By Lea Hartman on | No Comments
As I sit typing this, drops of rain are spattering against my windows. The sky is thick with gray clouds. The air feels heavy. It’s a reminder that life can’t always be full of sunshine and rainbows.
It’s easy to pour over images of golden backlighting and bright smiles. We want to share them with the world and proclaim, “Hey, look at this amazing session I shot!” And there’s nothing wrong with being proud of your work. I highly encourage it.
But there’s another side to photography. A less glamorous side. It’s gritty and raw, and the images that spring from it can be challenging to digest and emotional to look at.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. The work that I am most proud of is often never seen. It’s the images I photographed of a woman battling breast cancer - both before and after her double mastectomy. She fought a good fight for as long as she could.
It’s the images of a young family in the prime of life - the last family pictures they had taken before a young husband and father lost his battle with cancer, leaving behind a wife and two small boys.
It's the images that capture life's hardships and its less appealing aspects – those filled with heartache that can bring tears to your eyes as you edit. For me, it’s just a few short hours of work. However, for the individuals I photograph, it can offer a brief respite in a season marked by overwhelming sorrow.
It's not about creating something shareable on social media or receiving pats on the back. Instead, it’s about creating something enduring and memorable for others - something that documents reality while infusing it with a touch of hope.
With that in mind, here are several important End of Life Photography Do's and Don'ts to consider:
When photographing individuals who are facing their end of life journey, it's essential to recognize that their life is MORE THAN JUST THEIR ILLNESS. Even in the midst of difficult times, there are still moments of normalcy, routine, and everyday life.
These moments can include simple joys, interactions with loved ones, or engaging in hobbies they enjoy. By capturing these moments, you not only provide a more well-rounded representation of their life but also offer them and their loved ones a way to remember and celebrate the person beyond their illness.
It's essential to avoid focusing solely on the individual's illness when taking end-of-life photographs. People who are dealing with serious illnesses are already going through a challenging time, with medical professionals closely monitoring and addressing their health concerns. Focusing on their ailment in the photographs can be distressing for the individual and their loved ones, as it may reinforce their feelings of vulnerability and despair.
Instead, approach the photography session with empathy and respect for the person's dignity and humanity. Acknowledge their illness as a part of their life's journey but not as the entirety of their identity.
By doing so, you can capture their resilience, strength, and the love and support they receive from those around them. These elements can convey a more uplifting and meaningful message, emphasizing the person's enduring spirit and the connections they've built throughout their life.
Consider the individual's unique passions and interests. Whether it's sewing, playing sports, spending time with their beloved pet, creating art, baking, or working on cars, these activities are integral to their identity.
As you recognize that these may be among the last images taken of them before they say goodbye to this world, ensure that you capture these cherished aspects of their life that define who they are.
Recognize that the person's mobility can be severely limited due to their illness. Some may struggle with even basic movements like standing. Avoid putting them in situations that make them uncomfortable or cause physical strain.
Consider researching their illness beforehand so you can better understand their limitations and manage your expectations accordingly.
Prioritizing their comfort and well-being during the photography session is essential, as it allows them to participate in a way that feels manageable and respectful of their condition.
Prepare yourself to capture images in a variety of environments. If your client has limited mobility, you may need to adapt to their circumstances, which might require them to remain in one place or indoors due to temperature or weather considerations. In such cases, be flexible with your angles and poses, and ensure you're equipped to handle different lighting conditions that may arise.
Exercise patience and avoid hurrying through an end of life photography session. Understand that it can be physically taxing and strenuous for your client, especially considering the medical treatments they may be undergoing, which may cause physical discomfort.
Be willing to take as many breaks as necessary to ensure their comfort and engagement throughout the session.
If your client requires breaks every 15 minutes, be prepared to engage in meaningful conversation. Explore topics like their hobbies, interests, past travel experiences, and their profession.
Show a genuine interest in them as a person, as these interactions can not only create a more comfortable and enjoyable atmosphere but also help you better understand and connect with your client on a personal level.
In most cases, your clients may be reluctant to grant permission to share the images publicly. Only a rare few may be comfortable with signing a model release, as was the case with the family featured in this post.
Generally, the photographs captured during end-of-life sessions are intensely personal and private. It's crucial to respect your client's desire for privacy and refrain from expecting or pressuring them to share these images publicly. Their emotional well-being and comfort should ALWAYS take precedence.
Photographing end-of-life sessions can be incredibly challenging, but it holds immense significance. The desire for these pictures can stem from various motivations, such as helping the individual come to terms with their diagnosis or providing a source of closure and comfort for their loved ones who will remain behind.
However, it's essential to remember that your role as a photographer is to support and honor their needs and wishes during this sensitive time. It's never about you; it's always about the profound impact your work can have on their journey and the lives of those they cherish.
Do you have any questions or comments about End of Life Photography? Leave us a comment below - we would love to hear from you! And PLEASE SHARE our tutorial using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!
Lea is a self taught natural light photographer currently based out of North Carolina. Happily married for 14 years, she and her lover boy are raising three crazy kids wherever the army sends them. She's addicted to coffee, jamberry and her dog, Huxley.