Encouraging users to upload more than just one photo

It often happens that many users photo just one photo of an organism and that this photo may also be more or less of poor quality (often not on focus) or may depict the organism from too far away or also that it may depict just one small detail.
In all these cases the identification may be from very difficult to impossible.
I do not know if this habit is widespread or not, nor which could be the reasons or if it is possibly related to a sort of cliché among people.

Anyway, I think it could be useful to underline the importance of presenting an organism, when possible, in more than one small detail, in particular in order to make the observation more reliable and to let other users to give an identification.
In the case, how could we do?


Given the current abilities of iNat, I think the only ways are to: write a personal journal post (or a post on a project you administer); start a thread in the forum or on Discord that discusses, say, how oaks are most easily IDed if you have several photos of various structures; or paste a comment on individual observations about the need for more photos of particular parts of the organism.

None of those options is particularly effective at getting the word out to beginning naturalists, unfortunately. I’ve been IDing Unknowns recently and I’ve seen a lot of photos that are just of a tree at a distance. I can tell the tree is not a conifer, but that’s about it. So, I’ve been thinking about writing a nice generic sentence or two about the need for photos of the leaves, at the very least, and pasting that into recent observations.


This is discussed pretty regularly, even as an option was proposed a pop-up notification in uploader, but for now there’s nothing that would reach every iNat user, even if you write it in the rules or guides.


I don’t know the exact breakdown, but making an educated guess from other websites/apps: most users are casual, will upload only a few observations and use a mobile phone. I don’t know the share of observations that mass of users represents given how the top observers can skew the distribution, but I’d expect them to represent a significant portion of what you’re concerned about.

Reaching these users that will only upload once or twice to test out the app is pretty much a lost cause. I’d be interested in the exact user retention stats, but I’d expect them to be fairly low (possibly in part due to people uploading unidentifiable pictures, not getting any feedback and then dropping out, but also because that’s how it goes for most sites). That’s perfectly normal and we should accept the fact that the signal-to-noise ratio is never going to be 100%, not every observation is going to be useful (to both the observer and IDers) and that’s fine.

If the user is willing to get involved, they might not be willing to delve into forums/discord/etc. (if they were, they’d probably be looking up guides and keys and thus probably eventually come to post better pictures by themselves). Some kind of pop-up or link to a guide might help, but in my opinion only marginally better than any other improvement to the overall user experience, given that the main factor is getting the user more engaged and willing to actively learn.


I can tell you why I stopped posting as many multi-photo observations: because I looked at the Curators and the experts from whom I was seeking identifications and the vast majority of their observations were one photo.

Now I only post multi-photo observations when I don’t know what something is, with hopes that the extra photos offer angles, details, body parts, leaf undersides, whatever that will assist.

My best advice is that if you, a Curator or expert, want a behavior from someone, model that behavior. Because for those of us who are learning as we go, we take our cues from you.


I often get the opposite popup in the Android app recently, warning me that I get close to the limit of 20 photos per observation… but taking 20 pictures of a plant also takes 20 minutes, so most of my observations are still just one or two pictures, otherwise I just wouldn’t get to observe much.


You are making a good point. I worry, though, that if one of our goals as a community is to broaden people’s appreciation of biodiversity, losing a user early on is a bad thing. At least they tried iNat once or a few times, but without even just minimal feedback fairly quickly, they’ll give up and go do something else with their lives.

Of course, if every person who tries iNat gets hooked and starts uploading dozens of observations a week, we identifiers will give up in despair! I’m kidding, but there’s a grain of truth there. Your comments are making me think I should write a journal post or two about this in my personal journal, as well as trying my best as a new City Nature Challenge organizer next year to make this known to all the participants.


I think it’s just fine that the lesson you learned is that one photo is often enough, though. I do much the same. There are a great many species which are easily identified by a knowledgeable identifier from just a single photo (with location context), even if identifiers less familiar with the biota of a given region may not be able to make that identification (for myself I’m mainly referring to plants).

I often feel a tension with threads like this due to that. Not every observation needs multiple detail shots. Observers most interested in distribution mapping can’t go uploading multiple detail photos for every observation of, say, eastern hemlock if they’re adding hundreds of observations at a time. Within most of its range even a poor photo is recognizably distinct on sight.

A single distant indistinct tree photo like the OP refers to obviously isn’t ideal and will be understandably unidentifiable to most iNat members, but may be readily identifiable by someone with a keen knowledge of a given region’s trees, so it may not be worth putting a lot of energy into pursuing the users who post such observations. It may be that in time it will be identified after all.


I make lots of observations for iNat, but I try hard to make a minimal number of photos where I can, if only because uploading them takes time! (I use a camera, not my phone.) But I have learned how few photos I can get away with mostly from other sources like field guides and websites, with some help from iNat.

