Amanda Gearhart, University of Idaho rangeland extension specialist, says producers can benefit from the information time-lapse photos present.

Woolsey cassidy
Managing Editor / Ag Proud – Idaho
Cassidy is a contributing editor to Progressive Cattle and Progressive Forage magazines.

By taking a photo in the same location on the same date each year, producers can make necessary changes to their management practices and provide proof of their management decisions.

“These photos are the only history you have,” Gearhart says. “This process is not technical, and it is not hard. But it is not useful if it is not done.”

There are a few components to consider when taking a photo. To make the monitoring process a little easier, Jeffrey Mosley, rangeland extension specialist at Montana State University, and Gearhart have outlined a few tips to help ensure producers get the most out of their shot.

Include a photo board in every photo

Each photo should include a marker board located at one of the lower corners in the photo. The board should display the GPS coordinates, date and location in a legible format easy to view from a distance.


This helps keep all of the information together in case the notes are misplaced, Gearhart says.

It is crucial that the location is detailed and marked accurately. Gearhart suggests using a wide-tipped black marker to write on the board. It is also important to avoid any sun glare or shadows that will make the board hard to read – colored boards can reduce glare, she says.

Use distinct landscape features or a witness post to help relocate

Photographs that include a distinctive landmark or a witness post make it easier to relocate, Mosley says.

A lot of people today use a GPS system to help them locate their sights; however, for those who don’t have access to a GPS or would prefer another way, a basic T-post can be used.

Mosley suggests placing the T-post at least 50 feet from the plot since cattle and other wildlife are often attracted to the post.

Giving enough distance between the post and the plot area will reduce the effect of trampling and overgrazing.

Also, record the distance and the direction of the plot from the post, he says. Keeping detailed notes will help maintain consistency in the photographs and help make it easier to relocate.

Take a landscape photo and a ground photo

At least two horizontal photos of the landscape and of the ground should be taken at each plot, Gearhart says.

In a landscape photo, the camera should be positioned so there is a three-quarter landscape to one-quarter sky ratio. The majority of the photo should be of the land, she says.

Ground photos should be in a 3-foot by 3-foot square. The ground photo should include a unit of measurement for size reference, such as a yardstick.

These photos can be used to document ground cover, vegetation, weeds, erosion and in some cases endangered species.

Mosley recommends taking plot pictures at least once every year and around the same time every year.

“It is amazing how much change happens due to the weather,” he says. “Sometimes people end up misinterpreting things that were probably just due to the weather rather than their management.”

If there are concerns about wildlife or grazing, then the producer should take a picture before grazing and after grazing, Mosley says. This way the producer knows if there were any changes and if the cattle caused those changes.

Some last suggestions

After photos are taken, store them in a safe place. Gearhart suggests using a three-ring binder to store both notes and photographs in transparent sleeves. It is important to keep a back-up copy separate from the printed photos.

Also, check to see if anything has already been done, especially if it is on public lands. Producers should then decide what they want to know from their monitoring program and take the next steps to establish locations.

If any additional help is needed during the monitoring process, producers can contact NRCS or the local extension for more information.

“The toughest part about photo monitoring is getting started,” Mosley says. “Once people start, they realize it is pretty easy and fun.”  end mark


A representation of how a landscape photo should be taken for rangeland monitoring. The photo board is detailed and easy to read, the shot is taken horizontally, and the mountains are used as a distinct landscape feature to help relocate. Photo courtesy of Billy Whitehurst.