Find My Ancestor Blog

Billion Graves – Taking High Quality Photos

Yesterday I posted quite a lengthy review on the new app and website Billion Graves. I had so much more to say about the app and I didn't want to write a whole novel in one posting, so I decided to break it up into small segments. Today I want to talk about some of the issues I have already seen with the new app and website having to do with the photos that are taken and possibly some suggestions on how both us as genealogists and photo takers can improve the photos uploaded to the website as well as some suggestions for the developers to help create a better product for us users. As most of you know, the new app and website Billion Graves is a way for users with iPhones (and Android devices soon) can travel to cemeteries, take photos of the headstones, and upload them to the website which can then be transcribed and made searchable to users. On Sunday when I was playing around with the website I was scrolling through the images that had not yet been transcribed and I ran into a few that I thought were perfect examples of some of the issues we are going to see with this new site. Let me first start out by saying I am not meaning to point out particular people with the photos or anything like that. I don't know who took these photos, nor does anyone else. I just want to give some good examples of headstones that cannot be transcribed either because of lighting on the headstone, objects covering the headstone, photos that are the back of headstones with no apparent names, and other similar problems. Phillip Trauring of the Blood and Frogs blog mentioned the other day about the issue with the website not supporting multiple languages. This may be a feature that will be added later, but for now headstones like these aren't able to be transcribed and therefor sit in the transcribing que for a long time. There are quite a few photos I saw where it is obvious the photographers did not read the instructions on taking photos. Yes, there are instructions on taking photos on the website. They are located here. Please read them! Also, when you are taking the photos, image if you were taking the photo for yourself and it was your ancestor's headstone you were taking. Would you want this picture for your scrapbook or research report? Can you read all the information on here? This is not a headstone, but a plaque talking about the cemetery its self. Right now there is no option to add photos of the cemetery its self like there is on Find A Grave. I am sure this person who took the picture had good intentions of uploading this to the website, but until there is an option to  add additional pictures about the cemetery, I say we just stick to regular headstones with names on them. What do you thing? Comments? Suggestions? Okay, I am sure this picture was not meant to be uploaded to the website. To me this looks like an accidental photo or the person thought they would be funny and upload the lawn mowing guy. While I am on the topic of accidental photos, because there are a few more below, I think the developers need to take the "Auto Upload" feature off and make the default setting so you have to upload the photos by pressing "Upload" yourself. For those of you who have not used the app, when taking a photo, afterwards it shows you the photo you just took and asks you whether the picture is good or not. Obviously if you take a picture you did not mean to you say no, other wise when you say yes it will automatically upload it to the website. I don't want to see "oops" pictures on the website and I know you don't either. So, while the developers fix this (because it really does need to be fixed!) how about you go into your settings on the app and turn OFF the "Auto Upload" feature! This headstone overall looks really good. The lighting is fine, you can read all the words, but it is cut off. I know this isn't the end of the world, but I know there are many people like me who use the photos of headstones more than just for the information on them, but I use them when creating reports, scrapbooks, etc. People want the entire headstone in the picture. They don't want to use a headstone picture that is cut off to put in their family history book they have been working so hard on for many years. They want the best quality they can get. So please, make sure you get the whole headstone in the photo for the best picture! Did I mention there are instructions for you on the website? Here is the link (again). I cannot read the husband's full name. Can you? Photos like this the grass should have been swept off and what ever was blocking the headstone that created the shadow should have been moved. If objects can't be moved, get the photo from a different angle or a different time of day. I think I see someone's finger in the corner... Make sure your fingers and other objects to do get in the way of the camera. Also, I cannot read what this headstone says at all. The photo was taken from too far away. Get as close as you can to the headstone, but still making it so you get the whole thing in there. Of course there are going to be headstones where time has worn it away and photos cannot get the best picture. Here are a couple suggestions my dad and I came up with:
  • Have a card that you can write the name on and have it beside the headstone in the picture. This will let others know what it says when they see the picture.
  • Talk to the cemetery and see the name that used to be on the headstone.
  PLEASE clean off the headstones before you take the picture. No one wants stuff covering the headstone! Again, imagine if this was your ancestor's headstone. Do you want that grass covering it? Also, your white shoes look very nice in contrast with the green grass, but be sure not to get other objects (fingers, hands, shoes, etc) in the pictures. It makes them look less professional. Is this an accident picture? Or did the person taking it want her shoes, flowers, and headstone all in the same shot? If this is not an accident picture, sorry, but I cannot read the headstone at all! And this is my favorite picture so far I have seen on the site! Not really, but can you guess what it is? I think it looks like a close-up of a couch or a wool suite jacket. Either way, this is clearly not a headstone and I am assuming it was yet another accidental upload. This is why the "Auto Upload" should be turned off! Here is a screenshot of the settings screen where you disable this: Again, I don't mean to point fingers by showing these few photos, but it is important for others to know and to see what some of the issues with uploading photos and taking photos are. I have said this a few times already, but when you go out there doing such a great service to all of us taking these photos, images they are all your ancestors and they are pictures you are going to be using in a scrapbook or a family history book. I know you would want the best quality photos, so please, provide us with the best quality photos! And be sure to READ and FOLLOW the instructions given on their website - also just use common sense on whether a picture is readable or not.

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  1. Thanks for the mention. There are a lot of issues the people at AppTime need to start fixing, in order to make the site more useful. I hope they read this article and are looking at the incoming photos in general, so they understand what they need to take into consideration. Clearly there needs to be a way to mark a photo as unreadable or ‘not a gravestone’ or to mark it as a general photo for the cemetery.

    In FindAGrave it’s bad if a grave is unreadable, but at least it’s a photo of the grave of a person which is already specified. In BillionGraves once a photo is deemed unreadable it’s basically useless and should be removed from the system, or perhaps trigger a request for someone to take a better picture at that location. I don’t know if the GPS in cell phones is good enough to direct people back to the same gravestone, but that might be a nice feature. Kind of like geocaching in cemeteries.

    My question about the photo of the grave that is cut off on the side is not about it being cut off, but if it’s actually the back side of the gravestone. I’m guessing the name of the person buried is on the other side. The inability to link photos of the same gravestone is a major weakness of BillionGraves. As a fix for this, they should add a feature to the transcription interface that shows photos taken nearby (which is easy considering they’re all geotagged) and allows one to link photos which are of the same grave. Unfortunately, this isn’t foolproof since there may be similar looking gravestones each with writing on both sides and you might mix them up. AppTime really needs to add a feature to the cell phone app to allow multiple photos of the same gravestone.

  2. Thanks for the tip! I headed right over and turned off the auto upload!

  3. A.C. –

    I work at BillionGraves, and I wanted to thank you for your mention and for your comments on what we could improve. We’re eager to make this a useful tool for genealogists, so we’re always happy to hear what needs you have.

    As for non-monument photos, our developers have put a sort of photo-checker in place that we’re hoping will catch photos that won’t be useful. It will delay the photos’ posting publicly on the site–perhaps 2-24 hours–during which the person who took photos can log into their account on the site and edit their contributions. Hopefully the image checker will catch these sorts of slip ups: we’ll be keeping an eye on things and make adjustments as necessary.

    Thanks again for your feedback!

  4. I popped over to BillionGraves a couple of days ago and didn’t find any family photos (in several surname searches) so I’ll give it a while before I go back. But your tips are great for any cemetery photos…thanks for sharing!

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