How to Video a Funeral

Get a Brief from the Family

Before the funeral, you should ask the family what they want. Do they want a The best coverage and angles or do they just want it to be discreet? You can ask these questions over the phone, in an email, or with a questionnaire. However in most cases it is best to stay discreet unless the family has asked for specific close up shots and shots from the front of the venue.

 Remember that families are under a lot of pressure at this time and may not have had time to look for a videographer. It’s best to have a few important questions that will give you an idea of what they are looking for.

Next to the families values the values of the venue also need to be respected. Try to get a sense of what the venues officiants policies are towards camera positions and movements. 

Film making tools such as gimbal stabilisers and glidcams become very important in capturing stable continuous footage of the action. 

A good example is the carrying out of the coffin. It is by far the best to try to get a continuous moving footage of the carrying out of the coffin for which a gimbal or stabiliser is going to give the smoothest footage.

A gimbal such as a ronin S also has feet so that at the end of the moving of the coffin the camera can be put on a flat surface or the ground to continue to record with out interruption.

This can be very important as it may be necessary to sit a camera down to continue filming whilst adjusting or moving other cameras and equipment, especially if we are operating with just one videographer. Perhaps the burial or cremation is about to start soon and the camera and sound equipment needs to be retrieved within a few minutes to travel to the next location.

For more info on our funeral videography go to our FAQ

Decide on the Equipment

In most cases we recommend using both tripods and stabilisers. We use at least two tripod cameras and often one roaming stabilised camera. Stabilisers are used for moving scenes such as the moving of the coffin where the family will usually want continuous footage.

Having a moving/roaming camera is not common during the whole funeral yet more at certain times when the proceedings and moving. The stabilisers most commonly used by professionals are the gimbal such as a DJI ronin stabiliser or a glidecam such as the glide cam HD-4000.

In terms of audio the best practice is to record ALL the lecterns closely by having lavalier mic capsules in the same position as the lectern mic capsule. Secondly it is recommended to have a direct line recording coming out from the venue sound system. Thirdly you should have any microphones used mic’d. An lastly we would advise to have a microphone recording the sound coming from the venue speakers ( set to low input level ). So in total we would have around 3 to 8 microphones recording at every funeral to make sure we capture all the speeches / musicians / sound with an appropriate level of backup.

The Essential Equipment 

The minimum gear recommended for a funeral are:

One main camera ( Usually medium to long lens )

One second / backup camera ( usually wide lens  

2 Tripods 

At least 3 audio field recorders ( One on the venue sounds mixer, one on the lectern, one on a venue speaker )

These suggestions are the minimum. Yet many funerals may require a higher level of production and equipment. For example if you know the family wants the very best production and video produced, or it is a very large funeral with several hundred people it may be appropriate to have more cameras, audio recorders and crew involved.

When to Arrive at the Venue?

Firstly plan to arrive one to two hours ahead of time for set up, B-roll footage and establishing shots. Introduce yourself to the officiant, set up the audio and cameras.  B-roll footage and establishing shots are essential to good storytelling in film making. B-roll is the footage taken of the surrounds / close ups / details / creative shots that are often used to lay over the main storyline footage to visually better tell the story and create visual diversity.

We recommend a minimum of 3 audio field recorders to be used at the funeral. It is best practice to have the cameras and 3 or more field recorders to be set up before any of the guests arrive for the funeral. We recommend using brand new energiser Max Plus or Lithium batteries in the audio field recorders to ensure they do not stop recording half way through the service as we will often start the audio recorders a half hour before the start of the funeral.

What if the venue is not yet open?

It is fine to arrive before the venue is open as this allows for unloading of equipment, setting up of equipment and capturing establishing shots and B-roll.
Yet as soon as the venue is open we set up our audio recorders and ask the officiant where they feel the best positions for the cameras are. This would be very rare but if there are in strong differences in opinion on camera positions this should be politely discussed and in most cases it may be best to simply follow the instructions of the venue officiant. 

Why do you need B-Roll?

B-roll is important because during a live event such as a funeral.

As mentioned it is the footage of details, the surroundings and closeups that is used to better tell the story visually, create visual diversity and to fill in and augment the main camera angles.

