You are here

Phenology is the study of recurring plant and animal life cycle stages, or "phenophases", such as leafing, flowering, breeding and migration.

Image credit:
P. Guertin

Phenophase Photo Guidelines

Help us illustrate phenology through images! 

The USA-NPN National Coordinating Office invites you to publicly share your high quality/high resolution photos of plant and animal phenophases for education purposes via our Plant Phenophase Photo SmugMug page. You can help us build a database of photos for the 1300+ species and their phenophases, as listed in Nature’s Notebook

These photos of plant and animal phenophases will be used in educational and training materials for our volunteer observers. If you are interested in submitting digital images of species' phenophases, please review the guidelines and directions below.

Thank you for your interest in the USA-NPN and your willingness to share your work with us!

General Guidelines

The purpose for collecting these photos is for observers to clearly see the distinguishing characteristics of a given phenophase for a given species. Therefore accuracy in both species and phenophase is important. We ask that you please carefully review each photo you submit for accuracy of the phenophase. Because we are limited in staff time and cannot review every photo for accuracy, we must rely on you, the contributor, to properly identify the species for the photos you submit, especially since these photos may be used by others in teaching and outreach settings. 

Photo Guidelines Before you Submit

Check the Nature's Notebook Plant List

Before you contact us to let us know you have photos to share, please take a minute to:

  • Verify the genus and species of your plant
  • Check to be sure the plant is currently available for observation on our Plant and Animal List
  • Identify which Functional Group the plant is in by looking at the datasheet accessible from the species profile page. The Functional Group can be found on the upper left side of the page, as in the example below for the white oak, "Trees and Shrubs Deciduous (with pollen)".

Tree and Shrub Datasheet Image

Once you have done that, you may proceed to the steps below.

Image Resolution

Digital image resolution is measured in pixels, the single squares you see when you zoom in on an image. Higher resolution images provide more flexibility in terms of how photos can be cropped and displayed on websites and in print to clearly illustrate the phenophases. With this in mind, our desired resolution range is 500x400 to 3000x2000 pixels, or a resolution of 300 pixels per inch (ppi) or dots per inch (dpi). If you do not have a macro lens or cannot zoom into the tiny plant parts, please submit photos at the high end of this range so that we can enlarge and crop the image. 

Photo File Naming Conventions

We ask that for each photo you submit, its filename follow our standard file naming convention of “Genus_species_PreferredPhotoCredit_PhenophasePictured” (for example “Syringa_vulgaris_JosephPLilac_OpenFlowers” or “Cornus_florida_USGeologicalSurvey_Leaves”). Please find the scientific name (Genus species) of the subject of your photo in the title of its Nature’s Notebook species profile page (search the species list). Use the exact name of the phenophase from the phenophase definitions found on the species profile pages in Nature's Notebook in the title of the photo for consistency. If you plan to contribute more than one photo for a species, also add a unique identifier at the end of each filename (for example, Genus_species_JosephPLilac_OpenFlowers_01, Genus_species_JosephPLilac_OpenFlowers_02, etc.).

We are very grateful to you for sharing photos that will support our effort to visually inform our volunteer observers, and we will happily credit your work. Be prepared to specify how you would like the photo credit to read when you submit the photo  (for example, "Joseph P. Lilac", "J.P. Lilac" or "U.S. Geological Survey"). If you do not wish to add a credit for your photo, please tell us it should be credited as “Anonymous”. 

Copyrights and Licensing

USA-NPN can only accept photos with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. All submitted photos will be labeled with this license when we upload them to our Phenophase SmugMug Page or include them in our Photo Guides.

Examples of Phenophase Photos

We need photos of our Nature's Notebook species that are focused on a single phenophase or a photo series showing the development of a species through a phenophase. Try taking a photo of the same plant, from the same spot, a few times of year during different seasons or taking close up photos of your plant expressing different phenophases. The following examples are the type of photos we are hoping you will contribute!

Balsam fir needle bud development

Each photo shown here was submitted at 1280x960 pixels, 180 dpi, which allowed the NPN staff to process and edit the photo to focus in on the details of a phenophase. Sharp focus and good contrast help to make the details easily readable - and your photo useable. It is the details in your photos that will help inform our participants of the cues they need to be looking for while making observations on their species. 

Desert marigold flower to fruit development

Photos of People

Please do not submit photos of people from trainings, making observations in the field, or with school groups, etc. to the USANPN Phenophase Photo page. If there is enough interest, we may consider a second SmugMug page for events and people.

You are welcome, and encouraged, to share photos of your events at any time, with proper permission, on any of our social media pages: FacebookPinterest, Instagram, and twitter using hashtag #NaturesNotebook.

In order to share photos of people making observations, have each subject sign a media release for your organization. This is especially important when working with minors. 

Submitting Phenophase Photos

We have chosen to use SmugMug for ease of use and accessibility. To contribute one or more phenophase photos to our USA-NPN Plant Phenophases SmugMug, we ask that you:

  1. Make sure the photos are of species that are found on the Nature's Notebook plant and animal species list at the time of your request
  2. Send an email to and tell us which species you have. Do NOT attach photos.

Once the USA-NPN Staff receives your email, you will receive in return, instructions on how to proceed.

The photos should be of good quality and follow best practice for taking upclose photos of phenophases on our Nature's Notebook list. Photos from handheld devices are often equally as good as those from cameras - be sure that what you contribute is in focus and descriptive of the phase you are depicting. You may wish to explore our Phenophase Photo taking activity to practice taking photos first. Or take a look at our lesson designed to assist people with taking good photos to use for identification.

Again, please be sure to follow the guidelines for naming, crediting, and licensing described above. Otherwise we will be unable to share your photos. 

Using Photos Posted to the USA-NPN Plant Phenophase SmugMug

If you wish to use photos that appear on the USA-NPN Plant Phenophase SmugMug page, please be sure to include the photographer credit and licensing information included with the photo. Note that when the photo downloads you may not receive the standardized name with credit when it is saved to your computer. Be sure to check that information and save it with your photo on your computer for use in print and online. 

Photos used on a website or in print should be captioned with the photo credit and license (for example, "Joseph P. Lilac via SmugMug. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0"). If this is not practical, the credit and license should be added to a photo acknowledgement page. Collaborators are welcome to use the photos contained within the Flickr page for educational purposes, with the credit attached and any licensing information with it.

Group leaders may consider creating a suite of phenophase photos for species being observing locally, as demonstrated here

If you have questions, please contact us at

Thanks for your interest in phenology and photography!