Ways to iNat more efficiently

Each day, I tell myself I will work on uploading my backlog of observations. And then I go out and make a lot more observations and by the end of the day my backlog has only gotten larger. Clearly, I need a new approach. This backlog is more than a nuisance, it encourages me to skip going outside on walks for fear of making more observations (Is it even possible to go on a walk without photographing everything anymore?), feels like a lot of work which leads me to procrastinate by writing topics on the forums instead of sorting through observations, and means a lot of my observations will end up lost since I will forget where I saw them or misplace the data.

What ways do you all have of doing this whole iNat thing more efficiently in general?

My specific situation is to take a bunch of photos of each thing with a DSLR that can link to my phone to get GPS coords, but which I often forget to link up and so have to enter coords in manually. I transfer files to my computer, crop the photos, delete the blurry ones and select the best few of each obs to use, and only select one individual for each species I encounter on an outing. I then upload them using the website and often spend a bit of time at this stage trying to ID them. And then after upload, I usually have to go into a few of them to add crosslinks and just to check for any mistakes.

The cropping and deciding which photos to keep part takes the longest, and is the part that feels the most like work.

But that’s just the process I use for normal camera observations. I mostly do microscopy these days, and that is where I get into real trouble. It only takes a few minutes to collect a sample of water, but then many hours to look through it and photograph everything. So I usually end up taking more samples of things than I can look at in a day, hence my growing collection of water filled plastic bags.

Some ideas I’ve had to improve things are:

  • Use the app for things I don’t care about as much but still want to upload
  • Resist the urge to document everything; be more selective in what I upload
  • Use lightroom or something like that to edit, organize, and upload observations to iNat instead of using the web interface
  • Get a dedicated camera gps
  • Find a decent microscope image acquisition program. The one I use now has soo many annoying things about it and crashes regularly.
  • Learn to use automatic modes with camera instead of always adjusting everything manually for each shot.
  • Find a decent, easy-to-use program to cut and crop videos and export them as gifs.
  • Try not to take 50 photos of a single organism, or excessively long videos
  • Label everything immediately (I am good at doing this now, but it merits repeating)

Nothing that is going to be especially surprising to you, but:

  • Having a camera with embedded GPS is a incredible time saver
  • I try as much as possible to take photos that don’t require cropping, and to try and only take photos when I’m sure it will turn out adequately. I’d say I ultimately end up uploading 80-90% of the photos I take, and rarely make any adjustments to them. It certainly means that my photo quality is often lower, but that isn’t really what I’m going for.
  • Rely on the auto-id to fill in names as much as possible. This obviously depends on where you are and what you’re looking at. For what I’m doing, The correct species is one of the top ID suggestions 95% of the time or more.
  • If I don’t know what something is, and I don’t think I can quickly figure it out from a key or whatever, I’ll often just upload it and come back later. Often somebody will have identified it for me in the interim.

I don’t have a camera with GPS, but I carry a small GPS device with me, and keep a track. Once I download that to my computer, I have a program that will use timestamps on the photos to sync the photos to the GPS. Saves a lot of time.


For species you are 100% certain of ID on at time of photo, jsut take the one photo. For those you are certain of but there could be other possibles, take the one “whole organism” shot and a second “key character” shot. I upload to computer and they copy over into folders named by date. When uploading to iNat, I drop the ones I have done into a “done” folder inside each of those, and I will tend to be selective in what I put up as obs. I have a huge amount that haven’t been uploaded, and I don’t worry about it. Sometimes when the urge trikes, I go back and pick a particular date and chip away at them. It just has to be fun and worthwhile, or it won’t be sustainable!

this forum is definitely a distraction though, and I often find myself thinking I spend too much time in here! FOMO I guess…


Well…for what it’s worth…I can relate to much of your post (except the microscopy!) It’s even worse when you’re an enthusiastic nature generalist and you’re tempted to photo/ID everything from lichen to lizards to trees ;)

I agree with all the suggestions of the other posters. Back when I used a DSLR with onboard GPS, that definitely saved some time. Like you, my current DSLR lacks this, and pairing with the phone is a frustrating extra step. But I eventually ‘trained’ myself to make sure it was connected. Do whatever you have to do to “train” yourself to do likewise–even a temporary ‘sticky note’ reminder on the LCD screen can help! Make sure the camera is set (if you can) to show the ‘location’ icon so you can visually confirm that you’re logging location…then ‘train’ yourself to look for that icon every time your camera is on. Sometimes I’ll still forget to do this until after I’ve taken my shots (e.g. the bird has flown off, whatever). It’s not too late…connect up the camera and then just take a shot of your hand or whatever (I use my hand since it will stick out in the string of photos) so you get a shot with a location stamp. Then upload that shot along with your regular shots of the organism and ‘combine all’ to set the location…then obviously delete that ‘hand’ shot before your final upload/submission. Kinda clumsy but it does work, and saves a bit of time once you get used to it compared to manually chasing down the location :)

