My observation workflow

I'm largely documenting this for myself, but sharing here in case it ends up being useful for anyone else. This is a work in progress and I'll continue to edit this to add details or clarifications.

In the field


  • Phone camera + macro
  • Digital camera
  • Spare camera battery
  • External phone battery (if I'll be out for more than 4 hours)


  • Start GPS track on phone
  • Camera timestamp matches phone time (this is especially important when traveling across time zones, and when daylight savings changes)

I carry my iPhone XS with a Ztylus Revolver lens. Unless I'm hiking with my "fast friends" who don't stop and look at everything, I try to make plant and fungi observations in the app now. For faster-moving things that might need multiple shots to get a useful one, I use the default camera app. If I'm really disciplined in the field, I can get all of my stationary organism observations made in the field, and then go back through my photos later for just the animals where I took multiple shots. I turn off auto-uploader and I don't often enter a taxon name in the field. Later, I either add identifications before uploading, or upload from the app while I sit at my computer and identify them shortly after uploading.

For the last couple of years, I also often carry a Sony a6000 with a zoom lens for birds, flying insects, and more distant plants. It does not have a built in GPS, so I run a track on my iPhone using a free app. I'm using Motion-X GPS. I try to start the track either when I leave home (especially if I'm traveling on foot) or when I arrive at the area I'm exploring (if I drive), and then stop and save the track with the date when I get home. I don't notice a battery drain that's too bad unless I forget to stop the track when I get home. I should add that I'm usually not out for more than a few hours, but if I were planning an extended trip I'd bring an external battery for my phone as backup.

I always try to keep a second battery for the Sony in my purse. It's a knock-off one that isn't as good as the original Sony, but since I'm not usually out for extended periods of time it works well enough.

Back home

In the app, I add identifications and upload. These are mostly plants or other things easily photographed with my iPhone.

When I take out the SD card, I often also charge up the camera battery too, unless I know I didn't use it much. I leave the door to the SD card and battery open if either one of them is out, until they're both back in. This keeps me from walking out without them next time.

I import the photos from the Sony SD card using Dropbox. I have it set up to import new photos whenever detected. It does the same for photos from my iPhone when I connect it by USB. It automatically renames all images with a date and time stamp, which I like for being able to organize photos chronologically. Once imported, I move them into the appropriate folder. My folder organization is pretty simple: folders for each year (e.g. 2021), then folders for each month within those (e.g. 2021-02). If travel, especially if I'm crossing time zones or months, I might make a special folder for those photos.

I use Airdrop to share the GPS track from my Motion-X GPS app on my iPhone to my MacBook Air (email works too, I just find Airdrop most convenient). Then I put the track in the same folder as my photos.

In Lightroom Classic, if I'm starting a new month, I import all of the photos in the folder corresponding to that month. If I'm working with new photos in a folder I've already imported, I right-click on the name of the folder and select "Synchronize folder". This will bring in all of the new photos I've added.

Then I use the library filters to filter by date and review my photos. I use the keyboard shortcuts: "r" to crop, "x" to reject, and numbers to rate. For a while I was tagging or flagging photos I wanted for iNat, but now I've just settled on rating them 3s. The vast majority of photos I take are only for iNat. If I take some others I want to keep, I often rate them 4 or 5. I'm trying to be more ruthless in rejecting photos and then "Deleting rejected photos" (command-delete). I select "remove from disk" to save space.

I use the Map tools to "Load tracklog", filters to select all of the photos from the appropriate day, and then "Autotag __ selected photos". I check to make sure the locations where the photos ended up makes sense. If not, then there's probably a time zone offset needed.

When I've gone through all the photos, I use filters to select the 3-star photos to export them. The settings I use are:

  • Same file names but in a subfolder called "Resized" in the original folder
  • Resize to fit long edge 2048 pixels (Don't enlarge) with 72 pixels per inch (this corresponds to the size that iNaturalist keeps, so no sense in making it larger in size or higher resolution)

Then I have a nice folder of photos to add to iNat. I use the bulk upload tool on the website and drag on batches. I usually don't do more than 20-30 images at a time. I usually don't drag on multiple different locations at once because I find it harder to refine or edit locations. I obscure observations from home and add them to the project "Carrie's home biodiversity". Since photos geotagged in Lightroom from the GPS track don't have a radius of precision associated with them, I usually add that on iNat. I typically use 10-20 m and check on the map that it makes sense.

Once I've uploaded them to iNat, I drag the resized images from the "Resized" folder to the main folder and replace the originals with the resized ones. This makes sense for me because I don't need to be storing high resolution, uncropped versions of my mediocre photos. I am also aggressively deleting the camera images I don't need by marking them as rejected in Lightroom, then "deleting from disk" when I remove them from Lightroom.

Working through my backlog


  • Is my iNat account set to the timezone that corresponds to the observations I'm uploading?
  • Do the timestamps on my photos make sense?

I've honed the checks above after all kinds of time-consuming errors that mixed up time stamps or files or locations, which is to say that some of my backlog of images that haven't been uploaded to iNat yet (yes, still!) is a bit of a mess. As of March 2021, I've got everything from October 2016 to present, and 2005-2014 except for photos from Tanzania in 2010-11 and photos from New Zealand in 2006-07 (these are tricky because they're not geotagged and getting precise locations involves a lot of research). I'll expand on this section when I work through more of my backlog.

Hope this helps someone!

Posted on March 22, 2021 01:30 PM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer


Backlog?!? Carrie, you STILL have a backlog?!? ;) Fortunately, I was able to go through my photos that correspond with my herbarium collections a while back when we were having some bad weather, and I wasn't able to play outside. I'm all caught up!

Honestly, nothing makes me happier than seeing observations made from the past -- when folks like @gcwarbler upload observations made pre-digital camera, it's solid bliss for me to travel vicariously through those observations.

Posted by sambiology over 3 years ago

I know, right?! Turns out working for iNat (and life) doesn't leave me enough time to catch up! The gap in 2014-2016 is when I've uploaded the vast majority, but I'm almost positive I've missed some and so I'm going back and checking each day for which I have photos. A little obsessive maybe.

Maybe someday I'll get to the old photos that need to be scanned...

Posted by carrieseltzer over 3 years ago

Sam, my singular goal on iNat is to keep you happy. I still have a considerable backlog to address. So, I will start going through my images I etched some centuries ago on clay tablets to upload those. Then I'll backtrack to my cave drawings I made when I was much younger and living in...well, you know.

Posted by gcwarbler over 3 years ago

Chuck, you excel in this! I'm going to get this one framed:

Posted by sambiology over 3 years ago

I actually have a few dozen 35 mm slides of butterflies, plants, etc., from my time in Taiwan (1968-69) but none of them have useful dates or locations. I know they were all taken in/around Taipei but without good dates, they're just pretty pictures. Sigh...

Posted by gcwarbler over 3 years ago

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