In Hong Kong, one welfare organisation is breaking traditional taboos about death by taking free photos of the elderly, so family or friends do not have to use old photographs for their funeral rites.

The service, which raised eyebrows when it started in June, is now so popular the volunteers plan to take it to more locations over the next few months.

Talking about death or even anticipating it, is not really the done thing in many Asian societies.

But in Hong Kong, a controversial project is now underway to provide the city's elderly with new photographs to prepare for their funeral.

Anyone above the age of 60 can sign up to have a free photo taken, but the service does specifically target the disadvantaged, and those with no family members to help them prepare for their funeral.

Organisers say so far the response has been overwhelming.

More than 3,000 elderly have signed up, and many more turn up at each photo session.

Photographs play a key role in traditional funeral rites.

And with pictures of the deceased often used on tombstones, many Hong Kongers now see the benefits of having a proper photo ready ahead of time.

"Many elderly are concerned about their funeral. They don't want to trouble their relatives, and they don't want to have a bad photo if their relatives can't find a good one, so we're taking one for them," said PL Chan, Manager, St. James' Settlement.

"The main point is to have a nice photo to be remembered by, to let the coming generations know my face," one elderly said.

And of course there are other uses for the photographs.

"Maybe I can use it for my passport, so I can go on holiday!" joked one.

Each photo costs about US$5 (HK$35) and the St James Settlement has so far been relying on sponsors, and a large team of volunteers to give the elderly there something to smile about.