What about... a volunteer image tuning service? Looking for test images

Have you ever posted an observation photo and thought to yourself, “Dang, if I only knew how to really handle Photoshop better, this would be a much better pic!”

As a photographer, I’m comfortable in calling myself an amateur, but I’m also (after 3 decades of experience) a retired pro graphic designer. And more importantly, I was an in-house corporate designer. In that kind of position, you continually have to rescue and work with sub-par submitted image files to make them work in print and other targets.

As I still have most of the gear and tweaking software that I used on hand, I thought that I would like to try a little testing of an idea to offer volunteer image tuning to observers here who are struggling with the quality of their submitted photos.

That is, I would like to test out this proposal and perhaps figure out a way to scale and organize a group of other volunteers here to support more demand.

How would it work?
Just for the testing, I could simply post the test results back here in the forum as an attachment as a reply to the links to the observation shared in this thread. No need to send original photos unless I really feel it would help. I’d like to avoid getting into privacy complications, and this seems the simplest solution.

I should stress that I’m not talking about changing compositions, or adding/removing anything from a composed observation. I’m talking tone, colour, detail, sharpness. I’m sure in some instances it would involve some back and forth between the original photo creator and myself to arrive at something closer to the true scene of the observation.

If I get absolutely swamped with requests, I will update this post to inform everyone so I can finish what I can actually handle.

So if you are interested, send me a link to your observation and we’ll go from there. I’m going to limit this test to just 10 images to begin and see how it goes.

Ideally, maybe we can find other ‘tweakers’ out there who can help improve the collection photo quality. How that would work out in detail, I’m too naiive at this stage to understand. I just know that I have seen some excellently composed photos that would truly shine given the right handling. I’d like to try and start doing that. Thanks for your time, and hopefully… your request.



I’m not sure I understand completely, but if it helps you can try mine:

Oooooh!! My greatest frustration is color - I photograph moths against a white background (vinyl siding) under a mixture of blacklight and LED, and the color cast is hard to correct. In particular, gray moths usually come out looking much more brown than they actually are.

What about this one? https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/109884115

It would be great if you could also tell us what you did, so we could learn.


Thanks for being first! Though I have to admit, the quality of your images is not the kind I was imagining. They’re actually very good. At best, I can recover a little more detail/sharpness, lose a little noise, and tweak the tones very slightly. In short, they’re too good for what I had in mind!

To show you what I mean, here are two of the images that I tweaked from the second observation (habronattus coecatus). One is probably more noticeably different than the other, but my advice is just to keep on shooting as well as you have been shooting!

But thanks very much for helping out.

CAVEAT: I have no idea what differences (or any) the process of attaching these images will have on the quality because it is quite common for uploaded forum ‘postings’ to re-recompress JPGs to economize bandwidth and storage protocols. I’m hoping they come through intact. In any case, I’ll soon discover whether or not this is true!

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To not get hard shadows you need a different flash, there’re cheap circular flashes that will give you softened shadow.

Sounds like a great Idea.

I use open source tools - rawtherapee to edit / process - my main tools are crop, export (duh), brightness , contrast, exposure / black level correction , sometimes saturation.

I was wondering if along with volunteer image tuning would it be possible for you to do simple video tutorials on some of the features / tools and techniques (both image taking and image processing) you think people should know about.
(in my mind I have an audience of people who use phones for all their inaturalist work - like this person (or this person who uses a bridge camera and all his pictures are uploaded via an android phone.



Hello caththalictroides. Thanks for helping out.

Okay, your image is actually pretty decent too. The color cast is actually pretty easy to correct – especially if you’re going after a more neutral gray. In fact, it’s one of the basic Photoshop tuning moves that is so easy, I rarely think too much of my shooting light’s absolute colour (warm or coolness of white). However, not actually knowing the degree of neutrality is tricky here, I had to guess.

I did a few other bits but overall, again – other than the colour cast, it’s not really as extreme a makeover as I was hoping to get. Would you have anything that’s say, under or overposed, or perhaps a little out of ideal sharpness–but would otherwise be a killer shot? I’ve rescued a lot of stuff that looked pretty hopeless. There’s no guarantees, but there’s always… well, hope! That’s really what I’m looking for. And I’ve seen a few posted that made me think that the person was thinking, “Well, it’s not a great photo technically, but I really caught something that I wish I could figure how to get it out of there!”

Thanks again for participating.

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Hello ram_k. Thanks for the question. Tutoring is probably much more than I could handle with my schedules. When I told my wife of my plan to offer volunteer image triage, she reminded me about how that kind of commitment has gotten me into trouble in the past – and she’s right. Which is why I’m starting with this as a prototype service. I’m already considering an alternative, simpler approach. A sort of, ‘drive-by’ tuning scheme where I don’t offer to tune a good candidate for retuning, I just go ahead and send it back to the observer saying, “Don’t be offended, but I thought your shot has much greater potential than you probably thought, so I took my skills and tuned it. Do what you want with it – use it or lose. I promise to take no offense. Cheers!”

At least that way, I keep in control of my time commitment.

So no, I’m afraid the tuning workshop idea is not feasible… at least, not yet. Thanks.

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@broacher - please don’t apologize, We live in the age of over work, and over committed. I am fairly certain whatever you do will be appreciated. Many drops have already made the inaturalist ocean really awesome

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I tell you what I might consider though. Something about accessibility. Yes, phones, point&shoots, bridge cams— therein lurks the key to more observations–more observers! I personally rely more on phone and bridges than my DSLR as it almost always comes down to convenience and effort it takes to support a full gear expedition. And of course, happy accidents. And nothing beats having a phone in your pocket for shooting convenience. And that makes me think about education projects and the possibilities of people donating old phones/cams for nature youth outreach programs.

