If you’re like most people, you might have questions about funeral etiquette that you’re just not sure how to ask. After all, we don’t go to funerals all that often, and many people don’t enjoy talking about them, either.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Etiquette for Taking Photos at a Funeral or Memorial Service
- Etiquette for Posting or Sharing Photos at a Funeral
One of those burning funeral etiquette questions has to do with taking photos at a funeral or memorial service. Is it appropriate to snap a photo outside the funeral service? What about inside the venue? Is anyone ever allowed to photograph the casket?
These questions also apply to virtual funerals. You might wonder whether or not it's OK to snap a quick screenshot before, during, or after the service.
There’s no set-in-stone rulebook for funeral behavior, but there are some unwritten dos-and-don’ts that you can follow if you want to play it safe. We’ll go over all of the dos-and-don’ts of funeral photo etiquette, below.
Etiquette for Taking Photos at a Funeral or Memorial Service
Photo etiquette for funerals and other important events was once pretty cut-and-dried. If you wanted to capture an occasion on film, you had to hire a photographer with the proper equipment and skills.
But now, everyone has high-quality photography capabilities in the palm of their hand. And that means the rules are less straightforward. So, here are some basic guidelines for funeral photography.
What to do
Taking photos at a funeral isn’t necessarily prohibited all the time. But there are definitely limits to what you should photograph at a funeral. These are some of the things you should do when it comes to funeral photography.
Most importantly, you should always ask permission from the family before you take any photos. Let them know what kind of photos you’d like to take and ask whether they’re OK with it. If they say no, it’s not appropriate to take any photos.
It’s also essential to ask permission from everyone you want to photograph. For example, ask the priest or whoever’s leading the service if you can take photos of them during the funeral. Ask anyone giving eulogies if they mind being photographed, too.
Check for a professional photographer
If you haven’t had a chance to speak with the family about photos yet, take a look around the funeral home or venue to check for a professional photographer. If you notice someone with professional camera equipment, you can safely leave the task of taking photos to the pro.
And the fact that the family hired a photographer likely means they don’t want guests taking their own photos.
If you have permission to take photos at the funeral, it’s best to be inconspicuous.
Everyone should be aware that you’re taking photos because you’ve asked their permission, so the goal isn’t to keep your photography a secret. Instead, it’s best to stay under the radar to avoid distracting people from the funeral services or being intrusive.
Take photos outside
If you just want photos of the people in attendance at the funeral rather than the service itself, it’s best to take photos outside after the funeral.
Ask family members to gather in a small group for a couple of very quick, commemorative photos. And if you sense the mood isn’t right for photographs (if someone is crying, for example), don’t push the issue.
If you can, it’s even better to wait until a gathering after the funeral, such as the reception (or repast) at a family member’s home.
Ask about screenshots
Generally, the host of a virtual funeral is in charge of taking screenshots. If the funeral is taking place with a service like GatheringUs, it'll probably be recorded in full, too.
So unless the host specifically asks you to do so, you shouldn't take screenshots or record the event if you're invited to a virtual funeral.
What to avoid
Just as there are things you can and should do when it comes to funeral photography, there are also some things you should try to avoid.
If the family permits photography during, before, or after the funeral, it’s best to avoid using flash. Even if the lighting is low, you should make sure the flash function on your camera or phone is well and truly turned off.
The bright, flashing light can detract focus from the services and the funeral as a whole, which may be perceived as disrespectful.
Most people are used to smiling for photos and to casually snapping selfies without much second thought. But at a funeral, it’s not appropriate to take a selfie.
And even though some memorials focus on celebrating the life of the deceased, funerals are traditionally somber affairs. So it’s especially frowned upon to take a selfie where you appear unsympathetic or uncaring towards the bereaved by flashing your pearly whites.
Photographing the casket
It’s never appropriate to photograph the casket, whether it’s closed or open, unless you’re directly asked to do so by the family.
Etiquette for Posting or Sharing Photos at a Funeral
Smartphones gave everyone the ability to snap high-quality photos anywhere, anytime. They also gave us the opportunity to post those photos to the internet in a matter of seconds. It’s easy to lose track of when it’s appropriate to post photos and when it’s not.
One of those times it might not be appropriate is if you have photos from a funeral you’re thinking about sharing. However, sharing funeral photos isn’t always off-limits. Here are some tips if you’re not sure whether you can share a funeral photograph online or not.
What to do
If it’s important to you to post a funeral photo on social media or share it with loved ones online, here’s what you can do.
Ask permission (again)
You may have gained permission to take photos at the funeral or after the service, but you should ask permission to post or share those photos, too.
The family might assume you wanted the photos for your own memory, or to share in-person with loved ones. So it’s always best to make sure they’re on board before you go through with posting any photos from the funeral.
Similarly, you should ask permission from any individuals in the actual photos before you share them on social media.
Rather than posting the photos to social media where anyone can see them, consider sharing them privately.
You can do so by having the photos printed and sending them through the mail, or you can just send out an email with the pictures attached.
Share just one photo to mark the date
If you want to mark the date of the funeral on your social media, it may be best to share just one picture. Choose one of yourself and a close family member or several loved ones, either outside the funeral or at the reception.
It’s still important to ask permission from the family and from the person or people in the photo. But limiting yourself to just one picture shows your respect for the deceased and the family’s privacy.
Share a photo of you and the person who passed away, instead
Instead of posting a picture from the funeral, consider posting a photo of your departed loved one, or yourself with your departed loved one, instead. Doing so marks the occasion of the funeral, but it helps you avoid taking photos at the funeral itself.
Make a memorial
You can post a couple of photos that you took at the reception or outside the funeral service, as well as any meaningful pictures you have of the deceased. Then, send the link to your closest loved ones to share it with them only.
Create a memory book
As an addition or alternative to an online memorial page, you can put together a memory book to share your photos. Print out your photos (or have them printed), and put them together to form a commemorative scrapbook you can show to others.
What to avoid
Although it might sometimes be appropriate to share a funeral photo, there are also some things you may want to avoid.
Sharing photos of others without asking
Going against the cardinal rule of asking permission is the first “don’t” of sharing funeral photos. Even if you gained permission to take photos at the funeral, you shouldn’t share a photo of an individual on social media without asking them first.
Posting too many photos
It might come across as disrespectful to post more than just one or two photos from the funeral reception to your social media.
After all, only a handful of people were invited to the funeral and reception, and it’s an intensely personal event.
Sharing right away
It’s also best to avoid posting a photo from the funeral too quickly. It might look like you’re focused more on your social media than being present with family and friends. Wait until at least the day after the funeral reception, and ideally, a day after that, to post a photo.
Photos from inside the funeral
Just as it’s inappropriate to post too many photos from the funeral or reception, it’s also best not to post photos from inside the funeral venue.
Even if you took photos inside the funeral venue, it’s best to keep those pictures private. Keep in mind that photographs from a funeral, and especially those taken inside or during the service, capture people at one of their most vulnerable times.
Hiring a Professional Funeral Photographer
If it’s important for you to capture moments of the funeral, you might consider hiring a professional photographer. If you’re involved in planning the funeral, search for professional photographers in your area.
Or if you’re a funeral guest, you can offer to pay—or help pay—for a professional photographer if the family agrees they’d like to hire one.
Photographers who offer wedding shoots likely have the gear and skills to photograph a funeral, too. But make sure to ask whether or not they’ve shot funerals before, and ask to see some sample photos.
Hiring a professional photographer for a funeral means you’ll have the photos you want, without worrying about snapping them yourself. It also means you can ask your guests not to take photos on their own cameras or phones, and you can provide them with photos later if they want them.