August 1, 2018 Brigitte Ganger

How to Choose the Right Obituary Photo

Consider these factors before publishing your loved one's obituary

How to Choose the Right Obituary Photo
Photo quality does matter, but old black and white photos are a beautiful addition to an obituary. (Shutterstock)

There is nothing that distinguishes an obituary from others in the newspaper like a great photo of the person being remembered. There are many factors to consider when choosing the photo that will memorialize your loved one in archives forever. Particularly online, it's very obvious when a photo is of poor resolution or low quality. 


Whether your options are in a physical album or in digital form, there are several factors to take into consideration when selecting an obituary photo. If you need help choosing the perfect representation of your loved one, read on!


Narrowing down the options


Many families are faced with either too many or too few photo options when it comes to planning the obituary. If you only have one or two low-quality photos, go ahead and use what you have. Any photo is almost always better than no photo. 


If nothing is suitable, it's acceptable to publish a death notice without the photo. Don't let the lack of a photo deter your family from publishing an obituary notice.


For those who have albums, boxes and hard drives teeming with photo options, the following points can guide you as you narrow down your options.


Focus of the photo


When selecting an obituary photo, it's important to consider the focus of the image. A family photo might be the best image available, but consider choosing one that shows the deceased person on their own, or crop others out of the photo if there is space to do so elegantly. For those who didn't know the deceased person, it might not be obvious who in the photo is the deceased person, or if the whole family is deceased. 


It's also good practice to select a photo that shows the deceased person's face, as this is the main feature that obituary readers will recognize as they browse the newspaper or website. This is also the final record of your loved one's life—let the focus be on them for this memorial.


Portrait vs. landscape


Photo orientation plays a large role in how the image will be displayed in print and online. Check with the newspaper or obituary site for compatible dimensions. If you submit a photo that doesn't conform to the publication's layout, an unintentional crop or distortion could ruin the presentation of the photo. 


Quality and resolution


Again, it's prudent to check with the newspaper or obituary site for exact specifications. If you are using a website to create the obituary online, you can upload images online and preview the photo in real time. You will be able to see for yourself how the published image will appear, which affords an opportunity to make small edits or switch photos if needed. 


Whether your photo options are physical or digital, it's essential to include an obituary photo that shares your loved one's uniqueness and personality. (Shutterstock)


It should be possible to use either a physical or digital photo for the obituary photo. If you only have a hard copy photo, you may need to scan it into digital form. A print shop can help with this if you don't own a scanner. 


Color vs. black and white


Though color photos are most often used in obituary photos nowadays, black and white photos can be a stunning addition to a loved one's life story. Color photos are more vibrant and bring life to a story. However, black and white images share tales of an era, and possibly of the deceased person's youth. If you are using a black and white image, choose something with a fairly clear image that will be easily recognizable to obituary readers.


Capturing their personality


The most important element of a standout obituary photo is whether or not it captures the essence of the deceased person's character. Gone are the days of stuffy portraits in the obituary section of the newspaper! Sometimes the best way to portray personality is to select a picture of them doing something they loved. Sharing a photo of the deceased person laughing, enjoying themselves or engaging in their favorite hobby gives readers a chance to see what made them unique. 


If no photos are available


Most people have hundreds or thousands of photos of themselves. Camera phones and social media have allowed people to not only take more pictures of themselves, but also to preserve them online. However, past generations relied on hard copies of photos and negative to save precious memories. These photos are vulnerable to the elements, floods, fires and loss. 


If there are no photos available of your loved one, consider choosing a photo that represents something dear to them. Be it a landscape, a sewing machine or special achievement award, adding a photo can help people glean some of their character even when a photo of their face is not available. 


What to avoid


Despite the above guidelines, there are many different kinds of obituary photos that can truly enhance a life story. Photos that have multiple people, low resolution or no color can be perfect, depending on the image. However, there are some types of photos that should be avoided at all costs:




  • Photos taken after death




Though death photography was prevalent in generations past, modern mourning tries to focus more on celebration of life. No one wants to be remembered for the way they looked when they were dying or dead. Pay your respects by portraying them in the best possible light.




  • Photos that imply the manner of death




If the deceased person choked to death, don't use a photo of them miming choking or joking about it. If they drowned in a pool, it might be best to avoid that photo of them swimming. It's in poor taste to allude to a cause of death in the photo, in most situations. 




  • Photos depicting violence, pain or death




Even if that was the deceased person's sense of humor, think of others who are likely to be browsing the publication containing your loved one's story. A comical photo depicting something death-related might grab the attention of someone whose loved one died the same way. The obituary photo should portray the deceased person doing what they loved, but if the best photo of them is with a noose, knife or other weapon, it's kinder to save that one for family albums, and use a picture that's less likely to disturb those who are grieving.


A visual memorial


Selecting an obituary photo is an emotional, but important, process. Going through old albums is a cathartic experience, even though it is painful to relive positive memories so soon after losing a loved one. Choose the photo that portrays them at their best, and the memorial will be meaningful for those left to mourn. 


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