Cemeteries are far more than the final resting place for those we love. Many traditions and practices revolving around burial and end-of-life are not just for function but to bring solace and comfort to those left grieving. Cemeteries are treasure troves of information, from history to culture, to art and natural beauty—they are testaments to a legacy.
Cemetery photography also is an art form that many professionals and amateurs alike seek to capture the essence of these legacies and moments of time and history. Many cemeteries worldwide are filled with opportunities for grasping historical gravestones, scenic landscapes, and architectural marvels. Suppose you've wondered how to begin catching local history and legacies via graveyard photography and are seeking some fantastic tips to get you started. In that case, we hope you'll find great tips and techniques below.
Why It Might Be A Problem
One thing to keep in mind before you decide to start: we have to answer the question: why do people take photographs in graveyards, and is it ok to do? Technically, cemeteries are public spaces where you can take photos within them—a photographer in a cemetery is likely there in their spare time and free will, making photographs because they enjoy it.
This can be an issue for some because families and individuals also visit cemeteries for quiet comfort and to find solace when visiting the grave of a loved one—and the thought of taking photographs during this time can make them feel uncomfortable.
While we may not have any issues with people taking photos within a graveyard, it is essential to understand why others might find it a problem. As a photographer, always consider your approach and what you choose to photograph.
The Way to Photograph in A Graveyard
Not only should you consider your approach to photography, but the way you photograph is also important. Here are some of the key points to keep in mind before snapping a pic:
- Empathy. While you are there, you know that you are visiting to take photographs, and you must prioritize those visiting someone who has passed away. No matter how great the shot may appear, always respect a person's or family's privacy if they visit a loved one's grave, remain quiet, and don't encroach on their space. Never take photos of someone visiting a grave without consent, as no one wishes to feel that their private mourning moment has become a form of photographic theater.
- Unless they consent, it is best to avoid photographing people. If possible, try going during quieter times. You can ask the cemetery caretakers for their observations on which times are the quietest to visit, and you can attempt to get up early to go during morning hours, as there will likely be fewer people. Fewer people mean fewer accidental chances of taking a photo of someone and the space to shoot freely without infringing on someone's privacy.
- Many people think of cemeteries as a place for respect and peace. Shoot documentary style—not editorial style. Editorial style is about creating the perfect shot, often posing models, directing models, picking the ideal spot, possibly lights and backdrops. Documentary style is about capturing candid, unplanned moments that happen naturally, such as a breathtaking sunbeam breaking through a cloud or tree to halo a grave or finding a particularly moving piece of sculpture.
Tips for Photograving Gravestones and Cemeteries
- Get permission. The best way to ensure that no misunderstandings or issues happen is to ensure that you have permission to shoot and follow any rules laid down by the cemetery or property owners.
- Come prepared. Some historical gravesites may be overgrown or require a hike through briars, bushes, and bugs. You will no doubt be spending a few hours or more far away from a vehicle or any electricity source. A good hat, a pair of protective gloves, long pants, and a good pair of hiking boots can help combat thorny foliage and bugs, while a camera battery backup and a camera bag will help keep hands free and equipment within reach. Sunscreen is a must, no matter the weather, and also consider bug spray, paper towels or rages, a notebook with an attached pencil, a soft brush, and clippers—to remove brush obscuring markers and brush away debris if taking monument photos. Make a quick supply list if you are unsure what you will need, so you can appropriately prepare for the photo shoot.
- Never walk on a grave if at all possible.
- Try not to touch headstones if possible, and never touch grave marker keepsakes or artifacts. Do not move anything placed at a grave, like flowers, photographs, or mementos.
- Never photograph during a funeral or if someone is paying their respects.
- Some sites may be sensitive and declared a historical preservation site. Bring as little gear as possible, or choose gear that will not disturb the site. (Heavy or hot lights, dragging large bags or light tripods against the ground, using a tomb marker to support your gear, etc.)
Why Photograph in Cemeteries?
There are many reasons you may choose to photograph within a cemetery, from the peaceful ambiance to natural elements, beautiful topiaries, and stunning monuments—there are many reasons people seek beauty through capturing life and death within the lense. Taking a photo in a cemetery can serve as a means to preserve local history, capture some of the finest examples of architectural designs of the times, and show the beauty of natural landscapes. Suppose photography has always kindled your imagination and passion and a keen interest in delving into these sacred spaces' rich tapestry of history. In that case, we believe you might fall in love with capturing the beauty and serenity of graveyards. We hope these tips will help you on your journey.