Speed iNatting Ideas

What do you do to increase your OPH (observations per hour) in the field? My phone can be a little slow going through each step, and gets slower the more observations I in the upload queue, but I dislike post-processing at a computer so I usually use the app rather than using an external camera.

Has anyone tried out a USB OTG (on-the-go) cable? There may be a way to use a DSLR as a phone’s camera with USB OTG and the DSLR Controller app, but I’m not sure. I’d love if when iNat calls for the camera, it waits for a photo to come in from the DSLR and uses that as the photo. Or, if the DSLR would write to the phone memory in situ and I could make the observation with those files and get the GPS right there.

Also, would anyone be interested in doing speed runs? Maybe select a time-period (30-60 minutes?) and see how many verifiable observations you can make in that time period?

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I’d be in to doing a speed run sort of thing, I’d have to wait for spring though ;)

I take the pictures with my camera app then upload them using the iNat app at a later time.

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I am pretty fast with the app and can easily get over 50 observations on a hike lasting a couple of hours. Not that all my photos are great! I have noticed that for whatever reason the gps seems slower to zoom in on the location now so that has slowed me down a little. But I’ll often go into a wetland or some other place I want to survey and put in every plant species I see plus whatever fungi and animals are around, and it works pretty well for that. Not as quick as writing them in a field notebook but I get the photos and georeferenced point too.

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I’m not particularly concerned with speed when I’m out and about. I tend to take it slower, enjoy myself, and spend more time investigating things.

Regarding the camera -> phone connection, many cameras now have wifi in them and the companies that make them often have phone apps that link the camera and phone. You can transfer lower quality images directly to your phone’s memory that way, then upload them via the app.

As I like the photography portion and the control a camera and post processing gives I tend to be a nearly exclusive camera user, unless I don’t have my camera with me and just need to get a quick image.

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Great question! My solution is still to photograph without the app, then post-process the geotagging and taxon tagging and observation fields on my computer, then batch upload. That’s the fastest iNat workflow I’ve figured out. It is still kinda’ slow though, waiting for the uploader to process the metadata then manually combining photos together when I’ve taken several of one organism.

I used to spend a lot more time using the uploader, but 2020 has been an odd and distracting year (!) and I’ve got into a habit of just uploading the most important observations (new species to an area) and leaving the rest of it off iNat. Instead I’ve been spending most of my iNat time identifying and tagging others’ observations.

None of this stops me from observing though. I’m an outlier in that I do ecological surveys all the time. We live in an age of unprecedented ecological change and so I’ve turned my life into one long transect. I averaged just over 3,700 observations a week this year—assuming 12 hour days, that’s an average annual OPH of 45. To do this, I don’t use iNat. I focus on the taxa I can reliably identify quickly, and I only photograph/record them when I’m unsure of an ID or they’re notable (breeding or flowering out of season, or in an unexpected place, or a new interaction or behaviour). I record my observations into a database on my iPhone, mostly as audio notes that I later bulk transcribe into text with AWS Transcribe.

iNat is not designed to be the place for this volume of recording, but I’d still like a faster way to upload my photos and audio.

In my ideal world, I’d take my folder of photos and audio recordings from a week, and the data from all the observations I made that week, and a computer script would combine them to automatically label my photos with the taxon and my observations notes, by matching the datetime stamps of my observations with the photos, and then automatically upload them all up to iNat. That would involve the iNat API.

I’d be super interested to hear if anyone’s already got a workflow like this built.

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In terms of minimizing my workflow time, and focusing on a more efficient output, I’ve adopted the following:

  1. using the app for observations that don’t need detailed photos, e.g. a tree or plant or something very distinctive, to save processing time later.

  2. learning the local area and knowing what can and cannot be identified, and for those that can, focusing on the ID features needed to confirm the observation. For instance, in highly diverse areas like a rainforest, this’ll mean focusing on plants with flowers many times, as leaves alone are often hopeless and a time sink.

  3. not focusing too specifically on any one subject, e.g. plants or birds, keeping ears and eyes open for everything.

  4. when camera is required, ensuring there is a GPS tag set to save time on the PC later.

The quickest way to upload in my experience is using the camera, because you can shoot a large number of photos at once and just batch upload them all to the PC with location, date/time already attached. However, this assumes you aren’t taking a large number of photos for each subject, and some of us like to crop edit photos prior to posting.

…right now, my greatest issue is dealing with my photo backlog, however! Especially given how many photos I take per subject, I’m not the best photographer so I consider it mandatory to ensure there is at least one useable image. But it can take hours to go through a folder of photos from one day out.

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In my experience it takes like 3 minutes to go through the whole observation process with the app (loading photos, choosing an ID, fixing the location) and I don’t have data so I can’t do most of the process away from home or school anyway. So using the app in the field is just too tedious and inefficient when I only have a limited amount of time, if my goal is to observe as many things as possible.

When I only have my phone I just take photos with the default camera app and upload them to the app later when I have wifi. But a DSLR is definitely faster, at that point I’m much more limited by finding organisms than anything to do with my equipment since I can generally take all the necessary photos of an organism in a few seconds and still be confident that they’ll be decent quality.

