Gravestone Photographic Resource: photographing tips
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Photographing tips

Many grave monuments are hard to read - here are a few tips for photographing them. If you have a different tip, please let us know.

  1. Use a mirror to one side: If you use a mirror to one side, the reflected sunlight will help to create deeply contrasting words. Rather than carrying a mirror, a good alternative is a roll of aluminium foil.

  2. Spray water over the stone: Use a small plant spray to finely cover the stone with water. As the water dries off the text indentations will remain wet the longest. With luck the letters will show more clearly as there will be a contrast between the wet and dry surfaces.

  3. Use grass: Wipe the surface of the stone gently with a handful of grass. This will not damage the stone as grass is much softer than any stone and the green colouration will wash off in the rain. This technique may help to make the inscription text stand out more clearly. However do not use this techique is the monument is of soft sandstone or suffering from frost damage.

  4. Use chalk: Gently rub the text part of the monument with chalk. This will not normally harm the monument as chalk is softer that monument stone. However do not use this techique is the monument is of soft sandstone or suffering form frost damage.

  5. Use flour: Barely legible inscriptions can often be brought to a better readability by simply wiping plain white flour over the stone and lightly dusting off the surplus. Do not try this near lead lettering: they need to be left strictly alone.

  6. Use dirt: Sprinkle a little very slightly moist soil on the writing and brush off the excess. Hopefully, some dirt will remain in the etching of the letters, making it more legible. Then take the photo. When the dirt is very dry, it will soon fall off, or rain will eventually remove any residual dirt from the engraving, thus no harm is done to the headstone. If the soil is too wet, like mud, it will just make a mess and you won't get a good photo.

  7. Use flash: If you use a flash, particularly if photographing slightly to one side, the flash will help to highlight the intentations of the text.

  8. Use portrait mode: If your camera has a number of different modes then try the portrait setting. This mode should give better focus.

  9. Try different times of day: The position of the sun can make tremendous differences to the legibility of monuments. This can be very important in churchyards where monuments normally face the same direction as bodies were placed facing east (except the priest who faced west to face his congregation). Noon is usually a bad time (12 in the winter but different with "summer time"). With monuments that face east/west then the best time could be between 11.30 and 13.30 (different with "summer time"). Stones facing north/south are in sunshine late afternoon in midsummer and are in shade at all other times of the year (facing north: northern hemisphere; facing south: southern hemisphere).

  10. Avoid sunny days when photographing under trees: Photographs of monuments partly shadowed by trees and partly fully lit are usually hard to read. In these cases some extra shade such as an umbrella can helpful.

  11. Avoid rainy and windy days: Rainy days are best avoided as drops can get on the camera lens. Days so windy that it is difficult to stand perfectly steady are also best avoided.

  12. Use the highest quality setting: If you take the photos at the highest setting of your camera then this will allow you to examine the image in much greater detail.

  13. Sprinkle sifted silver sand: Sprinkle sifted silver sand on flat or slanting stones from a salt cellar......magic! Brush clean.

  14. Use a foil windscreen shade: They sell them in auto parts stores. They are like aluminum foil but have a twistable band that allows them to be neatly folded up into a circle and come with a cloth holder. Use them on bright days to cause the shadowning in the lettering.

  15. Never scrap an old headstone of lichens: When lichen is removed it can leave pin holes that allow water to enter the stone and can cause it to eventually break down.

  16. Use paper and pencil: Just using the side of a pencil over some ordinary white paper - like brass rubbing - helps show up even the most difficult to read inscriptions and it's not damaging to the stone.

  17. Use a big umbrella: If the sun is causing patches of light and dark the use an unbrella to shade the monument so that the photograph will be more legible. If you do not have an umbrella with you then try and use your body to block the sun.

  18. bend down: If the text on the monument is low down near to the ground the bend down to take the photograph. By doing this the text should be easier to read on the photo.

  19. more than one photo: If you are not sure of the quality if a photo you have taken then take others from different angles. Poor photos can always be deleted later. It is also often useful to take an initial photo of the entire monument and grave followed by close-up by further photo(s) of the text. The photo of the entire monument and grave will help people to locate it in the future (the website has an option to display images of ajoining graves).

  20. you own reflection: If you see your own reflection then it will appear on the photograph. Photograph it slightly to one side to get over the problem.

  21. you own shadow: If you see your own shadow on part of the monument then it probably make the image less legible. Photograph it slightly to one side to get over the problem.

  22. poor light conditions: If there are poor light conditions then rather than use a flash increase the "film speed" (iso) setting if that option is available on your camera.

  23. use the highest quality setting available: Using the highest quality setting means that the photo will contain more details which could be important when extracting the information from it.

  24. remove leaves and grass obsuring parts of the monument: Often grass and leaves will hide details at the bottom of a monument. If possible remove them before taking the photo.

  25. photographs with buildings: Monuments within building are usually in very good condition. If the use of flash is prohibited then, if your camera has the function, use aperture priority with the largest aperture. If the monument is metal then make sure you photograph it slightly to one side to reduce reflections.

  26. cemetery identification boards: Always try and include a cemetery identification board photo as well as one of the church, cemetery building, entrance or general view. The cemetery identification board photo is used to ensure that the photos end up in the correct folder! The view photographs are used on the website.

  27. cemetery plans: If there is a cemetery plan please include a photo of it.

Photographing tips on other websites

There are a number of other grave monument websites that also have useful tips:

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Gravestone Photographic Resource (GPR)

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