Photo of screens/back of camera

Is this accepted practice on iNaturalist? I know a lot of people posting other people’s photo or images they have found using screenshots or photos of screens. There’s no direct way to counter this in Data Quality apart from going to report and selecting ‘other’.

So, is this ok to do on this site?

I think, if it’s real, although preferably not either way. In those case it’s best to ask the observers about it.

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Check this topic
If it’s a school project where users photograph someone else’s smartphone, you should ask them to not do that and upload own photos, sometimes such observations will have wrong date/time and it needs to be marked in DQA, but if you can see it was made on the scene where object was seen (e.g. in the background), it’s ok to not mark it in any way and just leave a comment.
If it’s just a user who uploads old photos from computer, compare EXIF with time observed, if it matches, it means user didn’t correct date/time of observation, so mark it as incorrect and leave a comment each time, then when/if user correct it – unmark those.
Sometimes people photograph their cameras to upload some rare observation on a spot, that is acceptable and likely user will replace photo later.


I asked about that a long while back in a comment portion of a bird ID thread on Facebook, just an innocuous question of why people take and post photos of the screen on the back of their camera rather than posting the higher quality picture that they took using said camera, and got hammered for asking what is, to my mind, a reasonable question.

Never got an answer that made any sense, and I don’t see why people do it here either.

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I would do it if I had a photograph on my DSLR that I wanted to post. My iPhone is my only internet connection, I have no other equipment to use. I have done that with a photo of a male towhee that was in my yard in mid Michigan in mid-winter. The iPhone was incapable of making a decent photo.


Going by some of the terrible photos I’ve seen recently, I don’t think that some users understand that image quality is important in creating useful data for the site. Having said that I’ve also seen people confirm ID from photos that appear to me to be too blurry to show sufficient detail so I may be wrong. Often it seems to be people who are new to being a naturalist and I guess it’s all part of the learning process.

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Even with no new DSLR produced by any of the big manufacturers the last three or four years, they all comes with a form of bluetooth connection allowing photo uploading directly. There is just no motivation for uploading a terrible copy from the back of the camera or computer screen.

As there are too many people abusing this uploading a copyrighted image, this also makes it much harder to detect copyright infringement. A solution is to restrict this practice.

A good clear image is always better to ID than a poor blurry copy from the screen.

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Good to know for people that can afford a new camera, and internet connection. Those of us, a good deal less well off, will continue to do the best we can.


This is a legitimate use case. Maybe less common than people using back of camera shots inappropriately, but illustrates why asking the observer is a good idea if there is any question, rather than just assuming it’s not legit.

As an observer who has done this from time to time with his non-networked camera, I have typically not uploaded to iNat, but shared elsewhere first to try to confirm an ID while out in the field (which can help make decisions about looking for more shots / different angles, for example). Then I would upload the actual photos when I got home. However, I understand not everyone has a community outside of iNat itself to check such stuff with while out in the field. It would probably be a good idea for those directly uploading back-of-camera shots from the field to note in the description the circumstances to help potential reviewers understand the situation.


My phone is a 2014 model and I’m the third owner. It takes excellent photos most of the time. My bridge camera is a 2008 model and is still taking excellent photos. All I’m saying is affordability and having the latest gear doesn’t have to be a restriction.
I’m not sure about the copyright issue as it’s just as easy to steal a photo off the net without having to take a photo of a screen. Harder to reverse search maybe though.


I would argue that it doesn’t really make sense in that case either.

ID times on iNat are highly variable, there is almost zero chance that you’re going to be getting a community ID while you’re in the field and in time to take another shot.

Using it for the CV automated ID, maybe, but then you don’t have to post the bad image, or you can use SEEK.

Personally, I wait until I’m back and the photos are properly edited before posting them. I keep all in-camera networking turned off as it’s a massive battery drain.


It makes sense for birding community, especially in NA and other regions where chasing is normal, if it’s something rare, it’s better to know it sooner than later if somebody wants to see it too or make better quality pics, likely you can see it both from optimistic and pessimistic sides, but it’s more reasonable than e.g. posting a butterfly pic “here and now”.


I’ve heard about the madness that can happen with the birder ‘paparazzi’ crowd but I have never witnessed it. (Have you?)

Do you think that there’s any danger of that negative kind of nature observation behavior spilling into other natural observing interest areas?

I haven’t seen that first hand, but this winter there was a negative owl experience locally where someone was throwing snowballs near the bird so it would open eyes and others used branches from other trees and placed them near the bird “for a shot”, even though it’s a very rare owl here, I didn’t visit it because imo it doesn’t really add anything for me or platform. Birding is very competetive and draws some people who are more into achieves/badges than birds, I haven’t seen that in other areas, though maybe someone here is more knowledgable than me, but I hope when people use others’ iNat records they only choose a general area and not go straight to the spot (unless they study the organism).


Judging by the photos I’ve seen, that seems to be overwhelmingly middle-aged and older white guys with the money to spend on super-gear and travel.

One of the reasons I feel drawn to the iNat community is the diversity of its observations AND its observers.

Thanks Marina. Now I just have to say that I am absolutely gobsmacked by your achievements and incredibly impressed by your knowledge and experience here – and out there.

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Thank you! And yes, you described them correctly!.)

I usually asked people why they photographed a screen and asked them if they took the original photo. If the photo is indeed theirs, there are two common reasons people do this:

  • they aren’t aware of the iNat website and think iNat is only an app. Thus they feel like they have to photograph their screen with their phone to get it into iNat.

  • they take a photo of the back of their screen to record their location. They’ll then (sometimes) replace the screen photo with the actual photo.

In those cases I usually link to the web uploader and geotagging tutorial videos.


This is such an incredibly privileged point of view. I’m relatively well-off and I still can’t justify spending 2-3k on a new dSLR when my older one, which has neither GPS nor WiFi, works perfectly well.


Similar, but different, I have used screen captures from videos that I’ve made. The pictures are real, with valid time and location in the observation, but no EXIF data to prove it.

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