Several months ago, I contacted a volunteer at a headstone photography projects about getting a photo of my third great-grandfather’s tombstone, outside Atlanta. Grandpa was a Union soldier who died of disease in the closing months of the Civil War, and was buried far from his Missouri home. I wondered if any of his family had ever gone to visit—and of course I wanted a photo.
The volunteer I contacted kindly went to the cemetery and shot several pictures using a throwaway camera. I took the camera to the lab, then waited for the prints. When they came back, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Obviously, the camera’s flash had fired, and once the light from the flash hit the white tombstone it wiped out the inscription—I couldn’t read a thing.
To save you or someone else the same experience, here are a few helpful hints on shooting tombstones:
- Try to shoot when the sun is at an angle and not directly hitting the front of the tombstone. This way the lighting will cast some shadows, and hopefully bring out hidden details.
- You can also use a mirror (or any bright surface) to cast light in indentations-this makes the letters stand out more. I covered a piece of 5- by 7-inch cardboard with aluminum foil and I carry it in my camera bag. It’s not as fragile as a mirror, and provides you with a lightweight portable reflector.
- If your camera has an automatic flash, cover it with tape or your finger, particularly if you’re shooting a light-colored tombstone.
- Be sure to photograph the entrance to the cemetery as well as general cemetery shots. In the photographs I’ve taken for other genealogists, I try to shoot interesting features that I find around their ancestor’s headstone.
- Lastly, be certain not to do anything to damage the headstones.
For more, check out these Web sites:
• Cemetery Photos
• Recording Cemeteries with Digital Photography
• Tips for Photographing Gravestones