Volunteer FAQ Photographer

Photographing a Cemetery

We love getting photo submissions but ask for your help in order to help us do our job better!

🍁 Double-check that the cemetery you’re submitting hasn’t already been done.
🍁 If you’re heading out to take photos, let us know first so we can be sure no other volunteers are working on that cemetery for our project.
🍁 Check our file submission guidelines below. If you have any questions please ask before sending in your photos.

Photos can be sent ‘as is’ without editing or indexing. These guidelines have been made available for those who wish to use them.

1. Locate the cemetery on our website
2. Click on ‘view cemetery details’
3. Fill out the volunteer form
4. Wait to receive confirmation from our volunteer coordinator

We cannot take responsibility for any injury or accident that may occur while you are photographing a cemetery. Please be careful! Watch out for uneven ground, hidden holes, obstructions, etc. Never visit a cemetery by yourself, take along a friend, relative, or fellow volunteer. Bring a cell phone and carry it on your person.

Before photographing a cemetery for this project please sign up, then wait for confirmation from the volunteer coordinator before starting to take photos. This “reserves” the cemetery in your name, and ensures no one wastes their time photographing a cemetery another volunteer is already working on.

If you’d like to photograph multiple cemeteries you can but it’s suggested you start by reserving one and completing it before reserving any others. Once you’ve completed your first cemetery, you can then reserve up to five at a time.

To sign uplocate the cemetery and fill out the ‘add photos’ form on the cemetery page (if you cannot locate the cemetery please use this form instead).

As many cemeteries have the same name, each cemetery included in our project has a unique ID code. This code helps to ensure that submissions are linked to the correct cemetery.

When corresponding with the volunteer coordinator please be sure to include the cemetery ID code if referring to a cemetery.

You can find the cemetery ID code on the cemetery page with the information about the cemetery, as well as in the URL of the cemetery page (e.g. MBERD0212).

We love to receive and post photos of any Canadian cemetery (provided they are not duplicates of photos already posted). The choice of what cemetery to photograph is your decision.

Still not sure what cemetery to photograph? Feel free to choose any cemetery not yet photographed! Pick one that is close to home or one of personal interest. Or contact a province/territory coordinator, they will work with you to identify which cemeteries in your area have not yet been reserved or photographed and you can then make your choice. (Please note: For most cemeteries coordinators know only as much as is posted on the cemetery page and won’t be able to answer questions about size or accessibility).

Permission to take photos varies with each cemetery. If you would like to photograph a privately owned cemetery or a cemetery on private property, it would be best to approach their cemetery board, caretaker or owner and request permission before starting photography.

Many cemeteries have not yet heard of our project and may have questions that can be answered with this information:
• It’s 100% Canadian
• We cater to genealogists and hope to provide them photos of headstones from cemeteries they are unable to visit personally
• If you as the photographer are willing, a copy of the end result (photos & index) can be provided to the cemetery
• Once the photos & index are online the cemetery is more than welcome to link to the page!
• We are willing to work within parameters they set if it means they will allow photography. (For example: make note of when death registrations are released in the province where you will be taking photos, since death information up to that year is public would the cemetery allow photographs of stones with death dates from that year and prior?)

If the cemetery caretaker has any questions or concerns they are welcome to contact the project coordinator at [email protected]

Tackling a large cemetery may seem daunting but there are a couple of ways to make the task seem much smaller.
• Most large cemeteries are divided into sections, choose one section and make it your project. That’s it, just one. If, after finishing, you feel like tackling another you can, or you can stop with one. Doing one section at a time makes it easier for other volunteers to pick up where you left off. If you’re not sure which section to choose, start with the oldest or smallest.

• Organize a group effort. Seek the help of friends, family and other cemetery project volunteers. Each person or pair can photograph one section of the cemetery.

We encourage the photography of every headstone within a cemetery BUT we also appreciate and welcome partial submissions. Each headstone photographed and submitted is possibly the piece to someone’s genealogical puzzle, so each one is a treasure.

In short, you don’t have to photograph an entire cemetery but we’d love if you would! There is NO time limit so it can be done on your schedule, just keep us posted of your progress (and please sign up before starting so we can ensure no other volunteer duplicates your efforts).

• Headstone photos. Photograph each side of every stone that has an inscription. Some stones require just one photo as only one side of the stone has writing. Others can require several in order to get each side documented. Obviously if a side is blank there’s no need for a photo.

• Scenery photos. What does the cemetery as a whole look like? Take a few photos from different parts of the cemetery.

• Sign photos. Please include a photo or two of the cemetery sign.

• Take a friend. Never visit a cemetery by yourself. Bring your spouse, another family member, a friend or fellow volunteer. Besides having some help with photography you’ll also have someone with you in case of emergency. Also bring along a cell phone (make sure it’s fully charged) and keep it on your person, don’t leave it in the car!

