Documenting Life Transition ceremonies

In life, we encounter people who color our world in a way that makes it impossible to imagine a life without them in it. Family, friends...loved ones in general...our Life is all-the-more-blessed because they made it so.

So why do we shy away from the notion of hiring a photographer to document the transition ceremony when our loved one moves from this life to what comes next?

They are known by various names: "Celebration of Life"', "Funeral" Wake", etc., and I've had the privilege to document such ceremonies for a select group of clients. For me, it IS a privilege and an honor.

There is a great deal of trust between the family, mourners, attendees and the photographer. It is a delicate dance of privacy mixed with quiet celebration and remembrance.

Those who are in attendance, are vulnerable...emotions run high and low...and nobody wants to be presented with images that show them in this vulnerable state looking raw, harshly real or falling apart.

A professional photographer who is sensitive, empathetic, compassionate and skilled can add an unexpectedly meaningful element to the occasion.

Besides their photographic style, fees and portfolio, you should be looking for a professional photographer who :

1. Is adept at capturing candid moments which... when presented as one cohesive group of images...not only conveys a sense of what it was like to be there in person, but also inspires moments of reflection back to that day or even more personal memories of your loved one who has now passed.

2. Values YOUR privacy above their own need to market the event on social media or elsewhere.

3. Is respectful of the seriousness of this occasion, your wishes and the feelings of those who may appear in images either incidentally or deliberately.

4. Is experienced in candid, documentary or street style photography and understands that their main purpose is to document the events of the day as if a "fly-on-the-wall".

5. Maintains a professional persona and presence, without being intrusive or too obvious (and isn't using flash!)

6. Understands that although they play an important role, their job is to get the photographs requested in a friendly, polite and respectful manner...and go (making certain to express sincere appreciation for being invited and offering words of encouragement, sincere condolences and positive reinforcement.)

7. Offers the service and product you want at a price point which you are comfortable with.

Have you hired a professional photographer to document a Celebration of Life or Funeral and wonder how you can make this process easier?

1. Make time to scout the location WITH the photographer before the actual day of the ceremony!

2. Have an understanding of what you hope to get from this experience and convey that to the photographer in advance. Your emotions and thoughts will be scattered the day of...have a visit and chat with the photographer well before the event so you can focus on what's more important.

3. Ask questions! And understand that the photographer works for you! It is likely they did not have the privilege of knowing your loved one in share some stories about them.

4. Provide them with a Timeline which illustrates key transition times and the order in which the event will progress. (for example: A recent COL ceremony included an honor guard and a military service tradition involving special presentation of the flag and shotgun shells used in the ceremony to the widow. Additionally, there was a video slideshow presented during the viewing...ALL of these elements combined to form a truly touching ceremony that offered a variety of photographic opportunities that may have been overlooked if I didn't have a head's up!)

And finally... but in MY mind, most helpful: Let people who are coming to pay respects or are family, loved ones and friends who are attending the ceremony know that you have asked a professional photographer to document key events of the occasion. Maybe consider including a link or photo and a short paragraph of the photographer to the invitation...or... If at all possible the day of the ceremony, take a moment to introduce the photographer in person to key family members who may be feeling anxiety about appearing in photographs.

Although I don't photograph many of these ceremonies ...I always consider it a sincere privilege to be invited to do so.

If you are wrestling with the desire to document the Celebration of Life or Funeral ceremony of your family member, spouse or dear friend and feel like it might be too macabre or morbid an idea....I hope you come away from reading this blog post with a sense of peace and encouragement. Consider discussing this request with your Funeral Director. Often, they either have a photographer on-staff or can refer one they have worked with and recommend.

It is not as unusual a desire as you might's just that people don't talk about it as openly as other, more joyous occasions of Life.

And I wish you every success in your search for a skilled and compassionate professional photographer who can provide the lasting treasured keepsakes you are looking for.

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©2020 Theresa A Johnson