The search for ancestors will likely take you to a graveyard more than once.  To get the best pictures of a grave site, keep the following tombstone photography guidelines in mind.

Remember Respect

A graveyard is a special place. Be sure to be courteous and respectful at all times. Do not leave litter, or park your car in inconvenient locations. Replace any flowers or tokens you remove when photographing a tombstone, and never take photographs in a graveyard when a service is occurring.

Photographing Headstone Inscriptions

Getting a clear picture of a headstone’s inscription is most important. Time your visit when the lighting will best to highlight the headstone you are photographing. Most often, tombstones face east, meaning that morning lighting is best. However, some gravestones, like those in New England, face west, meaning that the middle of the day will create the best lighting. For tombstones facing North or South, use afternoon light. At all costs, avoid shooting when the sun is behind the tombstone, as this will cast the entire inscription in shadow, making it difficult to read. Additionally, remember that light shining directly on a tombstone will wash it out, also making it difficult to read. On average, aim for lighting that is at an angle of about 30 degrees to the stone. This will cast a shadow within the inscription, making it easier to read.


Photographing Different Types of Headstones

There are many different types of headstones, from the old and rough, to the overgrown, to the glossy. Some types of headstones might require creativity when photographing. For example, the glossy headstone below is best taken at an angle so that the photographer’s own reflection does not obscure the words.


Can’t Read a Headstone?

Have an overgrown or dirty headstone that makes it difficult to read the inscription? Only use water to clean headstones. Shaving creams and other cleaners can leave behind acid that will stain or deteriorate the headstone.

Still can’t read it? Try using tinfoil.

Photographing Graveyard Details

The headstone isn’t the only part of a graveyard that can tell about your ancestors. Keep an eye on the statues, types of flowers, and tokens decorating the grave that may reveal something more about the person buried there. Photographing these details will tell the story of your ancestors’ lives.


Before Leaving the Headstone

After each headstone you photograph, be sure to pause and review the pictures you’ve taken. Can you clearly read the inscriptions, or did the photograph blur? Check now, and retake any photos that didn’t turn out.

Photographing Graveyard Landmarks

Lastly, before you leave the graveyard, be sure to snap a few pictures of the graveyard itself, including signs and other identifying markers. These landmarks can make it possible to locate the stone faster again in the future, or help those who follow in your footsteps.


Looking for more useful photography tips, or ways to preserve your family’s legacy? Explore’s Pinterest boards.