Right now, I think the only user-friendly way to access photos loaded to iNaturalist – by which I mean the photos + metadata, as represented on photo detail pages like this: https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/50904144 – is to get to them via associated observation records.
That’s fine if the photos are associated with observations, but there are photo records that get loaded but then are not associated with observation records – either because the observation is not successfully created for some reason or because the photo is accidentally unchecked in the observation edit mode. I think it would be nice to have an easy way to find these orphaned photos and be able to easily (re)associate them with observations.
(I’d be tempted to build something myself to do this, but I don’t think even in the API there’s a way to search for orphaned photo records. So I don’t think it’s something that could be done without at least some iNaturalist staff intervention.)
I’m a little better at working with the system’s quirks nowadays, but I remember when I first started using the system, I would begin to upload a bunch of observations only to have the load fail somewhere during the process, and I’d lose all the time I spent uploading the photos on my slow connection. (It would have been even more painful – to the wallet – if the failures had occurred on a metered connection.) Probably a lot of those photos actually made it into the system, but there was not a good way to use them in observations. So inevitably, I would have to reload everything all over again.
I understand you wouldn’t want something like this encourage people to upload photos with no intent to ever associate them with observations. But it seems like there is something that does go in an occasionally delete old orphaned photos. So I think something like that – or awareness of something like that – would prevent bad behavior like that. If I had a way to find orphaned photos, I might even go in an manually delete orphaned photos on my own, without letting them age out.