Using Flash to Side Light a Headstone


Mu-43 Hall of Famer
Jun 20, 2015
New England
Yes I know, weird hobby, but I enjoy old cemeteries and I enjoy photography so I have been a long time "headstone photographer". I post a lot of shots at The problem with old cemeteries is a lot of the old stones are nearly unreadable (and by old I mean people who died before the USA was a country sometimes). Some are hard to read because they are covered in lichen, some because they are marble headstones which erode over time (marble is a soft stone), some because the inscription is simply too shallow to begin with, and many are a combo of those.

Often a stone that is unreadable in the evening might be clear as day in the morning because of the direction of the sun, but who wants to get up in the morning, right? So I use my portable sun which is my Olympus FL-36 with a cheap radio trigger set from Amazon. The flash is set to manual mode so I can dial up or down the output, then I set it on the ground off to one side and slightly forward of the stone and aim it over and up at the headstone. Typically takes a little trial and error with setting the angles, the flash power, and also the "zoom" on the flash head. But when it works it can really work well. I was at a cemetery this afternoon and took two shots, one with and one without flash and although I was hand holding the camera, the two shots lines up really well that toggling between them really illustrates what a flash can do for you in this situation, so I thought I would share it here.

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Of course most of you probably have no interest in headstones, but there are a lot of situations where a simple off camera flash set off to one side or the other can create visual interest and it isn't always for portrait shooting of people only. Perhaps a little inspiration to get out there and try out your flashes OFF camera and as this shot shows, it doesn't have to be dark out.


Mu-43 Regular
Dec 2, 2017
West Virginia
Real Name
Matt Prince


Mu-43 Top Veteran
Oct 21, 2010
North Carolina, USA
This is similar to a technique that David Hobby calls raking the light. It's a great way to bring texture to 2D objects.

Example: This paper looks completely smooth when viewed under "normal" lighting.

View attachment 753909OCF Project: Texture Re-visited by Matt Prince, on Flickr

Set up shot:

View attachment 753910Texture Re-visited Setup Shot by Matt Prince, on Flickr
Also to try to find a tiny medicine pill that you've dropped on the kitchen floor :)
Sep 15, 2015
Real Name
Jeff H
I’ve used shadow lighting...I call it, to see imperfections when sanding dried drywall mud. It works great. But...the examples you two show are very intriguing. I’ve photographed a few headstones and never though to side light like that. Thanks for the thread.

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