• Bring along some helpful tools:
      ‣ Dark umbrellas can help create shade. Some headstones give off a glare that is difficult to photograph. A dark umbrella can cut out some of that glare making it possible to get a readable photo.
      ‣ Soft bristle brushs or brooms can be used to gently sweep away removable debri like leaves & twigs
      ‣ A notepad & pencil can be used to write down inscriptions of stones that may not photograph well.
      ‣ A flashlight or mirror can help create shadows making some inscriptions stand out better.

• Time of day can play a part in how well some stones will photograph. Some stones photograph best with the sun shining on them, others when the sun is behind them.

• Weather – overcast or drizzly days can sometimes be the best days as there’s no sun to work around. Some (not all!) stones show up better in photos when wet.

• Angles – Standing at an angle can help make some inscriptions stand out a bit more in a photo. At times the sun can ‘hide’ the inscriptions but on an angle there might be enough shadow to make the words stand out. At other times it’s the stone itself that creates an interesting challenge – it becomes a mirror reflecting everything nearby including you! Taking a photo from an angle can cut out most of that reflection. (see example)

Additional Tips:
• Ken’s Photo Tips – revealing grown-over ground stones, cleaning stones, using mirrors
• Kate’s Cemetery Kit
• Using snow to reveal the unreadable
• Ken Lowe’s Photo Tips – using off camera flash

Please take one photo that gets the entire monument in the frame then a close up for each side with an inscription.

Most digital cameras, even on a phone, give you the option to choose the number of megapixels (MP) you want to use to take a photo. We recommend taking photos with a setting no less than 3MP which would give you photos that are 2048 x 1536 pixels in size. This allows room for cropping later if needed.

Some older stones are difficult (at best) to read. Even if you can’t read it, take a photo. Someone, somewhere may be familiar with the stone and be able to submit a correction at a later date.

Headstones can be fragile. They’ve lasted this long, let’s do our best to ensure they continue to survive!

What NOT to do
• Don’t try to remove moss, lichin or anything stuck to the stone
• Don’t use chalk, flour, shaving cream or any kind of chemicals
• Don’t rub the stone

What you CAN* do
• Use light & angles (see our list of tips).
• Use a soft bristled broom to brush off removable debri. If you don’t have one handy, create a breeze to blow it off.
• Some flat stones can get buried by grass, be careful of scraping the stone if attempting to unbury it.
* Some cemeteries have bylaws that won’t allow visitors to alter stones they don’t own. Be sure to look for and read any signs posted at the cemetery.

Since you’ve visited, or are about to visit, the cemetery please help us locate it on a map.

You can:
• Take note of the address or addresses of nearby places
• Send us detailed directions
• Locate the cemetery on Google Maps or a similar online mapping service and send us the resulting GPS coordinates.

Photos can be cropped to take out excess background, this is especially helpful if a photo needs to be resized.

This example shows how the background was cropped out making the stone appear larger even though the size of photo remains the same:


Before resizing a photo please crop it first if needed.

Our preferred size is 800×600 (640×420 is okay if properly cropped). Photos need to be large enough to easily read the inscription.

Photos should not be smaller than 640×240 (the size of this example):

Cropping before shrinking ensures that the headstone remains the main subject of the photo which can help with the readability of the inscription:

Most of the photos we post on this site are 800×600 ensuring that they are large enough for most people to read, yet still small enough that they will load quickly for most internet users.
Larger sizes are accepted but will be shrunk to 800×600 before being added to the website.

This photo is 800×600:

CanadaGenWeb's Cemetery Project

Renaming is not needed or required. It’s fine to use the name designated by your camera. All photos are renamed before we place them online to reflect which cemetery they belong to so it does not matter what names the photos have when you send them. However, if you are not indexing your photos and are familiar with the names on a hard-to-read stone, feel free to relabel the photo with the names (ie SMITH_Jane.jpg).

We need only one copy of each photo regardless of how many people are named on the stone. If you have more than one photo of a stone, please pick the best one. The exception is stones with inscriptions on multiple sides, for those please send one photo per side as well as one photo of the entire stone.

Planning to index your photos? Please see our indexing FAQ first!


Zipping is not required unless you are using a file sharing service that does not allow batch downloading.

If you are using such a service, instead of sending/receiving multiple files (sometimes hundreds), a zip file makes it possible to send just one. This is time saving for both the sender and receiver. Zipping a file does NOT affect the original files. Your photos will not be damaged when zipping or unzipping.

Zipping is easy to do and does NOT require purchasing a program. Both Windows & Mac come equipped with built-in zipping functions.
How to zip a file in Windows
How to zip a file in Mac

** We cannot accept .rar files or any files created using WinZip (it requires both sender & receiver to have the software) **

Once you’ve created a zip file please rename it to include your name, the cemetery ID code and the name of the cemetery (e.g. JohnDoe-MBERD0212-XYZCemetery.zip)

Batch downloading allows multiple files (or photos) to be downloaded with one click instead of one file at a time.

We cannot accept downloads that require our volunteers to download dozens of photos one at a time. It’s time consuming and frustrating. The less time spent downloading new submissions, the more time we have to devote to getting those submissions online as quickly as possible.

