Ever wonder if you could handle capturing end of life photography? Today we are outlining sessions relating to stillbirth, hospice and terminal illness.

Photographers are so often tasked with capturing happiness and monumental life moments that we want to remember. We usually are approached to do family sessions, birth stories and weddings, but what about end of life photography?  About six months ago, a good friend was diagnosed with cancer.  She immediately reached out to me about doing a lifestyle session before the start of chemotherapy and surgery…and I was NERVOUS.  Was I going to break down and cry during their session? Could I act normal when their lives were literally just flipped upside down? Do I just act like everything is fine?! It was tough.

grief photography

This is the thing, the longer we are in business and build our clientele, the more likely we may get approached to do something that may take more courage or emotional strength. Maybe you feel called to do something more with your photography, that the “normal” stuff doesn’t feel like enough.  I wanted to discuss organizations that embrace and offer end of life photography, and how to approach them emotionally. This type of photography can gift families SO much and help during their grief process.

How to Handle the Emotion

There is obviously no way to tell you how to handle such an emotional moment. The truth is, only YOU know if this is something you handle, and usually not until you’re actually IN the middle of it. Scary, right? This is why end of life photography isn’t for everyone. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you are thinking about volunteering your time for one of there organizations.

end of life photography

  • How do you normally handle emotionally difficult situations? Do you tend to remain calm?
  • Do you have personal experience with death that may trigger emotion?
  • Is there a way you can provide extra support because you have first hand experience with what they are dealing with?
  • What is your intention for providing this service? (I always talk about intention because it forces you to dig deep for your why. I find that when the intention is pure and positively directly, you do your best work.)

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS) – Still Birth Photography

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a world-wide organization that graciously provides families the gift of capturing their stillbirth. They match families with photographers in their immediate area, who have been trained extensively to professionally and sensitively document the end of life.

How to Volunteer

If you’d like to volunteer for NILMSTS, you must apply through their website.  They require that you submit 7-8 examples of your best portrait work from 4-5 different sessions (sized appropriately). You must also own and know how to use artificial lighting, because in many cases, it is required. A minimum of 3 of the 7-8 examples, must be taken with artificial light. They also require a $10 application fee. The selection process can take up to 4 weeks.

end of life photography

Selection Criteria

A committee with then evaluate your application and judge your portfolio based on five criteria:

  1. The use of natural light, and how the images appear overall. They want to make sure you know how to obtain the correct exposure, highlights, shadows and color.
  2. Artificial light. Can you create a beautiful image from artificial light?
  3. Focus. They are looking for tack sharp focus in order to ensure that their clients are getting the best photos possible.
  4. Posing and composition. Do you know how to convey a story through your images?
  5. Attention to detail.

Hospice Photography

We all know about birth photography, but we don’t hear much about end of life photography. When the time comes that we know a love one is ready to transition, some would love that moment preserved. The last minutes of someone’s end of life is just as emotional as the beginning of life. It’s a time of complete vulnerability, love and connection that is deepened through sorrow. To be there to witness such a moment can be both humbling and fulfilling.  The mix of emotions you may feel will undoubtedly be difficult to process, so being as ready as possible is the only way to prepare. Give yourself some space to process this as well, as bottling up emotion isn’t ideal for anyone.

Volunteering

While every hospice center is different, there is usually a vetting and interview process. If this is the type of work that calls to you, research the services in your local area and see how you can get involved. Much like NILMDTS, hospice centers will train their volunteers for this work, so don’t worry about the when’s and how’s…and let them take the lead.

Terminal Illness

end of life photography

I think this type of photography will be the most common among professional photographers. Unfortunately, throughout our photography careers, we will most likely know someone that is diagnosed with a terminal illness, like cancer. This becomes even farther reaching when we include our network (friends, family, clients, their family members, etc).  You may be approached to photograph a sensitive time during someone’s life or journey, and this can be really difficult.  Being of service during this time can be SO rewarding. We are human, and will inevitably feel some strong emotions before, during and after a session like this.

What to focus on…

This is obviously a time when you really want to capture intimate moments of love between loved ones.  Here is a list of shots you may want to consider.

Stillbirth

  • Details. Hands, feet, the emotion.
  • Family shots. Make sure to get mom, dad, and baby in a full family photo.
  • Emotion. It’s difficult, but having these photos could potentially help parents grieve.

Hospice

  • Details.
  • Family connection. You can ask the family to share memories and capture close shots of their emotion.
  • You may also want to consider video, to create a special collection of images and video clips for the family.

Illness

  • Connection among family members.
  • Close-ups of emotion.
  • Video would also serve as a great gift in this instance.

Above all, no matter what type of session, capturing LOVE and CONNECTION is the goal. These situations can be far more genuine and raw, so simple do your best to catch those moments.

Conclusion

Even considering these types of sessions can be emotionally difficult.  Remember that being able to share your gift of photography can really make an impact on people’s lives for generations.  Being allowed in on such intimate and sensitive moments can also give you a new perspective on life that you didn’t have before. You have to evaluate your own ability to handle these situations, and if you can, you have the chance to really change lives. Be open, talk about it, and give yourself completely to serving your clients, and you literally can’t go wrong.