Someone commented on my previous post, asking good questions. Here’s what they asked:
What I’d like to know is how do you deal with camera noise at a funeral? What do you consider a respectful distance? And have you ever had issues with family at funeral, i.e. asking you to leave or not photograph? How do you deal with such a situation?
Each case is so different. Here are some thoughts…
In most cases, if I’m sent to a funeral, the family is expecting media coverage because it’s usually a big story in the community. The people who work for the funeral home are often good go-betweens for us, to find out what the family’s wishes are with regards to media. In most Mormon funerals, we will photograph the pallbearers carrying the casket from the church and then the graveside service.
Access runs the gamut from full access to none. When the family asks that we not be there, a judgment call has to be made. If it’s a big story with a lot of public interest (like the Trolley Square shooting), we will probably photograph from a long way off so that the family has their solitude. This is always a hard decision to make, but my presence has never caused any confrontation.
The thing to remember about confrontations is that if you get into one, no matter where you are, it’s too late to win. By the time someone is telling you to stop taking photographs, they’re usually not going to change their mind and you have find a way to get around them.
Respectful difference also varies. With a long lens, I don’t have to be close. For this funeral, the mourners gathered around the family, so we were closer than I would have liked. You just have to pay attention to the vibe you’re getting and minimize your impact on the family. I’ve been close and I’ve been far depending on how comfortable they are.
As for camera noise, a couple of things. I use a long lens (at least a 400mm) so that there’s a distance between me and the mourners. And I always set my camera to single shot. I don’t think the sound of the shutter is as distracting as the context.
For example, say a widow bursts into tears and all of a sudden you hear a camera start firing off 8 frames per second. That doesn’t seem right. It’s like a pack of wolves pouncing on a defenseless rabbit.
But if all through the service you’ve heard occasional single shots fired off, you won’t notice when a couple of single shots are taken during an emotional moment. How you conduct yourself, in every way, sends a message.
Most often, it’s the people around the family who are the most defensive. They’re looking out for their loved ones, and that’s commendable behavior. But we are there to tell a story of love and loss. I’ve never been there to exploit the situation.
When my brother-in-law died tragically five years ago, I brought my camera bag to the funeral. As they wheeled his flag-draped casket out of the church, my extended family broke down, faces covered with tears. I felt the pull of my camera but didn’t dare bring it out in the middle of such a sensitive moment.
Through tears, my wife said, “Trent, what are you doing? Get your camera out. We need you to document this moment.”