If you’ve ever wondered what plant is in the foreground of your last magical landscape image, there’s a few apps out there that can help. Those apps can also keep you from trampling rare and endangered species and habitat to get that epic Instagram shot, and along the way you’ll end up learning a few Latin names… maybe.
The first app I use the most and can identify countless species of plants and animals is iNaturalist. The built in artificial intelligence can take any image and provide a list of suggested species. With location services (GPS) on it can also tell you if which suggestion was seen nearby, which is pretty handy. If you’re off the grid just take the photo and upload it later and get the same information. I’ve also uploaded photos from my DSLR months later and gotten proper identifications on an obscure flower or two. There are a few other apps that do the same thing but they don’t work as well as iNaturalist. The other very popular app in the birding community is Ebird developed by Cornell. As the name suggests it focuses on birds and dives deep into ID but also has a library of each bird’s song.
It’s a wonderfully helpful app to get proper captions and it adds a new level of detail that I would never have added if I had to flip through pages of guidebooks to find a plant name. iNaturalist works great for animals as well. Most of off us think of furry ones but it will also ID fish and insects of the most obscure kind. It’s actually pretty remarkable how much information is built into the app. The other bonus is that there is a huge worldwide community out there eager to help or correct you adding another level of accuracy to the whole process. If you’re game for going deeper into the natural world you can add your observations to projects that collect data about plant and animal locations. I’m adding to one in my local mountain range that uses the photographs submitted to study the impact of climate change on alpine flowers about tree line. The way I see it if I’m using these little flowers as models I can at least contribute a bit to the science trying to help them.
Much further away, identifying stars and planets is left to Star Walk, Starlight, Heavens-Above, and Stellarium Mobile. Most of these apps allow you to hold your phone up to the sky and see what stars and planets you’re looking at in real time. I’ve used Star Walk primarily and it’s been great for both planning shoots as well as in the field. The augmented reality has to be used at the time you take the photograph if you want to have that information to use for captions later. The app uses your camera and will overlay the names and locations of stars, constellations and planets in a live mode so you can move through the night sky in real time. Great for those people looking for particular constellations and also those trying to figure out what that bright start is in the frame. If you want to brag to your friends at home getting a good night sleep you can also share to social media directly through the app.
iNaturalist and Star Walk are the two that I’ve found useful both for planning and for getting my caption information correct. If you’ve got an app that has helped you learn more about the subjects in your photograph let us know.