Migrating images/observations to iNat from books


There is a huge number of books of flora and fauna with thousands of images of species, many without any image online. One example is Flora of Sikkim - A Pictorial Guide.

It was released in 2021 and has photos of around 1300 species from a diversity hot spot. First and foremost this book is only available to those who purchase it, second, at one point this book will be out of print, and thus its content only available to very few people. For iNat only a photo of each species with metadata is needed to make it available to the world. With the authors uploading photos to iNat they would be part of a dynamic taxonomy framework that will keep the species alive instead of being more obsolete as the books age. I would like to think this is in their interest as well.

I am aware of copyright issues, but the underlying challenge is the urgent need to present the planet’s diversity visually to the world. An individual contacting for instance the authors/project behind Flora of Sikkim will carry little authority, but if iNat created a project/program that worked on migrating observations from book projects to iNat I think many would be interested in sharing photos.

I also think this initiative could be trailblazing a new way of going about making books. I think that all flora/fauna book projects should have a link to iNat, where all observations are uploaded as part of the book.

I find it odd that we are still seeing so many book projects going about it just as we did 100 years ago.



I agree that it would be great to have more photos from guidebooks on iNat (as a part of observations of course). I think one barrier is that a lot of photographers do make money (or at least want to be assured of credit) as part of their work. Posting a digital copy of a photo (even with an all rights reserved license) still makes it much more available for bad actors to use. So for photographers in that position, there will always be some incentive not to share their work online (ie on iNat) I think.

That said, I’ve heard some photographers will post reduced quality versions of their work on iNat as a way to protect earnings which seems like a great idea.

I wonder if you are thinking of specific books or taxa that lack pictures on iNat, if you might not be able to reach out to a photographer and ask them to upload their photo (or a lower quality version) for that specific reason. It might be a great way to introduce people to iNat and the importance their work could have if posted. Their interest in iNat might grow naturally and lead to more pics.


It’s an interesting idea but one with many challenges. As someone who writes travel guidebooks and wildlife guides, I can say that if someone were to approach me or my publisher with such a proposal, it would mean an awful lot of work. Photos in my wildlife book are in some cases mine and my co-author’s, but very many come from a whole array of photographers or stock libraries, and it would not usually be within our rights to do anything with their photos without contacting them (indeed we can’t even re-use their images in a subsequent edition of the same book without re-contacting them for permission). With stock library images it’s even harder, because we never even have the contact details of the photographer themselves and the image libraries won’t give that out.

On top of that, the amount of information with each photo is often limited. Many may say what species the image is but not where or when it was taken, for instance, which limits its usefulness, especially if that species subsequently gets split into multiple species.

Certainly professional nature photographers should be encouraged to contribute to iNat, I agree, but I suspect trying to do this by going via book publishers would be less fruitful than finding ways of targeting and persuading the photographers directly.


But, like me, you have some field guides on your shelves?

Some variation of ‘scraping pictures from books’ would give a fresh set of problems, like the ones we have now from Flickr. It’s a picture, could be what it says it is, but often not. And the where and when are not valid. Pretty picture, but not useful info in the iNat sense.


Aside the copyright/effort complexities, I actually think it is more likely that a copy of the book will be around in 20 years to photocopy or redistribute than the digital images, so while having books more available online as digital copies would be nice, I don’t think it’s the archival solution it appears to be.

I realize I was a bit vague with the term guidebook, as that could be interpreted as a travel guide or something not scientific. I will stick to the term field guide as they are scientific.

I think we need to step up our game and relize that the planet is in a crisis no other species has ever been able to cause, and that all living things are without copyright, but for all of us to enjoy. Mother Nature never receives any compensation, any token, or any gift, but is taken for granted while we monetize on her. The least we can do is to always give our thanks by providing a simple photo with the bare basics, so that the amazing diversity is accessible to billions of human eyes. When these eyes see more and more of the incredible shapes and colors, it will be easier for people to see what is at stake and wanting to protect. A mere name of a red listed plant means nothing, but a photo changes everything.

If every publisher of field guides would incorporate a tiny portion of the work to iNat, then that is a thank you to Mother Nature. Why should we not do that?

As for image copyright - two options are relevant
All the images are primarily to be uploaded by the owner/photographer, as that is the core of iNat and licensing. By doing so they will have the huge iNat base to communicate with and spread their work, possibly generating more sales and future projects.
A group of images are uploaded by one profile that has the permission from each photographer.

I don’t like the latter, as that anonymizes the photographers. I would want each photographer to have a profile on iNat, as that is the best way forward for the work on documenting all the species of the planet.

I am fully aware there are photographers that have a rather self-centered view on what they have photographed, but I am confident that this is a work in progress. Sooner rather than later each of us must take responsibility and work FOR Mother Nature. It is just a minor adjustment in mentality and practices. I am in particular focusing on Socotra, and it is hard to get people onboard, unfortunately. One that owns a tour company specializing on flora, is concerned about geolocations, even though they are automatically obscured. I find that the response is just a symptom of unwillingness and an archaic mindset. As Socotra’s field guide is from 2004, the images are of very low quality and is not helpful. This is why I am focusing on returning time and time again to capture more and more species, and to invite others to iNat. So far I’ve uploaded 175 plant species (221 with all iNat users), so 625 (579) to go.

