Photo taking recommendations by taxon?

#1

I just recently joined iNat and have zero background in the sciences/wildlife research/photographing things. I am trying to take photos that are useful, but have no idea what features are needed when ID-ing different types of organisms. I would love it if people could reply with their preferred taxon and what features/angles are most important for that taxon.

Examples- I know eye arrangement is important for spider IDs, so I try get a good front view with eyes visible. Then I take a side view, top view, and if they are in a web, bottom view.
Trees I have been getting a full shot, a cose-up of the bark texture, a front and back view of a leaf (though I usually end up uploading only one), and any fruit or flowers. Should I be taking photos of the roots, too? Anything I am missing?

Any non-photo notes that I should be making?

Maybe if we could gather information on enough major taxa, this could be turned into a guide. I am sure this would be hepful for other newbs from non-science backgrounds.

Thanks!

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#2

First, welcome to iNaturalist! We’re so glad you are here!

Yes! I agree that it is often easy enough to get to genus, but hit a wall with some species if particular details are not captured. I wish guides were keyed out with this in mind, rather than using obscure and technical (sometimes unavailable) categories! I’ve marked down several genera in my region to make just such guide posts on a (hopefully) forthcoming blog, but this would be a great project for a wiki. Or in conjunction with a multi-access key, like was recently proposed. :D

Until I am familiar with a particular taxon, I just try to take more pictures than I think are necessary. I’ve lucked out and caught diagnostic features I was unaware of, but led to an iNat ID. (The magic! The magic!)

What you are suggesting would be a great use of the iNat taxon pages. Right now, the About section generally prints the corresponding Wikipedia article, which I appreciate. However, since we have this great collection of nerds, it would be awesome to have information that assists in refining IDs. As in, the image recognition gets you to Phiddipus, and when you click the taxon page, it tells you (among other things) that it would be a good idea to take a picture of the chelicera… and then tells you what the chelicera are, and helps you choose your own adventure to a likely species.

Some of the hinderance to this is the necessity of expertise and the complexity of range. I can speak to how to key out some species in Montana, but can’t give advice with certainty on the same genera in different ranges. So, it would take a community to get that going.

But… let’s do it! How else are we going to make a nature-aware culture if we don’t make it as easy as possible to learn??

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#3

For gastropods, get a photo of the aperture!! Great majority of gastropod pics are of the top (dorsal side) of the shell. This does seem logical, as that angle captures the colours/patterns, however, the aperture and the surrounding area are often necessary diagnostic features. Australian naticids (moon snails) are a great example: the umbilicus (area just to the left of the aperture) is crucial for ID.

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#4

Great topic! Should generate a lot of helpful information for everyone.

I identify vascular plants. For flowering plants, I often find observations with only close-ups of flowers from the top – the pretty shots. Sometimes this is enough, but more often I need side views of the flowers, stems, leaves, and whole plant too.

For trees, conversely, I often see just shots of the whole tree, without any close-ups of leaves, bark, reproductive structures, etc. If it’s a pine tree or other conifer, look for cones on the ground under the tree (or still attached is even better) and capture those too. (For that matter, the contents of the litter under any tree can be very informative.)

For ferns, add close-ups of both top and bottom surfaces of the leaf.

And of course, for any organism, sharp detail can be important. Getting to know the nuances of the camera’s autofocus or manual focus is worth the effort.

Also, when details are missing, sometimes a good accurate location can help rule out related species.

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#5

Fantastic question! And welcome!

For Pentatomidae (The stink bugs) and likely many other true bugs.

  • A straight down dorsal shot or series of dorsal shots.
    Try to get everything in focus. Multiple shots to get different parts in focus are fine. Head, pronotum, antennae, the wing membrane, shape of the embolium can all be important.
  • VENTRAL SHOTS!
    Lots of stink bugs need shots of the underside to make ID possible. For some stink bugs (Tepa in particular) you might even need a close-up of the scent glands which are often hidden by the middle legs. Being able to see how far the mouthparts extend underneath the body can help to distinguish some species as well.
  • Any details about the sighting can be helpful. What plant was the bug on? What’s the surrounding habitat like? Were they present in numbers or was this the only one you saw? If it’s a predatory stink bug, were any potential prey species on the same plant? What were they? The more detail, the better.
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#6

Excellent idea. Some of the most helpful feedback I have recieved on my observations are when people comment a higher taxon and specify what would help to narrow it down, or comment a species and explain what features in the photo distinguish it from simialr species. I think detailed replies like that really help you to learn, and so designated pages explaining similar things would be very useful indeed.

