Find your own (orphaned) photos uploaded to iNaturalist

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: – 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.

Orphaned photos was one of the techniques that came up as an option for habitat photos. An intentionally orphaned photo can be seen in the observation at If orphaned images age out, then other techniques to keep habitat photos out of the computer vision training system would have to be deployed. For some plants habitat photos are helpful to identification. That said, being able to find one’s own unused orphan images for deletion would be potentially useful.

The devs can see orphaned photos e.g.

and they fixed this problem (see the thread referenced above), which means that orphaned photos that didn’t load an ob will now be loaded, and one will therefore have duplicates.

The best way to search for duplicates (that I have found) is to go to Your Observations and arrange them by Date Observed. You then just have to scroll through the whole lot to find duplicates which will now be next to each other.

But perhaps this doesn’t answer your question at all and I have pootled off down the wrong garden path altogether.

Off-topic: I tried to quote @kueda 's comment above, but it seems that one can’t quote closed topics. Or maybe I need to eat lunch first ;-)


I defined what I meant by a photo in the original post, but it doesn’t look like I clearly defined what an orphaned photo is. Take a look at this photo:, which is an example of an orphan. Note that it is not associated with any observation. (I created it by adding it to an observation and then going into that observation and then unchecking that photo.) Here’s a screen capture that compares this orphaned photo on the left and the non-orphaned photo on the right:

So when I’m saying that I can’t find and (re)use my orphaned photos, I’m saying that there’s not an easy way to find and (re)associate that photo on the left to an observation.

The orphaning of photos is probably something that most people don’t realize can happen. For someone with a very fast unmetered internet connection, it’s probably no sweat to re-load a photo, assuming you have a copy of it. But for someone with a slow metered connection, or for someone who no longer has a copy of a photo, being able to find and (re)associate an orphaned photo to an observation might be helpful.

that said, i’m going to address some of the replies above.

If that photo is associated with an observation, then it’s not what i’m defining as an orphaned photo.

That issue did involve orphaned photos, and that particular issue was addressed, but there’s still no good way to find orphaned photos in general.


i had no idea orphaned photos even existed. I probably have a bunch because i often have a flaky internet connection. As far as I am concerned they can just be deleted. If i didn’t know they exist I won’t miss them.


Pisum, what I meant was (though perhaps I wasn’t clear in my preprandial sugar low) is that the devs can easily see orphaned photos, so they have a way of doing it, and perhaps they can share that with us, or they can look for you? @kueda ?


I had no idea this is what happened to photos that I unchecked - purposefully, not accidentally. I definitely have some, hopefully old enough to have been cleared already. The only other way I know to remove a photo from an observation is by going back to the observation, clicking on the i for each photo, and selecting the Delete button. That adds a number of steps - seems if you’re already reordering photos or doing other edits on the Edit screen there should be a way to delete photos there?

Agreed that it would be great to have a way to find my own and clear them.


yes, i think knowing that these exist and having a way straightforward way to find delete them is particularly important for those who have coordinates in their photo metadata and would not like to share those coordinates. as long as a photo is tied to an observation, and that observation is obscured or private, then the coordinates on the photos are hidden. but the moment the photo is orphaned, those coordinates become visible.

this problem isn’t at the top of my privacy concerns about the system because i don’t think there’s an efficient way to find a specific person’s orphaned photos, but it is a problem. (it’s also the reason that i specifically proposed this feature to be limited to finding your own photos, not anyone else’s.)


i’m thinking about this again this morning, and i think i should have expanded the scope of this a bit, putting less emphasis on orphaned. (it doesn’t look like i can change the original post at this point though.) really, i think you should be allowed to search through any photos you’ve uploaded (by upload date, by observation date, by taxon of associated observations, by whether or not they are attached to any observations, etc.) and then you should be allowed to associate any photo you’ve uploaded with any existing or new observation (in the observation edit screen and the upload screen, respectively).

i think improved ability to manage uploaded photos as assets in themselves might actually provide a solution for other requests, such as or it could provide the foundation for some other requests, such as and it could also indirectly provide an easy way to search for their own observations that are linked (via photos that are shared by multiple observations).

there might be a concern that treating photos as assets in themselves might give people the wrong idea that the platform is a photo backup service. but if it’s emphasized that any photos not associated with observations will be automatically deleted, then i think that provides enough disincentive to use the platform in that way.

everything that i’ve said here could probably also be applied to audio files or any other future media options.

i was also thinking about

and i wonder if there was an attempt to address this already (see if the thing referenced here was an attempt to address, then i think it needs to go further and hide metadata for photos that have not been tied to observations, even if the user is logged in. alternatively, photos that have not been tied to observations could be hidden from other users altogether. (that latter option might be better and easier to implement.)

I can try and find it, I forget which thread it was in, but just in the past week or so, site staff commented again that they will not be moving forward with this, as they do not see the value it adds vs. the work required.

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ok. thanks for the heads up. i couldn’t find the staff comment in some cursory searches, but i guess it doesn’t significantly affect the main thrust of this thread.