I need to make better use of the app/my smartphone rather than rely only on my DSLR. Case in point: I recently attended a ‘naturalist’ workshop where myself and other participants were, as you might expect, always taking pictures of the plants/critters we were encountering in our fieldwork. I used only my DSLR using basically the technique you’ve described. Another participant had a DSLR and used it for only some shots (= the ones you couldn’t really ‘get’ with a smartphone camera); for the rest she used the app and her phone camera. Bottom-line: she had most of her observations posted by the time the workshop was over; I’m still working through mine : / Now the quality of some of my photos is obviously much better, and for things like birds a phone just isn’t going to cut it. But for many other forms of life–particularly plants, insects, etc.–her photos are very good…in more than a few cases better than mine! And no issue with having to remember to link your DSLR and phone, etc. I’m not a big “app guy,” but I need to get over that and use the app and my phone more to help reduce my photo ‘backlog’ a bit :)


I’m not a power user, but here’s what I’ve been doing to try and not get too behind on submitting observations.

While out taking photos:
If the species is something I’m already familiar with then I’ll just go for that one shot where the key features are visible. If it’s something new to me or that I haven’t gotten a good shot of in the past, then I spend more time and try to take lots of photos.

I use a camera without gps too, but most of my observations are from home or other private residences. So I use the saved location feature in iNat, which makes geotagging those pics very quick. For other locations if I don’t travel very far, I just select an uncertainty area that covers all the observation locations. I recently tried using a gps logging app on my phone and then adding the geotags on my computer using the Geosetter program which was pretty easy, but overkill for most of my observations.

Cropping and selecting photos:
I still use Picasa for this because I haven’t found anything else I like as well. I use it to quickly flip through and delete the bad images and easily compare two side by side zoomed in to see which one is sharper. I then use a saved square crop factor for iNat photos so that they show up well as thumbnails, and do any lightening or adjusting necessary. I can very quickly add captions and saved tags. The tags are handy to mark which photos I submit to various websites, and remind me of locations away from home. Then I select all the ones I want to submit to iNat and export them all to a separate temporary folder. The original unedited images aren’t changed by Picasa so that all edits can be undone.

edit :
*I’ve also learned to not be too focused on making a species level id before submitting, like I used to be. I can always come back later and try to id things to a finer level. That, along with using the computer vision suggestion to save some typing, speeds things up a lot.


I do a lot of DSLR photography of insects/plants/mushrooms. I don’t worry about exact coordinates for each organism. I do my photos in batches at different localities and I’ve just created pinned locations for each spot. That way I can just quickly add the locality (the radius of the circle may be 100m or so) and then just worry about getting the id’s as good as I can. I don’t really try to identify to species, just the group I definitely know it is. For example, I don’t try to ID every grasshopper I take a photo of, but I make sure that it’s down to “grasshoppers” rather than “Insect” or “Orthoptera”. That way people interested in that taxon can take a stab at it.


Everything you just said. My naturalizing fills in the bare margins of my life, so if I can’t be efficient, it doesn’t happen.

I’ve been wishing lately for a camera OS along the vein Magic Lantern, but for iNat. A camera with GPS (internally or with an add on) and an iNat friendly way to quickly group photos by observation and batch export to the site would get me using my DSLR over my phone most of the time!

And I agree with what had been said about skipping post-processing if it’s slowing you up. Upload the batch and work on IDs at the DMV or anywhere else you have a spare moment. :grinning:

We haven’t really addressed the (very important) mental game you wrote about. A few points:

  • Get outside as much as possible. It is good for your health. It is good for your mind. You aren’t losing out on valuable data by leaving your tools, and your aren’t being less contemplative if you take them. iNat is a tool to help increase awareness and pleasure in the natural world, not make it into a grind.
  • Don’t worry what happens to the data. We fuss to much about poor data quality from new/duress users, and it makes us self-conscious to bring ONLY THE BEST DATA. That is a joy killer. I almost skipped out on a plant I didn’t recognize yesterday because I couldn’t identify it right away. Took a picture anyway and it turned out to be a first in state iNat observation. Took a crappy cell picture of a bird, and low quality audio of a bird (or maybe mammal?) and neither are identified… yet. Data quality control is fine and good until it hampers our curiosity!
  • Read some good nature writing. Assess whether your backlog helps or hinders your goals as a naturalist! There are wrong ways to study, and being indiscriminate or aimless, while occasionally providing inspirations, often is an inefficient way to learn.

I have most of the same issues zookanthos, but the one that has consumed most of my time is trying to figure out exactly where a photo was taken, when I have either forgotten to sync iPhone and camera, the BT connection has failed, or the GPS data is way off.