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#7

There are a few things I do that can be helpful:
take more than one picture.
For plants, clear other plants and debris away for clear shots.
Crop your photos…there are often several features visible in one picture, do a crop of each one.
Edit light, exposure, shadow,color, clarity. Play around to get the best detail. Sometimes the best detail comes with at the expense of aesthetics. Be conservative though, you don’t want to over do it and try not to change natural color tint or hue.
Lastly, resize your crops. Most often I reset size with the longest edge at 2000 to 5850 pixels, keep aspect ratio, highest quality.

If using DSLR camera the starting point is set to Aperature control, max aperature and minimum shutter speed 1/125. A ring flash helps in dark. It also helps reduce contrast in bright sunlight close-ups.

Your examples cover most everything else and when you discover a good guide or article, make yourself a tool such as this one I made for major MN thistles, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/21154061
have fun and welcome aboard.

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#8

People have done this for many taxa in many ways. The real problem is that there is no systematic way to find the hints. Adding them here as part of a forum thread isn’t going to be very useful. A wiki? A section of each Taxon page? A wiki that is accessed from the Taxon page? Let’s think about how to organize this and the suggestions will follow.

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#9

For plants it is useful to also know size of leaves, fruit, flowers, etc. Some people carry small measuring rulers, I often use field guides that have that printed somewhere.

Smell can be very distinctive with plants, Cestrum laevigatum is a good example of a species that can easily be identified by the smell of a crushed leaf.

Some flowers you need to see the parts underneath, like several daisies.

If photographing leaves remember that they can vary depending on how old they are or some species just have natural variation even on a single plant, so try to get samples that show the full range.

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#10

There has been a feature request to have “useful comments” incorporated somehow into taxa pages. The About tab can link to external info, so I think that is where this will go… in the mean time, there is nothing like “just giving it a go”, capture features that make it different from others in the same class or family, etc. Your “standard set” for plants/trees seems spot on, and will usually get you most of the way, and then just be bold and ask IDers and commenters questions that might lead to learning moments!

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#11

I recently began writing something about this and immediately ran into the complexity.

Glad others are on the same page.
Here’s my small part.

Junipers keying characteristics:

  • Whole tree (to see overall form),
  • clear shot of trunk(s) (multi-stem or single, bark texture/form),
  • medium close-up of branchlets (arrangement/form and size of twigs, random branching or flattened spray [the latter being Calocedros] and presence/absence of pollen cones and/or seed cones [i.e., monoecious or dioecious],
  • Very close-up of leaves (leaf glands visible? margins entire or denticulate [the latter takes 20x - 40x, trying to come up with a way to photo this myself]

e.g., https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/chauncey/19312-utah-juniper-vs-rocky-mountain-juniper

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#12

I mostly identify hoverflies, but I think these would apply for most flies:

  1. Top view showing abdomen pattern, thorax, head, and ideally wing veins. Most species can be identified from this.
  2. Side view showing head and all the different sections of the thorax
  3. Front view showing the face details
  4. More obscure things like underside and tiny leg details are sometimes important for trickier species.
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#13

Everything is in order of importance

For snakes:

  1. Head scales, especially from the side, are the most useful.
  2. A full body shot from the top-side diagonal
  3. Midbody for scale row counts

For scorpions:

  1. A full body picture from any angle is useful.
  2. The back of the last two tail segments.
  3. The pattern of setae (hairs) on the legs and denticles (bumps) on the pedipalps (hands).
  4. The pectens (sensory organs) on the underside.
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#14

For odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) assuming they cooperate and sit still long enough try to get one from the top, one from the side and if you can a good closeup of their terminal appendages which are the features at the end of their abdomen.

