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I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

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Cemetery Photography: The Best Supplies

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Supplies for an Awesome Cemetery Photography Kit

Get your cemetery photography kit together for genealogy spring break!

How do you take great photos in the cemetery?

I hate bad cemetery photographs. It's so annoying to finally get to see your ancestor's headstone... except you can't read it because the photo's so bad.

I also hate snakes. But that's a different cemetery problem this kit can't fix.

And finally, I hate an aching back, knees... whatever got stressed trying to take great photos in a place you were never meant to take photos.

This cemetery photo kit can seriously help with that.

Here's what you need...

5-gallon Bucket

This is a container, seat, stand, table, etc. I know I can get them locally at our home improvement store and Firehouse Subs. I know my father owned a "hunting" version with a padded swivel seat. Check the price on Amazon many of the basic buckets cost too much (however, if you are looking for a built in swivel seat or other features, Amazon or another online retailer could be your best bet, don't forget to look at local camping or "outdoor" stores if you want more features). 

You will need a lid for many of the uses beyond "container."

What goes in a cemetery photography kit?
The bucket is only half full with all these items, which includes the bucket apron which goes on the outside when in use.

5-gallon bucket accessories

I had no idea there were so many accessories made for a 5-gallon bucket. We used to use the buckets for camping in Girl Scouts which is why I knew they were perfect for storage/seat but I'm thinking I might organize a bunch of things in buckets, now! Here are a few lid-seat options: stool, padded swivel lid, organizer seat (the video illustrates how four different products from this company work if you want to see them "in-action").

This is one of the in-bucket organizers from the video for the organizer seat. I've linked to it specifically because it fits all the way inside the bucket. I see products that look the same but sit on the rim which won't be good when you put your kit in your car and it falls over! It also won't be a seat or table which is a major advantage for a cemetery photography kit.

Travel Tripod

Note that I was given my tripod and have no idea what brand it is. The link is to a similar style with good reviews. You may be happy with a mini-tripod but I like having the option of something taller without the extra space to store it.

Smart phone photography options

Smart phone adapter for tripod

Also consider a selfie stick instead of the tripod (shouldn't need an adapter). Your hands won't be free but you will do much less bending to get to the level of many tombstones.

Bucket apron

There are a million options for this. Once again, I was given the one you see pictured. The clips on it prevent the lid from being attached so I'll be buying a different one. However, the pocket size is perfect for a photography kit. When choosing this for a cemetery photography kit, you probably want large pockets. Many have smaller pockets than what I own.

a bucket apron makes your photo kit easy to access in the cemetery

Gardening shears and other gardening tools

The linked shears are my go to shears in my garden for soft and hard materials (thick grass or brambles). They should be able to handle anything that isn't excessively overgrown.

Billion Graves app 

(free version is fine)
This will geotag your photos and allow someone else to transcribe the information. It's easier for the photographer than Find-A-Grave but both are valid choices (you don't need anything extra at the cemetery for Find-A-Grave).

Photo Reflector/Diffuser Set

This is the exact product I own and it is great. Why do you need it in the cemetery? The same reason any photographer uses it, it lets you control the natural light.

A reflector is the most useful part of this kit in the cemetery (it has two, silver and gold, plus the white also works to a lesser extent).

I was taught this technique with a mirror, which will work much better. However, you need a mirror the size of the inscription you're trying to bring out. That's not usually something you can bring with you (and use) if you're on your own or if you have to fly...

This set folds up (easily) and is small enough to fit in your bucket. The diffuser can help you remove strange shadows if the stone is in direct sunlight.

Your cemetery photo kit needs a photo reflector!!!

Note that the set contains the diffuser (with the foldable edging, i.e. that is the stiffened piece) and one reversible zip on cover (i.e. soft, no stiff edge on its own). You can NOT use the diffuser and the reflector at the same time unless you have something else to go inside the reflector cover.

A piece of foam core from the dollar store will fit but not fully stiffen the reflector. The foam core can be trimmed to fit and even cut in half and duck taped to "fold" if you want a cheap fix. Foam core won't fit in your bucket AND do a good job stiffening, though.

This set is small enough and lightweight enough to carry two (you could also buy a smaller one to be your diffuser). This is worth every penny if you're serious about your cemetery photographs and can't bring a mirror.

This is worth every penny if you're serious about your cemetery photographs and can't bring a mirror.
Your bucket can prop up this reflector if you're working alone. (Reflector placed close to stone for illustration, only.)
This fake headstone doesn't have details that illustrate why reflected light is needed. It does show how much additional light the silver reflector can provide, even late in the day.  

Index cards and sharpie

For making notes that need to be in a photograph.

Hardback notebook and pens/pencils

Since you have a seat or table (the bucket), you could also use a small device with a keyboard if you prefer electronic to paper. I don't want to photograph on my phone and try to take notes there, too, but you can. If you use Evernote, this Moleskine notebook is the perfect way to write and then digitize notes from the cemetery. Or try a Rocketbook, the executive size will be easier to fit in the bucket but pick what size and style you'll use (you must have the Frixon pens for a Rocketbook. Your Rocketbook will come with one and there are plenty of options including markers and highlighters. The trick is just to make sure you have the right kind of pen at the cemetery!).

Water bottles

For you, to stay hydrated, if you're going in the summer, I recommend an insulated bottle (I just bought this one which includes three styles of lids and comes in a larger size). I am less likely to drink water that has gotten warm and if it's hot... not happening. The cover on the straw top will keep the lid completely clean, even if you knock it over into the dirt while working.

If you're looking for a smaller bottle, I recommend this bottle.

If you need water to clean the stone or matte dirt that keeps flying up, insulated bottles get heavy in larger sizes. Make sure to bring a second bottle for your non-drinking water, if you need it. You could also bring a spray bottle.

Hat, protective clothing

Any protection from sun, bugs, poison ivy, dirt---anything.

Measuring tape, clipboard, pencils, graph paper, ruler, etc.

If you will be sketching a layout.

Tombstone rubbing kit

I don't do rubbings, too many issues with possibly damaging the stone, but a kit should fit in your bucket if that's your choice.

Permission slips

Print a copy of local laws that give you permission to be in a cemetery or correspondence giving you permission to be on private property. You are not guaranteed to have permission to be in every cemetery and even if you can be there, photography (or rubbings, etc.) may not be allowed.

This is a good post from The Legal Genealogist about this issue. In particular, read the comments to learn about the many variations people have come across and also the issues you should consider from an ethical stand point, not just a legal stand point.

Do you have any additional suggestions for items for a cemetery photography kit? I tend to work in rural cemeteries but they aren't hard to access. Do you need different supplies for an urban or remote cemetery? Have you found something that helps with mobility issues or comfort? Leave a comment and tell us what additional items help you!