As other have mentioned though, with that process editing the photos and uploading backlog becomes a big pain. It seems inevitable that the higher your OPH the more frustrating the observation-making process becomes (and, past a certain point also decreasing obs quality).

During an outing I always take the pictures first, and then process them when I get back home. I tend to be a walk slowly till you spot something interesting, and then look around a bit more in that area type of inatter. That means eg. if you spot a butterfly flying around a bunch of flowers, there is a chance you will see many other creatures, ie. wasps, bees, ants, flies, beetles etc. When it comes to uploading your findings having a bit of knowledge on your area’s flora and fauna can also greatly speed up the inatting process.

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I use a mix of the app and two different cameras when I’m in the field.

Coincidentally, today I decided to do a winter solstice week biggish day (all on foot). I spent about 7 hours and ended up with 200+ observations on my phone, and will probably have another 50 or so from the two other cameras (one for more detailed/macro, one for telephoto/animals). The observations per hour varied - as I spent time walking between locations, and also spent more time than optimal (for max species/observation counts) looking for/at things I’m less familiar with instead of quickly making observations of things I am already familiar with.

I find it much faster to put names in as observations are uploading using the Identify page with appropriate filters (so I’m seeing my new observations) rather than to try and use the phone to add names (whether at home or in the field), so I almost never put names on observations in the field. I just get the photo in the observation with gps coordinates, and save the observation without a name.

I haven’t tried to time it, but suspect I can get 2-3 observations per minute with this approach if I’m just taking one photo per observation and the organisms are right there. Of course in practice, there’s only so much right in one place, so the density of species to observe in the first place is more of a limiting factor than iNaturalist app.

I sounds like everyone has the same problem, which is: choosing between fast and high-quality images on the one hand, and easy post-processing on the other. (I’m considering identification as a separate step for this discussion.)

I wish there was a solution to this. I know this is a niche problem. For most users, the experience of making a single observation on an excursion is probably significant enough not to cause discomfort. However, for users doing a short of “power transect”, making as many observations as possible in an outing, the time it takes to make an observation can make them refrain as they economize their time in search of specimens that are significant enough.

The best options available appear to be:

  • Use the iNat app and identify later. This can take a few minutes per observation, and precludes micro and macro images.

  • Use the phone camera app to take pictures of an observation and then the iNat app to select the relevant images in situ. This might be faster than the above, and I’d be curious about a side-by-side comparison. Same optics issues as above.

  • Use a separate camera and shift field time to post. The testimony of just about any user that does this is that this is unsustainable. It just takes too much time to organize all of the images into observations and geolocate them. There are some time savings if you can afford an on-board GPS unit, or batch edit if you didn’t cover much ground. The issue is simply to separate the images into each bucket.

I’ve been trying to imagine some ways to solve this:

  • Linking a DSLR with the phone to take quality images and sort into observations in situ. Still maybe bogs down on time, but solves some speed and quality issues.

  • Make a plug in like Magic Lantern that speaks iNat’s language. The same way you can create folders in a camera menu, how great would it be to have a quick command on your camera that simply means “new observation” and when you dump the images in the uploader, they all get sorted into observations? That, with a GPS unit, would make a camera plug-and-play into iNat’s system. A power user could blast away without worrying about getting tied up with processing guilt. Is there a way to make a phone GPS supply metadata for a camera image? That could also make this easier for lay users who don’t want to spend for a GPS adapter.

What else am I missing? Does anyone else ever want to go out and just take a picture of everything they see, rather than just whatever is new or interesting? (And, yes, before you re-center me, there are times I also love to go out without any technology at all and just experience it unmediated. But I also like to make iNat observations without spending time watching my phone load while I’m in nature.)

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I’ve had to deal with this recently because I’ve had problems retrieving geodata from my camera even though it has GPS. One solution I’ve found is to use the app to make observations with no photos and either transfer camera photos to the phone then upload, or upload the observation with no photo first and add then the photos on my computer. This has saved a lot of time even for organisms I take pictures of on my phone because the app is much faster (in areas with poor reception, anyways) at creating and uploading observations with no photos.

I suppose this is outside of your use case since you said you don’t like using a computer, but if you use this method, it only adds a few extra minutes and you get good locations if the camera and gps have synced times. Then you literally just take photos when in the field, take a minute or two to geotag them, and you’re good to go. Also, I like having a database of tracks of my hikes, it’s pretty fun.

Personally going through photos is quite enjoyable to me, so I don’t mind the culling and cropping - it’s a nice way to wind down after a hike and relive cool encounters. Then again I’m more and more using iNat as a way to post my photos rather than as a recording platform as I focus more on photography, so our goals are a bit different here.

Canon, Nikon, and Sony all have smartphone apps that allow you to connect your phone with your camera via bluetooth and use your phone’s location info to tag photos as you take them. However, I’ve found both the bluetooth connection and the app’s location updates to be spotty, so I never use it. Much more reliable to just keep a track and sync later.

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