Cropping with thumbnail dimensions in mind

When I use the Explore feature to look for species similar to my own, I am often frustrated by how many images have diagnostic features chopped off by the frame of the thumbnail. Since I’m usually exploring lepidoptera, that often means wingtips are not visible—sometimes, heads. I imagine it’s worse for taxa that are less square in proportions. Of course, the whole image is available if you open the observation, but when looking through numerous pages of 500 or so species for a matching image, it’s prohibitively time-consuming to open large numbers of obs.

I have the same problem when identifying; the other day when working on Unknowns, I saw a thumbnail in which the only thing visible was a person’s legs and an umbrella hung over his arm. I had to open it to see there was a plant in his hand! This seems equally a problem for identifiers, who have to open a lot more observations to see if there’s something they can identify, and for observers, whose obs might never get an ID because their thumbnails look so unpromising.

It doesn’t seem to me this would best be solved by changing the way the site handles thumbnails; having a bunch of long, skinny thumbnails and tall, thin thumbnails just doesn’t sound ideal. I’ve been trying to make my best image–the one I plan to order first in my observation–roughly the same proportions as the website’s Explore/Identify thumbnails: a square (or a rectangle slightly wider than tall, since thumbnails on my phone are more like that), with the species pictured taking up most of that space. Using images that are less close-up, to be safe, can also eliminate the “cutting off” problem, but doesn’t seem like a great idea; even a semi-distant organism can be much less helpful.

Are there others here who take this approach to their observation image proportions? Are you sometimes frustrated by images in Explore whose diagnostic features are lopped off by thumbnail edges?

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For this very reason I crop 99% of my images to squares, and when choosing taxon thumbnail images I favor images that are either square cropped or images where the entire organism can be comfortably shown within square boundaries.


No, since if I want to browse through photos of a certain taxon I’ll use the taxon page instead, which a) shows photos truer to their actual proportions and b) shows all photos used in an observation rather than just the first one:

Collection and umbrella projects also display observation thumbnails with more variation to the proportions.

(Default taxon photos are a different story.)

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The Identify modal requires every unknown observation be opened to add an ID, so even if the organism isn’t centered in the image that appears in the thumbnail, it should be fully visible in the pop-up / modal:

image --click to view full image in pop-up–>

I certainly can open observations like the one with the umbrella–I did in that case. However, when I am scrolling through thousands of Unknowns looking for things I can identify, and the chances are low that an unpromising thumbnail will be one of these (lately while IDing Unknowns I’ve been looking for non-plants in a sea of Asian plants), it often seems like too much work to do this every time. I suspect some other identifiers feel the same way.


I often browse images at taxon pages as well, but that’s just not practical if, say, I want to see all Australasian moth species on iNat. It’s enough work already to go through the taxon pages for each moth family, looking closely enough that I’ll recognize any moths from my photo files. It would be quite unmanageable to multiply those thousands of species thumbnails by the hundreds or thousands of individual observations of many of these moths (not even considering the multiple photos for some of those obs).

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I also crop most images to square, and use that as the main image. Subjects that work better in long format (such as tall plants) might also have secondary images that are uncropped or rectangular.

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I also closely crop most things square before uploading them, unless the subject pretty much fills the center of the frame already and there’s not much to crop off. In those cases the automatic cropping to a thumbnail that iNat does works fine. I think they do make a more useful thumbnail for browsing in the explore tab that way. I find it helpful when trying to identify my own observations to browse in the explore tab with filters set to narrow it down. Using the suggestions in the identify pop-up can work to compare just a few options, but not so much when I want to scroll through say all the wasps in the eastern states. Often while uploading observations in one window, I have a second browser window open on the explore tab filtered to just my own observations. That helps when I recognize that I’ve seen something before, but can’t quite remember the full name of it. I can just search my own observation thumbnails first and compare them side by side.

I think for me having a closely cropped subject also helps me learn better by associating just the subject with the name. Seeing a page with all the photos cropped to just the insect where you don’t have to zoom in and hunt for it, seems to drill into my head that this is what this insect looks like… kind of like flash cards… if that makes sense :)

(seems clearly relevant to iNat, so I moved this to General).

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