Have you ever come across a tombstone that's really hard to read? Ever tried to take a photo of it and tried to play with the contrast and such to try and make it better? Well, there is a better way. If you own a dSLR and a slave flash you can take far better photos as shown in this blog.
Since he's already shown you how to do it I'm going to give some examples of my photos with the different settings and show you some of the problems I've come across and how to hopefully fix them.
I normally carry with me a Nikon D40X to photograph tombstones. Recently, after reading the blog article, I bought a Sunpak flash and a Cowboy Studio flash trigger. I now carry around a tripod to hold the flash.
Here is the same stone with and without the flash. Notice how parts are readable, but with the flash it's far easier to read.
Here are some of the more common problems I've come across and how I've solved them.
Too much sun, sometimes there's just too much sun which keeps the flash from really filling in the stone. Usually that's because the sun is at my back so I also get part of my shadow in the photo as well. My solution, a large golf umbrella. The biggest problem I've had with this so far is the wind blowing the umbrella around forcing me to hold it and take the photo. The other problem is figuring out if I can carry it on the motorcycle or not. I may have to buy a light reflector instead of an umbrella.
Here's the difference:
Without the umbrella, you can see my shadow on the stone. With the umbrella, the stone isn't very readable, but still far more readable then before. Both shot at f/8 1/200.
Another problem I get is having the f-stop closed too much, or not letting in enough light. This is easy enough to spot as the photo will be very dark. Alternatively, if the photo is too bright then the f-stop is open to far. I tend to start my f-stop around 10 and go from there, since it's digital photography you'll know right away if the photo came out and make any needed changes.
On the photo on the left was done at f/4, the one one on the right at f/10.
The hardest problem to figure out is the correct distance and/or angle for the flash. If the flash is too close you will cut the corners off of the stone. If the angle is bad you will get one side of the memorial cut off. Usually pulling the flash back a foot or so will fix the problem. Other times just rotating the head of the flash will help.
Example of flash too close and of flash angled bad. The upper left side of the stone is where all the light went. Notice how much easier it is to read when the light hits at the proper angle, the light also filled in the bottom left side of the stone. Both photos taken at f/7.1 and shutter speed of 1/200.
Another problem is too fast of a shutter speed, at least if the flash can not keep up. The f-stop wasn't changed for these photos, just the shutter speed, from 1/250 to 1/200. Notice the black line on the first photo, the shutter speed was faster then the flash. Both photos taken at f/10. The one on the right was used above as well.
Remember, because digital photos are "free" take as many as you need. I will take 10+ of a stone playing around with different settings until I get one I like, sometimes it's best to not use the flash at all. Sometimes though the stone it so badly worn not all of the original markings will show up and you can only hope that at some point in time someone else will have transcribed the stone. Happy stone hunting.