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Grave Photo Taking Tips

When taking gravestone photos that will be uploaded to PhotoGraver.com, the primary goal is to get photos that can be transcribed by you or someone else.  Here are some tips that will help you achieve this objective.

Get in close

The photo on the left is clear and readable.  The photo on the right is of the same gravestone but taken too far away.

1 Left McCollum.jpg 320x240          2 right McCollum.jpg 320x240

Examples of good photos.

3 left Pickett.jpg 320x240   4 right Watson.jpg 320x240  

All information on a gravestone is important.  However, being able to read the full name and dates of birth and death are the most important.  Inscriptions and symbols on stones are important as well but very often are very difficult to discern in a photo, especially cursive type, lightly carved inscriptions.

Therefore, don't worry about them.  If they show up well in the photo, that's a bonus.  Once the burial name and dates are posted on line anyone interested in inscriptions that cannot be read in the photo can request that someone do a follow-up to get this information.

The exception, of course, is if you, the photo graver, are going to transcribe the information yourself.  If this is the case then you might want to make notes of any faint inscription as you take photos.  A good way to do this is with a small voice recorder.

Camera settings

Your camera should make JPEG (.jpg) photo files.

Set the resolution to 640 x 480.  Photo file sizes should be no larger than 250 kb and at least 130 kb to insure clarity.

Make sure your camera is set to take photos at the distance you will be shooting - usually 3 to 6 feet - and set for day light use.

Turn off date and other captioning imprints that might be saved on the photo.  The exception here is for Global Positioning (GPS) captioning.  If your camera is equipped with this feature, by all means, use it.  It provides an absolute location for a grave.  Make sure the GPS caption doesn't obscure gravestone information.

Use your flash when needed, even in the daytime when on the shady side of a stone.

Don't get cemetery visitors in your photos.  If you're working in close this won't be a problem.

Stay clear of burials in progress.

Non-Photogenic gravestones

Some gravestones, like people, are just not photogenic.  Some are difficult all the time, some are difficult only in certain lighting conditions.

Often, a light spray of water will help to bring out the printing on the stone.

The photos below are of the same gravestone taken only seconds apart before and after spraying the stone with water. 

5 left Ellis.jpg 320x240  6 right Ellis.jpg 320x240

Some photogravers carry sidewalk chalk along with them and use that to highlight the letters.  Some cemeteries frown on this practice so inquire before using it.  If you do use chalk be sure to dust it off or wash it off after taking  the photo.

In most cases you will want to keep your shadow out of the photo.  However, for some problem stones, casting your shadow over the stone will make it more readable.  This doesn't always work, but is often worth a try.

On gravestones that are simply impossible to photograph readably, shoot them anyway and make a note or voice recording of names, dates and inscriptions then submit the photo and transcription as a single submission.

Even a light spray of water didn't help the readability of the stone below.

Left, Before spray of water; Right, after spray of water.

7 left Haymaker.jpg 320x240  8 right Haymaker.jpg 320x240

Best photo times

The best photo times are between the hours of 10 A.M. and 4 P.M.  At these times the sun is higher in the sky and brighter.  You'll have less problems with your shadow being in the photo, and you won't have to fight the sun's glare in the camera lens.  Overcast but brightly lighted days are excellent for PhotoGraving since shadows practically disappear.

If taking photos in early morning or late evening light you will often find that the names and dates will be in shadow.  Using your flash often helps in these situations.

One Person gravestones

One person gravestones mark the grave for a single individual and are the easiest to "readably" photograph.  Get in as close as possible and concentrate on the name and date information.  Deeply carved inscriptions will usually be readable while those of the more shallow variety will not.  If you can get the inscription in the photo, get it otherwise don't worry about it. 

For flat gravestones stand directly in front of them, hold the camera about 3 feet away and take the photo.  For upright gravestones, a slight squat for a more direct shot usually yields better results.

Flat gravestone on left; upright stone on the right.

9 left Plummer.jpg 320x240 

Multiple Persons gravestones

Multiple person gravestones come in many sizes.  Some are no larger than a one person stone.  Some have many names on them.  

Usually one photo will suffice for such stones.  Remember the cardinal rule - Get In Close.  If you are in doubt about the readability of a photo, take one photo up close for each name on the stone.

Something else that might help to get all names in a readable manner in one shot on flat multiple-name stones is to get in close then hold the camera as high as possible.  This decreases the angle of view to the lettering and sometimes helps.  

There is one type of multiple person gravestone that is a real problem.  That's a stone with the surname in the center in large letters and given names in smaller letters spaced along the stone.  If you have to take multiple photos of such a stone be sure to get the family name in each of the given name photos.  This may result in the center name or names being photographed more than once but this simply can't be helped.  

The two photos below are of the same multiple gravestone.  One photo captured the whole stone but was 

unreadable since the photographer had to stand too far away to get the whole stone.  So instead, two photos were taken.  

The center given name had to be photographed twice in order to capture the family name at the stone's center.

11 left Bailey.jpg 320x240   12 right Bailey.jpg 320x240


You will usually not need permission to photograph in a cemetery open to the public whether privately owned or owned by a governmental entity.  Get permission first for private cemeteries or those that you suspect might be private or for those that are locked.  Don't jump the fence or you might find yourself talking to a police officer.

Be sure to record the exact cemetery name, the section name or number in which you worked, the cemetery full address including  the county name, and a photo of the front entrance.  Also, get the GPS coordinates if possible.

To recap: The cemetery information you will need to record:

Photograving Plan

Be systematic as you photograve.  Try to discern the layout of a cemetery or cemetery section before you begin.

Proof your photos at home

Inspect all your photos at home on your computer before you submit them.  If you can't read them it's a sure bet a transcriber won't be able to either.  This is where your grave location plan mentioned above comes in handy.  You'll be able to use that location plan to easily find a stone again to take a better photo.

Happy PhotoGraving,


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