Making 3D Models with Photogrammetry

Mark Altaweel


Photogrammetry is a science of surveying and mapping measurements, often from photographs, and between objects. Photogrammetry is often applied to create realistic scales of objects utilizing a series of overlapping or superimposed photographs. Applications of spatial analysis are evident in such areas where photogrammetry is used to realistically recreate architectural scales. One benefit of photogrammetry is that common photographs can be utilized to recreate 3D or 3D-like views. This has made photogrammetry a cost-effective way to create 3D objects without the presence of laser scanners or other equipment. For architecture, it has been shown to be a cost-effective way to create multi-scale building models that are sufficiently realistic.[1]

With the prevalence of smartphones and drones, photogrammetry is now widely present as an effective and cost-efficient method to easily recreate 3D models of large areas and specific objects or buildings.  In fact, some drones have utilized smartphones within their systems to deploy photogrammetry data collection.[2]  Smartphones and devices have come to replace common loading cameras and older photogrammetric equipment within drones due to their cost effectiveness and increased smartphone resolution and accuracy.[3]

Photogrammetry is now replacing digital elevation model (DEM) data for many places as the accuracy of cameras improves and digital photogrammetry is able to generate a much higher resolution and accuracy for digital surface models (DSM) to represent complex landscapes.[4] One challenge has been processing speed for images, as many photographs are often needed and these have to be stitched together, where the process is far slower than typical GPS-based elevation studies.[5] Nevertheless, the benefit of extending traditional DEM resolution and accuracy has made photogrammetry now become an important component to landscape and object-based studies interested in accurate 3D reconstructions and analysis.

Structure-from-Motion (SfM). Instead of a single stereo pair, the SfM technique requires multiple, overlapping photographs as input to feature extraction and 3-D reconstruction algorithms. From: Westoby et al., 2012.
Structure-from-Motion (SfM). Instead of a single stereo pair, the SfM technique requires multiple, overlapping photographs as input to feature extraction and 3-D reconstruction algorithms. From: Westoby et al., 2012.


[1] For more on the use of photogrammetry on recreating 3D architecture, see:  Rau, J.-Y., & Cheng, C.-K. (2013). A cost-effective strategy for multi-scale photo-realistic building modeling and web-based 3-D GIS applications in real estate. Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 38, 35–44.

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[2] For more on photogrammetry and smartphones in drones, see:  Kim, J., Lee, S., Ahn, H., Seo, D., Park, S., & Choi, C. (2013). Feasibility of employing a smartphone as the payload in a photogrammetric UAV system. ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, 79, 1–18.

[3] For more on the cost-effectiveness of smart devices in replacing photogrammetric systems on drones (UAVs), see:  Jeong, H. H., Park, J. W., Kim, J. S., & Choi, C. U. (2016). Assessing the Accuracy of Ortho-image using Photogrammetric Unmanned Aerial System. ISPRS – International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences, XLI-B1, 867–872.

[4] For more on photogrammetry used for DSMs, see:  Miyasaka, T., Okuro, T., Zhao, X., & Takeuchi, K. (2016). Classification of Land Use on Sand-Dune Topography by Object-Based Analysis, Digital Photogrammetry, and GIS Analysis in the Horqin Sandy Land, China. Environments, 3(3), 17.

[5] For more on data processing for photogrammetry, see: Westoby, M. J., Brasington, J., Glasser, N. F., Hambrey, M. J., & Reynolds, J. M. (2012). “Structure-from-Motion” photogrammetry: A low-cost, effective tool for geoscience applications. Geomorphology, 179, 300–314.

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About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.