It is especially important because at almost every funeral there will be moments where 

– camera tripods need to be moved

– things happen during the funeral that are distracting

– there are interruptions and pauses during the funeral.

As the videographer, it is important to have the ability to keep the footage edit smoothly togethor without interruption and for you to be able to visually tell the story of what is perhaps talked about in the audio.

These reasons above are why B-roll are required to make this possible in the edit.

How to Set Up Cameras and Audio at the Funeral

As soon as access is available to the venue, start setting up the audio and camera tripods. We recommend starting with audio first because you need to be at the front of the venue/service to instal the microphones and recorders. It is important to get this done before guests arrive whenever possible to keep a low profile and remain unobtrusive.

Ideally when the guests start to arrive the audio recorders and cameras have all been set up.

Two to three cameras is usually ideal for most funerals. One wide angle, One close up and one that may capture a third angle of musicians, guests or other important parts of the funeral. 

Some families want a front on view of the family and guests captured at the funeral and some families do not want this. It may be a good idea to ask or have as part of a standardised questionnaire if the family want to capture the faces of family and guests during the funeral.

There is a trade off when deciding the number of cameras. Two is the recommended minimum as one camera can easily have a technical malfunction and require a second camera to ensure continues coverage of the event.  

If the funeral is very small and intimate two may be appropriate. For larger funerals with several hundred guests 3 or more cameras are more advisable as well as a possible second and third operator / crew member. 

From experience the more cameras and operators that are filming, the more complete the capture of the action is and the better the assurance is that everything at the funeral will be captured.

How to record audio at a funeral.

In terms of audio we generally recommend at least 3 audio field recorders. We recommend the Tascam Portacapture X8 or a similar 32 bit float field recorder. 32 bit float audio means that if the audio levels from the speaker / choir etc suddenly change dramatically the quality of the recording will not be affected as this technology allows you to raise and lower the volume as much as you want in the video editing process.

Without this technology, if someone starts getting louder in their speech, moves a lot closer to the microphone, or the audio engineer at the venue turns up the volumes the recording will very likely distort and be unusable. 

The Tascam Portacapture X8 or other 32 bit float audio recorder would be a good main recorder yet it ideally there are other smaller 32 bit float field recorders used for the second and third audio recordings.

 Why have 3 or More Audio Recordings?

This is to improve the quality of the final edits audio and as an insurance that there will be no audio missing from the final edit.  Because the video editor will have more audio sources to choose from, they will be able to choose the best audio source available from the 3 or more recordings captured at the funeral.

It is very hard to know which audio position and source will end up giving the best audio at almost any venue, because the position of the person speaking, the acoustics of the venue etc are all a little unpredictable. So by positioning the audio devices in 3 or more positions it is a good way of hedging bets to ensure at least one or multiple useable and high quality audio recordings. Field audio recorders can malfunction, run out of battery or be disconnected by guests or officials accidentally. This is why a minimum of 3 is our recommendation.

For very large funerals up to 5 or 6 audio field recorders may be appropriate. There may be multiple choirs, musical performances and lecterns. Capturing this through the venue sound mixer may be fine, yet from experience relying on the in-house audio technician and system is not the best practice.

The best practice would be to both have a master audio feed from the in-house sound system as well as to have all the lecterns, musicians and performances recorded at the source individually. In the case of a choir or musical performance a field recorder on a stand could be placed as close as possible to the performers in a position that ideally captures all of them if they cannot be captured individually. Obviously a band or choir would normally not be recorded individually yet as a group.

The first and most important audio recordings should be on the lecterns. If there are multiple lecterns, each should have a recording device. The best quality recording would be a shotgun or condenser microphone attached to or right beside the lectern microphone.

For a slight drop in audio quality, yet a more discreet look, a lavalier microphone can be attached to the lectern microphone. It is recommended that the tip of the microphone be placed right where the lectern microphone is to cut down on reverberation and to get as close as possible to the speakers mouth.

 Unexpected Events…

At some funerals it is possible that there will be a sudden speaker or musical performer turn up with a microphone that has turned up suddenly. It can happen if the guests / speakers have not discussed it with the organisers / video crew. And sometimes roaming microphones are given out or people even start talking without microphones. This is where it is important to know what to do.

