Is It Legal to Photograph in Cemeteries?

Started Nov 8, 2022 | Discussions thread
Michael Fryd
Michael Fryd Forum Pro • Posts: 16,343
Re: Find a Grave!

John Koch wrote:

Michael Fryd wrote:

John Koch wrote:

Find a Grave is a rather comprehensive index of eternal resting spots of deceased people in the USA. If offers photos of millions of headstones. I don't know if it has yet dug into necropolises in other countries. It is a wonderful resource for people trying to piece together their family histories. It is amazing how often the only record one can recover about some ancestors is the place and date of their burial!

It is also true that there are many graveyards whose denizens are entirely forgotten. There are graves whose paper or tin markers vanished long ago. Sometimes there is no landscaping care whatever. A sexton dies and is not replaced. A crooked trustee may have absconded with any trust funds to pay for upkeep. Unscrupulous people may have stolen the wrought iron fences, or even ornate headstones, for sundry exploits.

IMHO, the principle ethical objection to photography at cemeteries would be to photograph a funeral or burial, which could very plausibly offend the attendees. Or it might be objectionable to shoot photos or video of people desecrating a grave--whether for revenge, pleasure, or sheer malice--but at the same time be essential evidence to incriminate the perpetrators.

Do the dead mind if someone strolls about a graveyard and shoots photos? Can anyone poll their opinion? I merely note that some deceased people clearly wanted to attract viewers. I have seen some very entertaining, humorous, or poignant headstones. Clearly, it would have pleased them and their survivors to share any final message or symbols they offered.

No one will be able to photograph my grave, not because that might bother my dead soul, but because I'd prefer to be cremated and reduce waste. We need not over-estimate how much our survivors will care about our funerary arrangements or memorial extravagances. Buy flowers for the living! Don't bequeath stuff that becomes only a headache to your heirs. Best to sell or donate useless frills (like cameras) before you are commended to ashes and dust.

The issue of what is reasonable/moral is a separate issue from what is currently allowed.

The OP asked about what was allowed, not what the rules should be.

A very misguided and unhelpful rebuke. Did you explore the Find a Grave site I cited at all?

Find a Grave is proof that there is a way to photograph US graves legitimately and without civil or criminal consequences.

Obviously, many US cemeteries have already been photographed extensively. Your contention that "what is allowed" is seldom defined in writing. FACT: most graves in the USA have already been photographed, mainly for benign or altruistic purposes. There is evidently no risk, unless the photographer intrudes on private ceremonies or blatantly calls for attention. Most graves receive no visitors whatever.

As to the matter of "what is allowed," the matter is poorly defined, seldom enforced, and often neglected. There is no uniform national statute, state law, or local ordinance. Is there a single case law precedent where the photographer was not also implicated in some other element of malice or pursuit of commercial gain?

Dead silence.

The dearly-departed cannot file legal complaints, their survivors seldom know or care, and often (aside from celebrity sites) there is no surveillance or enforcement whatever. On the whole, it is safer to take pictures of the graves than of living people one does not know. Of course, vandalism, defamation, or destruction are another matter.

I doubt the OP had any bad intentions or need anguish over offended ghosts.

On what basis are you claiming that Find a Grave did not obtain permission before shooting in privately owned cemeteries?

On what basis are you claiming that all of Find a Grave's images were taken legitimately?

But you make a good point; rules against photography generally do not have 100% enforcement.  It would not be surprising that they would not both enforcement against Find a Grave, but might go after an individual photographer producing a zine of his work.


You are also correct in that any complaint would come from the property owners, not the dead and buried.


Your position seems to be that because some have gotten away with it, it must be legal.   This is not something I would rely on.

I know lots of people who have driven faster than the speed limit yet have never gotten a ticket.   However, I would not draw the conclusion that this means it is legal to speed.

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