Photo taking recommendations by taxon?

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.

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.

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.


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

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.


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:


@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:

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


Another topic where this was discussed:

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.


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.



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


I really like the idea of connecting it to the taxon page somehow.


Hi, @Blaserk! When we added an iNaturalist component to our San Diego County Plant Atlas, our project manager Millie Basden wrote up a guide to photographing plants. Here it is.



Yay, thanks everyone!!! This is great help, keep it coming! :D

(And agreed with everyone above on adding this info to taxa pages)


You can add all manner of links to the taxon page. Under the ABOUT tab you can add links to comments, journal posts etc. On the right is More Info, click on the Add Link button and away you go :-) If the link is pertinent to all child taxa, you can add the link to all of them in one go (there’s an option called Add to Children or something like that).

Link to a key in a project journal post for the Amerila spp. adults -

Link to a comment for notes on distinguishing brown Hippotion caterpillars -


I don’t know if it is the current heavy load situation or happens all the time, but when I checked those taxa pages out, there were no links. I searched all over the page, not links to journal posts or anything that might be other than wiki page… then when I went from the second one back to the first, it was there on the right hand side where you said it would be! It must be a very low priority load for the page, and site traffic can make it very slow to load, in excess of a minute in my case just now. I will re-check it later today when it is less busy, and see if it comes up sooner.

[edit: Checked just now (14h later), site traffic much lower, taxa page loads much faster and almost no delay before the link appears.]


With fungi, you need to put in your observation the substrate it was growing in—dirt, dead leaves, a conifer log, etc. If it is growing on the ground, note what kind of trees it was growing near, because many species are only associated with certain trees. If you can legally remove the mushroom, take a spore print and note the color.

How to take a spore print:

If it has a distinctive smell besides “mushroomy,” note that.

Squeeze the stem and note if there is a color change, called bruising. You may have to wait a minute for the color to turn.

Use a pocket knife to cut the gills or pores. Note if there is a color change. If a milky substance oozes from the gills, your mushroom belongs to the genus Lactarius.

Mushrooms are a poorly studied taxon, especially outside of Europe, so don’t be surprised if your specimen can’t be identified beyond genus or family.


Another thing to consider for these guides is a way to allow the iNat app to display them. Navigating the iNat site on a phone is hard, and making these guides easier to find (either with links or directly viewing them) could allow the app to serve as a handy resource for what to take photos of.

On another note, if you’re using a camera to take photos, I’ve actually found a small app that allows me to show measurements in a pinch.

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I don’t think I’ve seen this written here yet but in a similar vein to some other comments about how to hold the camera, I learned today that if you regularly use binoculars on a harness or strap in the field they can be useful to rest your phone on when crouching to photograph insects or anything really. The stability of resting the phone or camera lightly on the bins contributed, accidentally, to my taking better photos with a challenging subject. I sort of just “discovered” this by accident and I’m going to do it intentionally now.


Just a warning–the last time I had on binoculars with a harness and a camera on a neck-strap, I lost 2 camera batteries–I figured out too late that the battery compartment was being accidentally opened by movement against the binoculars.



I was just using my iphone. Thanks for sharing that though…you’ve probably just unknowingly prevented a lot of really bad days. I’ll definitely keep that in mind when I’m using the fancier stuff.


It occurred to me that in a sense, each couplet in a dichotomous key asks about a distinctive characteristic; this would suggest what photos to take.