My iNaturalist Upload Process

I may be the slowest (read: most delinquent) uploader on iNaturalist. For any given effort, especially for the wonderful bioblitz’s that I enjoy participating in, I’m usually the last to get all my stuff up on iNat. An honest mea culpa for such delays will have to admit to being somewhat lazy, somewhat sleep deprived, somewhat addicted to certain TV shows, and generally just interested in what is right in front of me right now, as opposed to “yesterday”. All that said, my editing process is a bit arduous because of my equipment and my personal preferences for image and upload quality. Ignoring all those earlier reasons for my typical pathway to uploads, I thought it might be of some limited interest to at least document the torture I put myself through when I actually do get around to handling my observations. So here are some details.

Equipment:

My trusted photographic equipment is my now-infamous little Canon PowerShot SX620 HS point-and-hope camera. It has the advantage of portability and affordability. I won’t bemoan all the disadvantages, but for present discussion, the main problem—are you listening Canon?—is its lack of GPS datalogging capability with images. That adds one major time-consuming step to my editing pathway, as listed below.

My Editing Steps:

When I’m in the field, especially on a multi-day trip, I download all images daily from the SD card to my travel laptop but keep the images on the card. A 32-gig SD card is sufficient to last me through a 10-day to 2-week trip, depending on how many plant and moth images I take. (I always carry one or two extra cards just in case.) I will often examine my images on the laptop while traveling but I don’t do much editing (other than to examine what I might have documented) because the laptop is not the final destination of the images. The real work begins when I get home to my desktop computer.

I work on an iMac desktop computer (currently running MacOS Mojave 10.14.6) and I’m still using iPhoto (9.6.1 which is now 5 years out of support).

  1. Download the images. I usually let iPhoto separate all the downloaded images into daily “Events”. I manipulate and change those events later on as I organize and group my photos based on destination, subject, etc.
  2. Geotag ALL images. Before any editing starts, I have to make sure all images have proper geographic location data. I add this manually in iPhoto. I can do this in batches based on separate locations, but if I was moving from place to place in a given field day, this can be very tedious. Recall that I don’t have GPS capabilities on the camera, so I either have to take detailed field notes (which I do) to associate batches of images with a known location, or I have to supplement the image set by photographing a screen image of a GPS app when I’m in the field or photograph some other landmark (e.g. a street sign, an Allsups storefront, etc.) so that I can properly place my images.
  3. Rotate, straighten, and crop images. My many iNat friends know how obsessive I am about this step. From a busy bioblitz day in the field, I may have 300 to 600 images to rotate, straighten, and crop (and discard the many blurry ones). Because of the menu structure in iPhoto, these three steps are usually easy to accomplish for a given image in succession. That said, I’m frequently switching between/among image dimensions (4 x 3, 3 x 4, square) from one image to the next; this adds to the editing time significantly. One image proportion does NOT fit all. I may also try two or three different crops for a given image to see which captures the best detail. In some cases, particularly with plants, I may duplicate an image to allow cropping to mutliple details of the plant which might be important for documentation. This all takes time.
  4. Adjust image quality. For many images, the field settings of the camera are often sufficient and the images don’t need post-processing. However, depending on the subject of the pic, or for images taken at dawn, dusk, or at night, it is often useful to brighten an image, brighten the shadows, and/or heighten the contrast to bring out details. As an added burden, when I shoot moth images, to avoid washing out images from a flash at close range I often shoot moths at -1/3 f-stop exposure. I find that on a white sheet or a light gray wall, this can result in images that are a shade too dark—the alternative, over-exposure, results in lost imagery—so I have to brighten many moth images after the fact. Changing the camera settings in real time when obtaining the photos is just too tedious and risky—“shoot now and post-process later!” IMPORTANT NOTE: I rarely adjust colors, hues, or saturation unless the images were obtained in some type of overly intrusive lighting conditions (certain MV and UV lamps, etc.).

    Now the fun begins:

