Identifiers - what do you ID, and how can observers make it easier to do so?

I mostly ID plants, and many people don’t realize how to photograph plants for the best chances of getting a correct ID. Here’s what I like to see:

A closeup of the leaf
A full-plant photo
Side AND top views of flowers

What do you ID, and how can people photograph it better?


I have a whole journal post devoted to this for Euphorbia:


I find the tree photos especially bad–people tend to go for the far way, overall shot, with the leaves often completely unclear.

Aside: Don’t let the username fool you; I stink at tree ID.


I mostly coarse ID unknowns (and a few very specific local taxa, or things that are widely and easily recognized). :)

So…my feedback probably isn’t particularly helpful here, but I rely on:

  1. the descriptions (e.g. if I don’t know what it is, but your description says you found it on a beach, I can assign it to a project for beachcombers and they may be able to ID it)

  2. accurate dates, locations, etc (e.g., if you say it’s species X, but that’s endemic to another continent, I’ll probably disagree with your ID)


I ID lichens. If you want an ID (species, genus, sometimes even family) please, do not post blurry photos or photos from five meter distance. Also, (equivalent to a plant photo including only a flower), no photos of just one apothecium or one square milimeter of the thallus. I commonly direct the interested ones to the good lichen photography sites to get a hint how things are done. Best OBS consist of several photos: overall thallus, some fragments showing, e.g., soralia; in case of many foliose lichens, view of the underside is necessary (not just several milimeters from the edge). Don’t take pictures of wet and especially very wet (dripping) lichens. Show or describe substrate and habitat (though the latter sometimes can be guessed from the map). And do not despair if the ID is to genus only – minor part of lichens can be IDed from a photo.


Currently struggling with one.
A single picture of a beautiful flower - hard to choose between 2 species, since there is no sense of scale, nor of the whole plant.

Or the blurry photo of … something whitish … a bird, a flower, a butterfly? Who can tell.


There was a similar thread here: :)


Dorsal, eyefield, ventral, epigyne/palps, spinerets, lateral

Organisms in general:
Whole organism (showing context in environment)
Closeups of anything that differs from similar organisms (leaves, fins, wings, beaks, bark, fruit, flowers, stamens, toenails, etc)… the more details evident the greater the chances of a highly refined ID

Almost every species will have that one detail view that will be crucial to a species level ID, but what that view is, and how difficult it is to obtain, will differ for each


What really gets my goat is when folks don’t take pictures of the underside of a mushroom. Mushrooms are tricky enough most of the time, but if you’re able to get a picture of the gills/pores/teeth on the underside, that helps immensely. I also find spore prints to be really useful, but I understand that not everyone has time for that. Underside photos are a must! Showing what it’s growing on helps a lot, too. Rotting wood, or on the ground? What trees are close by? Stuff like that.

Also: animal tracks with no scale indicator in the photo. A ruler is best, but something beside the track like a lighter or a card of some sort works too.


What would help would be integrating something like this into the app so that new users had this information.


Thank you, this is a useful thread.


For sure, but it’s important to remember that most people aren’t aware of this. I certainly wasn’t until some folks on iNat told me. While it can be frustrating to write (or copy and paste!) this kind of advice over and over, I think it does break through to a lot of people. We’re all here to make each other better naturalists. BTW, there’s a video you can link to that has advice about mushroom photography, although the photography section is after some other advice about finding mushrooms.

I try to ID snakes, and at least here in California, you often need to get a few detailed shots of the heads of garter snakes in order get them IDed to species.


Grasses and sedges, sometimes rushes. You need a close-up photo of the seed/flower head. Autofocus camera prefer to focus on the background, so put your hand next to or immediately behind the head so the camera will focus in the right place. Also get the whole plant. (Photo or write down whether it is growing in a clump or spreading out). Important details are found at the place where the leaf blade meets the leaf sheath (i.e., near the base of the leaf blade). Photo this area both as it grows naturally and after you gently pull the blade away from the stem so you can see the little flap or line of hairs at the blade/sheath junction. You may need the front of the leaf sheath (the part on the side opposite the leaf blade). You need to see the little bits in the seed/flower head but they’re packed in too tight to see, so break the thing apart and spread the pieces apart (maybe on your hand) to photo. How much do you need to break them up? Hard to predict, so break them into whatever units they fall into and photo these, and if these units can be broken up, break them up in turn and photo these smaller bits. (In other words, photo spikelets and also lemmas.)

Also, have some patience. Grasses are usually identifiable both in flower and in fruit, but for sedges and rushes you usually need mature fruits (capsules, perigynia, tubercles on achenes, etc.).


Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) in western North America. This is a big, tough plant with one bract extending above the inflorescence (flower cluster) like a continuation of the stem, so the inflorescence looks like it’s coming out of the side of the stem. Because many experienced field botanists and ecologists recognize this big wetland plant but few are familiar with recent introductions or recent taxonomic changes, the name is happily applied to a whole group of species and all the J. effusus subspecies, most of which can be distinguished if the right parts are photographed.

What do you need? Whole plant, stem width (wide or narrow), and leaf sheath tops. Yes, leaf sheath tops. They’re near the base of the plant. They’re hard to get out because the clump is so dense, but dig down there and maybe use a knife. Also get a decent close-up of a flower if you can, so length of tepal and capsule can be compared.

Good references: Flora of the Pacific Northwest, 2nd Edition. Jepson Manual of the Higher Plants of California, especially the on-line version. Articles on the group by Peter Zika. NOT Flora of North America.

Examples with leaf sheath tops. Wide stems: and . Narrow stems: and . That last has a comparison of J. effusus with wide stems and asymmetrical leaf sheath tops, and J. laccatus with narrow stems and symmetrical leaf sheath tops.

By the way, the subspecies of Juncus effusus are important to determine because we have both native and introduced forms. The introduced invasive forms are sometimes planted in wetland restorations.


I ID Orchids. The biggest thing people need to get for an ID of orchids is a good set flower pics, preferably showing the flower from the front and side (and the back if it is in the genus Caucaea), with extra attention given to the lip, column, and nectar spur (if there is one), beyond that, a photo of the entire plant is always useful, as well as some scale reference (I.E. a ruler) in at least some of the photos. It is hard to give a guide for what is needed because the family is so large and diverse. but these should work for most.


I think everyone’s responses here get to the Catch 22.
To take identifiable pictures of certain organisms you need to have expertise in those organisms…and then you won’t need help with the ID! ;-)


Indeed so but unless you carry a mirror very hard for most to achieve

I often forget to carry a ruler or coin for scale.

I use my finger.


For ferns is really helpful to have a pic of the underside of the fronds. The sori and the venation are very important to identify them. Also pics for the scales in the base of the fronds or/and the rhizome are important to identify some species.