Fingers in photos

Following the example of a couple of people who introduced me to iNat, I commonly include my fingers, my hand, or even my foot sometimes, in at least one of the photos I post for an observation, especially for plants and insects. This is to give an indication of size and also often allows better focus on the object and differentiation from other background matter.
I was somewhat surprised, recently, to have a comment on one of my observations: “No fingers, PLEASE”.
I must say I am somewhat reluctant at times to ‘spoil’ a beautiful nature shot with the intrusion of something human. But, as I understand it, the main purpose of iNat is not to post beautiful nature shots but to make observations that can be ID’d.
I had imagined this might be an ‘old chestnut’ on the forum, but the only thing I could find in a search was to do with someone concerned, for reasons of personal security, about the possibility that their fingerprints might be able to be ascertained from such photos, not something that had occurred to me.

I wonder what other users think about this and whether there is any consensus about ‘best practice’.
Chris

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Welcome to the forum! Some users may be concerned that the inclusion of humans or marking up the photo (ie editing the photo to include a circle around the organism being observed) will confuse the artificial intelligence that is learning to recognize the organism. So maybe the commenter was worried your finger will train the computer to identify human fingers as part of the organism you are identifying. This may not explain the comment, but we wanted you to know we’ve read this objection from other users.

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I often have my hands in the pics I take of plants because 1) I’m trying to orient the plant stem or branch to get a better photo and/or 2) it’s windy and I’m trying to stabilize it. If you want a beautiful nature shot, then leave your hands or fingers out, but otherwise I don’t see the problem.

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Although personally I keep my fingers out of shots, the utility of that for

has definitely been helpful for some identifications I have made. And my habit of not having anything for scale in my shots has definitely impaired identification by others in some cases. (I never use auto-focus, only manual, so that’s never been a motivation for me to include fingers.)

My only peeve has been when someone’s fingers/hand obscure other parts of the plant (usually) that need to be seen for a confident ID, and no other photos were included in the observation. A lovely in-focus shot of a flower, without views of the lower parts of the plant, is often not sufficient.

Yes, and this has been a persistent misunderstanding of how Computer Vision (CV) works on iNaturalist. CV is not trained to recognize organisms. It is trained to recognize iNaturalist photos identified as a particular organism. Since fingers show up in photos of many different organisms on iNat, I imagine they end up having little to no influence on CV suggestions.

And FWIW, I would just ignore the “no fingers please” comments, or flag them if they were stated belligerently. (All-caps is considered “shouting” on the Internet.)

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I attempt to get one shot with the whole organism (typically plant) without any props, to make that the lead photo, but it’s hard to have everything in sharp focus, so I follow it with one or more “hand-backed” shots. Most iNat observers are using cell phone cameras, and they need help with focus. If you’re worried about fingerprints, don’t show them. I’d ignore the commenter (and yes, I have used fingers as a scale bar).

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I, too, use myself to give size comparison. I try to remember to comment that my finger is ~1” knuckle to knuckle. Or whatever I’m using, other than my finger I use the hand spread or my boot. I’ve had no comments about it. I try to carry a small tape measure, but the manipulation is much more difficult. I try to make photographs with and without measures. There shouldn’t be a problem, so no worries. You can comment back asking them their reason.
I had a chuckle at “ no fingers in the photo”. I use my iPhone, often upside down and my hand as shield sometimes. That can lead to fingers in photo too. Not in a good way.

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Many fingers in my photos. Cape Town is breezy.
Haven’t had any complaints.
I do crop my photos so it is flower with a bit of finger. Not fingers and a flower.

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Certainly if the person is holding the subject organism in such a way that it obscures characteristics needed for ID, then that’s worth pointing out to the photographer so they can avoid that in the future. I’ve tried to ID photos of reptiles and amphibians where the poor animal is held in a death grip and not much of it is visible. Or the background is complicated and makes the subject hard to discern. Cropping photos can often improve them. That’s all simply lack of experience in handling and photo’ing.

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Hi Chris,

I actually think your approach is pretty helpful. A lot of people (including me most of the times) don´t provide anything as a scale and in some cases this can indeed make an ID more challenging than it needs to be. So if you make photos mainly for ID-purposes, stick to your practise. However, I like Janes suggestion, to also provide at least one shot without fingers, rulers, feet… which you actually anyways do most of the time as I saw.

The reason was actually explained to me by one IDer. I had started to circle specimens of submarine species I wanted to be identified in a reef and asked me to stop that. I actually asked back why… I thought this would be helpful in a picture of a reef for example to exactly point out which one I was interested in. However, he explained that those pictures are not great in being used for example for the species picture, which would be a pitty, if the pictures is maybe one of the only ones on iNat or one that would otherwise be a perfect example as it shows maybe many IDing features. I got that and now stopped this encirceling-custom again. So it might be nice to just ask the person to explain their request… maybe they have a good reason you can agree to.

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If it is going to be used as a taxon photo, better to crop it down to the particular species. A taxon photo showing many species is also not so useful - then the circle is better.

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I’ve sometimes done that but posted both pictures. That way someone can still look at my edits to help with ID but there’s also a “clean” picture to use for other purposes. The other way I’ve handled this is to make a close crop on the individual I’m observing and set that as the first image but also include the wider shot sort of as a habitat/community picture as a second image. I found that if I don’t do either of these, someone might come along and disagree by adding some higher level ID saying it’s unclear what is being observed. Adding a description or using some observation field doesn’t seem to work well as many people don’t seem to pay attention to those.

