Tech Tip Tuesday: Improving Photographs

Happy February everyone! Although it may not feel like it, February marks an important turning point in winter. The days are longer and species that were absent all winter will slowly begin to reappear. Keep your eyes out for some early migrants, such as Turkey Vultures and Red-winged Blackbirds. If you’re wondering what else you might see this month, check out the Vermont Center for Ecostudies’ Field Guide to February.

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

How do iNaturalist observations start? If your first guess is “deciding to go for an outdoor adventure” or “looking out your window”, then you’re correct. However, looking at a shorter time scale, I would say that most observations start with a photo. When scrolling through observations, it’s rare that I come across an observation without one, although you can and should upload observations without a photo if you see something really cool and can’t get a picture before it disappears. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to getting others to help you make a correct identification, the more words you can use to describe what you saw, the better. By providing detailed, carefully selected photos, you will make it easier for other naturalists to correctly identify your observation.

How do you ensure that your photos speak volumes and provide the right details that will help other users? That’s what I will share with you today. Below, you will find tips on how to improve the photos and information associated with your observations.

1. More is better. Take multiple photos capturing different views and parts of your subject. Sometimes small details necessary for making an identification are not visible from a single angle. Try taking pictures of leaves, bark, stems, flowers, and other plant parts, or photograph an animal or fungi from multiple angles, such as above, to the side, and underneath.

2. Write it out. Sometimes, you’re unable to take multiple photos because your subject escapes midway through your photoshoot. Or, you can’t get your camera to focus well enough to capture a particular detail. In these cases, use the “Notes/Comments” section when uploading your observations to record extra details that are necessary for making a correct identification. Examples include physical characteristics (color, pattern, shape), behavior (eating, grooming, movement), location details (elevation, proximity to water, surrounding plant composition), and anything else that seems important.

3. Put a lid on it. Catch jars can be a useful tool for getting pictures of insects, especially from all sides. Just make sure not to leave the insect in the jar for more than a minute or two if it’s unventilated, keep them out of prolonged bright sunlight or temperature extremes, and release them promptly when done.

4. Get up close and personal. The more of your subject that fills the frame, the better detail your picture will have (assuming it’s not blurry). Use macro lenses or shooting modes (often signified by a small flower icon on digital cameras) for small subjects, get close to a plant or fungi, or zoom in on wildlife. Make sure to use common sense when deciding whether or not to approach an animal. If you have any doubts, don’t approach it. I recommend checking out this article from the International League of Conservation Photographers for starters.

5. Measure it. In many cases, providing a size reference will help confirm an identification. Size references are especially useful for tracks, since many tracks can look similar in photos and it can be challenging to judge size based on the track alone. A size reference uses any object that most people know the approximate size of, such as a coin, glove, ruler, or hiking pole. You can also describe size in the comments section if necessary.

6. Think like a biologist. If someone asked you to help identify this observation, what information would you want to see? Try to get in this mindset and photograph or make note of features that would help another user or a professional biologist understand what you’re seeing.

7. Record the noise. Did you know that you can upload sounds to iNaturalist? This is helpful when identifying a vocal species or one that is often differentiated from others by sound. Some users find this especially helpful with birds.

8. Take your time. If you can, slow down and take some time to really look at your subject. Spend a few minutes with it if possible to figure out the best angles to photograph it from and get a good look at its details.

At this point, you may be wondering how best to apply these tips to different groups. Here are a couple examples:

Plants: Take multiple photos (leaves, stems/trunks and bark, fruits, seeds, flowers, buds, branching pattern), record any relevant details about location (elevation, what’s nearby)

Insects: Use a catch jar if needed, take multiple photos (top, underside, side view, straight on from the front), describe any details you can’t photograph, include a size reference, record a noise if it happens to make one

Birds: Multiple photos from as many sides as possible, record notes (behavior, location, physical characteristics if it flies away too soon), record a sound if it’s calling, estimate size if possible (ex: tennis ball sized)

Finally, I want to leave you all with two examples. In the first one, the user got a nice close up of the tree’s bark, however it’s difficult for other users to offer concurring identifications without other photographs or descriptions. On the other hand, this observation provides more photos which help other users agree with the suggested identification.

TTT Task of the Week

Now it’s time to put some of these tips into action! Next time you go to iNat something, keep these tips in mind. I challenge you to find three different species to photograph using at least two of the tips mentioned above. Bonus points for those who use at least four different tips in total.

That’s all for this week! Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity and happy observing!

Posted by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2, February 04, 2020 20:05

Comments

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And I would add that for bryophytes, knowing the substrate can help with identification. Is that a tree trunk or a rock that the moss is growing on? Sometimes I can’t tell from the photo. Close-ups are critical, but a shot that shows the habitat is nice too.

Posted by dorothy 9 months ago (Flag)
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That's absolutely true! Thank you for adding that!

Posted by emilyanderson2 9 months ago (Flag)

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