• automated matching programmes;
  • individual recognition;
  • mark–recapture;
  • natural colouration patterns

The use of photography to discriminate between individuals in a population using natural markings or aberrations is increasingly being utilized to support field research on elasmobranchs. This non-intrusive method has facilitated investigation of a wide variety of subjects including population composition, abundance estimates, residency and movement, demography and social behaviours. Here the first detailed review of photo-identification as a research technique for sharks and rays is provided, and its assumptions, current applications and potential highlighted. The limitations and practical considerations of photographic studies are also investigated with recommendations on initial survey design and ongoing data collection using current technology. Future directions are also explored with an emphasis on a move towards standardized approaches and automated recognition programmes to facilitate global collaborative work.