Photography: When shooting in a cemetery

So, if you all hadn’t gathered, I enjoy taking photos in cemeteries. I’m not exactly sure how this came about, but I enjoy it. Furthermore, I generally aim not to take creepy cemetery photos. I think that 1) they do the cemetery no justice and 2) don’t truly represent my experience when going to cemeteries. I think that, in general, cemeteries are peaceful and quiet. I try to convey the craftsmanship that goes into the statuary and headstones rather than the spooky feeling you get if you are looking for ghosts.

I have gone to a couple of different cemeteries where people were taking photos at the same time I was. I tend to operate differently when I am shooting photos than any other time in my day-to-day life. This being said, I have seen people do some things that I found rather distasteful, so if you are going to do a cemetery photo shoot, please keep the following list in mind.

1) Stay off the graves. I know that there is that perfect angle that you would really love to have so you get the optimal look of that angel statue. That being said, stay off the graves. Don’t walk on them. Don’t kneel on them. Just don’t. How would you feel if you were heading out to visit the grave of a departed family member and found some creep standing on the site, crushing the flowers you left last time? Yeah, stay off the graves.

2) Fences are put up as boundaries. This is closely related to the last point, but it bears noting. If a gate or other demarcation is erected around a grave, it’s there for a reason. Don’t climb over it, lean on it or hang stuff from it. Over time those gates and fences fatigue. For as much as I like stuff that looks old and decaying, it always breaks my heart to see a brand new fence that has obviously been manhandled.

3) Stay off the statuary. I understand that the headstones, footstones and statuary at a cemetery is made from stone, but stay off them. Much of what you see out there is made of marble. Marble is porous. Moreover, marble is not as sturdy as you would think. Over time, statues and grave markers will fatigue and crumble. It happens. Don’t hang on the arm of the Virgin Mary. It’ll break off, making the statue less attractive and you’ll feel like an ass. Also, don’t lean on, lay across, or otherwise lounge on the grave markers, mmkay? They aren’t there to be your armchair.

4) Respect the people that are visiting the site. Cemeteries are a place where people can go and visit people that they have lost. Some people cry. Some people talk to the ground. Let them. Moreover, don’t photograph them unless they ask you to. Don’t even approach them about photographing them. This is as private as it gets in a public place. Respect it.

5) Respect the grounds crew. I’ll be honest, I’ve been in cemeteries after posted hours. One particular time I didn’t realize that there were posted hours as there was no gate that closed and no sign stating cemetery hours. This particular time, I was in the middle of photographing a small angel statue when I looked up and saw a car heading my way. It was the groundskeeper. He pulled up and got out of the car. He walked over and said “the cemetery is closed.” I could have made a big stink and been a pain. Instead I simply said, “no problem. I’ll come back when it is open. Have a good night.” I packed my things and left. Nobody had a problem. Point is, if you are asked to leave, move, whatever, just do it. They aren’t trying to make you unhappy, they are just doing their job.

The last thing that can be said is this: If it isn’t on the list, but it seems disrespectful, don’t do it. The key to getting good cemetery photographs and feeling welcome is being respectful of the grounds, the people interred there and their families. Do research before you shoot, find out what is allowed and disallowed and then stay within the bounds. There are always other ways to get that great angle, but if you think that you might make someone unhappy while getting your shot, maybe you should rethink.

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