Photographing for optimum ID

Many people photograph what catches their eye. This has produced some exceptional photographs here on iNaturalist. However, to help the computer and those of us who kill time by adding or correcting IDs, just shooting the pretty parts can make an ID harder than it needs to be.
I want to help.
I happened to be fortunate to learn from some excellent professional photographers and want to share tips for creating better photographs.
Here are some suggestions, take what you can use.

*Slow down. Too many of us are time constrained and we want to get that SD Card filled up. But the slower you go, the more you will see. Like pollinators to a particular flower.

*Start taking photos when you first see the plant. Adding a photo of the organism immediate ecosystem can be very beneficial. Such as photographs of a plant, not just the flower.

*Some plant families produce look alike flowers but have different leaf shapes or the underside of the flower at the base will be different. Like with the Aster family plants. So try to get more than a glamour shot.

*Try to shoot a cooperative subject from different angles. Light falls on things differently and moving around a subject getting different view points can be beneficial.


You could add your tips here


For plants: If possible, photograph the flowers, leaves, seeds, stems and the entire plant.

For insects: As many angles as possible. Sometimes a poor picture of 3 or four angles, plus a good picture from one angle, is better than 10 good photos all from the same angle.

For birds: Don’t overly crop the photo. Head shots are pretty, but harder to ID. Other than that, again more angles is better.


Fungi: PLEASE for mushrooms please show photos of the underside! It is vital! Sometime an observation can’t even be ID’ed to family level because it is just a photo of an inconspicuous cap. And also spore prints can be crucial for differentiating between species and genera, and lastly if possible microscopy photos of the spores would be great but not very convenient for the average naturalist. Also take note of the nearby plants, especially trees. Also many other factors you can check for, such as how much does the cap skin peel back, taste (it is safe to chew/taste mushrooms, even toxic ones if you don’t swallow but some people don’t find this appealing. Take note if it was spicy or not), smell (most don’t have a distinct smell besides “earthy” but some do and it can help a lot, and also checking if it bruises (break a piece of the cap or damage another part of the fungus and see if it changes color after a few minutes or secretes latex).

Mosses: Sadly many genera won’t be ID’able to species without microscopy photos too, though if you just have nice clear photos and a habitat description it can usually be ID’ed to genus level.

Goldenrods: Potentially one of the most painful genera to identify in the United States/Canada. Good photos of the leaves, underside of the leaves, stem, flowers, and far away shot of the entire plant are your best bet for ID. Take note if any parts are “fuzzy”/pubescent, especially on parts of the leaves or stem.

Bees/Wasps: Nice photos of the abdomen are crucial often, side view is much less valuable compared to aerial view but having both is best. Also habitat description and host plant can help.

Salamanders: It is a case by case basis but at least in North America an aerial view, side view, and ventral view will all ensure you can have a confident identification, though if you are in a pinch you can usually get away with just an aerial view. (Also noting habitat, such as under a log or in a stream can help tricky situations).

Turtles & Tortoises: Clear photos of the scutes and how they are arranged, if there is debris/dirt covering them try to wipe it off gently. Also photos of the head (side profile), ventral photos, habitat description, and behavioral notes.

Frogs: If possible try to get ventral photos and make note if it was calling and try to described the call. Also nice photos of the legs and head are good.

Snakes: Head photos from the side and top view can be EXTREMELY useful almost everywhere, especially differentiating confusing species. And ventral photos can help but not recommended because if you don’t know if it’s venomous or not you shouldn’t pick it up. Also for certain lizards (especially North American Skinks) side view of the head and photos of the belly can help a lot.

Fish: More often than not top down photos aren’t going to cut it, best to have a photo of it out of the water in your hand or in a specimen container with side profile photos. And nice photos of the fin rays can be very useful as well as habitat.

Hope this helps some people :)


I shoot with a 300mm for most everything (it’s what I can afford to replace, worst case scenario and I’m not being paid to produce my shots, usually.)

There’s often a lot of habitat in my photos, I sometimes will crop a 24 MP shot to about 1/6 of the original image, is it better to upload the full (4:3) size image…

this Cocoi Heron obs. is a good example, I took this foto from about 200-250 meters away from the other side of the river.

I ask because cropping from 4:3 to 1:1 on individual sets of fotos does take a little bit more time, but I feel it speeds up the upload process while also saving me a decent amount of data for my .jpegs

However, if it generates better data to include the full habitat in at least a few images, I would be happy to include this as my shots have a tendency to be basically landscapes with a tiny bird in the middle :]

Please continue to do this. If you want to include the original too, no problem, but a crop to enlarge the bird is always helpful.

The previous poster was talking about head shots, that crop out most of the bird itself. I more often see photos where the bird is a tiny dot in the frame, but either extreme is unhelpful. Best are photos where the bird is reasonably large in the frame, with all features visible.

Thank you for clarifying!

Lately we’ve been getting pretty lucky and the opposite scenario has been occurring, we’ve actually had chestnut antpitta walk on the trail so close we could barely get the bird in focus with the lens at 70mm :D


All I would add is it depends on the species. Read the guidebooks in your area of interest: the good ones will tell you what needs to be visible in a photograph for an identification of a given species, and shows how this varies from species to species (e.g. no single rule applies to bees)–and as importantly, whether identification is even possible with photographs.

I completely agree! Some species like garter snakes and ribbon snakes are difficult for some people (including me) to differentiate without a good picture of the head.


Freshwater and marine flatworms:

Don’t drag flatworms out of water. Get Petri dish and take picture of elongated animal. Natural shape is best shape. Avoid ‘blobs’ with glares on stones, hands and etc. Add comments about environment into observation. Was animal found in cold spring? Fast flowing creek? It’s lowland species which preferring warmer waters?

What are key features for ID?

Shape of the head
Shape of the auricles [if animals have any]
Number and eye distribution
Polyclads: Does it have folds or nuchal tentacles?
Shape of body - it’s rather bulky? or elongated?
Color and patterns [important in polyclads]

Good examples

Mostly not suitable for ID [or not suitable for ID without additional questions] glares, shape of head and number of eyes not visible same as above excellent detail but is it freshwater one? land planarian?

Land planarians:

Mostly same as above - pay attention to number and type of eyes [here, I drew crash course for this ;], shape and color. Take details of head. Photo of ventral side may be extra helpful in many terrestrial species.