Location, species, behavior, quality: how I decide on what to record

I made a previous post about how people choose observations:
And there have been several posts about similar topics.

The thing is, of course, that there are an almost unlimited amount of things to observe in the natural world, but a limited amount of time and effort to do so. And inaturalist has no limits on what we can post. There is nothing stopping someone from going to a park and photographing each blade of grass.
But in practice, we do focus on certain things. I have been thinking about what makes me decide to make an observation. I have decided there are about four criteria that I choose from.

  1. Location. As the saying goes, “Location, location, location”. For me, new places are always interesting. So when I am in a place that is new to me, and especially in a place that is not well-visited, and not well-represented on here, I will record just about as much as I can, until my battery runs out. When I visit a new place, I try to get a complete record of what is going on there, including plants like dandelions or wild carrot, that are incredibly common.

  2. Species: if a species is new to me, or if it is something that is rare in general, I want to record it. This one is pretty obvious, I think everyone here is going to have their cameras out for a bald eagle. Also, species that I find aesthetic or pleasant tend to get picked: the Great Egret is not a rare bird, but I take a picture of one every time I see one.

  3. Behavior: sometimes I see an animal doing something new or interesting, and want to record it. Predation, mobbing behavior,feeding, mating, or being outside of its natural environment (including being in a human structure) are all things that seem interesting to me. Plants don’t have “behavior”, but I do record plants that are growing in unusual places, such as on ledges or structures.

  4. Quality: sometimes I get a chance to take a very good picture, and will take it, even if it is common. For example, in my area, Western Scrub Jays are very common birds, so I don’t normally try to record them, but sometimes I will see one only a few feet away, and I will record it because I can get good details.

So, for example, if I see some birds mobbing a predatory bird, I will take a picture, even if it is of low quality and they are familiar species, because the behavior is interesting. If I go to a new area, I will take pictures of everything, because I want to document it. If I see a new or interesting species, like a hummingbird, I will photograph it even if it is a blurry photo. All of my observations will try to have one of those four criteria, and hopefully two, but if it is significant in one, I can forgive it being insignificant in others.

So does that make sense? Do other users have similar criteria to decide what to photograph? Maybe not so explicit, but do you kind of do a trade-off in your head to decide what is important?


I don’t get my camera out for a Bald Eagle, they are super common where I live.

I like to photograph things that are new to me, or if I’m not sure of the ID.


I’m the only active observer in my area (a city in Eastern Turkey) and I only upload my observations of reptiles and amphibians - which means I automatically exclude many other organisms, but that’s simply what I’m interested in.
When it comes to lizards and turtles (which are both quite common in my area), I usually upload only one observation per species per day unless I find something unusual (let’s say unusually looking specimen, interaction between animals etc.). Of course I prefer to upload pictures of decent quality and usually I have something to choose from. But when it comes to snakes (which are rare here or I simply don’t know how to find them) :) I would upload any observation, even if the quality is questionable. If you look at my observation count there are more lizard and turtle than snake observations, but in fact the disproportion is bigger.
When I travel to other places in Turkey or abroad, I upload pretty much every herp I find, as long as the quality is okay and allowing for an ID.


I like to look for something new or not so common stuff but try to balance going to regular places like National Parks and also off the beat hills/mountains where over the last 10 years, have documented many species

  1. new to science
  2. first time photographed
  3. rarely photographed organism
    Find it more rewarding when I learned later what I have photographed is of interest in the scientific studies.

That is exactly my MO as well, I focus on photographing plants and (most) insects, however I will only get photo’s of an organism for iNat if:

  1. the organism is of a species I have not observed before in the past, or;
  2. If I’m reasonably sure the species observed has not been photographed in my given locality before/ reasonably sure of a range extension for that species
1 Like

I’m slowly learning about natural communities, and try to take photos that help me work out what communities are present. So, I try to document the following:

  • dominant overstory trees
  • dominant understory trees & shrubs
  • most common ground layer plants
  • indicator species, as I learn which ones they are

I return to certain locations frequently, so I don’t take photos of common species (say, eastern hemlock or sugar maple) every time I visit.

I also try to get photos of certain structures (stems, leaves, bud scars, etc.) for every plant species I have ID’d. So, for example, even though I have many photos of wild ginger (Asarum canadense), I noticed the distinctive leaf buds this fall, so I photographed and submitted them (www.inaturalist.org/observations/61402739). (Check it out, they’re cool!)

