Would You Leave Your Shadow in a Tombstone Picture?

George and Ida (Sargent) Trautvetter stone, Bethany United Church of Christ Cemetery, Tioga, Hancock County, Illinois. Picture taken by Michael Neill in 2004.

My favorite picture of the tombstone of my great-grandparents has my shadow across the bottom. Several years ago I was taken to task for including it in a post. “You really should not have your shadow in the picture” was what I was told. “It is bad form.”

I like the shadow in the picture and I have no intention of taking a “better” picture without the shadow. And if I missed lecture on “bad form,” I’m not running out to go and listen to it.

The shadow does not impact the legibility of the text of the stone. While I’m not one given to sentimentality, I like the fact that the shadow connects me to the stone in some way. I’ve made my mark on the stone without physically interacting with the stone or harming it.

And the shadow marks the image as one that I took. Years ago the same picture “showed up” by osmosis on FindAGrave. I didn’t care that the picture was used as much as I was bothered by the fact that someone chose not to credit me for the picture.* I would have graciously given permission–I just wanted them to indicate where they got the picture. They really could not say their shadow was the one on the stone (you can make out the bill of my farmer’s hat in the image). They would have had to have been standing at the same distance from the stone at the same time of day and hunched over as I slightly was. They would not have had to have worn the same hat <grin>.

After I saw this picture, I stopped worrying if my shadow was on the stone–unless it impacted the readability of the stone. It’s like I made my own annotation on the image. And it’s not a big deal. Really.

*–I realize others do not care if people use their photographs without asking. That is their  prerogative and their own business. I am not one of those people.


22 thoughts on “Would You Leave Your Shadow in a Tombstone Picture?

  1. I guess I am also a “bad form” photographer. I purposely stand so my shadow is in the picture. It makes the picture personal to me, and I don’t care if it’s not personal to someone else. They can go there and take their own picture. 🙂

  2. I agree about the credit given for the person that took the picture. I added a few pictures of family’s tombstones on Ancestry.com and I didn’t minded the people that copied it. But then I saw a picture on someone’s tree and they claimed it as their picture. It was added to their tree a couple years later, it is my picture. I think they downloaded it and then added it to their tree. I did not send the a nasty note, but thought about it..

    • I agree with you Barbara. I have had numerous family photos and gravestones come back to me as hints with someone else taking the credit. It is so bad that I felt forced to make my tree private. I don’t mind sharing pics and info but just give me the credit !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Karen Lebeter says:

      I have a huge amount of relatives, so I may post an old photo that dozens of other people have. How can you tell who took a close up of a tombstone (without a shadow) if it is a close up without any identifying background? Many can take a photo that looks the same if it is a close up. Just my 2 cents worth.

  3. I agree with you. These are OUR photos of OUR relatives. We can take them any way we please. And I also agree that people should not take photos that don’t belong to them without asking.

  4. I don’t go out of my way to include my shadow, but when a large percentage of older burials were done so the face of the stone faces west. So some shadow is going to fall on the stone. If the inscription is readable, then I invite the critic to go out and do better. But really, I am over these people who have nothing better to do than critique photos.

  5. When I am taking pictures for findagrave, I do try to avoid leaving my shadow or shoes in the picture. I will stand at awkward angles to avoid it, and crop a picture with my shoes in them. Mostly because I am taking the picture for others. This is very hard to do with newer headstones, which are very reflective.

    But when I take a picture for myself, then my shoes show that I have been there, and I have many pictures of my daughter in photos by her ancestor’s grave, modeling the headstone.

    It is your picture and I do agree that they should have asked before posting it elsewhere as if it was theirs.

  6. I agree with u too. It makes a connection as to whensure & why u were there taking the photo. Good 4 u! I recently realized that I have more or less been a genealogist since I was at least a teen maybe younger but didn’t know I was.

  7. Yes! It’s a more personal photo! I like the idea of being close to a relative by osmosis! May be a little strange?
    Not taken for someone else’s Family Tree, not being rude, but if you’re interested in having the same photo,
    You’ve got to take it yourself! You know the saying, “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself”
    Just saying

  8. I’ve never heard of a shadow being bad form. Sounds like whoever said that may have been having a bad day. haha. And I’m with you about people using my photos and acting like they look them. I would say THAT is bad form.

    • It makes it easier for them to copy it, yes. But when something is published online, it falls under the actual act of being published and that means that copyright actually is involved. Whether it is practical to pursue it is a separate matter entirely.

  9. I would get a whole bunch of relatives together and do a family portrait. Love the shadows. Almost like leaving footprints in the sand.

  10. Social Media has made everyone an expert in everything, even how others take their personal photos. I’m learning as I go and I make mistakes. I must admit I assumed photos on ancestory/find-a-grave were put up to share. I believe the credit is embedded in the photo, but I will be more diligent about asking/crediting in the future.

  11. Anne Walizer says:

    Just something to consider -I have used Ancestry for years but occasionally, the sync feature has…hiccuped and I have had to upload my entire tree yet again. In doing so, the proper links showing where some pics I have gotten from other trees vanish and it looks like I uploaded the original photo. When you are talking about hundreds of photos to go back thru and clean-up to re-link to give proper credit…it can take quite awhile if you attempt it. I have seen quite a few of my own photos not attributed to me as well. Now I add a subtle watermark/copyright on every photo i post on ancestry (in such a position that it really can’t be cropped out without it being obvious). But before i would send a nasty email to somebody accusing them of stealing my pics, i would politely ask if they have been a victim of the syncing issues that ancestry has had with FTM.

    • I usually ask the person if they know where they got it–if I even see the image. I usually don’t go through all the trees at Ancestry or elsewhere looking for my pictures–there’s simply too much other stuff to do. If I happen to see it, I may contact the person. The flip side of this is that if I find an image someone else has posted, I ask before I use it (or post it to my blog). While I realize that some do not care if images they took are shared, others do and I want to respect that. That’s always true and even more so, in my opinion, if someone devoted a significant amount of time to photograph all the images in a cemetery. I at least want to credit the person who went to all that work.

  12. Not only do I leave my feet or my shadow, I leave the leaves, moss, and even bird droppings on the stone. I never, ever touch the stone. What I see is what I photograph. It helps me remember the time of the year and my personal visit. If there is snow, fall foliage, brown or green grass it all helps ME. I once saw my photo of a 1730 Derry, NH tombstone used in a commercial by a major genealogy website producer (not naming names) and I knew it was mine because of the bird droppings. Yes, I complained and they removed it. If they had asked me ahead, or credited me I wouldn’t have said one peep.

  13. This is a time to mention the use of other people’s work. Like you said, the idea that someone used your picture and did not give you credit, is the point.

    Many years ago, in my naive days, I shared my FTM file with two people, not thinking that they would post portions of this file. It was obvious that these parts were from my file as there was a letter my grandmother sent to her sister regarding the birth of her last child which I transcribed. Only my immediate family knew about this letter. It showed up on two public family trees. First I was upset that such a private letter was shared, but also that this file was due to my hard efforts. I contacted both people. One very graciously removed my research and … letter. The other person never responded. I suspect that she was one of those sometimes family researchers who on one occasion posted her tree and never returned.

    My tree is private.

    And…. I think I need to update my site below.

  14. Some of my grandchildren were named after family members so I have a picture of my grandson at my father’s grave and my great-grandfather’s. The graves are all in a different state so if the rest of the family goes there we will take more pics of the kids at the graves. I would gladly share pics without the kids in.

    I have used pics from Ancestry and FindAGrave in my tree because it is impossible for me to travel to all the places.

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