01 February 2012

Deadly Photography

compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
February 2012

I can honestly say I have taken thousands of tombstone photographs over the years.  Many of them individual stones in Boyd County, Kentucky.   I have taken quality photographs, poorly lit photographs, and photographs that I climbed in, over and around brambles to get.

My office library contains a well worn copy of A Graveyard Preservation Primer by Lynette Strangstad.  Page 28 of her publication shows a figure on the proper light for tombstones with camera on tripod.  I do wonder if she has ever hiked a ridge with camera equipment that included a quality tripod to get to the family cemeteries we have in eastern Kentucky.

There are a number of web sites that discuss cemetery photography.  Flickr has a group discussion  that seems to be mostly non-genealogist based but a fun read. 
City of the Silent states that "Nearly any camera is suitable for cemetery photography."  He goes on to give information on Single-lense reflex cameras.  I think you can do so much more with an slr.

Some of my most cherished photographs are older shots which I have used in  "matching" stones still standing when I pay a visit.  

Sexton Cemetery aka Pigeon Roost Cemetery, Boyd County, Kentucky

Locust Grove Cemetery, Adams County, Ohio 
Descendent Ruhama Halderman Anderson by stone.

When I started photographing tombstones, in the early 1970's,  I carried a Canon AE1. After waiting to pick up the developed frames I quickly found out that I needed some way to assure that photographs were clear before I left the site.  I do not profess to be a professional photographer no matter how much I love a camera and while practice sometimes makes perfect I did not want to chance a bad photo in an out-of-the way cemetery.  Thus my new kit included a Polaroid camera.  I would do a "reading" and write the information, take photographs with the AE1 and also take an immediate shot with the Polaroid, knowing that the Polaroid paper would in time fade.  

Even though I was knowledgeable about the proper way to "read" a cemetery I think excitement would take over and I would sometimes forget to take an "overview" shot of the layout of the cemetery.  I would scribble a quick plat like drawing of where the stone was in the cemetery and most assuredly I wrote down directions and made notes.  The other factor was the cost of developing film so the individual stones were shot and the "overview"  tended to be neglected.

With the dawn of digital photography I shed a few tears as I sold the old slr on Ebay along with many lenses and wonderful polarizing and uv filters.  Sticking with Canon  I wore out a PowerShot tromping the hills of eastern Kentucky but was never as happy as I was when I could adjust an f stop or use a nice filter for better quality.  

With a new slr I am now able to set the properties within the camera.  Each of my photographs has ownership described along with comments.  I am getting in the habit of checking the properties and giving proper file extensions so that future generations won't look at a tombstone or cemetery photograph and wonder where in the world it is located.  Some camera's are now equipped to automatically put gps coordinates in the properties.  Technology is wonderful!

I do agree with Strangstad that a tripod gives the most stable photograph but in the field it is not always possible to lug a full sized one.  I went the extra mile to get an image stabilizer on two of the telephoto lenses that I think I will utilize the most. A circular polarizer does not effect metering.  However simple UV filters seem to affect contrast on stones so I usually take several shots with various filters and settings.  Something I was hesitate to do with the cost of developing years ago.

With new lenses being offered for camera phones the latest consumer report from the past holiday states that camera sales were down. I think a pictures does "speak a thousand words" and any picture is better than no picture.  But I do believe that good equipment improves the situation and will continue to adapt with the new technology while hopefully improving my photographer skills.

1 comment:

  1. While gravestones are not a primary target for me, I do understand your reluctance to drag around a tripod. With today's digital SLRs and stabilizers built into lenses, tripods aren't the necessity they once were. And with digital, you can bracket all your shots so you have a range of exposures to work with and PhotoShop can do the rest. Now if you can just get that old, eroded, lichen-encrusted inscription to show up.....