Natural history online

Spotted Sun Orchid (Thelymitra ixioides), Royal National Park, Sept 2010

Searching for photos of particular species for various projects over the last couple of years, I’ve been amazed that almost every time I used the Google image search function for a scientific name, a picture appears. Sometimes I’m alerted to a museum or scientific institution, but many times I’m directed to an amateur’s photograph. In fact, often the best pictures available are from amateur photographers. Taking beautiful images of crazy plants and animals is a challenge and a joy in itself, but what makes me so excited is how many people identify what they photograph. It’s wonderful to see – and it is clear that the photographers derive great pleasure not only for finding and taking the photos, but in the identification and presentation of them online also. There is often useful help in comments from site visitors, some of which are helpful professionals, showing that experts are enjoying these beautiful pictures too. The butterfly collection and pressed flower age has been replaced with stunning online galleries from across the globe – a much less destructive collection, accessible to many people. Additional information about the location and date would be wonderful, but this is rarely present for any image, regardless of source. I think the majority of online natural history image galleries are posted with no thought of financial gain or fame, but just because people are proud of their lovely pictures. On several occasions I’ve written to the photographer asking permission to use the images and a copy at higher resolution. I’ve always received an enthusiastic and generous response, the photographer delighted that their picture will be more widely distributed and their work useful. I really enjoy knowing that there are so many people all over the place enjoying the natural world and taking the time to capture what they see through photography and learn more. And what a beautiful natural world it is!

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