, on a social media site like Facebook or a private link.

Many crematoria have offered this for free during the pandemic. It’s likely that it will only become more popular even as the government lifts restrictions, because it means friends all over the world can watch a funeral if they cannot travel to it.

What to expect from a funeral photographer

Many funeral photographers also do other big events, but they’re likely to approach funerals differently

It’s not like at weddings or christenings where they capture groups of people posing and smiling. A funeral photographer will typically take candid photography. This means they will not direct guests or ask for poses, but rather will observe in a discreet way.

Their role is to capture poignant moments and details - like people hugging or walking together, or throwing flowers onto the grave. They may also take photos of the funeral director carrying out their duties, pallbearers and anyone else involved - depending on what the family asks for.

If formal group photographs of your family at the funeral are something you’d like too, it’s OK to ask for that. Typically, though, the style that funeral photographers offer is documentary photography – observing events rather than coordinating scenes.

Generally it’s best not to take photos as a guest at a traditional funeral

Or post on social media – because it’s likely that at least one person will find this inappropriate.

Funerals are very private for some people, and it’s important to respect that. But as with all aspects of funeral etiquette, it can be wise to follow the family’s lead. If in doubt about something, ask them or the funeral director.

Good funeral photographers know how to be in a family’s company when they’re sad

They’ll be looking at the funeral through their lens but seeking to reflect your family’s feelings about it. So, it’s important that they feel like a good fit and that you talk through your needs before the day.

The photographer will want to get a good sense of your family and the person who’s died, and the type of send-off you’re creating. This will help them blend in with you on the day and produce a fitting set of photographs.

It’s worth asking around the family before booking a photographer

People generally expect there to be a photographer at weddings at christenings, but it’s quite a new trend for funerals. So it can be a good idea to ask around and see how people feel about it.

It can also be worth thinking about whether the person who’s died would have wanted a photographer at their funeral. Some people include this sort of thing in their funeral wishes, so you may have an idea. But if you do not, a conversation with your relatives or friends can help.

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How to hire a photographer

Some photographers work directly with funeral directors

In that case, the funeral director can help you organise the photography. If not, an internet search for funeral photographers in your area should turn up some options. 

Their service can cost anywhere from £400 to £1,000. The fee will cover the time the photographer spends attending the funeral, their travel costs, and the photo editing. 

The photographer’s distance from you may influence the fee, although most will say on their website the area they cover for their standard fees. If there’s more than one location - say a crematorium service followed by a wake at your house - this can affect the cost.

You can have a photographer at a memorial or ash-scattering ceremony, too. It depends on what’s right for you and your family. 

Photographers generally supply high-resolution images in a private gallery, which will be downloadable so you can keep them. They can provide them in colour or black and white - or both - and create an online slideshow of the images, perhaps adding music to make it into a tribute video. 

Some photographers also offer funeral videography and live streaming as extra services.

What to do with the photographs

Once you have the photos, there are lots of ways to feature or share them

If you like the idea of showcasing them, here are some ideas:

  • Send them to friends and family using the web link the photographer provided, or email them a selection.

  • Get some printed, and put them in an album or frame.

  • Make a book of them - there are websites where you can upload your selection of images and design a book using a template.

  • Add some of them to an online tribute page.

Some people do none of the above, preferring to keep funeral photos as something to look at privately from time to time - and that’s fine, too.

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