The second and third audio field recorders usually are installed on the venue speakers and connected to the venue sound system. These can usually capture unexpected audio sources and microphones. If there is a sound engineer working at the funeral it is best to politely ask them to connect the field recorder up to the system and if possible to keep an eye on the levels.

We still will monitor the levels as much as possible throughout the event yet when having 3 or more recorders running from different sources it gives excellent backup protection. We do suggest checking the multiple audio recorders throughout the event to check they are running and check the levels. A mobile monitoring app becomes very handy to monitor those levels. We suggest attaching a mobile to your video tripod / possibly to the camera hotshoe that shows audio levels. The Tascam Portacapture X8 has a mobile monitoring app that works very well.

In some cases the venue speakers may be high up on the wall or the ceiling. This is why it is important to do audio as the first thing once the venue opens. You may require a ladder, or a tripod or monopod to place the audio field recorder on top of or infant of the speaker. What works best for us is to sit the field recorder on top of the speaker with a lavalier microphone hanging down to the centre of the speaker right in front of the speaker cone.

In the case that a guest stands up and talks without a microphone which does happen at live events, the best thing is to get as close to them as possible with a camera using a shotgun microphone.  It would be sensible to walk quickly to get close to them as that shotgun audio should still be very acceptable and clear as long as the camera operator is within a couple of metres of the speaker.

How much to move around the venue to capture the funeral proceedings.

In most cases the two tripod cameras at the back of the venue are sufficient to capture most of the funeral proceedings. However not that we typically have an oversized custom built tripod for being able to shoot over the top of the standing guests.  The tripod is almost 3 metres high and ensures the shot from the back of the venue is still useable when the guests stand up.

In saying this our experience is that if the shot is compromised during an important part of the funeral, that it is best policy to try to move to a position to get a clean shot as quickly as possible. This may mean moving up closer to the front of the venue. In most cases the family will be very happy that you have been able to move to capture the action and not missed important parts of the funeral.

Even if there is a 5 to 10 second delay to move the camera this can usually be overlayed with B roll of detail close up shots from the funeral or exterior shots of the venue. Remember by arriving early, you should have time to get at least 5 or 10 exterior video clips of the outside of the venue and another 5 to 10 interior video clips of the venue… around 10 to 20 seconds each which can be cut down to 3 to 5 seconds by the editor.

Recommended Camera Settings

We shoot a variety of cameras. Mainly the Sony A7 cameras, The Black Magic Cameras and the Canon mirrorless cameras.

In terms of the picture profile we use we like to use the HLG, specifically the HLG 3 profile which records in a high dynamic range colour space to make sure that as much detail and quality is retained in the image. Specifically we are trying to make sure that the dark areas and the blacks in the video are clean ant the the bright areas and whites are not blown out and still have detail in them.

We use a technique know as ETTR ( expose to the right ) where we constantly monitor our histogram to make sure that the exposure and histogram are as far to the right as possible.  In most cases we will prevent the histogram from touching the right side of the graph, yet when it comes to windows to the outside or bright electric powered lights it may be appropriate to let these over expose by hitting past the right side of the histogram chart.

We find the workflow for using the HLG profile is quite easy by dropping the footage into our Final Cut Pro x software selecting all the clips in the timeline and using the built in HDR tools effect which transforms the HLG to a rec 709 format.

How long do you stay filming at the funeral?

This is usually discussed with the family. Our time spent filming is usually from a half hour before the start of the funeral for around 2 to 3 hours.  In some cases we are able to capture the event in as little as an hour an a half from start to finish.

We will usually be asked to include the burial or cremation location in the filming by the family before the funeral. It is best to ask or be ready to capture these events if required.

If there has been no specific finish time given we will usually wait until all the guests start to leave, film for an additional 15 minutes and then pack up and finish the job.

How Long to Edit the Video?

This depends on whether there are any creative changes required.

In most cases the final edit provided to the family is finished and does not require any changes.

The time frame for this can be from a few days to a few weeks depending on the size and length of the funeral. If the family requests a final video edit to be finished within 24 hours this can usually be arranged.

If there are creative changes requested by the family this will often be requested in the week or two after the funeral. So to revisit the final edit and make creative changes can take several days or weeks to revise.

The standard turnaround for a funeral video is around 3 to 14 days.


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