Add a photo quality rating system

Not sure if this has been discussed, I did search. My understanding is that there are two grades for photos—“needs ID” (not yet ID’d) and “Research grade” (positively ID’d by multiple users). This binary seems simplistic. To my eye, most photos on iNat are good enough to get an ID, but are not necessarily good photos. It would be great if there was a rating system to indicate

  1. that a photo is good quality from a photographic POV.
  2. that a photo is a good documentation of an organism, i.e. clearly shows identifying characters, and demonstrates well what the organism looks like.

Then, one could sort on highest rated quality photos and more quickly get an idea of what an organism looks like, rather than a pile of blurry “research grade” photos to sift through with good ones buried in the mix, having equal, research grade status. It seems to me that would more deserve the name “research grade”. Mushroom Observer, e.g. has this feature.

I think the lesser quality photos are of course still of value, for the purpose of having more data points/more sampling.

but this isn’t a photography site. There are some outstanding photos of flowers, exquisite art, but lacking enough information to ID the plant. A good photo, but not adequate for iNat’s purposes.


Not to hijack this, but I’m also not sure what do to with photos that are blurry messes or otherwise worthless. I go through old ‘unknown’ observations to try to get them at least categorized and to the attention of an expert. However, there are often photos that are of something that I’m pretty sure is a spider but I’m quite confident no one will be able to improve on the observation. Sometimes I click that it’s as good as it can get for an observation, but I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do.


Like this
I am pretty sure this is a plastic plant, but wasn’t sure if I should flag it or what.

Hi @saw_it (and others who may be tempted to respond here about what to do about blurry or unidentiiable photos), please see this topic below and let’s keep this one here on-topic. Thanks!


The grades are for the observation, not for the photos. An observation may have multiple photos of varying quality. The assessment of taxon may include other information supporting the likelyhood of species ID as often it is really not possibly to determine species from photos.

The taxon page is where the best photos should be assembled, collecting together the best identifying features.


Exactly this. People may become discouraged if they see that their photography skills are not the best, this is especially true of new users and hobbyist. The last thing we want to do is accidentally push those individuals away.

This reminds me of what happens on some other sites that focus heavily on quality of photo even if the object is identifiable. You get individuals who talk very poorly to the user because the photo isn’t perfect and “why didn’t you do ____ with the aperture” etc. and as someone who may be young or new that just makes them feel terrible and they end up being pushed away from the site or hobby altogether.

In the end it just creates too much possibility for gatekeeping on both the photographic side and the naturalist side.


I’m assuming the original post here is proposing ranking photos not for their technical quality (which can, as @dianastuder has pointed out, be brilliant but insufficient to ID the organism), but rather on how well they show the features that help with ID.

Even there, I don’t really think we need such a feature. When I go to a taxon page and view the thumbnails there, it’s usually very obvious which ones are close-up and in focus and which ones are distant and blurry. Sorting out a few helpful ones really doesn’t take much time at all in my experience.

Overall I think the advantages of this would be outweighed by the potential for discouragement noted by @codyhough


I understand these counter-arguments. Good points, but it remains the case that many observations get the designation “research grade”, when very often, they are not the grade one would want to use for research, usually because the photos are of poor quality. I think a lot of times, especially for common taxa, great observations, with great documentation, get buried in a sea of blurry photos that have the equivalent “research grade” designation.

The platform Mushrooms Observer has a photo rating feature. It is not actually used on most observations, but I think it is a good feature. It makes the best photos readily retrievable. Users employ both metrics 1 & 2 (defined in OP) in the rating. No one is discouraged. One thing MO users cite as a reason they don’t use iNat is the abundance of low-quality observations. I personally don’t find that a problem, but I think iNat would be improved by having good quality photos/observations highlighted/sortable.

Can you give some examples of research models or use cases where high technical photo quality would matter more than simply having identifiable content?


That one has gone to - evidence of humans = Casual.

We have a more serious issue where people new to iNat feel that clicking Agree, when someone / anyone offers an ID, is a polite way of saying thank you for looking at my Obs. When two agree = Research Grade.


Perhaps one of the factors there could be the nature of the subject matter. I’m primarily interested in birds and mammals. Most of the time, birds fly away just before you get close enough to get a decent photo, and mammals run away. Many invertebrates run or fly away, or don’t keep still. Herps often scurry away, and so on. By comparison, fungi and plants sit there patiently, allowing you ample time to take any number of sharp, well-lit, close-up pictures. So perhaps MO users could consider cutting us a little slack sometimes. Animal photographers have it a bit harder, and often we’re grateful to get any image we can.

There are plenty of distant and sometimes blurry photos on iNat that are nevertheless readily identifiable to species, and I see no reason why those shouldn’t quite legitimately reach RG. The photo may be low quality, but the observation isn’t. The distinction is important.


They also may become discouraged when no one is interacting with their observations because we can’t see what’s in the picture.

There actually is some interest among site staff to highlight “good” photography on iNaturalist. Site co-founder Ken-ichi Ueda started a project recently solely about that right here.

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It is usually easy to find good picture but for some species, Mojave Rattlesnakes for example, you have to sift through hundreds of roadkill or bad quality photos to find good ones. Of course, sort by faves removes this problem.

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You could make something like a hidden ratings system. The viewer could rate the photo from 1 to 5 and the higher rated photos go to the top. Keep the ratings hidden on the original observation.

You may not want to discourage new people, but at the same time you should be encouraging them to do better.

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Yeah, I can’t see anyone reasonably getting upset by advice like “good spotting, but try to keep the photo subject in focus so we can see as much detail as possible” or “getting as close as you can to your subject is not always the best way to capture detail” or something along those lines.

Actually, I disagree, it is very easy to see why people get upset at it. Because this is not a photography site. Numerous times, I’ve had comments like these posted on my records.

I politely respond telling the commenter their feedback is not welcome, specifically because this is not a photography site.

No one intentionally takes bad photos. If I could have done better, I would have done so, I don’t need to be ‘photo-shamed’ because my photography skills or equipment don’t meet your standards of acceptability.


My interest is not at all to shame bad photos, but to promote good ones, and to make them retrievable (e.g. sort by photo quality, OP criteria 1 and/or 2). Perhaps the solution that would address the discouragement concern would be to make a button for “great photo”, that users can go out of their way to press, for photos that are especially great.