Should we disagree if the picture is too blurry?

Especially with birds, photos are often blurry and/or silhouetted. But the observer who was actually there might be very confident in their ID. Is the right thing in these situations to actively disagree with their species ID? Should we take written evidence and descriptions into account or ignore it (e.g. if someone says “the legs were yellow” even though the photo is a silhouette, etc)?

Some overlap in this discussion:


Thanks! But also, oh no, the answers were extremely variable with no clear consensus. :D

Tough subject. This morning I took an attempt at a tick photo which wasn’t that great, and the magnification made things worse. Based on what it was, where it was caught, and the general shape, I made an ID, probably the correct one. My rule of thumb is that if it is too blurred for me to identify, I don’t. Others with more experience may be able to read the tea leaves, so to speak, but If I am personally not able to, I don’t ID it. We are not obliged to identify anything based on photographs, good or bad. I’ve seen fantastic snake photography, but I know nothing about snakes, so don’t make an ID. I’ve seen crappy moth photos that I can formulate an opinion on, just because I know moths. BTW, I try to pass on that the image is not great.
I have also posted images that I knew were true, but again, if my images are not good, people are under no obligation to believe me.


Personally if I can’t rule out a species, I won’t outright disagree. If I can’t confirm it is that species I’ll add a broader level ID that I’m more confident with without disagreeing.


As a general rule, I consider the evidence that is in the record (typically one or more photos). If the submitter provides notes that might help in interpreting the image(s) – e.g., color pattern that is not fully evident in the pics, habitat, etc. – I might agree with their ID. But if all you have is the photo and it’s not sufficient by itself, I’m not inclined to agree with the ID. For some organisms, the location information can augment what’s in the photo by eliminating another very similar species.

Added note: I should make clear that if I don’t think there’s enough there to provide an ID or to agree with an existing ID, I just leave the record alone.


Actively entering a disagreement is not the same thing as choosing not to agree to it (ie simply ignoring it). To me, unless you have active reason to believe the ID is wrong, it is better to simply leave it.

For example there are thousands of Kingbird and Flycatcher observations on the site of species typically only identifiable by voice. Some with blurry pics, some with National Geographic quality pics. Many of them note an ID was done by voice, yet there is no recording. To some, the answer is ‘No recording, no species ID, I dont care what you say’, to others it is ‘if the user knows they need to be separated by voice, and notes they did so, that suffices as evidence’

Adopting the first approach and adding a genus level ID may be more ‘scientifically pure’, but I doubt it would be a popular move.


no you should not disagree, unless you are an expert on the species and are highly confident it’s impossible to get an ID from the photo. An intermediate if you are confident in that the ID seems reasonable is check ‘no’ for ‘can the ID be improved’
See also:

1 Like

I don’t disagree with IDs, unless I can prove it based on the evidence provided. We all use different characters to ID things (even taste and smell). There are also aspects of behavior or gestalt that experts become versed in, and those aren’t always possible to capture. That said, I tend to only post things I can prove definitively to someone that is checking using traits from dichotomous key couplets, but, for example, an expert should be able to tell Salix amygdaloides from all other tree willows (let alone trees) from 100 yards away or a photo taken from that distance, at least during the growing season. However, if someone disagrees with an observation that can be definitively IDed based on what I provided, I just take it down.

1 Like

For me, the wording of the explicit disagreement notification gives a good direction to this. It says “Is the evidence provided enough to confirm this is ________”. It doesn’t specify that the information has to come from the photo alone. Most folks often use info from time, season, and location to make their IDs. We are trusting that the observer has uploaded this info correctly as well as the photo. Given that, I think it’s fine to take into account tags or info from the description that the observer has provided in making the ID. This is “evidence” (though it might be less reliable evidence in some cases…)

As for explicit disagreements, I feel like that is one of the more contentious decisions people make. My own actions are again guided by the wording of the disagreement “Is the evidence provided enough to confirm this is ______”. I think that there are cases where, if one is an expert in a given group, it’s fair to say that the evidence is not provided in the case of a blurry or non-diagnostic picture. The disagreement doesn’t ask if the initial reviewer is correct; it asks whether the ID is verifiable and reproducible. Those two principles (verifiability and reproducibility) are at the bedrock of science. So if you have enough experience to say that there is not enough evidence to fulfill those, then I think it is fair to disagree. A good example is lots of insect species where IDs from basic photos are just not enough to ID an individual to species.