For moths, I used to just submit photos for each species once a year. But now I’m trying to photograph & submit each species every time I’m out; that helps build the records of flight times, and how common they are. Besides, I need something to do in the winter…


Yup. I am far more likely to observe for iNat in a place that is underrepresented. I used to live in Israel which has a far lower density of observers, and I’d record lots of things everywhere I went. Now that I’m in New Jersey, I’m far more selective. But if I go somewhere that has gaps on its iNat map I’m back to taking lots of photos!

Same here, with the addition that I’m far more likely to photograph a species I am learning to ID, or any Euphorbia.

Sort of… But they certainly have many complex interspecies interactions. I try to record these when I find them. I find any sort of parasitism particularly interesting.

I don’t get my camera out… Because I’m using my phone. any photograph of a subject more than ten meters away is probably hopeless. I miss a lot of birds, even lifers, because of this. Oh well.


Every submitter to iNat is biased in what they choose to photo and upload. I certainly don’t bother to photo everything I see when I’m out in the field since I have certain taxa I’m more interested in than others. We’re also constrained by our photographic equipment, the time we have available, and the activity (if any) of the organisms encountered. I like to carry a 400mm telephoto with me for birds and other animals which are usually at distance and active, but have used it for plant photos although it’s not ideal for that and is of little use for very small insects. My smartphone is my secondary camera.

Professional biologists are no less biased when they’re in the field collecting or photographing. Indeed, they’re probably even more focused on a small number of taxa than the typical naturalist who is often interested in documenting a greater variety of organisms they encounter.


Great list, I use similar metrics! For example, I got on a kick this summer finding and identifying hickory gall midges in the genus Caryomyia, and in the process wound up photographing several species that had been reported in the literature but not yet observed on iNat. By focusing on a very very niche target (i.e. going to locations specifically to stare at all the hickory leaves I could find and ignoring everything else), it increased my odds of finding those rare species.

I’ve also changed how I decide which organisms to photograph over time, selectively choosing only certain species to take lots of pics of. When I was a beginner, I was much more likely to take 20 pics of the same species in the same park. Now, unless I have specific interest in that species or there’s a lot of variability between individuals, I’ll try to log just one or two observations of a species in each location. My one big exception is with emerging invasive plant species. For species like English ivy or porcelain berry that have completely dominated the local forests, taking more than one pic doesn’t tell us too much since these plants have already become out of control and far too common. But, for new and emerging invasive species, I find it very helpful to log every instance I find. For example, when I lived in Atlanta, I was on a mission to thoroughly report the spread of Japanese chaff flower, and within the span of one year, I watched it RAPIDLY expand through the local parks. By logging each new infested area, I could see exactly which trails and streams in my local parks were infested with it (including the fact that it was spreading through several parks along a shared stream), and raise awareness of this emerging invader to more Atlanta-area observers.

Side note, I love seeing which taxa people gravitate towards for their observations. We’re all nerds on such niche topics, and it’s delightful to see so many people on this platform be passionate about something they care about, even if no one else knows what it is!

  1. Everything I can, depending on lens I have with me, now trying to skip already recorded specimen, but other than that it’s everything, and each specimen matters, so it will be 20 similar spiders if needed.
1 Like

My criteria are roughly the same. Although Bald Eagles are so common where I live that it has to be a pretty remarkable encounter for me to try, especially as they’re usually way too far away or moving too fast overhead.

Oh yes, I like photographing plants that are epiphytes, too. Or also plants that grow in an unusual form. I have one photograph of a dead pine tree on a beach dune. Those are type of things that will make me take a picture of a “common” plant.


Gulf fritillaries seem to flock to our backyard, often in pairs, and land on our Passion flower vine, and recently on our blooming plumeria tree. They have been coming regularly since August 30th, almost every day, except during the Bobcat fire, when all butterflies ceased coming for about a week. These gulf fritillaries don’t seem to be hanging out anywhere else around Bluebird Canyon, including the wild areas of our canyon, not even in the neighbor’s butterfly garden on the back side of Bluebird Canyon. The root of our Plumeria tree was imported from Maui almost 35 years ago. Maybe they have a preference for Hawaiian plants?

