Should I remove “stuff” from a headstone?
While you may want to remove nothing, and photograph the marker exactly “As is, where is” I see no problem with removing leaves and twigs, particularly when they cover any of the writing. Nothing is more frustrating than spend a day hunting and to arrive home, look at the photographs and not be able to read the dates…
How can I remove the tougher “stuff?”
I have used everything from a whisk brush to a full-size broom to remove leaves and twigs. I must admit that I have been tempted to use a leaf blower to clear away leaves in the Fall when I am looking along a row of markers that are flush with the ground.
I have found that light strokes with a plastic ice scraper can peel away moss and lichen obscuring the writing on a flat faced granite or other hard stone, never on limestone or other softer stones. I use a selection of bristle brushes that can get down into the engraved writing to make it stand out better. Sometimes, to remove more stubborn stuff I have used toothpicks and chopsticks.
How much “stuff” should I remove?
I may just remove only a leaf or two when that is all that is blocking the writing. For other markers, particularly those set flush with the ground that have sunken over time, I use bristle brushes to remove the collection of dirt and debris. In such cases, I brush away everything that I can.
If you have time, let the marker dry after brushing, since wet streaks may not be flattering in the photograph.
Every rose has its thorn
I recommend that you wear gloves to wipe and prune. I have found that some rather sharp and picky things, including rose stems, that have blown onto a flush monument and just can’t wait to bite when you remove them.