A Portrait Map

I have been working on techniques for designing maps that more effectively express the beauty and complexity of landscapes. Typically, maps and GIS are great at representing the facts on the ground (visible and invisible), but not so great at portraying the qualitative aspects, much like the difference between a photograph and a portrait. So far, I have been tinkering with some previously developed techniques, such as the sky model relief shading of Patrick Kennelly at Long Island University (his most recent paper is Kennelly & Stewart 2013) and the vegetation bump mapping originally developed by Jeff Nighbert at BLM-Oregon (a short background and some ArcGIS tools are at the Esri Mapping Center). I first implemented these in a “portrait map” of my favorite place, Zion National Park.

In my opinion, it’s a good first start. The Kennelly method (a very simplified form I implemented as a ArcGIS model) creates a relief image that portrays the incredible cliffs and canyons of Zion better than any other method I have seen. The Nighbert method (with some modification to fit the situation) shows the variety and complexity of Zion’s ecology in a simplified, understandable way. Combined with subtle representations of roads, buildings, water, and geology, and compositing in Photoshop and Illustrator (which have transparency tools far superior to ArcMap), we begin to get an appreciation for the physical and human landscape of one of the Earth’s greatest places. Here is the final Zion portrait map.


The primary inputs were the 1/3 arc second elevation data from The National Map, and 30m vegetation cover from the Southwest Regional Gap Analysis Project. Although Kennelly and Nighbert (in the links above) provide full GIS tools, here are the tools I implemented:

I realize that these are completely undocumented and would need to be considerably altered to work in other landscapes, but if you find them useful, great! I also created a custom tiled cache basemap from the image, but that is another story . . .


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