In story, it's usually a case of:
- The body was too mangled for an open casket
- They Never Found the Body
- The body was cremated
- The body was destroyed in some other fashion
Meta-wise, it's kinda creepy to make an actor portray himself as a corpse and impractical to ask them to lie deathly still in a casket for as long as it will take to properly film the scene of the funeral. It's also impractical to do a full-body mannequin and cast of the actor's face for the corpse when the budget can be better spent on other things.
The trope in practice: There's a wake or funeral for a character who is confirmed or believed dead. Lacking a body to display (or because the last wishes of the deceased are being honored), the casket is closed. But to give mourners a last look at their lost person—a large photo is erected on an easel, or hung from a wall.
If those left behind are not willing or able to let go, and want something tangible to hang onto the memory—or their religious and cultural mores do not permit an open-casket funeral—a Shrine to the Fallen may be erected instead.
The Memorial Photo is actually a common Real Life custom in Japan. The deceased are traditionally marked with a pair of black ribbons hanging diagonally from the top of the photo to each side.
This is a Death Trope. Spoilers will be unmarked.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Maximillian Pegasus keeps a portrait he painted of his wife, Cecelia, before her death and talks to it in a few scenes, making this a crossover with Shrine to the Fallen.
- The Legion of Super-Heroes uses holograms or statues (depending on timeline) for the same purpose to honor Legionnaires who have fallen in battle. They usually unveil the statue/hologram in a ceremony, then put it in a Hall of Honor with the other ones for fallen Legionnaires.
- In Watchmen, when a Freak Lab Accident disintegrates Jonathan Osterman, his coworker and girlfriend Janey places the one photo anyone has of him behind glass in the lab.
Film - Animated
- In Big Hero 6, the memorial service for Tadashi and Professor Callaghan after the fire at the institute features their photos.
- Coco: In the Mexico of the film's world, a photograph of a deceased person must be placed on an ofrenda and their lives remembered by living family and/or friends in order for them to visit the living on Dia de Los Muertos. These photos are usually more to celebrate the loved one's life than for funereal purposes.
Film - Live-Action
- Armageddon puts a spin on the trope. Instead of a funeral, the photo memorial easels for Oscar, Freddie, Max, Gruber and Harry—all of whom died in space—appear at the wedding of Grace and A.J. They both considered the lost roughnecks father figures.
- In the film version of RENT Angel's photo is on display at her funeral.
- Xx X Return Of Xander Cage: Gibbons, killed on a recruiting trip in such a way they Never Found the Body, has a photo easel up for his funeral.
- Commonplace of a necessity in the Newsflesh universe. Cremation is the common and preferred method for dealing with the remains of the dead since even a corpse's blood can start an outbreak.
- Played with in the 4th Ree Reyes book, Hexomancy. Because Grognard's is medieval themed, the people who died in battle there are memorialized in hand drawn pen and ink portraits.
- Used in Red Storm Rising for some of the children killed in the bombing of the Kremlin, because the bodies were too mangled to be shown on worldwide television.
- I'm in the Band: Hip Hop, the cat belonging to the girl who has a crush on Tripp, has died and there's an easel with his photo. Derek Jupiter is his usual vapid self, and makes many disparaging remarks about Hip Hop—though he is speaking of the style of music—much to the horror of the grieving pet owner.
- Jen's "funeral service" from The IT Crowd episode "The Haunting of Bill Crouse". Video here.
- Torchwood: Miracle Day ends with funerals around the world, many of which have photo easels erected of the deceased due to Category 1.
- In Scrubs, we see a picture of Ben, Dr. Cox's brother-in-law, on display at his funeral, confirming that he died from his cancer. What is sad about this is that during the entire episode, Ben followed Dr. Cox around, helping him with his problems. We find out that in the end, he was never actually there.
- In The Flash (2014) Episode "Luck Be A Lady", Iris is so anxious to get married to Barry during a meta human created wave of bad luck that she squeezes them in immediately after a funeral. She climbs up on the altar and turns around the memorial photo of the deceased so it won't look over them as the priest reads their marriage ceremony.
- Luke Cage (2016): Pop gets two for his funeral: one of him smiling avuncularly at the camera (which is also part of the shrine that gets erected outside his barbershop following his death), the other of him standing outside the shop.
- The display of a photo of the deceased at a funeral is common in Japan.
- A Russian hockey team was killed in a plane crash in 2011, so their photos were placed in the lineup as a memorial.
- The funeral for Tama the cat, stationmaster of a train station in Japan, had a shrine with several photos. So beloved was this cat that over 3000 people attended her funeral.
- As a result of multiple deaths due to Covid-19, memorial photos in large numbers are setup for mass memorials.
- Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the first woman to lie in state at the Capitol of the United States, had a large photo placed diagonal from her flag draped casket when she died in 2020.
- Played for Laughs in Super Mario RPG, where Mario takes part in a giant photo op for a wedding in Marrymore. The photographer tells him to smile. It's a wedding photo, not a funeral!
- Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc does this whenever a student gets killed. A photo is displayed in their place at the trial for the rest of the game.
- Fate/Grand Order part 2 gives you a craft essence at the end of every chapter: a photo taken during the adventure in the Lostbelt. Since your actions in these Lostbelts ends with the entire timeline being erased, these pictures are the last remaining traces of everything that happened and everyone you met within it.
- In the alternate timeline of Schlock Mercenary, Captain Tagon's funeral had a photo and an empty casket. As his body had been vaporized by plasma weaponry.
- In Leftover Soup, Richard Knight's tomb bears a picture of him. It looks nothing like the mugger Jamie knew as "Richard Knight", letting Jamie conclude the mugger stole the teen's wallet, identity, and life.
- Star vs. the Forces of Evil: The council elder Lekmet was killed in the battle against Toffee. They hold a memorial for him once Star saves Mewni and a large photo or painting of him is on display.