Oh, I totally relate to using bridge machines – in fact, I go two lower and rely almost exclusively on an old used point and shoot and my smartphone for the bulk of my nature stuff.

On the Android phone, it’s hard to top Adobe Lightroom mobile, but a much more affordable option is Snapseed. On my desktop, I’ve got Photoshop, some RAW editors/plugins and most of the Topaz suite. I find Topaz extremely powerful at ‘finding’ lost potential of weak and even older files (their Gigapixel app alone opens up a lot of potential for rescuing older stock).

Anyhow, must roll along (other duties!). Thanks for understanding and reminding me how it’s the drops, not the waves that make the long-game difference.

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Lightroom Mobile is free and has probably 80% of the tools you get with a paid subscription plan. One of the premium tools (and one of the reasons I’m paying the subscription) is correcting for lens distortion, which is important for architectural images but not for nature photography, where there are few straight lines and right angles.


This photo doesn’t capture what our eyes saw! https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/119663930

These seem washed out: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/117915722


Hello! Thank you for this post, and thank you for offering to do this. Here’s one of mine for you to try if I’m not too late. My photos are taken on a bridging camera, a Canon Powershot SX70HS - or this one could have been on my old SX60HS. I love these cameras because they are lightweight, which I need.
Thanks again and all the best,
Rose Robin, Qld, Australia

Woah! You like to challenge. Okay, here’s what I came up with and I have to tell you that there’s a limit with editing magic here, and its mostly due to the fact that the originals look like they were shot with a camera pushed into the ‘digital zoom’ range which introduces a lot of processing that is very difficult to deal with. The hawk shot at least had some colour still left in it, but it really looked too like the camera focused on the background foliage.

But thanks. It’s a good chance for others to learn about the limits too. Cheers.


I think this is an okay idea in theory, however I believe it would be equally advantageous and also less time consuming (for you!) to offer a few simple digital photography tutorials with examples of different applications (distance, macro ect) of how to improve the quality of photos as you’re capturing them, and also simply editing would help some folks as well.

Getting it right the first time, by properly understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your equipment, depending on your lighting and conditions will not only save you time in the field (and in editing) but will help you grow as a photographer, moreso than sending off your work with the hopes someone can “save” your photo, the same also applies for audio and video samples especially.


It would be interesting to see if these insect photos, with decernability challenges could be improved. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/115279920

RoseRobin! If you’re half as charming as that little fellow, I am very pleased to meet you!

I think bridging cameras are the way to go for this stuff. I have a decent Sony DSLR that I like for most things, but I don’t have the money (or the inclination to carry around) for a pro zoom or super macro setup to go with it. In fact, most of my nature shots are done with a camera I picked up this year for $50 – an old Nikon Coolpix. Yup, mostly point and shoot, and packing a 30x zoom. For species ID fun, it’s so light and versatile. And… gives me weeks at a go on one set of batteries. But mostly because it’s so light and well, if anything ever happened to my camera out on the cliffs and trails, I would not weep too long at my loss. (There’s something to be said for cheap thrills!) And that’s the crowd I want to see grow here. Enjoying being part of a community of naturalists shouldn’t be restricted by camera gear budget at all.

Enough rambling, here’s my take on your bird. I probably should have looked up that red though. It seems quite magenta. Is it really like that? Anyhow, thanks for the submission and a wistful little dream that someday, maybe I’ll actually get to visit Oz. Cheers.

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Yikes! Well, I did ask for lousy pictures…

This one really pushes things teellbee, as you most probably (evilly?) guessed. The heavy existing polygonization from another upsampling session that is there made me think that the best way to start this one was to try to bring it back down to its original camera resolution and see what the AI stuff could pull out of it.

Is it better? I think so, but so marginally, and with so few real details, I doubt if it will ever convince the court on the ID issue. Still, thought you might want a look. Here you go…

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In theory, practice is the same as theory… in practice, it isn’t.

No, my tutorials would set me spinning in ways that would not be advantageous to my schedule. And frankly, I don’t think that’s what a lot of people who struggle with the photography are that concerned about. Or, concerned enough to commit to learning these things. And I’m okay with that. I prefer enthusiasm over technical proficiency. (Plus, if anyone wants to learn photo editing tips–there are already so many awesome resources available and easy to find, I don’t see the point in trying to do the same, and certainly not better!)

What I’m proposing isn’t to make everyone better photo editors, it’s more like let’s think of ways to fix what we can for better identification and overall confidence and recruitment of more observers. Especially those who may already have a touch of technophobia, even though they’d love to join in. I mean, if it leads to learning more about the technical craft-- awesome! But perhaps, receiving a random ‘makeover’ from someone like me out of the blue might be even more encouraging. If nothing else it’s telling them that their stuff is okay, maybe even great! Just needs a little polishing.

Myself, as I said – I’m not a pro photographer. But I know composition and a lot of the technical stuff of image tuning. Do I want to grow as a photographer? Well, yeah, sure – but not as much as I want to grow as a naturalist! Yes, that can happen simultaneously, but I know which one I want to do the driving. Thanks for your input though. Good food for thought.


Thank you! It’s fun to see what you can do with the lousy photos that come by. And, it’s even more fun to read about your enthusiasm for tuning up challenged photos.:relaxed: