How to Photograph Family Heirlooms

By Sunny Jane Morton

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Family heirlooms laid out to be photographed.
Antique jewelry laid out to be photographed.

1. Handle fragile and one-of-a-kind objects carefully

Wash your hands before touching and support a heavy item’s weight with both hands when carrying and repositioning.

2. Prepare your backdrop

Set up your backdrop with white fabric (a bedsheet works well) or butcher paper, or plain black fabric. Here, fabric is secured to the wall with painter’s tape and draped over a table. You also can experiment with other non- distracting backgrounds.

3. Stage your heirlooms

Place the object alone or, for artistic or historical appeal, group it with two to four related objects. An odd number of objects with varied sizes often looks best.


4. Mind the lighting

Choose an area with good overall lighting. Use additional light sources as needed to illuminate the artifact evenly from all sides. Cover direct or harsh light sources with a translucent shade or curtain.

5. Document the objects

Document identifying information in the filename and metadata of the resulting digital image. You also could place a printed label in the photo or add one digitally, with photo-editing software.

Photograph Family Heirlooms

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Turn your digital camera into a handy research tool! Our genealogist’s guide to digital photography offers tips on taking five kinds of family history photos. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to and affiliated websites.