Getting great plant photos for identification in iNaturalist

iNaturist is for everyone, not just experienced observers. Make the best ID you can. The iNaturalist and Abisko Fingerprints of Change Project community will help you. To optimize the likelihood of getting a plant observation identified from photographs submitted to iNaturalist, we offer these tips about photographing plants.

For plants, in almost all cases, one photo is definitely not enough to make an ID. Many plants need photos of certain parts to help with ID. Here are some guidelines.

  • Take photographs of the entire plant, showing scale if possible by including a recognizable object in the photo. For example, for a tree, have a person stand next to the tree; for a small plant, place a ruler or pencil. Tip: make sure that your plant is the obvious dominant one in the frame and in focus. This photo should be the “default” picture in our observation.
  • Take close-ups of the leaves (both upper and lower surfaces). The coloration and presence or absence of hairs on the upper and lower surfaces can be important for identification. Tip: take a picture of where the leaves attach to the plant, as it will help others identify a species that has alternating versus opposite leaves on the stem.
  • Ensure photos are sharp and in focus. Check the photo after you have taken it. You can take more than one photo in case it is not sharp and in focus. Tip: put your hand directly behind the plant to help the camera to focus on it rather than the background. It does not matter if your hand is in the photo. If your camera is too close to the plant, you might have to move your camera back from the plant to get the best focus. Check if your camera has a 'macro' mode as this can help improve picture quality at close distance.
  • Take close-ups of the flowers (straight-on and side views). For drooping flowers a photo that shows the floral parts such as the pistal and stamen can be crucial to identification. Tip: use another camera app on your phone or tablet to take excellent macro photos or to manually control the focus or exposure*.
  • In most cases, it is helpful to photograph both flowers and fruits. While there are some plants that do not bear fruits and flowers at the same time, try to photograph both if possible. A botanist often needs reproductive parts of the plant to identify it positively. Including all representative parts of the plant makes it more likely that the species can be determined without having a specimen-in-the-hand.
  • Try to have the sun at your back to provide the best light for your photos. Tip: in bright direct light, try shading small plants with your body or a backpack.


In the "What did you see?" box do not put "something" or leave it blank even if you do not know what it is. Instead, use “plants”and choose from the drop down box. This will also help those who are interested in plants find your observations. Many iNaturalist citizen scientists filter observations by taxon, so they will miss that great "something" (plant) that you discovered!

Did you know?

*You can use another camera app on your phone to take the best possible macro shots of plants. For example for the iOS, the app Camera+ allows you to take macro shots, focus and set the exposure manually, and has image stabilization. For the Andriod OS, the Photo Wonder app has similar features.

To use pictures from another camera app in iNaturalist, take the picture(s) with the other camera app and save them to your “photo roll”. Then make your observation in iNaturalist. When camera window opens up, choose the 'photo library' icon in the bottom next to the 'camera' icon. Now you can choose one or more photographs at the same time and add them to your observation.

It is a good idea to make sure that you choose the best picture that shows the entire plant for the “default” photo in your observation.

We have also created a post on Taking pictures of willows (Salix)

Posted by keithwlarson keithwlarson, July 11, 2018 11:29


This is a fantastic primer on taking plant photographs. I tend to make the default picture the flowers or fruits but I can see the argument for putting the overall plant photo in that location.

Posted by vermfly about 4 years ago (Flag)

Thanks for the positive response. Now I just need to figure out how to embed images and graphics into my posts to make them even better. I have plans to create posts for how to photograph plants that are typically hard to identify, for example willows and grasses, but first I need to learn out to use the Project journal HTML coding!

Posted by keithwlarson about 4 years ago (Flag)

Yeah. We have quite a few willows in the Central Valley. It's been a long time since plant taxonomy. I need to get back in the habit.

Posted by vermfly about 4 years ago (Flag)

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