That said, I think that it is good practice to explain your reasoning for disagreeing and, if you can, to ask the observer if they have information about the characters that would enable an ID or suggest how they could get info on those characters/field marks in future IDs. It’s also probably wise to be pretty humble about this: if some expert comes along who can and does ID the observation (and hopefully explains how for everyone’s benefit), you should be prepared to withdraw the disagreement.


A few months ago I posted a blurry pic of a Snapping Turtle and I had someone disagree and downgrade the observation from species to order level. I eventually persuaded them to withdraw their disagreement. It annoyed me because (a) it implied my ID was wrong, which felt a bit insulting… I think I can ID a Snapping Turtle (I’m holding one in my profile pic)… and (b) it prevented the record from showing up at the species level on searches (and on the map).

If sufficient evidence were required in order for an observation to be posted at a given taxonomic level, then why would observations without photos/audio be allowed? Perhaps there should be a way to downgrade observations of this type to “casual” so they can still maintain the observers ID while acknowledging that the ID can’t be confirmed from the evidence presented, similar to how observations without photos/audio are treated?


you can kind of do that by rejecting the community ID, though it isn’t ideal.

It would be good to know whether they truly did disagree or were confused by the pop-up’s wording, which happens somewhat commonly. Try to assume everyone means well here.


You can do that by not disagreeing to something higher, but instead just mark it “evidence of organism = No” and it will instantly go to casual with their id preserved for the record. However, I don’t like doing that unless it’s an issue of say, the butterfly flew away a few seconds ago but they took a pic of the flower it was just on, as a record. If there’s a blurry form in frame I feel it could still be evidence for someone else

1 Like

It comes down to whether the photo can identify it, not how good the photo is.


I think what constitutes enough in a photo for identification can vary depending on the person looking in many cases. There are times when I’m 99 percent certain of a species, but explaining it in a way that would help those not so intimate with their identification see it as well, would be challenging to say the least.

I also feel at times people submit photos they know can not be confirmed within reason, but simply want it as a place holder for documentation that they saw it. As with any photos like this I give the benefit of the doubt there was something observable I’m the field that helped them make the call and I leave it alone. Preferably if the observer is aware to this fact, they would mark it as such (such as no proof of evidence) to make it casual grade and keep it out of the “Needs ID” pool where it can’t garner any justifiable support. Though this is something I try refrain from doing to other users observations unless there just simply isn’t any evidence of the intended subject at all.


I think you shouldn’t disagree, but if the picture is unidentifiable then I usually don’t say anything at all. Like, say it’s a photo of a bird. it’s blurry and hard to distinguish. But, the person who posted may of said it was a certain species because they could see much clearer than their camera. For instance, earlier a Bluebird landed on a wire in front of me but my camera would NOT focus on it. so if i posted it, it’s gonna be a blob of blue. But, I knew that it was a bluebird.

1 Like

Here is an example:

There is a photo, but the only apparent organism is a plant. However, the observer identified it as a bird, and when asked about it said “just believe.” So I didn’t want to identify the plant, since “just believe” seemed like confirmation that the observer saw a bird, and the observer could have posted a photoless “casual” observation of said bird. The checkbox about no evidence of organism seems inapplicable since the plant in the photo is visible. So I did nothing and it’s still “Needs ID.” No other checkbox seems to fit.

for that last one i just marked it as not needing any further ID and it went to casual since it had 2 IDs already

good solution for where the observer indicates the organism was there but nevertheless agrees to State of matter Life–thanks

1 Like