As for adding something for scale while taking the photo, I think that is actually very helpful and I have some observations where I later wished I had thought about including something. I now do carry a ruler in my camera bag but still use it way too infrequently.

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In fact, I often was annoyed about images of plants and animals defaced with hands, fingers, shoes, … I now understand better why some photographers do this. For identification, it can actually be helpful. But I hope that whenever possible, there will also be one or more photos in which no disturbing aids can be seen – simply to appreciate the beauty of the creature.

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I also just added te original for those photos to the observations which is fine, everyone happy.

Actually, I also think it has to do a bit with preferences as well (see comment by rbr20). But when the preference of my only Identifier for this group of species prefers at least the original photo without circling I am happy to fullfill this wish :-) … when some disagreements are so easily solved I am very happy to do it… (especially as it actually also saves me time in the end :-D)

I guess it also increases chances of photos beeing used/helpful for scientific publications… which I am also always very happy to help out with

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Scale is essential for differentiating some species, and especially helpful for many insects. During the Brood X cicada emergence, several observers came up with creative ways to give a sense of scale in their photos, including a bit of measuring tape in the photo, stating their finger dimensions in the notes, or (my favorite) making a row of Sharpie dots on the side of the index finger, spaced 10 mm apart, and holding cicadas in such a way that the dotted finger provided a handy scale. (My own attempt - gluing a bit of adhesive-backed cm scale tape to my thumbnail - didn’t work all that well because of the curvature of the tape and parallax issues. And the tape kept peeling off.)

As long as you’re abiding by the general guidelines for iNat use and etiquette, I don’t think anyone has the right to tell you how to compose your photos (beyond maybe politely offering tips that would be helpful for capturing ID features). I noticed that the user who made the comment joined very recently, and several other users have already offered helpful rebuttals.

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i don’t think this is necessarily true. here’s a quote from https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/what+is+it:

our primary goal in operating iNaturalist is to connect people to nature, and by that we mean getting people to feel that the non-human world has personal significance, and is worth protecting

so my interpretation is that if a beautiful photo will make people feel that something is significant, then that’s perfectly ok (as long as the subject is of a particular wild organism).

but addressing the main subject of the thread, a lot of times, i see hands, and i think TMI, or i feel bad for an animal being restrained. but then again, there are cases where i can see the observer is manipulating, say, a flower a particular way to highlight specific features that would be hard to photograph otherwise, and that can be sign of a pro observer.

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I often include at least one shot with my finger/hand because my wedding ring is exactly 7mm wide and I find the scale reference useful. I’ve never gotten the “no fingers” complaint.

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Thanks for all the contributions.
There seems to be general agreement that including fingers (or something else) can be a helpful/important aid for ID’ing. There have also been several other useful comments/suggestions on this topic.
I thought I might summarise a few key points that have emerged so far:

  • If including some object in the photo to indicate size, also include other photos WITHOUT any extraneous objects (nature pure and unadulterated).

  • when including hand or fingers, avoid obscuring other parts of the plant needed for ID’ing.

  • Crop photos to optimise usefulness for ID’ing: “… flower with a bit of finger. Not fingers and a flower.”

  • Handle with care, and wherever possible avoid damaging/harming specimens.

I did actually go back to the user who made the comment on one of my observations but had no further explanation/response.

I note this thread has raised some other issues about the Computer Vision (CV) used on iNaturalist, which I have always, presumably incorrectly, referred to as Artificial Intelligence (AI) - whether it might be confused by fingers, highlighting with circles etc, that I might raise as a separate topic.

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Showing hands or fingers is allowed (so is making marks on photos etc.). So the people who asked you not to should only be phrasing it as their optional opinion. That said, I somewhat agree it’s often best to avoid doing so except if truly needed. I’d distinguish photos where someone’s using their hand just to make the species come into the camera’s view, e.g. holding a branch or fruit in front of their camera, as most acceptable (although some people may still prefer to avoid doing that). Re: showing hands for a sense of scale, there’s variation in hand size and by age so it’s not an exact ruler. I actually think many or most species don’t need a added scale via your method. Scale can sometimes be inferred by the surrounding natural environment, like grass or pebbles (size ratio). I’d recommend only adding scale via any method (if adding it at all) only for species which you know require scale to confirm/refine ID for.

Also, many people won’t think to estimate scale via your method or realize that’s why you showed your hand. e.g. for bees, some people photograph (not digitally add) mm-rulers alongside bees, which I tried. Then I realized many people don’t look at that anyway, so it’s better to just write the mm in a comment if at all (not at the top of obs. because many people don’t read that either). Overall, adding a digital scale bar may be the best way to show scale, if/where truly necessary. Although there are some possible drawbacks that it could impair Computer Vision.

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Personally, I enjoy the POV experience of fingers in photos.
I can imagine interacting with the plant more vividly.
Which is lovely for plants I may never have the opportunity to observe IRL.
I might also say it’s best practice for getting clear ID pictures.
Laying part of a plant along my forearm shows the branching pattern clearly.
Gently, of course.
As long as it’s not obscuring the main object, I don’t see the issue.
If they don’t like the photo, they can just not look at it. Haha!

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a separate topic already exists for this. so if folks want to discuss this more, i suggest re-opening that topic: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/hands-in-observations/10878.

that said, the relevant staff comments from that thread were:

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