But if I see, say, a plant I haven’t a clue about, I’ll take lots of photos. Usually, though, I’ll miss the distinguishing features, but at least I can go home, look the plant up, and learn that I needed to photograph the hairs on the undersides of the leaves, for the next time I encounter that plant.


I will say this, though, too. I learned from reading someone’s (can’t recall who) description on iNat to take the photo of the underside of the leaf, that that could be useful. (I also learned in the process that insects can often be found on the underside of leaves, whee! Bonus!)

I think my larger point is that the greatest asset iNat has is its experts, its identifiers, its Curators. New people look to you. So use your real estate wisely! If you know you identify beetles and that a side view and an overhead shot are best but you also need a shot of the underside, say so at the beginning of your self-description.

Those of us who are sticking around are seeking “our” people but we also want to bring “our” people the very best offerings. :)


Why so long? Regular asset of photos (leaf from 2 sides, branch, whole plant, stamen, flower from 2 angles) takes a minute at most if you’re not trying to stay at one spot as long as possible or make a masterpiece, when you’re in a new place photographing plants in 20 minutes you can create much more than 20 pictures.

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My phone often refuses to focus, so I have to spend a long time trying to trick it, like moving really close, then it focuses, then move away again and quickly take the picture before it reverts to being blurry. Or switch to the “Open Camera” app instead which has a manual focus option, but with a very tiny slider and some bugs that often require fiddling with the settings, so also time consuming. And often enough the pictures end up shaky/blurry anyway so I have to double check after taking them and often delete them and re-take, and if there’s sun I may have to turn up brightness or walk to shade to be able to see the phone screen. And if I decide to put on a clip-on lens I need to take it out of the bag, align the clip, screw on the lens… the 1 minute is just an average, a lot of my picture take much longer. It’s why I always have to botanize alone, everyone would get mad at how long I spend photographing a flower :P

[edit] I should add, I do also take faster pictures, if I know what something is I can just snap a quick picture or two and be done, so then it’s only a few seconds. But I did spend 20 minutes or more on a single plant on numerous occasions.


You need to put your hand as a background, if you don’t want it to be on photos, when phone focuses you can put it away and quickly make a photo.


Plants for me. I glance at how many obs from that observer.

If they are new, I prompt - we need leaves too for a species ID.
But if they already have mm a thousand obs, next - they should have learnt a single (blurry!) photo doesn’t hack it. But if they also, never help to identify, next next next.

Identifying takes 2 - and observers need to give us enough information to work with. I also won’t tag in Help please, if I feel there is not enough there.

Either they stick around and learn what to give, and get, for an ID. Or, we are all different with lives and interests that may or may not fit with iNat.


I carry a card - fits in the pocket of my camera case. Look, no fingers.


I like that the card has a kind of natural pattern, not just one colour, not distracting, almost blends in as if it is a soil or sand background.


I’m an anomaly, but after someone told me that I needed additional views of a particular flower species, I spent several weeks learning how to differentiate them and then created a visual guide for others to use. And went on an identification spree. And now the genus is widely identified correctly state-wide and beyond. Point is, depending on the person you’re responding to, adding a comment could potentially be helpful.


As others have said, taking multiple clear photos of different features can be time-consuming and frustrating for a casual user, especially if one’s phone or the organism itself isn’t cooperating. I always appreciate specific comments on observations that point out what essential features I’ve missed- these have been helpful in teaching me what to look for next time.

I think many beginners, even those who are generally excited about nature, are unaware of the sheer number of species out there and the tiny details that might separate one from the other. (I’m thinking particularly of insects here, where a general field guide to an area might list only a small fraction of what exists there.) It’s a little overwhelming to be faced with the reality of a diverse ecosystem and the fact that visual identification can sometimes be an expert-level task, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some people are put off by it. But I do think specific comments about why a particular observation’s photos are insufficient (worded in a friendly way, of course) can be very helpful in keeping people engaged.


Ditto. It’s either just part of the challenge or a bit maddening depending on my mood. The trick of putting my fingers behind the subject does not work as reliably with this phone. Sometimes, restarting the iPhone helps for a while.


Android phone in my case. Previously I had phones where I could lock focus (I think on higher end Samsung phones you still can) which helped a lot, just focus on my hand then lock focus. With my current phone some AI handles focus. I’m convinced for red, purple, yellow and white flowers it recognizes the flowers and will focus on them perfectly. For green and brown flowers it actively tries to blur them (or if I try to get a picture of a leaf or stem it tries to focus on anything but…). For blue flowers it strangely enough doesn’t focus either. Maybe the AI can’t distinguish green and blue.