Losing a loved one can really change a person’s perspective on life. Though it’s typically a difficult and sensitive time for a family, many choose to have one last set of portraits done before their loved one passes.
End-of-life photography is a way to celebrate someone’s life and say goodbye. As a photographer, end-of-life photos may be very different from the pictures you’re used to taking. Below are some tips for making these sensitive sessions as smooth as possible for both you and the family.
What’s the Purpose of End-of-Life Photography?
Much like the Lifetouch senior portraits many high schoolers get, an end-of-life portrait session celebrates a life transition. Though this is not typically a stage of life we think of as happy, it can be a beautiful experience for families and their loved ones. Whether losing a family pet or an ill or elderly family member, commemorative photos offer a rare chance in life to capture memories to be cherished long after the loved one has passed.
Key Considerations for End-of-Life Sessions
From hospice photos to end-of-life pet photography, each photo session captures a sensitive time for the family. That's why it's important to know how to handle such sessions with poise and empathy while remaining as unobtrusive as possible.
Evaluate Your Capacity To Handle Emotional Moments
The end-of-life process is always an emotional one. For many families, these portrait sessions are an opportunity to say goodbye. Families may invite busy or distant family members for the photos, who may not have another chance to see the loved one before they pass.
You’ll need to be able to deal with these emotional moments without getting too distracted or distraught yourself. If you’re someone who is strongly affected by others’ emotions, you may need to choose another area of photography to focus on for now. There’s nothing wrong with knowing your limits, and it’s much better to pass the session on to another photographer than to potentially disrupt a family’s last moments with their loved one.
Cultivate Your Ability to Show Empathy
On the other hand, you don’t want to be unsympathetic to your clients’ situations. It’s a balancing act between showing empathy for the difficult time each family is going through without inserting yourself into their narrative.
Practice active listening, allowing the family to share any stories or memories they desire without needing to add input. If it’s appropriate to respond, avoid falsely comforting statements such as, “It’ll be alright,” even if you mean well. Don’t change the subject or offer unsolicited advice. Simply let the family process their emotions and be involved only as much as they ask you to be.
Hone Your Communication Skills
During these trying times, while families navigate their hectic schedules — often amplified by additional appointments and care for their loved ones — effective communication becomes key. It's essential to clearly convey your services and thoroughly understand their unique needs. Promptly responding to their queries is also vital, ensuring that you're both on the same page. Remember, there's typically just one opportunity to capture those irreplaceable memories they cherish.
Be sure you know what type of session you’re doing and what the conditions are. For example, an end-of-life dog photography session may require a different setup than hospice photography. Find out, too, if the family will pose for the photos or if you’ll be capturing more candid, everyday life-type photos.
Consider Photo Equipment That Won’t Feel Intrusive
The last thing you want is to interrupt a family’s difficult moments with loud noises and bright lights. When doing end-of-life photo sessions, you should invest in equipment that will help you fade into the background. The family should almost be able to forget you’re even there.
Using a silent shutter and silencing any beeps or other noises from your camera can keep from interrupting tender moments. A telephoto lens can allow you to get close shots of the family and their loved one without needing to be up close and personal. You should also ensure your camera can capture photos effectively without flash or intense lighting, which can interfere with intimate moments.
Ensure Quick Turnaround Times
End-of-life pictures often come with a time limit, unfortunately. You only have so much time to schedule them, and once you take the photos, the family will want them right away. Many families use these pictures for their celebration of life services or other memorial events. If the person or pet passes quickly, you may not have much time to edit the photos and deliver them to the family.
One way to reduce your editing hours is to shoot film instead of digital photos. Many photographers swear by the irreplicable effects of natural film photography. And since you don’t have a digital image to keep tweaking over and over, you won’t spend hours editing trying to get everything just right.
If you prefer to stick with digital, editing presets offer another good way to speed up your turnaround. Presets enable you to apply a desired look swiftly with just a single click. If you’re looking for a timeless and elegant look, Mastin Labs presets are particularly noteworthy. They are meticulously crafted based on classic film stocks, providing an authentic film aesthetic to your digital images. This not only enhances the visual appeal but also maintains a consistent style across your photos. After applying a preset, you can then quickly address any remaining issues and make additional stylistic adjustments, greatly streamlining your editing process.
Get Familiar With Editing Etiquette for End-of-Life Pictures
Before each session, you should familiarize yourself with the etiquette for end-of-life photos. Different families may have different preferences regarding their photos. Some people may want them retouched to cover up injury or illness, while others may want you to capture each precious moment exactly as it is, scars and all. Many families also like black-and-white photos for their nostalgic feel or close-up photos that can capture every detail of a loved one’s hands or face.
Pet photographers may find that their clients’ desires are similar. Black-and-white photos and close-ups of a pet’s face or paws, sometimes held in their human friends’ hands, can be especially meaningful.
Do your research on editing etiquette for each unique situation. When in doubt, ask the family what they or their loved one want in terms of editing. Let them know what you’re capable of and allow them to decide how they want their loved one represented.