How to photograph a plant

Please try to include photos of the following in your plant observations:

  • Flowers/fruits/buds when present
  • A photo of the entire plant. If it’s mixed with other plants, try to get as much as you can in one photo to give a sense of how it holds itself up.
  • Whole, mature leaves (for shape and texture)
  • The underside of a mature leaf (mostly for texture and vein structure)
  • Branching pattern (opposite/alternate/whorled) and the stem/trunk (if present)
  • Where the leaf meets the stem - there are often little decorations or other distinguishing marks here.
  • Differences between leaves on the top and bottom of the plant.
  • Anything else you think might be distinctive, such as interesting bark, or marks where the plant has been eaten/pruned in a way that could influence the over-all shape.
  • Add text describing scent, stickiness, habitat, or other things that aren’t obvious in your photos.

If it’s a grass/sedge/rush:

  • The seed head is critical for most grass ID.
  • Where the leaf meets the stem - maybe pull it away a little so that any collar, ears, hairs, etc., are visible.

When photographing a flower, also try to include the back of the flower.

If your phone doesn’t want to focus, put your hand behind the plant, hold the plant with your hand, or lay the thing you are photographing in your hand.

You could also put something behind a plant, like a coat or clipboard, to isolate it from the background. If you know that surrounding vegetation is not sensitive, you may be able to gently bend it away from the plant you are trying to photograph.

Sharp photos where the subject is obvious and fills the frame are preferred. Consider lightly cropping photos to make the subject clearer.

Similar suggestions with great photos can be found here: https://www.segrasslands.org/recording-species-in-inat-website

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Details of the flower (profile), as mentioned here for instance.

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I would add to that take note of what looks typical of the plant/bush/flower and photograph the typical rather tan the atypical. For terrestrial orchids the atypical can be added as a separate observation, as it may well be a hybrid or another but similar species.

For Australian orchids, I would recommend the following articles on the Native Orchid Society of South Australia website - https://nossa.org.au/orchid-topics/clues-to-orchid-identification/ Three of the articles on the site deal with more detail on what to photograph for the different genera.

Additionally, @GlenKPeterson I would suggest that a poorly focused photo showing the identifying feature is more important than a well focused image lacking the key distinguishing feature but this may be more relevant for our Australian orchids rather than to other plant families.

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Forgot to add, scale cards, particularly those that have both ruler and colour scale. are also useful.

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/199876569

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in case that there is a plant that is very atypical, it in my opinion it make sense to add it as a separate observation - this might later turn out to be one of several things:

  • show variability (which is also interesting scientifically), if a plant is much smaller or bigger than the rest of the population, a scale would be helpful
  • it could be that it is a mixed population of very similar species that an expert is able to identify later
  • a plant could have been changed in it´s appegance through another organism, a gall-former or similar - this would provide additional information about cool interactions :)
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  • It is quite common with Australian terrestrial orchids to have atypical plants in a population and a mixed population of different species as well as hybrids. Quite frustrating at times!
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This is a great, concise tutorial applicable to the majority of plants that people photograph for iNat. For particular families, there might be one or two things I would add, but people following these guidelines will create observations that are much easier to identify than the average.

The main addition I would make (as @orchidrose already did) is to suggest including some type of scale in several photographs. So many keys distinguish between species based on ranges of measurements of particular characters that even the best photos can be stuck at genus without a scale to indicate size.

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Thanks everyone. As @orchidrose implies, the ideal photos would illustrate each aspect of the best local key available. But most observations on iNaturalist are super casual. Many photographers aren’t interested in finding the right key or learning how to use it.

I don’t see a way to edit my post, but if I could, I would add: “Move your camera around the plant to capture it from at least 2 sides.”

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I would only add: avoid to photograph an erect plant from above. Otherwise just a small part will be on focus and the rest will be blurry. If you can, kneel and photograph the plant side-on, maybe focusing on the ground near its base.

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On your own comment you can click edit (the pencil) at the bottom.

Please for flowers - start with 2 views - face and profile - or petals above and bracts below. One picture is fine for a photography site but hopelessly inadequate for an iNat ID.

  1. Flower face
  2. Flower profile for bracts
  3. Leaf detail
  4. Wide view for habit and habitat
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Depends upon the group of the plant. In particular the photographic plan for accurately capturing non-vascular plant like bryophytes needs to be completely different than a plan for traditional, vascular or flowering plants.

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