How to photograph PLANTS
Before you become addicted to iNat (which is very possible), take a few minutes to review our guidelines on how to photograph different kinds of plants to ensure that your photographs will be of maximum use to the scientific community and to ensure that they show the necessary parts that allow them to be accurately identified.
For some species, one good photograph will suffice, such as for a whitetail deer or a post oak leaf. For many species, one photo is not sufficient. iNat makes it easy to upload four photographs per observation, but with a couple of added steps it is possible to load many photos. How do you know when numerous photos are needed? Below, we provide guidance for how to photograph different types of plants with multiple photos.
Grasses, Sedges, Rushes
Grasses, sedges, and rushes are all “grass-like” plants or what botanists call graminoids. Graminoids are tricky to photograph because they often are not easy to photograph (i.e. not photogenic), there are many look-alikes that differ in small-scale technical features that are difficult to photograph, and often numerous features are needed for accurate identification such as underground parts and fruits. The good news is that skilled botanists can still usually identify photographs of graminoids to species as long as the photographer takes good care to take careful photos. When done right, even the novice can take several quick photos that can be of research quality even if the person making the observation doesn’t know where to even start in identifying the specimen.
When photographing herbs, resist the urge to take one photo. At the very least, take a photo of the whole plant, photos of the inflorescence (flower cluster) from different angles, close-up of individual flowers or parts of the inflorescence, the stem, and take pictures of leaves at different places on the stem such as those at mid-stem and those at the base. If there are fruits or seeds then photograph those too. Try to capture the habitat of the plant too by taking a landscape photo.
For ferns, take a picture of the whole plant or colony. Also photograph a typical frond (leaf) to show its shape and dissection type. It is sometimes hard to see patterns of dissection if the background of your photo is too busy so be aware of this. Some ferns such as the one pictured below has both sterile and fertile fronds which differ in shape and size. Try and pay attention to this and photograph differently shaped leaves. Fertile leaves have structures on the lower side of the leaf in most cases known as sori and these contain sporangia. Try and take close-up photos to show the shape of the sori (oblong vs. circular) and their placement on the leaf surface.
shrubs, trees, woody vines
For woody plants (trees, shrubs, and woody vines), try to take pictures of leafy twigs from a couple of different angles. It is especially important to show leaves from the upper and lower side and to show how the leaves attach to the twig (e.g. alternate, opposite, whorled). Consider taking close-up photos of twigs and if you have a knife then slice the twig lengthwise and photograph the pith (center of the twig. Sometimes the pith may be white or it can be tan or other colors. It may be solid, missing (hollow), or chambered. If flowers or fruits are present, or even if old fruiting structures are around then photograph them. Consider taking photos of the whole plant if possible to show its growth form. For large trees it might be best to obtain a silhouette photo.
trees & shrubs in winter condition
For trees and shrubs in winter, try and photograph the whole plant which may require a silhouette photo. These photos are important to show growth form, branching pattern, shape, etc. Be sure and photograph the trunk to show bark of the main trunk. There may no longer be leaves attached to twigs but you can make do by taking photos of the winter twigs. If you can get a twig to photograph, then take close-ups of the twig and especially the buds at the tip of the twig. If all leaves have been lost, take photos of leaves on the ground beneath the tree because usually at least some of those leaves, if not most, will have come from the tree above it. If you are pretty sure which leaves on the ground came from the tree above it, then take a few of those leaves and photograph them up-close. If any fruits are present (e.g. acorns, berries, etc.) then photograph them.