File size refers the size of the submission as a whole (for photo size please see ‘resizing photos’ under the ‘editing photos’ tab).

The size of your submission will determine which method of submission you should use.
    ‣ Less than 2mb (megabytes): Can be sent by form attachment or e-mail attachment
    ‣ More than 2mb but less than 25mb (megabytes): Can be sent by e-mail attachment
    ‣ More than 25mb: Can be sent using file sharing sites, cloud storage or the postal service

There are several ways to submit cemetery photos to this project. At least one of these methods should fit your level of comfort, however if none work for you or you need assistance please contact the volunteer coordinator for the area you wish to submit photos for, and they will get in touch with you.

Files can be uploaded to our dropbox account, and you don’t need dropbox to use it. If you’d like to upload your photos this way, locate the cemetery you wish to submit photos for, choose ‘Submit Photos’, fill out the form and let us know in the comments you’d like a ‘file request’. We’ll send you one by reply e-mail.

Restricted to one file or photo under 5mb (megabytes) in size. To use a form locate the cemetery you wish to submit photos for and choose ‘Submit Photos’ from the menu on the top right side of the page.

Can be used if the combined total of photos is under 25mb in size per email. If needed, multiple emails can be sent. 

To submit your file via email, locate the cemetery and choose ‘Add Photos’. Indicate on the volunteer form that you wish to submit via email and the volunteer in charge of that area will reply to your message. You can then submit your file(s) to that reply address.

You can choose any file sharing website, however it must meet three requirements
-> 1. It must be entirely free to use for the recipient
-> 2. It must not require software in order to download
-> 3. It must allow batch downloads (one click to download all files at once – not one at a time), OR you will need to zip the photos into one file.

Before uploading photos to a file sharing website, do a test upload of three photos and send them to yourself to be sure your choice meets all 3 requirements.

To submit your file via a file sharing website, first choose the website you wish to use and upload the file. Then return here to the Cemetery Project, locate the cemetery and choose ‘Submit Photos’. On the form, please paste the download link the file sharing website generated after your file was uploaded.

There are dozens of choices that are free to use without registration, but we recommend these three:

‣ Zoomfoot is our preferred file sharing website. It is free to use, allows batch downloading, does not require zipping, and there is no limit to the size of the files. When using Zoomfoot be sure to include your e-mail address as the sender so that you will receive a copy of the download link. Once uploaded, files are available for download for nine days.

‣ Sendspace, also free to use but it does not allow batch downloads, so we request it only be used to send zip files. We will not accept unzipped photos sent via sendspace. Sendspace has a limit of 300mb per file. If your submission exceeds 300mb, create multiple zip files and then use the batch upload feature to upload them. Uploaded files remain on sendspace for 7 days. You have the ability to have the download & delete links sent you via e-mail which is handy in case you misplace the download link.

 File Dropper allows files up to 5gb (that’s 5 gigabytes!) in size, however you can only upload one file at a time. So, like sendspace, File Dropper can only be used to send zip files. Uploaded files remain on file dropper for 30 days. Once the file is uploaded the download link will appear. Be sure to copy this link and save it as File Dropper does not e-mail it to you!

Take Note:
‣ Unless you put our e-mail address ([email protected]) as the recipient of the file, we will NOT be notified that a file is available to download. Please forward the download links via e-mail or through the volunteer form so we can retrieve the file.
‣ When using a file sharing website you must leave your browser open to that website until the file has 100% uploaded. If you leave the page the upload will stop and you’ll have to start over. You can open and use other tabs in the same browser as long as you leave the tab with the file sharing site open.
‣ The larger the file you’re uploading, the longer it will take. It’s also dependent upon your internet connection speed.
‣ * If needed you can create & submit multiple zip files. Please ensure that each zip file contains more than one photo.

You can share a zip file or an entire folder of photos (no zipping!). Once uploaded, share with [email protected]

Any cloud service can be used as long as:
– The recipient is not required to be a user AND
– Photos can be downloaded in one batch (not individually)

Known cloud services that allow public sharing & batch downloading:
‣ Google, 15gb free space (upload to Google Drive, right click on folder you wish to share, click on ‘get shareable link’).
‣ OneDrive, 5gb free space (upload folder or files, then choose ‘share’)
‣ Dropbox, 2gb free space (create a folder within Dropbox, right click on folder and choose ‘Share Folder’)
‣ SugarSync, 5gb free space (right click on folder you wish to share, choose ‘SugarSync’, ‘Share Folder’)

No zipping required! Copy your photos to a CD, DVD, flash drive or SD card* and pop it in the mail. Please note that we cannot reimburse cost of postage or replace lost/missing media. Flash drives & SD cards* will be returned if you include your return address inside the envelope.

If you choose this method please locate the cemetery and choose ‘Add Photos’. Indicate on the volunteer form that you wish to send photos by and the volunteer in charge of that area will reply to your message with a mailing address.

*Place SD cards between stiff cardboard, they’re fragile!

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