How to Choose a Proper Obituary Photo: Step-By-Step

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When you lose a loved one, you may be overwhelmed with all the items on your to-do list. While some of the items on this list are essential, such as choosing the funeral home and picking a casket or an urn, other items are optional.

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You may want to create a funeral slideshow, complete with images of the deceased with family and friends. You may also want to pick out a photograph of your loved one to be printed or displayed with the obituary.

A picture can be a good idea if the deceased had a common name. Also, many people remember faces better than names and will be able to identify your loved one based on an image instead of the accompanying text.

Here’s how to choose the right obituary photo. 

Tip: Choosing the perfect obituary photo might be just one of the tasks you're facing for the first time after losing a loved one. For help prioritizing the rest, check out our post-loss checklist

What Does a Great Obituary Photo Look Like? 

An obituary photo should be a crisp image instead of one that’s grainy and out of focus. It should be cropped tightly, so the viewer can clearly see the deceased’s face. Finally, it should also meet publication guidelines for the newspaper or website.

Some people have strong opinions as to whether the photograph should be as current as possible or one from the past. Most people choose not to use a picture taken during the person's final illness but may select the most recent photo of the person looking happy and healthy. 

Other families may choose photos of the deceased from his or her earlier years. They may pick an attractive photo taken during the prime of his or her life, even if the image was 40 or 50 years old. Whether you choose an old or current photo is up to you and the other members of your family. 

Avoid the following types of photographs for your loved one's obituary:

  • Group photos
  • Grainy, out-of-focus photos
  • Photos that are taken from too far away
  • Unflattering photos
  • Photos that may be in poor taste
  • Photos that imply the manner of death

Here are some step-by-step guidelines to help you choose a photo for your loved one's obituary. As you go through the pictures, you may decide to put some aside for a memorial collage or a slideshow that you may want to create for the visitation or funeral service.

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Step 1: Decide Whether You Want to Use a Current or Past Photograph for the Obituary Photo

You may find yourself with plenty of time to take a stroll down memory lane and go through the photographs at a leisurely pace. Or you may be frantic with all you have to do and know you must make a quick decision on the obituary photo.

If you don't have much time, you might find it helpful to narrow the focus of your search. If you want to use as current a photo as possible, look through phone camera rolls or recently downloaded images. If you're going to use an old photograph, dig out the old boxes of photos or albums.

You may not have many photo options because there are few photographs of the deceased available. If that is the case, you will have to select the best quality photograph you can from that slim selection.

Step 2: Consider the Quality of the Photo

Probably the most critical consideration to make when choosing an obituary photo is its quality. While you don't need to select a photo taken by a professional photographer, it should be a crisp image. Photographs can be slightly lightened or darkened during the editing process but there’s no fix for a blurry picture. 

Quality does matter but the size of the photograph does not. The photo that you use will be digitized (if it isn't a digital photo already) and all digital images can be resized. 

Step 3: Understand Where the Photograph May Be Used

The obituary photo may be used in several different places. Make sure you understand whether your photo meets the necessary guidelines for each publication.

First, many funeral homes list obituaries on their websites. A photograph often accompanies a person's obituary on these sites.

Second, you may choose to have your loved one's obituary published in one or several local papers. Some newspapers charge for publishing a photo alongside the obituary, so make sure you understand the pricing before you submit it. The price may vary depending upon how large the image is printed in the paper. Prepare yourself to pay hundreds to have a photograph appear in larger metropolitan papers. 

Finally, some people choose to print a photo and obituary in a funeral pamphlet that is distributed at the services. 

Step 4: Learn the Photo Submission Guidelines

The staff at the funeral home may help you submit your photograph for all your desired publications. In fact, most newspapers will not print obituaries unless a funeral home staff member verifies the death, so you may not be able to work directly with the newspaper staff to get an obituary published anyway.

Some funeral homes may ask you to submit a digital photo of your loved one for the various publications. If the photo was taken from a digital camera or phone, this would not be a problem. Simply email the picture to the funeral home with the .jpg image attached to the email.

If you choose a printed photograph to be used for the obituary photo, you will need to have the image scanned into a digital format before it can be used. Ask the funeral home staff if they can digitize photos. You can also take a photograph to a copy or office supply store and pay to have the photo scanned so it can be used. You may need to give the person scanning the photograph special instructions if you wish for it to be cropped. 

Keep in mind that most obituary photos are cropped as a vertical rectangle. Most obituary photos in newspapers are printed in black and white while online images are displayed in color. Even if the newspaper photo is printed in black and white, you can still submit a color photograph. 

Step 5: Ask the Funeral Home Staff for More Information

When you make arrangements for your loved one's funeral services, the funeral home staff will probably walk you through the process of submitting information and photographs for the obituary. Someone available on staff may be happy to write an obituary.

Since each funeral home and newspaper may have unique policies for obituary submission, make sure you understand your responsibilities. They will also help you with obituary etiquette if you are unsure of what type of information to disclose. 

Finding the Right Photo

Don't worry if you have never had any experience planning a funeral. Professionals who work in the death industry are trained to walk grieving family members through the process of honoring their loved ones. They will help you in every part of the process, from giving you advice on what clothes to provide for your loved one in an open casket to writing an obituary. The funeral home director is also knowledgeable about the legal steps that must be taken after someone dies. You are paying for their services. Let them assist you.

At any time, you may begin planning your own funeral services. You may prepay for your casket and funeral, write your own obituary, and choose your own obituary photograph. Family members and friends may be uncomfortable with this process but it’s a loving thing to do. Take care of those difficult and complicated decisions now so your loved ones don't have to while they’re in mourning. 

If you're looking for more on obituaries, read our step-by-step guide on how to submit an obituary to a newspaper.

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