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Photogrammetry for Beginners: Tips and Tricks


Photogrammetry is an exciting blend of surveying, photography, and 3D modeling. For newcomers, it opens doors to the world of visualizing and analyzing our environment. In this article, we explore photogrammetry from a beginner’s perspective, offering essential tips and tricks for a successful journey into this captivating art.

The Basics of Photogrammetry

Definition of Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is the science and art of crafting accurate three-dimensional models from two-dimensional images. It harnesses the power of parallax and triangulation to extract depth and spatial information from photographs. The core concept is the ability to measure and recreate objects and their surroundings from photos. This technology plays a vital role in surveying, geology, architecture, archaeology, and many other fields.

Historical Overview

Photogrammetry boasts a rich history. Initial attempts at creating three-dimensional models emerged in the 19th century, but the breakthrough came in the 20th century with aerial photography. During World War II, photogrammetry played a crucial role in reconnaissance, enabling the creation of detailed maps and models of territories. In the following decades, photogrammetry continued to develop, making it accessible for a wide range of applications.

Equipment Essentials

To embark on your photogrammetry journey, you need the right equipment:

Cameras and Lenses

The camera is the heart of photogrammetry. Starting with a DSLR or a high-quality camera with manual settings for shutter speed, aperture, and ISO is ideal. High-resolution and quality lenses are crucial for capturing sharp, detailed photos, essential for accurate 3D models.

Photo Processing Software

You’ll need specialized software for processing photos and creating 3D models. Programs like Agisoft Metashape, RealityCapture, and Pix4D offer comprehensive tools for uploading photos, aligning them, generating point clouds, and producing 3D models. They also provide options for adding textures and creating animations.

Additional Equipment and Accessories

In addition to the basics, consider these components and accessories to enhance your photogrammetry capabilities:

  1. Tripod: Sturdy support for stable camera positioning and avoiding image blurriness.
  2. Level and Compass: Ensure precise camera position and direction determination.
  3. Reference Marks: Assist in establishing the scale and orientation of photos.
  4. Sundial or Shade: Helpful for timing photos and sun angle determination.
  5. Specialized Filters: Such as ND (neutral density) filters to control exposure in bright conditions.

This equipment package equips you with all the essentials to initiate your photogrammetry endeavors. The next step is to grasp the fundamental principles and techniques of photography.

Basic Principles of Photogrammetry

In this section, we delve into the fundamental principles underpinning the creation of accurate 3D models from photos.

Principles of Creating 3D Models from Photos

Photogrammetry relies on several key principles, with parallax being one of them. Parallax leverages the differences in object positions between two images taken from different viewpoints to determine depth and distance. By analyzing the angular shifts of objects in photos, the software reconstructs the three-dimensional structure.

The Concept of Points, Cameras, and Point Clouds

  • Points (or Key Points): Prominent spots in photos used for comparison. Photogrammetry programs automatically detect and match these points across different photos to determine their spatial position.
  • Cameras: Each camera has unique internal parameters defining its position and field of view, crucial for accurate 3D model reconstruction.
  • Point Clouds: After processing photos and identifying key points, the photogrammetry software generates a point cloud—a set of 3D points representing the object’s surface. This point cloud serves as the foundation for creating a 3D model.

Principles of Measurement and Scaling

For precision in photogrammetry, the principles of measurement and scaling are crucial:

  1. Camera Calibration: Determines the camera’s internal parameters like focal length and radial distortion. Calibration is vital for accurate distance and dimension measurements in photos.
  2. Scaling: Photogrammetry enables real-world object size measurements. To achieve this, you need to know the dimensions of a known element on the object. The program then scales other measurements relative to this known element.
  3. Orientation: Accurately establishing the camera’s spatial position and orientation is essential for precise reconstruction. Photogrammetry programs automatically determine camera orientation based on key points.

Adhering to these principles is fundamental for successful photogrammetry. A solid understanding of these concepts is your path to creating accurate, high-quality 3D models from photos.

Preparing for Photography

Before you embark on your photogrammetry shoot, meticulous planning and preparation are essential. This section covers key aspects of getting ready for a photogrammetry session.

Selecting a Subject to Photograph

Subject selection significantly influences the photogrammetry process. Start by picking an object of interest, be it a building, sculpture, landscape, or anything you wish to model. Pay attention to lighting and subject accessibility, as these factors impact photo quality.

Planning the Shoot

For optimal results, plan your shoot ahead of time. Determine the number of photos required for comprehensive subject coverage and identify shooting points that ensure extensive subject coverage. Keep in mind that more photos generally result in higher model quality.

Prepare Your Camera and Equipment

Ensure your equipment is in working order before heading out for the shoot. Check your camera’s battery and memory card capacity. Adjust camera settings manually for control over shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Employ a tripod to prevent image blurring. Maintain stable lighting conditions to prevent lighting changes during the shoot.

