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Tips for Taking Good Photos to Send to Your Extension Agent

Extension agents constantly receive photos from the public asking to identify a species or diagnosis a disease or pest. However, their ability to perform these tasks depends on the quality of the photographs received, and the quality is sometimes insufficient.

The following tips on how to take photographs will make it easier for agents to meet requests in a timely manner. These tips are applicable regardless of the species or situation.

  • Make sure photos are in clear focus. Take multiple photos and choose the sharpest to send.
  • Try not to take photos facing the sun as it may wash out the photo. If possible, have the sun behind you. This will provide natural light to the subject of the photo.
  • Try to get photos from different angles and distances, especially for trees; get the whole tree or as much as possible. For species identification, include photos of bark, twigs, leaves, flowers, and fruits if possible.
  • If the photo is for diagnosis of a disease or pest issue:
      • Get clear photos of all diseased parts — for example, if the tree is showing discolored leaves, inspect the trunk of the tree and ground for signs of fungi or insects.

      These longleaf pine trees are infected with pitch canker. Different photos from different distances provide clues. TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      These longleaf pine trees are infected with pitch canker. Different photos from different distances provide clues. TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      These longleaf pine trees are infected with pitch canker. Different photos from different distances provide clues. TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      These longleaf pine trees are infected with pitch canker. Different photos from different distances provide clues. TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      These longleaf pine trees are infected with pitch canker. Different photos from different distances provide clues.
      TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      • For leaves, take photos of the top AND bottom of leaves. Pests like mites or aphids may not be evident on the tops of leaves but obvious on the lower surface.

      To identify a plant species or a disease infecting the plant, photos of both the top and bottom surfaces may provide clues. TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      To identify a plant species or a disease infecting the plant, photos of both the top and bottom surfaces may provide clues. TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      To identify a plant species or a disease infecting the plant, photos of both the top and bottom surfaces may provide clues. TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      To identify a plant species or a disease infecting the plant, photos of both the top and bottom surfaces may provide clues.
      TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      • For identification of snakes, lizards, amphibians, and other small animals, try to get photos of the body’s dorsal (upper) and ventral (lower) surfaces. IF YOU DO NOT KNOW IF THE SPECIES (ESPECIALLY SNAKES) ARE SAFE TO HANDLE, DO NOT PICK THEM UP TO GET A BETTER PHOTO! Likewise, DO NOT HANDLE SICK ANIMALS THAT MAY BE CARRYING A DISEASE.

      Dorsal and ventral coloration and patterns aid the identification of snake species such as the ring-necked snake (left two photos) and the Eastern garter snake (right two photos). TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      Dorsal and ventral coloration and patterns aid the identification of snake species such as the ring-necked snake (left two photos) and the Eastern garter snake (right two photos). TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      Dorsal and ventral coloration and patterns aid the identification of snake species such as the ring-necked snake (left two photos) and the Eastern garter snake (right two photos). TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      Dorsal and ventral coloration and patterns aid the identification of snake species such as the ring-necked snake (left two photos) and the Eastern garter snake (right two photos). TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      To identify a plant species or a disease infecting the plant, photos of both the top and bottom surfaces may provide clues.
      TJ Savereno, ©2020, Clemson Extension

      • If requesting identification of a flowering weed or grass, try to get pictures of the whole plant and individual plant parts, including the roots, leaves, flowers, and fruits. Getting the roots will require digging or pulling up the weed.
      • Closeups in focus are extremely useful. But, again, keep your distance if the species might be dangerous. It is generally better to get as close to the object being photographed rather than zoom in from a distance. The higher the degree of the zoom, the lower the resolution (clarity) of the resulting photo. The exception to this rule may occur when taking extreme closeups of small objects. The automatic focus feature of cell phone cameras may have problems focusing on the subject if the camera is held too closely. In these cases, you may get better results backing out about 6 inches and then using the zoom feature.
      • Include an object next to insects, small animals, and plant parts to provide some estimate of size. A ruler or tape measure is ideal, but an object like a coin, pen, key, or another common household item can be used.

      Although a ruler may be ideal, familiar objects can provide a good sense of scale and specimen size. TJ Savereno, Clemson Extension

      Although a ruler may be ideal, familiar objects can provide a good sense of scale and specimen size. TJ Savereno, Clemson Extension

      Although a ruler may be ideal, familiar objects can provide a good sense of scale and specimen size. TJ Savereno, Clemson Extension

      Although a ruler may be ideal, familiar objects can provide a good sense of scale and specimen size. TJ Savereno, Clemson Extension

      Although a ruler may be ideal, familiar objects can provide a good sense of scale and specimen size. TJ Savereno, Clemson Extension

      Although a ruler may be ideal, familiar objects can provide a good sense of scale and specimen size.
      TJ Savereno, Clemson Extension

      With your photos, include a written description with information that may further help agents.

      • Did the problem appear after a severe weather event (e.g., after 3 inches of rain, following an extended drought, a tree was struck by lightning three weeks ago)?
      • Where was the specimen found in the landscape, or where did the problem occur (e.g., the lowest spot in the yard, along a stream bank, on a north-facing slope)?
      • How long has the problem been occurring/when did it first appear (e.g., the tree’s canopy has been thinning for several years, weeds started appearing in the pond just this spring)?
      • Has there been any human activity just prior to the problem (e.g., I started noticing a problem after I applied herbicide to some poison oak nearby, the city widened the sidewalk adjacent to the tree last year)?

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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