Breaking the taboo of funeral photos

Given the almost universal trend for documenting every aspect of our lives using our smartphone cameras, from holiday destinations to what we’re having for dinner, it’s little surprise that there are an increasing number of photographs taken at funerals.

A 2015 survey showed that one third of mourners admitted to taking "selfies" at funerals, mainly to get sympathy on social media. Many are in bad taste and highlight a lack of awareness that sharing pictures from a funeral on social media can cause real distress for grieving relatives.

But the strong reaction people have to funeral photographs is not just about selfie sharing on social networks - people are generally not particularly comfortable with the idea of taking photographs at a funeral.

Many people bristle at the thought of funeral photographs, seeing it as disrespectful and an invasion of mourners’ privacy. Some people question why anyone would want to remember such a sad affair in photographic detail. Others are distressed by the notion of posing for a funeral photograph the way they might for a wedding photograph, feeling that they need to hide their emotions for the sake of the camera.

But there is a small but growing consensus that, if we record every other significant event in our life, why not the passing of our loved ones?  For many families, a funeral is one of the very few times that all members of the extended family come together in one place, making it a unique opportunity to capture a truly cross-generational photograph.

A unique family memento

So whilst some may perceive it to be a bad idea to take out your iPhone to shoot a quick selfie or gather together grieving family members for a photo opportunity, considerate funeral photography can provide a unique family memento of a special time.

If you plan to take photographs at the funeral of a friend or family members, be sure to ask permission of the family members organising the funeral. You should also ask the permission of the location where the funeral service is taking place. The attending funeral director may also be able to give advice.

While you can take photographs yourself, there is a growing number of professional funeral photographers who will ensure that photographs are taken discreetly and sensitively. A good funeral photographer can cover all aspects of the send-off, from the service to the wake.

Funeral photography isn’t to everyone’s taste, but as more and more people come to see funerals as celebrations of a life past rather than a sombre mourning ritual it is likely we will start to see professional photographers document the proceedings the way they would a wedding or a christening.

Funeral photographer Alison Burke says on her website: “More and more we are seeking to commemorate the life of the person we are bidding farewell to in a celebratory and positive manner.”

She explains that funeral photographs have to do some good for those who remain in life. “It has to be carried out thoughtfully, with compassion and respect, but above all else, it must come from the heart, and when it does, it can be a beautiful and touching way to remember this significant moment.”