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First of all focus on low hanging fruits. Then that we are in the middle of a nature crisis. Thirdly how we can help Mother Nature so that her flora and fauna is made known to as many people of the world as possible, so that the desire to protect will continue to grow.

All photos are digital, and with them a stack of metadata that automatically document the circumstances of the capture. This is available from the time of capture for the duration of the work-process, unless someone deliberately removes it to close the door to traceability and best practices. It also removes any ability do to any kind of analysis at any point. Most cameras also give you the ability to write copyright information so the camera will include this in the metadata, which then is fully searchable and auditable. You saying it would mean a lot of work is concerning, as that is indicating outdated work processes. As for stock images, this is out of scope, as all iNat observations must be by the user uploading them. Furthermore stock images are not the product of such a project/field work but borrowed/licensed for a purpose.

I think you are making this a bit more complicating than necessary. But by your input I assume you are using quite a bit of stock images in your books, and as such have only a portion of the images taken by yourself. Then only your images would be of interest, and how is that a lot of work? Low hanging fruits are always the best initial step forward.

I would also like to challenge you to perhaps think about iNat as a way of communicating that your observations (from any given book project) are part of sometning more, and that this could in turn generate sales, and the book(s) will provide the whole context of each image, with all the added value that comes with it…

Just to clarify - I’m not referring to scanning the images in the physical book - iNat is digital, so it is from the images shot that are seen in the book.

The only books I ever buy are of flora/fauna, like that of Sikkim, as the data and imagery is otherwise locked away in scientific projects/universities, etc.

Currently there are no analogue parts of creating books, except for those that need it to be fully analogue for a specific purpose, as it will generate a lot of work overhead, so the entire work process is digital, and thus it comes with many best practices for planning, work processes, to life-cycle management. This means that if something is difficult it’s because one is choosing it to be. Where I’m coming from everything in the natural world is there for all of us, and as such should inherently be made available to all of us, in its basic form - it’s appearance photographically, and scientific data.

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Just as an aside, a handful of the images I’ve posted on iNat are ones I’ve also had used in various guide and information books, as well as news articles and the like.

Generally speaking, publishers, especially print publishers, want images at a higher rez than iNat hosts, even for small images.

I’m not a professional photographer, but I do work with a lot of professional photo and film fellows and they are often extremely protective of their media. Also, depending on the situation, they may be doing the work for someone else, and despite them having been the ones capturing the images they aren’t the ones who have say over how they’re used and distributed.

This latter thing has been an issue for us at times when working with film crews and researchers as they get images and videos of us working, or of important events that we would like for our records, but they can’t/won’t share with us.


I’m fully with you on the motivation, and it’s not me you need to convince as I already have over 13,000 photos logged in 5,000+ obs on iNat and growing by the day. When I said it would be complicated and time-consuming, I was thinking not so much of my book but more generally. I have worked in an editorial capacity on several wildlife guides (not quite field guides in the strict sense, but something close to that) and most of them use primarily images sourced from an array of stock libraries.

And by the way, the high-res images you get from stock libraries have always had the EXIF data removed; very often the same is true of photos direct from professional photographers, as they will have their own preferred post-processing workflow that puts the images through PhotoShop or whatever to balance the colours, correct flaws, airbrush blemishes, or whatever, and most often that renders a final proof file without the EXIF information maintained. (I appreciate one can change the settings to maintain EXIF data if one wants; I’m just saying how the world is in reality.)

Even for the images that are provided directly by photographers, an author or editor or publisher has no authority over the contributing photographers to tell them what to do with their images. At best they can just forward the iNat request to them and say “hey here’s a really worthwhile project we think you should look into supporting”. And I know what most of them would say… some would have strong reservations about copyright implications of putting their images out in public and the rest would say “oh, looks interesting, my schedule is a bit too hectic this year, and next year, but I’ll try to take a look someday”. And there’s not much pressure beyond that that a publisher is in a position to apply to them.

That’s why I said that I am not convinced going via publishers is the best way of getting photographers to put their work on iNat. Even if it is workable and generates only a small amount of extra work for the publishers, you will still meet resistance because the profit margins in publishing are so tiny. To be persuaded, the publisher would have to get something out of it more than just a warm fuzzy feeling about doing something worthwhile.

That something would either have to be a payment (which iNat would then have to find funds for) or otherwise some way of increasing sales. If iNat were to offer publishers some kind of ad in return for participation, that might work. Maybe something like a link under every image publisher-provided image saying “This image comes from WildWorld’s Field Guide to the Birds of Benin: click here to buy” or whatever. If iNat was open to a scheme along those lines, then you could get some publishers on board. But there would still be a lot of copyright issues to resolve.