Thorough preparation plays a pivotal role in the quality of your photos, ultimately affecting the precision and detail of your 3D models.

Shooting Techniques

Different Surveying Techniques

Several surveying techniques are applicable in photogrammetry, including:

  1. Camera Network Method: Utilizes multiple cameras at different locations to capture images of a single object. This method offers high accuracy and extensive coverage.
  2. Camera Displacement Method: Involves moving the camera around the object to create a photo set, suitable for small objects.
  3. Drone Method: Drones capture aerial photos, enabling the creation of 3D models for vast areas and complex landscapes.

Shooting from Different Angles and Positions

To acquire a comprehensive subject representation, vary your shooting angles and viewpoints. Changing perspectives aids the software in accurate spatial structure determination, reducing reconstruction errors.

Using Orientation Points

Orientation points are specific markers on a subject used to establish photo scale and orientation. They are usually distinctive and visible in all photos. Orientation points assist the software in precise photo alignment, leading to accurate 3D model creation.

Photo Processing

Uploading Photos to Photogrammetry Software

The initial step in photo processing is uploading them to dedicated photogrammetry software like Agisoft Metashape or Pix4D. The software analyzes the photos, identifies key points, and initiates the reconstruction process.

Alignment and Calibration of Photos

The software aligns photos by determining their relative positions and orientations. This is essential for accurate object reconstruction. Additionally, the camera undergoes calibration to account for distortion and focal length parameters.

Creating a Dense Point Cloud

Following alignment and calibration, the photogrammetry software begins generating a dense point cloud. This point cloud represents the object’s three-dimensional structure, created from the photos. It serves as the basis for 3D model construction and additional analysis and visualization.

Photo processing is a critical step in photogrammetry, demanding precision and attention to detail. Quality processing results in precise, realistic 3D models ready for further use.

Creating a 3D Model

Using a Point Cloud to Create a Model

The point cloud derived from photo processing forms the foundation for a 3D model. Photogrammetry software converts the point cloud into a surface model composed of triangles, representing the object in three dimensions.

3D Model Generation Process

After the surface model is derived from the point cloud, the next step is the 3D model generation process. The software automatically connects triangles to establish a seamless object surface. This process also entails noise and irregularity removal for a smooth model.

Working with Textures and Colors

To enhance the 3D model’s realism, you can add textures and colors. The software enables overlaying photos onto the model to retain object details and colors. This lends the model a natural appearance and eases visualization.

Errors and Their Elimination

Identifying Major Errors and Their Causes

When working with photogrammetry, various errors may affect 3D model quality. Major errors include distortion, insufficient photo coverage, blurring, and other artifacts. Error causes can range from improper exposure and camera positioning to lighting issues.

Tips for Correcting Errors

  • Ensure Proper Exposure: Capture photos with correct exposure to prevent under- or overexposure.
  • Plan the Shoot Carefully: Thoughtful planning and choosing shooting points can minimize errors.
  • Use Additional Orientation Points: Adding markers and orientation points on the subject aids in more precise photo alignment, reducing errors.

Model Quality Control

Once you’ve created a 3D model, quality control is paramount. This step involves scrutinizing the model for defects, lack of detail, and texture errors. Quality control ensures the model aligns with project expectations and requirements, preventing unforeseen issues in future endeavors.

Error correction and quality control are vital photogrammetry steps, ensuring the creation of accurate, reliable 3D models that meet project needs.

Applications of Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry’s reach extends across various domains, including:

  1. Geodesy and Cartography: Creating detailed geographic maps, land plans, and navigation systems.
  2. Architecture and Construction: Facilitating precise 3D models of buildings and landscapes.
  3. Archaeology and Research: Studying archaeological finds and reconstructing historical sites.
  4. Engineering and Transportation Projects: Designing roads, bridges, and railroads.
  5. Agriculture: Monitoring and analyzing agricultural land.
  6. Geology and Mining: Investigating rock masses and deposits.

Examples of Successful Projects

Photogrammetry has birthed numerous successful projects. Notable among them is the reconstruction of the ancient city of Pompeii after Mount Vesuvius’s eruption, achieved through photogrammetry and laser scanning. Accurate 3D models have aided archaeologists and researchers in comprehending and preserving historical heritage.

Future Prospects for Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry continues to evolve with the advent of new technologies and surveying techniques. Future prospects include enhanced reconstruction accuracy and speed, expanded applications encompassing virtual and augmented reality, and integration with technologies such as artificial intelligence.


Photogrammetry empowers the creation of accurate 3D models from ordinary photos. This technology finds applications in diverse fields and continues to evolve, offering fresh research and design possibilities. For beginners, photogrammetry is a captivating realm filled with creative potential. Start by mastering the fundamentals and gradually grow in this exciting field.