Over the year since I started iNatting have relieved the need to photo everything in my vicinity, since I have now recorded the existence of a good representative sample; that helps:)

I “label” images not uploaded with colour-coded dots to prrioritise their upload, and learned to accept that some of them will remain just for my own reference, or upload at some time in the future if they become significant.

psweet, What program does that? I have an Olympus TG-5 and an iPhone SE both of which will create logs, but the Olympus logs are just text files and I have not been able to use the data on photos taken during that time, though the Olympus manual says its log can be used on images taken on anything.

I would prefer to use the Olympus for logging since if its battery runs out I would still have phone communication with the world if needed when I’m in the bush. But I would like to give the iPhone log a go too, since it acquires more accurate GPS data than the Olympus or my Canon SX-730. (The Canon SX-730 uses its own GPS but is dependent for internet on BT connection with iPhone, which frequently stops operating, especially if I use the iPhone to take a photo which I do at key locations as its photos record the most accurate GPS).


If you have a smartphone consider using the app for easy stuff.

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There is a whole thread about geotagging here: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/geotagging-photos/66/ Different programs, devices, and workflows, are discussed. I can’t emphasize how much it’s improved my efficiency in the field, and my enjoyment. I no longer have to worry about where I was when I took the photo.


I got a laugh from “for fear of making more observations”! People are making very good suggestions for taking photos and uploading the data. My tip is from farther upstream, a little attitude adjustment before venturing out. Instead of feeling responsible for getting everything you see, try making a mission for the trip (grasses in bloom, or even one particular kind of grass). You’ll cheat and add a few serendipitous finds, but that’s ok. If you complete the mission you’ll feel virtuous, you’ll have added something worthwhile to iNaturalist, and you’ve had a nice walk with a focus. You’re never going to get it all, but you can please yourself, and there’s always next time.


I use a program called GPiSync. It’s freeware, which is nice, and I haven’t had any problems with it. I’m using a Windows machine, don’t know if they have other versions. It uses GPX files for the locations, at least that’s what I use. I haven’t checked to see if there other formats it’ll work with.

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Thanks. “Currently doesn’t work on Mac 10.6+” but it has led me to some possible alternatives, I’ll check some out.

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I have a decent m.o. that will apply only to a small subset of users here (i.e., those invested enough to be reading this forum in the first place but who also have no money). I won’t be able to afford a good camera for a few years at least, but for now I find that I’m pretty well-served by taking pictures with my phone through binoculars. Instant geotagging, no hassle downloading 100s or 1000s of pictures from a camera, and can easily be done either directly from my phone with the app or on my computer from cloud storage.

Definitely limits the quality of pictures you can take and how far away you can be from your target, but there are definitely some perks with this method in terms of convenience and uploading efficiency. It does mean you might be clearing out your phone’s whole gallery every couple months or so (depending on your observation habits and available storage space).


I find it helps to occasionally get sick or something along those lines, so that you have a real excuse to do nothing but sit around and manage photos for upload for a while.

File under “probably not the healthiest strategy available”


For location, I make a placeholder no-image observation with the app on my phone right after I finish taking pictures on my camera. I put just enough in the placeholder ID to remind me which photos the observation goes with (species if I know it, family etc if I’m not sure). Then when I sync the observations later, I go straight to the placeholder ones and add the photos, and the location is already set.


I run the GPS Essentials app on my Android phone at all times when I am in the bush, especially with cloud cover or heavy canopy. This makes the coordinates much quicker to sync up. I take most photos with my Samsung S9+ using various clip on lenses so coordinates are added automatically. For those shots that a phone won’t just handle, generally birds and things in the distance where my 300mm lens can pick them up, I use my older Nikon D5000 making sure I time sync my camera to my phone so the time stamps are pretty close. When I get home I dump all of my DSLR photos into a folder on my Windows Machine and export the GPS track into the same folder. I then use a free application called Geosetter and in a couple of clicks all of my photos are now geotagged correctly. Once they are tagged I can then use the bulk upload capabilities of the web site and then work on the cards dragging and dropping photos of the same obs onto a single card. I can spend time trying to id things here too and then just upload them all at once. I find this works really well for me. As far as a microscope, with a 20x clip on lens on my phone and the 2x optical zoom on the phone itself I can get some amazing macro shots in the field with my phone and if I really want to get closer I can use the 10x digital zoom to see even more. Here is an example of a small patch of moss taken in the field with a 15x lens with the 2x optical on the phone: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/25301717


Thanks, i will try Geosetter and GPS Essentials

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These seem to be Windows/Android only, and I work with iNat and my photos on Macs. Thanks for the names though, it helped me phrase my search for a Mac alternative. I am currently exploring the Canon Log file utility and Geotag, and some others…