  5. Add keywords and tags. The primary keywords I use on all photos are taxonomic. I use these extensively within iPhoto for organizing and sorting images later. For plants, I have a few general categories including “Plants_flowers”, “Fungi”, “Lichen”, and a few others. For all animals other than insects, I typically use a class or order such as “Mammal”, “Reptile”, “Amphibian”, “Arachnid”, “Opiliones”, etc. For herps, I’ll also add “Snake”, “Frog”, “Turtle”, etc. For all insects except Lepidoptera, I add the order such as “Coleoptera”, “Hemiptera”, “Diptera”, etc. For Leps, I distinguish “Butterfly” and “Moth”. All moths get the “Moth” keyword as well as a family keyword and in a few cases a subfamily tag; these will look like “Gelechiidae”, “Noctuidae”, “Erebidae”, “Arctiinae”, “Pyraustinae”, etc. I have a standby “Fam Unk” for moths which I can’t place; this allows me to collect all those unknowns into one location if desired. For any batch of pics from a field effort, I also apply other keywords for images of “Habitat”, “People”, etc. On long vacations (other than in Texas), I will also add a keyword for the two-letter state abbreviation (AZ, OK, VA, etc.). All this keywording can be done in batches in iPhoto by selecting the appropriate subset of images and adding a keyword once.
  6. Add file titles. My images come off the camera with the sequential filename “IMG_xxxx” numbered from 0001 to 9999 (and repeating). I have found it most convenient to change the “IMG” to the species or taxon identification. With a recent change on iNaturalist, this offers a huge advantage because this filename is now parsed from the image title and added as an identification for each observation. I use scientific names for all of these except for birds which get the standard 4-letter code (such as NOCA_1234 or MODO_5678). Of course, I title my images with the lowest taxon of which I’m certain, so I end up with images named “Melipotis indomita_1234”, “Gelechiidae_1234”, “Calyptocarpus vialis_5678”, “Malvaceae_5678”, etc. Naturally, at this stage, I am identifying all my images, so adding the proper names to each image can either be quick (for familiar plants and animals) OR the culmination of in depth research which takes me all over the place in references, on the internet, etc. This is really the bulk of my iNatting effort at home. Chasing down identifications can lead me down any number of rabbit holes and to various distractions (deep dives in scientific literature, etc.). It also gives me some good exercise as I rifle through the tons of field guides, floras, and manuals on the desk next to the computer. I’ve often joked that when I depart, my obituary will indicate that I was found lifeless under a fallen stack of floras and field guides in my home office.

    Truly, when I finally place a good name on an image for a species new to me, it is one of the most gratifying moments in this whole process. Perhaps that’s the childhood stamp collector in me. Who knows.

    I should add that step 6 and the research that necessarily accompanies it is done in batches. From a given field effort (location, date), I’ll work through all the plants before moving on to other animals, moths, etc. For the Matador WMA bioblitz, for instance, I’m going through all the images of a given day, taking on just the Coleoptera, then the Diptera, then other insects, etc., etc. Then on to the next day or next destination.

  7. Export images. When I have things all or mostly organized, edited, and identified (to a reasonable degree), I export images out of iPhoto to a separate “Uploads” folder on my computer. This separate exporting step allows me to select a good upload size (large but not full sized) and to keep the work flow organized. As with the identification and file naming steps, I will usually do this exporting in batches (plants, beetles, moths, etc.) because it leads directly into the uploading stage. Since this adds a significant amount of disk storage to create these duplicate images (outside of the iPhoto library), I occasionally offload all final images to an external drive and delete them from my desktop computer. I just checked my external drive: The accumulated storage for all my final edited iNat images to date (approaching 26K observations) is about 58 gigabytes.
  8. Upload images. After exporting a batch of final images to my Uploads folder, I use the batch uploader on iNat to upload my observations. I drag and drop and then begin addiing or double-checking IDs, locations, etc., and adding the all-important observation comments. IMPORTANT: Because the batch uploader occasionally hangs up or I make small mistakes in my upload information, I tend to upload only about 10 to 15 observations at a time. That way, I haven’t lost much work if the upload fails or if I have introduced any errors. Even with the efficiency of the batch uploader (a whole other topic), I still make a point of adding geographic names to my observations since iNat’s locational information comes from Google Maps or some other generic source, not my “official” placenames.
  9. Hit the Upload button, sit back, cross fingers, and enjoy the results. I try to glance through all newly uploaded observations just to catch any name or geography errors that I may have introduced. There’s always something. In my senior years now, I find that my brain and fingers don’t communicate as well as they used to when typing. Verb tenses, homonyms and homophones are my bane; my brain knows better, my fingers don’t.

As part of that final enjoyment of an upload—or even during the process of identifying and labeling images (step 6)—I will often take the time to wander through other observations of the same species to see where else the species has been documented. In particular, if it’s a species I am confident at identifying, I’ll take the time to try to upgrade any suitable images of the same species to Research Grade as appropriate.

And that’s my life in a nutshell.

Posted by gcwarbler gcwarbler, June 17, 2020 16:46

Comments

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That's exhausting just to read about, but I completely understand the enjoyment of being that organized. I shoot an Olympus that itself does not have GPS tracking, but I have it linked to an Oly app on my phone and then transfer the GPS data to the photos via the camera wifi before moving them to the computer. Does your camera have wifi? Is there no Canon app (Canon Connect?) that does something similar? Or even a generic app that will transfer that data?

Posted by kimberlietx 3 months ago (Flag)
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My little Camera doesn't have wifi*. I'm probably overlooking some Canon app that might make my life simpler.
*Update: Oops! See further discussion below!

