Life Hacks for naturalists

I modified Bushnell Trail Cameras and mounted them to downward facing brackets to make virtual pitfall traps. I was initially going for rodents in an inventory I was doing, but eventually “caught” rabbits, squirrels and multiple bird species.


Examining small flower parts of grasses, sedges & rushes (esp. dry) under a hand lens or dissecting scope used to be frustrating as they flip and fly and disappear. Then I discovered self-closing forceps. They act as a tiny vise. I also keep handy a piece of card that is half white and half black, as some seeds, flowers, etc. show up better with a dark background.


That’s what my first though was - two cameras. Are your friend’s two camera bodies the same quality? Oh, and are the clips available at camera shops? Every time I stoop to look, the sling camera falls down!

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This ties into the “life hack” I’ve been meaning to post here.

In spite of being young and healthy I experience weird reactive neck tension problems- having something sit around my neck and shoulders the wrong way leads to day-ending headaches, whether it’s a heavy bag or a t-shirt that’s cut wrong in the shoulders. So camera straps are a bit of a problem. I imagine my solution could be useful to folks with a wide range of different neck/back issues.

Commercially sold systems for clipping in and out of a belt strap are undoubtedly nice, but really pretty expensive from my perspective. I’m also pretty sure that some of them are designed with movement on flat, open terrain in mind and would have a good chance of losing a camera in clambering around through brush in gorges and whatnot.

What I came up with just costs a couple bucks at most and has been very reliable. I run my belt or the belt of a waist-pack through the carabiner and the keyring clips in and out without much trouble. It’s a little tougher to unclip one-handed, but I can live with that.



I find a well-made shoulder harness that distributes the weight well useful for a reduction in neck/shoulder/back pain but of course your waist carry would be an upgrade in comfort.


Mira, I suspect I’d have to try on dozens to find one that sat right. For me it’s not an issue of strain caused by weight but some nervous system response stimulated by the presence of a certain type of constriction- I’ve had to get rid of quite a few shirts. I have a couple packs that sit “right” and don’t set it off, so chances are there is a gear harness out there somewhere that would do the same, but carrying at the waist sidesteps the issue entirely.

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Does duct-taping an umbrella to a tripod so you can sketch in the rain count? :D


The more duct tape the better.

Golf Umbrella I would think.

The hack then is needed to remove unwanted tack from previously temporarily taped objects…


Yes, it would appear that I used a golf umbrella, although I had no Idea there was such a thing until now.


One needs to know one’s umbrella species… ;)


They’re Agaricales, right? One good rain and you see their fruiting bodies expanding all over the city!


Best is to have a second camera body. I usually use my older body on the macro, because it just takes “normal” pictures, while the zoom is mostly for bird/mammal photography and also needs good image stabilization and a big frame buffer. Otherwise I hold the two lenses nose-to-nose in one hand and use the other hand to quickly decouple from one lens and switch to the other.


I’ve used canvas pencil pouches for storing small lenses that aren’t in use. Keeps them from getting scratched or dirty.


Yes, and I think the (almost) lost art of sketching as a means of observing and recording counts! Photography cannot entirely replace it.


Oooh, that sounds interesting. My other camera body is not compatible with my lenses, but it might work. I’ve got some lenses that fit. If I ditch the dog I could do the nose-to-nose thing!!

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Does anyone have a good macro lens for an iPhone 8?

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Yes! I looove these lenses. Had one for my 6s and now my XS. Here’s the iPhone 8 version.

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Use coloured cable ties/ zap straps/ zip ties to colour code mine/yours his/hers ours/theirs items for a quick glance of items that may get mixed up with similar. Your free to use colored or color code if you wish ;) The u makes no difference but the hue may…


The art related tipd made me realize I can maybe contribute with some art-related tips:

  • there’s empty plastic brush pens that can be filled with ink, but some watercolor artists fill them with water instead.
  • there’s travel kits for watercolors. They often come with small brushes too.
  • got two short color pencil nubs? Get some tape and tape the flat ends together. Now you have one that’s easier to hold.
  • there’s kneaded erasers, which are good for shaping to whatever spot you need to erase. It’s a good way of reclaiming lighter areas in a pencil drawing, so long as you didn’t press your pencil too hard into the paper.

I can add more art tips that may be useful for field drawings, but I’ll stop here. You might find more tips from artists who work en plein air, which is the practice of working outside.


Yes, absolutely. When I started the thread I meant it to be general for naturalists and not specific for iNaturalists. En plein air is part of that general realm so hacks for that are welcome. We are in modern times and cameras are great but I remember from my biology classes that nothing made me study that organism more closely than to take the time to sketch it - all that subtle differences between like species was revealed.