Photographing Gravestones

Posted December 23, 2010 by Amanda | 2 Comments

Last week, we gave tips on visiting cemeteries. We reminded you to take lots of pictures during your visit. This week we offer tips on how to take great gravestone pictures.

While some genealogists prefer creating tombstone rubbings, cameras are an excellent non-destructive tool for recording a gravestone. Rubbings may cause damage to the gravestone, especially to older, more fragile markers. A camera gives you the opportunity to take multiple pictures from many different angles and distances.

Find the Perfect Time of Day

Choosing the right time of day is critical to taking a great photograph. This may vary depending on the location of the stone and which direction it is facing. Either way, a bright sunny day is best. You will want the sun to shine at a slight angle, no more than 30 degrees to better highlight the inscriptions and details. If the sun is shining directly on the front of the stone, you may be limited on what your camera can pick up.

Adjusting the Light

Depending on the angle of the sun or the location of the tombstone, you may need to adjust the lighting yourself. Here are some tools you can use to help reflect just the right amount of light.

Mirror: Glass mirrors can break easily. A mylar (plastic) full length mirror is a great way to help direct sunlight towards the tombstone. In some instances, a grave may be located under a shady tree. Two mirrors will to help you reflect the light toward the marker. Bring along a friend to help you prop/hold these reflectors.

Aluminum foil: For a low budget alternative, wrap aluminum foil around a piece of cardboard. This works great for reflecting light!

Collapsible reflector: If you don’t mind spending a little extra money, you can purchase a collapsible light reflector for about $50 at your local hardware store.

If the sun is too strong, you may wish to bring with you a dark cloth or cardboard to block the light.

Enhancing the Inscription

Do not use shaving cream! Many genealogists have used shaving cream in the past to help enhance difficult to read inscriptions. However, the acidity of shaving cream is highly destructive to the preservation of gravestones. The direct use of any foreign substance on any gravestone is not recommended.

You can spray a little water on the surface of the stone. It’ll help improve the clarity of the inscription.

It has been suggested by some that the use of a black light can greatly help enhance worn out inscriptions. You can purchase a handheld, battery operated black light at a local novelty store. These are especially easy to find during Halloween.


Remember to upload your photographs to your ancestors’ profiles on Geni. You can also join the Gravestone Photo Exchange project to discuss and share your photographing adventures with other users.

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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