Funeral Photo Etiquette

Mother and daughter at a funeral
Be sensitive and ask permission before taking a funeral picture. Monashee Frantz/Getty Images

Some of the most common questions I'm asked about etiquette involve funerals. It's not typically something we enjoy discussing, but it's essential to know proper behavior at this somber time. The last thing we should do is offend the family members of the deceased, so it's best to learn funeral etiquette and follow it. Occasionally, I'm stumped by the questions, and this is one of those times.

Here it is:

Question

After the funeral of my friend's grandpa, I started seeing pictures of him lying in his casket all over social media. That doesn't seem right to me. What is the proper etiquette of posting pictures of dead people?

Answer

I just had to pick my chin up off the floor. To say I'm stunned that anyone would take a photo of a deceased man in his casket and then upload it to social media is putting it mildly. I think that's a terrible thing to do. The person who did this obviously doesn't understand the nature of a funeral … or doesn't care.

I've seen a trend toward people taking photos and videos of everything they encounter throughout the day. Having a camera on your cell phone makes it so convenient that we often don't think twice before whipping it out and snapping away. However, there are times when it's more appropriate to be in the moment rather than trying to immortalize it with pictures, and this is one of those times.

Funeral Photography Guidelines

As I did research on this topic, I discovered that there are professional photographers who specialize in funerals. They have a strict code of ethics that include showing respect for the family members and not doing anything that might add pain to what the survivors are already experiencing.

If you see someone who has been contracted to photograph the funeral, put your camera away and let the person who knows what they're doing cover it. If there isn't someone professionally taking pictures, use extreme discretion before whipping out your camera or cell phone.

I am personally against taking pictures at a funeral—at least in the room where the service is held. It seems disrespectful and crass, and it comes across as an invasion of privacy. The very thought of posting a picture of the deceased in a casket on social media is appalling and should never happen.

Here are some tips on taking pictures at funerals:

  • Never photograph anyone at a funeral without asking permission first. The best person to ask is the closest family member of the deceased.
  • If you are asked or given permission to photograph anything at the funeral, don't use flash. The bright light would be too distracting during a somber time.
  • Be as inconspicuous as possible.
  • Never take a smiling selfie beside the casket.
  • If you feel a powerful urge to take a picture with someone else who is attending the funeral, wait until after the service. It's best if you go outside or wait until you are in a different location so you don't disrupt the family and friends of those who are grieving.
  • Don't post any photos of the deceased on any form of social media. Doing so is disrespectful and shows a lack of empathy toward the people who lost a loved one.

Case for Hiring a Professional Photographer

If you are the person arranging the funeral, you may want pictures for your memory book. If you can afford it, you might want to consider hiring a professional to cover it for you.

Here are some benefits of hiring a professional funeral photographer:

  • You can get references from friends or the funeral home to make sure the photographer is right for the occasion.
  • They have a code of ethics that they must follow.
  • You can tell others to put their cameras and phones away because only the professional is allowed to take pictures. Although this might not work for everyone, most people will honor your wishes. It also decreases the chance of having someone post a picture on social media.

    Even though I see the value of hiring a professional photographer for a funeral, I still prefer the rule of no pictures of the deceased lying in the casket. When someone I care about passes away, I want to remember him or her during happier times.