How to Photograph Wildflowers and Plants for Identification

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With everyone carrying a smartphone these days, it’s just too easy to get lazy and snap a gazillion photos.

Last year I deleted my Dropbox account and everything in it. Including tens of thousands of photos. I don’t regret it one bit.

My reasoning was that most of those photos had been taken on out of date technology. So would never be used.

My lifestyle is minimalist, which means I continually get rid of superfluous digital possessions as much as material possessions.

William Morris famously said:

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

I like Morris, he appeals to my inner cabinet-maker. I trained to be a furniture maker when I was a kid, and lived in an artistic enclave in the middle of deepest Devon. Everything was hand-made pretty much.

There’s an old saying: If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well (to the best of your ability). And that goes for wildflower photography as much as anything else in life.

As a plant lover, I strongly encourage you to get serious about taking wildflower photos. They are a tremendous asset that you can refer to over and over again.

They are also an incredible way to get to know the ‘patterns of plants’. You’ll need to know these when you look up a plant in a wildflower key.

I continually make notes about plants as I wander. And I keep all my notes in the Evernote app along with clear photos.

Once you have uploaded the photos to your computer…

…I strongly advise you to tag each photo with a keyword.

I tag by family, genus, species and the common name I call the plant, like this:

Urticaceae – Urtica – Urtica dioica – Stinging nettle

You can also tag by flower colour, habitat, month, uses etc. Add as many tags as you think will help.

Tags need to be by context rather than using categories or folders. Although a category could be a tag.

I’m a total geek on this stuff and have developed my own Personal Knowledge Management system (PKM). This way all my notes are super easy and quick to retrieve.

That’s why I never use folders or categories. Tagging all the way in my world!

Many folks ask how I am able to be so productive. Write and publish so many foraging books and with all the research time too.

Systems. That’s how I do it. Hyper organised systems.

I highly recommend you get a copy of Sönke Ahrens book, “How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking.” It’s a quick read and you just need to apply the basics when starting out.

It revolutionised my research and ability to collate data from multiple sources into a coherent system.

So, back to taking photos for plant ID…

If I take future photos, they are easily added to the note in question. Anytime I want to find a photo, I simply search for the keyword (tag) and the photos appear.

At the end of the day, I religiously upload the day’s snaps to my computer, then tag them.

Backups are stored on an external hard-drive. I use the Cloud but I certainly don’t depend on it.

Even though I lack any kind of photographic abilities myself, I do everything I can to make sure I have good, clear images in my wildflower photo archive.

Note: If you want people to help you with identifying a plant, please be considerate and respectful of their time and follow these guidelines.

The Golden Rules of Wildflower and Plant Photography

  • Your photos must be in focus.
  • Turn off the flash on your camera.
  • Avoid taking photos in direct sunlight.
  1. Make sure you are photographing plant specimens that represent the same plants growing in the area.
  2. Withered, discoloured plants are not much help. There is often a lot of variabilities, so make sure the photo is a good/typical representation.
  3. Make sure that the colour of your shot represents the actual colour of the plant in front of you. No psychedelic filters!
  4. Place an object next to the plant you’re photographing (like your hand or a coin or a ruler) in order to show the scale.
  5. Take multiple photos of different plant parts. Not just one out of focus snap. Show the arrangement of leaves, stems, flowers, buds, bark, etc..
  6. Regarding flowers. Make sure your photos show how the flowers are arranged. Clear, sharp close-ups are important.
  7. If using a smartphone that isn’t very good at macro, hold your hand behind the flowers to allow the camera to lock on the focus (remove your hand), take the shot, then crop and enlarge. Obviously, every phone is different so you’re going to have to experiment a bit.
  8. When taking shots of fruits/seeds, make sure the photo shows the size, colour, and how the fruits or seeds are attached to the plant.
  9. Take some shots of the plant ‘in situ’, so stand back a few feet to take the shot and make sure that the habitat and surrounding plants are in the frame.
  10. Also, try and show in the shot whether the plant is growing in shade, sun, dry or wet soil, standing in water, and what the other plants are growing around and alongside it.

When posting wildflower and plant photos for identification include:

  • location
  • habitat (coastal, wood, grassland, hedges, waste ground, heaths etc.)
  • date
 

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For over fifteen years I have experimented and explored the world of wild plants. Uncovering how our ancestors used plants to nourish and heal themselves.

I’ve spent thousands of hours digging through scientific papers, read hundreds of books. Even gone so far as to be nomadic for over a year. During this time I followed the seasons and plants around the highways and byways of these isles.

I have written this book to help you rediscover our forgotten plant heritage. To learn how to use wild plants as food and medicine. Knowledge that was once common to everyone. Click here to learn more.

Share your experience. Leave a note for others

  1. Such a refreshing approach to nature, and the promise of re-learning secrets lost to our busy lifestyles. I particularly like the forum – a gentle, supportive place for those of us who are unsure about what we are looking at, and, in time would like to learn what one could do with it! I look forward to identifying and reading about more of our wild flowers, and to further my knowledge with your latest book.

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