Most of my photos are taken either in my garden or at a state park, about 2 miles away. As far as taking photos in my garden, I do try for each insect I find. The purpose is to record data for my own use, because I want to be able to see any change from year to year. For example, last year I observed many species of butterflies. This year there were zero Vanessa! I’m glad that I have that data to look back on, and can compare to next summer.
Also, I find species new to me, and so I try to photograph all of them. I’ve actually found two that are relatively uncommon, and so I’m glad I paid that much attention.

Regarding plants, the state park has so many species, and I do take photos of almost everything. I think exceptions are trees I’m familiar with, and grass. Except sedge, because it’s one of my favorite species.
I have a specific list of plants I’m looking for, and it’s another reason for so many photos.

There is one plant, Spotted Wintergreen, that’s common in the park. I found it has a lot of variation in leaf pattern, and shape. I had taken over 1,000 photos, because I was interested in seeing how common, but also if it appeared to have growing preferences.

As far as my method goes, when I take photos there, I stand in one spot, and look for anything within a yard or so. Then walk further and repeat. I know it sounds tedious, but it’s what led me to finding a few plants on my list.

During this past winter, I managed to cover a good deal of the park. But I was hiking 3-4 hrs a day, 6 days a week! Even in 30 degree weather. I really enjoyed it because I was the only one there, and found it peaceful.

Does it seems redundant? It’s just my method of recording data, and something I really enjoy.

1 Like

I hike a lot in northern Arizona. Only recently I acquired an iPhone and discovered the possibilities of the camera. I take a picture mostly when something attracts my attention for any reason. I started showing pictures of critters to local biologists, who directed me to iNaturalist. Taking pictures of critters is now a major hobby of mine, but it hasn’t altered my choices of where to hike.
I make little effort to be systematic. Slower moving and less skittish critters have a better chance of being photoed by me. I get very few of birds, for example. The zoom on the iPhone camera is max 5X; it is what it is. Lizards are on the edge. I enjoy stalking them to get close enough for a photo. I get very few photos of whiptails, which are very skittish.
Today I saw an Abert’s squirrel. it would have been nice to get a photo, but it was too fast and skittish.
I am also interested in plants, but even in Arizona there are too many of them. Like the creator of this forum topic, I don’t want to get bogged down for an hour on an acre of land.


Actually I am somewhat systematic. At one point I was photographing a lot of arthropods, and I realized that I wasn’t capturing any that seemed common, like crickets and ants. So then I made a point of photoing a few crickets and ants.

I tend to focus on the taxa I do not know so well, especially if I find few identification aids. Birds are so popular, there are field guides to the birds of just about anywhere you can think of, and I tend to learn them pretty quickly wherever I stay for any length of time.

And so my iNat pictures will be of freshwater mollusks, or moths (as opposed to butterflies), or the many species of anoles in the Islands, or non-insect terrestrial arthropods, or mushrooms. The more work I have to do to ID it, the more likely I am to share it on iNat.


I live in the Los Angeles area and we have a huge diversity of life here in fairly close proximity including ocean and marine life, desert life, mountain species and chaparral. I came to inaturalist from the perspective of a photographer. Since joining I take a lot more snapshots instead of focusing just on taking great photos of interesting subjects.

I try to think through what is the best way to approach citizen science. There is bias no matter what…for instance it’s easy to get photos of the most common species, but should we ignore those because they’re common? That wouldn’t give us a true picture of their abundance. That being said, I try to go to places that are less travelled…mostly in natural areas. Whenever I visit a location for the first time I try to take more photos of species just as a record of what is there including many common species. As I go back to those same areas I fill in the gaps. I also try to photograph more things that are overlooked by others. And of course, if I see interesting behavior I try to photograph that as well just to have a record of it.

There is no one way to do things and I think it’s great that we have such a large community of people who have different approaches to observing nature.


From your description you’re doing a good job! If you want to observe something - do it! There’re never too much, though I stop myself from photographing same plants at one place over and over, not because it’s not needed, but because I can spend time on something more valuable for me, but new place means you shouldn’t ignore comon species if you hesitate to do so. Citizen s. bias in fact is something real sciense lack, e.g. enthomologists go far and beyond to find something, while any iNatter can look around their house and find something not les good or rare, esp. if a person has own land, such places are not looked at by anyone else and can have unique habitats.