How to video a funeral from a professional funeral videographer

STEP 1 :
UNDERSTAND THE FAMILIES ( CLIENT ) VALUES

Before the funeral, get a sense of the families values towards the filming of the funeral. What we mean do they value quality and production of the video above all else or are they most concerned with keeping the filming as discreet as possible.

This should be done by asking some questions over the phone or in an email or questionnaire such as, how discreet do you need us to be with the cameras? Remember families are under time pressure between the loss of their loved one and the funeral and probably just have had time to google “funeral videographer near me”. It may be best to have a small number of 3 to 5 important questions in a phone message, email or form that gives you an indication of what they are looking for.

The more discreet we are the less footage and angles we will capture vs the more we are able to move and use more equipment the better the final production value will be. Neither is right or wrong yet in most cases we default to using the minimum equipment necessary to keep the production discrete.

This is important because some families want to be very discreet. This can be due to politics within the family or certain values and religious beliefs. Other families and cultures do not want the filming to be discreet and place much more importance on letting the videographers and photographers move freely to capture the best footage.

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. When we are aware of the level of discretion required by the family we can then make choices on the equipment we are to use for the funeral.

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

 

Planning the funeral video – Should I use a tripod or handheld?

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.

 

HOW TO FILM A FUNERAL : When to arrive at the funeral venue?

Firstly plan to arrive one to two hours ahead of time for set up and B roll footage and establishing shots, introduce yourself to the officiant and set up the audio and cameras.  B roll footage and establishing shots are essential to good storytelling in film making.

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.

 

Why do I need B-roll footage?

B roll is important because during a live event such as a funeral, typically multiple cameras are used mainly by having a second camera as a backup for tlhe main camera and to be able to have a wide and a close up angle for better storytelling. 

The different focal lengths, being one long camera lens and one wide are important to capture the best story in terms of being able to capture the whole scene and movement of the action as well as show the emotions on the faces of the speakers, family and guests.

A wide angle camera will not capture the emotion on the faces of the family and the tight close up will not be able to capture things happening in the overall scene and movements. When cameras are moved, or a camera has a short gap in following the action, that is what B roll is recorded for, to fill the gap and make sure the footage and audio is continuous.

B-roll footage can show detail shots of inside the venue or outside of the venue, or any other details captured as part of the venue to overlay over the footage where there is a camera moved or interrupted which is going to happen frequently at a live event. 

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.

It may be that the vision the family and your client have might be slightly different to those of the venue officiants. This may require you to use your discretion or communicate ideas with the family.

 

How to make a funeral video – the essentials

Funerals usually run on a tight schedule. The venue is often only opened a half hour or hour before the start of the funeral and needs to run on time. This is why it is important to arrive at least an hour before to have time to unload, and set up equipment.

The best practice would be to arrive 2 hours before to make sure you have had time to find the venue, allowed for traffic delays etc. If there is no one there and no way of unloading and accessing the venue it may be time to get a drink or coffee if there is a nearby shop yet we typically recommend checking all the settings on the equipment and unloading as much as possible outside the funeral venue and going through the questionaire and notes for the event from the family.

 

So what is the essential equipment?

One main camera ( Usually medium to long lens )
One second / backup camera ( usually wide lens )
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.

 

How to set up the video for the funeral.

As mentioned as soon as access is available to the venue, start setting up the audio and camera tripods. 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.

 

So 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.

 

What happens if there is an unexpected speaker not using the lectern or using a second lectern without an audio recording set up?

This is why we have the second and third audio field recorders usually a venue speaker and connected to the venue sound system. 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 inferont of the cone.

 

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.

 

What camera settings do you recommend for funeral videography?

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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