Most things are diagnostic from one of those but which one depends on the family.

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#15

Ahhh we totally need this to somehow be accessible by taxon w/in the app!

Fungi:
Mushrooms: the cap, the side view w/ the stipe (stem), the underside where you can see how the gills are attached, and sometimes worth digging up the base to see volva characteristics. Also worth sniffing them.
Polypores: absolute HAVE to have a photo of the underside or will not be IDable.
Lichens: Don’t expect a species level ID, #1. Growth habit, zoom in a lot, show what they’re growing on. Get the underside as well as the upper. Find fruiting bodies if you can.

Ladybugs (Coccinellidae):
Clear photo of the “head” area (pronotum) and patterns there, as well as the wing pattern/spots (elytra). For many species, luckily, one clear photo of the upper view will do for a good ID. I am also from a non-science background and will say lady beetles are a great one for the hobbyist - they don’t require advanced knowledge to ID well usually.

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#16

Welcome! Looks like you got a lot of good information here. With plants, it is sometimes useful to break a leaf or twig and look at the sap in addition to what others have mentioned.

Honestly, though, it’s sometimes best just to observe as best you can and let the people who want to ID your observations guide you towards getting better photos. Eventually, you will learn the important characteristics themselves, but there is a lot to learn so don’t be afraid of making mistakes. What you might do is start out with things nearby that you can readily get back to so you can take more photos if you need to (weeds and bugs in backyards are just fine). You should get a sense of what is identifiable and what is not.

If you ever end up in the Spurges (genus Euphorbia), theres a lot of information here: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/euphorbia-species-of-the-united-states

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#17

@janetwright @jilliankern @kiwifergus and all – yes, it currently seems to be a priority to develop some way to collect this kind of information on the Taxon Pages. Relevant discussions here:

https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/inaturalist-2019-team-retreat-follow-up/373
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/adding-useful-id-info-to-taxon-pages/657

So hopefully someday in the near future there will be more organized locations to paste all of the great information being posted here!

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#18

Another topic where this was discussed: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/add-comments-or-wiki-like-functionality-on-taxa-pages-to-discuss-identification-and-other-relevant-issues/91

For spiders, a lot of diagnostic information is published about the epigyne, palps, and eye arrangement, but relatively little about other features, so it can be really helpful to find a high-quality observation which has a photo of one of those plus a photo from almost any other angle. Top, underside, closeups of the legs, spinnerets, anything! Even a photo of a web can teach us something new about identifying a particular species. High-quality photos are good, of course, but a few low-quality photos from different directions are sometimes much more useful for ID than a single high-quality photo by itself.

For focusing on orbweavers, try carrying a sheet of white paper to hold behind the web while you photograph the spider, so that your camera doesn’t autofocus on the background. In a pinch, just holding your hand behind the web can work. Another trick is to carry a magnifying glass, and take photographs through that. This can make it possible to take in-focus photos of small insects with a cheap camera which doesn’t have any way to manually control the focus.

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#19

Some tips from the photographic side. For plants it is useful to have a macro lens. There are relatively cheap clip-ons accessories to do this on a camera-phones or you can go the more expensive route and get a camera that has interchangeable lenses with a macro lens. (I have a Nikon D7200 with 105mm macro lens).

For animals a telephoto lens is useful. Many creatures will run or fly away if you get too close. And for those that don’t, it may be suicidal to get too close!

Even if you have the steady hand of a brain surgeon I recommend using a tripod, monopod or gimbal to get really good shots. If you are using a macro lens at 1:1 magnification you should not even attempt hand-holding. Use a tripod with remote release.

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#20

Scale!!

It is usually very difficult to judge scale (size) of an organism or part of one, from photos. Either use a scale in the photos or write it in the text. For scale on photos use a little ruler or an index finger (which is usually to hand ;-) Some super dedicated people add a scale bar to the photos once processed.

For the southern African taxa we collect ID notes, keys etc. in a project called Keys (s Afr). I would give you the link but I cannot get iNat to load today, it takes forever…

Edit: project link https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/keys-s-afr

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