Can I take pictures of the guests during a funeral? Is it allowed to take a picture of the casket? What if it’s an open casket? Would taking photos of a burial service be inappropriate? These are all valid questions that may go through your mind if you are attending a funeral in the near future.
Let’s talk about photographic ethics.
If you are attending a funeral as a guest, my first and foremost advice is to ask questions. Photos of the event may be important keepsakes to you, but it is wise to ask the host for permission before you snap pictures left and right. Remember that a funeral is a sensitive time for many people and offense could be taken if questions are not asked. Just approach your host and explain that you would like to take photos of the guests, the decorations, even the body if that is important to you. If they feel uncomfortable, they will ask you to refrain from photography, and if they allow you to take pictures, you will feel freedom to do so with the ease of permission.
There are some cultures and religions that prohibit the taking of pictures, especially of a dead body. The best way to know of these restrictions is to ask your host. Some of the guests may feel uncomfortable being photographed as well, especially when emotions are running high and some people may be crying. Remember my advice: ask questions. Approach a table of guests with your camera and ask, “would anyone mind of I took a photo of your table?” This is simply a polite way to make your intentions known and ask for permission. The likelihood that you will be turned down is minimal, and everyone will feel comfortable being in a photo if they previously agreed to it.
What about the burial service?
A burial service provides for some great aesthetic opportunities for photography. Pictures of the pall bearers marching the casket to the plot, the guests gathered around the grave, a flag ceremony or servicemen performing “Taps.” These photos could be beautiful reminders of a lovely service that many people worked hard to put together. If you’ve been given permission, I would encourage you to focus your lens specifically on the burial proceedings. A word of caution, however: the burial is often the most emotional part for friends and family members of the deceased. Be sensitive and aware of their feelings before you take pictures of them during this time. They may want to look back on the ceremony and the support of the burial services, but the emotions they were feeling in that moment may be too painful to relive in a close-up photograph of their face.
In summary, always ask for permission before you photograph a funeral and be sensitive to those who are in attendance. Pictures can be a beautiful keepsake and a lovely gift, but only if they are acquired in the appropriate fashion.