Posted by gcwarbler 3 months ago (Flag)
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So this is retirement? I think you need an intern. One that is willing to work in exchange for tapping your very knowledgeable brain. Although, you probably would not trust anyone else to do the work, right? I share some of your pain regarding the iNat process having similar issues with equipment as my camera does not have GPS capability but I'm not as detailed with my postings. I have not used the tagging, but I do add to projects which takes time. I also procrastinate with uploading. Since Covid-19 I've had some time and I've been going through and trying to organize my photos and catalog them in a more scientific way. I'm coming across images I never uploaded from years ago, so I'm trying to get those added. The rabbit trails? Yes! And the thrill of making the ID? Definitely! I think that's why I love this so much. I love a good puzzle to solve (my other hobby is genealogy). Maybe with your details posted someone can give you some tips on how to bypass some steps. I'm not that tech savvy and kind of plod along. Chuck, you've posted 20,000 plus images as well as identify others. Thank you for that! I learn so much from iNat and the other "regulars" that post. You taught me the importance of cropping and adjusting the moth images so I do that now. :)

Posted by bethd 3 months ago (Flag)
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Fascinating read! You've given me some good ideas, although I'm not sure how good I'll be about implementing them because it is real work to download and edit and enter Observations, as you noted. I don't mind it, but sometime there just isn't enough time in the day and then I'm on to the next site for looking at nature. I believe you noted the same thing!

I had the same issue with no geotagging capability on my Nikon camera, which led to inaccuracy in my Observation locations. I got a Solmeta GMAX GPS that fits in the flash shoe to overcome it. It's durable and easy to use and works well, I think, with the occasional "miss" for reasons unknown, but it adds weight and my old back doesn't like added weight. Plus, if I was using a flash, I'm not, then I'd have to rig some way to carry the GPS on my camera strap.

I read somewhere you can use your iPhone to link to your camera somehow for geotagging, similar to what's described above from @kimberlietx Not directly on the photo, but later for iNaturalist. Did you look into that to see if it offers a solution? I think it's just based on comparing dates/times for phone and camera. Presumably, your Canon does record the photo date and time, right? I guess this may not be valid if you can't hit a cell tower in a location.

I like the idea of adding the place names and will start using that one immediately, as I've defaulted to the location from the geotagger now.

I've been using four letter codes for my edited photos since I started iNat. Not only birds, but everything else. Potential for overlap is high, of course. And with my inexperience, I enter lots of things like UNDR (unknown dragonfly), UNFL (unknown fly, unknown flower < yep, there's the problem with that approach...), etc. I go back and change them after somebody helps me with an ID. I use the suffix 01, 02, etc., when I have multiple observations of the same species, but I think I'll try to link my edited name to the original photo like you describe. I occasionally keep originals for re-editing.

Great stuff!

Posted by jcochran706 3 months ago (Flag)
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Here's my tutorial for using a gps device to track yourself while in the field, which you can use later to geotag your photos. https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/geotagging-photos/66

I love it, personally, it's only an extra few minutes of work and then you have accurate locations. I've never found linking your phone to your camera to be reliable, personally.

Posted by tiwane 3 months ago (Flag)
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Wow, Chuck! Your organization is awesome and somewhat baffling to me (a disorganized person).

I am still slogging through my photos from the trip and ready to start with the Monday observations.

You have provided some ideas that could make it all a bit less onerous.
My Canon PowerShot SX620 HS point-and-hope camera has WiFi but I have not learned how to use it to connect GPS on my camera to my photos.
Looking forward to seeing you again. Hopefully, we will both be up to date on entering our observations by then.

If this were not all so much fun, it would be work. I love iNat!

Posted by connlindajo 3 months ago (Flag)
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Well, I need to read my camera manual in more detail! Linda Jo and I have the same camera and I didn't realize it had wifi capabilities. That's a good start. I tested it by connecting to my home network and sending an image to my new Epson printer. It worked. Now I'll have to study @tiwane's tutorial to see what I else I can accomplish. I do have MotionX-GPS on my iPhone so I may have the correct tools and just need to learn how to apply them!

Posted by gcwarbler 3 months ago (Flag)
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For what it's worth, Motion-X is no longer being supported. :( I use GPS Tracks now.

Posted by tiwane 3 months ago (Flag)
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Got GPS Tracks now. Tomorrow will be a learning day!

Posted by gcwarbler 3 months ago (Flag)
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I have win+android ecosystem, and make photos with my Android phone and D7200 Nikon which has no GPS.
Usually I write a GPS-track on the phone with Maveric app. At home I download the track file and copy GPS info with GeoSetter (unfortunately this is win-only app, but it seems to be some mac analogs). Also, it is possible to use cross-platform exiftool to batch altering EXIF to add GPS data.

Posted by kildor 3 months ago (Flag)

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