When we licence an image from a stock library for a book project, we typically have to tell the stock library how many books will be printed, what size the image will be reproduced at, how many languages the book will be published in, how many countries it will be sold in, and so on. And from that if it’s a small print run of say 3,000 copies of a single edition of a book only in English, they will quote say $40 for the usage. If we then say “oh but we would also like worldwide all-language online usage rights” that quote becomes $400. Even with the best will in the world, publishers cannot just absorb such extra costs. So whatever proposal one approaches them with has to make business sense as well as being “good for the planet” otherwise it’s just not going to fly.


Returning to your intention to add pictures of biodiversity, from information which is available in field guides.
The approach via published authors is more effective. That way we can get a photo, with an informed ID, date and location (obscured where necessary). And a potential, or better yet active, identifier.

Three examples from my corner of iNat
John Manning wrote my field guide
Tony Rebelo wrote a protea book (and curates proteas on iNat)
botaneek / Nick Helme seeks out rare plants, for his day job, and also on holiday.

I would rather have that active input going forward. Where there can be discussion around taxonomy, with the inevitable future changes. And that date and (obscured) location are available if scientists need a specimen collected - or to seek out, is that population still viable?

Perhaps you can lure in a scientist who is working in Socotra? Or inspire a City Nature Challenge bioblitz?

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Many of the flora/fauna field guides are the result of a university project rather than a commercial institution, so perhaps the best channel is going through them. That said, for Socotra I’ve already been communicating with one university that has been doing projects on Socotra for 20 years. To my dissappointent the greatest dialogue is when I have something they want. For instance GPS coordinates to individual plants of critically endangered species. It is each doing things their way, and with a tight protection of “my stuff” and protection of the academic path (publications). iNat is light years ahead of the rest when it comes to data analysis and presenting it to the world. The individual universities are using their own methods and instead of contributing to the global capacity that iNat is, they continue to follow age old practices, that are obscured to the public…

As for the iNat users you have listed - I find it unlikely that they exclude their observations from iNat that are in their books. If they do it is disturbing.

Your reference to narrow this to taxonomy is not the scope of my request, as this is already a central part of iNat. Taxonomy is in a never ending flux with or without a photo of a live specimen.

I see there is an uphill battle to make people see, understand, and change age old practices of exploiting the natural world. Disappointing, but I do not have the capacity to start, run or market a change in behavior and practices, hence my bringing this to this forum as a project suggestion. I see this even at home in Norway. Here the red listed gulls are under yet a new threat, as the municipalities along the coast are planning to establish a continuous trail for hundreds of kilometers, as near the waterline as possible, so that people can enjoy outdoor life. They refuse to use existing network of trails, because they are not near enough to the ocean! This is in addition to the jet skis, canoes/kayaks, motorboats. Where are the birds supposed to nest/rest/live? The project has involved a huge number of stakeholders. Which stakeholder is not invited? Surprise - nature itself! This is typical in everything humanity does - when nature is involved we give nothing back and create artificial obstructions to hinder any kind of behavior change.

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I think you’re kind of preaching to the choir here. I’m pretty sure most of the people in this forum would agree that appreciation for, and knowledge of, the natural world around us should take priority over factors such as prestige, economics, tradition, etc.

It’s universities, publishers, photographers, and others you (and/or we) should be talking to, and it sounds like you already are. Continue to do that. And be sure to approach them on their level. Suggesting they have some moral, ethical, societal, or other obligation to act probably won’t get you very far. But showing them how doing a certain thing aligns with their goals or the greater good might.

If people seem overly concerned about protecting “my/their stuff”, maybe point out how iNat allows observations to be posted under various licenses, including ones that disallow re-use for commercial purposes and require attribution of the original author. (I believe one could license a photo under a creative commons license on iNat but license it differently to someone else, or else grant an exception under certain terms (such as monetary compensation) to whomever they so choose.)

Also keep in mind that iNat contributes to GBIF. Some of these universities may already be contributing to GBIF through some other channel and may simply feel, rightly or wrongly, that their “path to GBIF” is working fine for them.

Your zeal is exciting, but remember that many might need patience to persuade.


We are talking at cross purposes? Somewhere on the forum is a thread by scientists who deliberately make their publications open access. And usually they offer us a link here, which is not behind a paywall.

To protect our oystercatchers which nest on beaches, dune buggies and angler’s vehicles are no longer allowed to travel ON the beach. Much loud indignation! But our birds now have a chance. Dog walkers still need to learn to respect nature.

All of this we are in agreement on, and what I/we are individually doing. But this means communication with inefficient, non-standard content as to what iNat is and what can be achieved. There is no iNat template for on-boarding universities/photographers/projects. This template should contain all the aspects of joining and sharing/observations, and how this benefits both nature and the copyright owners. Thus my opening this topic, as it is much more powerful and efficient to have his coming from the organization than the individual. The individual can be misunderstood as to the underlying intentions, and whether or not there is anything in it for them. With iNat providing and supporting on-boarding for these types of projects it will appear much more appealing and relevant, than coming from a zealous individual.

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