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Bring your camera to the next funeral 

click to enlarge Photo of my great grandfather's funeral in Centerville, Kansas in the mid 1950's. - UNGEHEUER FAMILY
  • Ungeheuer Family
  • Photo of my great grandfather's funeral in Centerville, Kansas in the mid 1950's.
I recently came across an image of a funeral that I found in a pile of old family photos.

The picture shows a preacher standing over the casket of my great grandfather. My great grandmother and grandfather are seated in the background.

I am struck by the fact that a photographer in the 1940s made it his business to record this event. It brings to mind the importance of recording family events — even funerals.

Funerals allow families the chance to reconnect, share memories and mourn the passing as well as celebrate the life of a family member.

This old family picture really captured my imagination. It's also taken on new significance as I attend and photograph funerals and memorial services of my own family and others that may be more newsworthy.

There are, of course, a couple of rules about funeral photography.
click to enlarge My children, Jacob, Abby and Harper, explore the gravestones at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Wheatridge, Colorado before my godmother's funeral service. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • My children, Jacob, Abby and Harper, explore the gravestones at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Wheatridge, Colorado before my godmother's funeral service.

The most obvious is to get permission from those in mourning to photograph the service.

Also, pay particular attention to visual cues. It’s ok to photograph emotion, but sadness and grief are intimate and private emotions.

click to enlarge My Uncle David places his hands on his wife's casket during her funeral in Pleasonton, Kansas. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • My Uncle David places his hands on his wife's casket during her funeral in Pleasonton, Kansas.

I make an extra effort to make eye contact with anyone I photograph. Even without speaking I know after making eye contact whether it’s ok to take their picture.

click to enlarge Pearl Harbor survivors attend a Pearl Harbor memorial service at the Air Force Academy. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Pearl Harbor survivors attend a Pearl Harbor memorial service at the Air Force Academy.

Besides sadness and grief, keep an eye out for happiness and joy, too. Experience has taught me that just like weddings, there’s usually a moment of happiness worth recording as well.

click to enlarge My stepfather scatters my mother's ashes during a memorial service for her in Centerville, Kansas. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • My stepfather scatters my mother's ashes during a memorial service for her in Centerville, Kansas.

To illustrate, I've included images from funerals and memorial services — including some from my own family — that I and my wife Cathy have photographed over the years.

click to enlarge Casket bearers take a smoke break during a funeral in Pueblo, Colorado. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Casket bearers take a smoke break during a funeral in Pueblo, Colorado.
click to enlarge My wife, Cathy, made this dramatic picture of her grandfather's military funeral in Connecticut. - CATHY CAYTON
  • Cathy Cayton
  • My wife, Cathy, made this dramatic picture of her grandfather's military funeral in Connecticut.
click to enlarge Police officers salute the casket of a fallen police officer in Littleton, Colorado. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Police officers salute the casket of a fallen police officer in Littleton, Colorado.
click to enlarge Family members of Kate Banzhaf celebrate her life by dancing during her memorial service. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Family members of Kate Banzhaf celebrate her life by dancing during her memorial service.
click to enlarge Firefighters carry flags to be given to family members of fallen firefighters during a memorial service in Colorado Springs. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Firefighters carry flags to be given to family members of fallen firefighters during a memorial service in Colorado Springs.

Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.

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