Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for cartographers, geographers and GIS professionals. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm doing some time-intensive projecting of aerial photos, and I'm curious - what resampling technique is best to use on aerial photos? In ArcMap, my options are NEAREST, BILINEAR, CUBIC, and MAJORITY.

Nearest Neighbor and Majority are recommended for categorical data, whereas Cubic Convolution and Bilinear Interpolation are for continuous data.

I'm curious to know if there's any commonly-used algorithm for projecting aerial photos. I've just finished projecting one image using Nearest Neighbor and it seems to look good, but an aerial photo is not categorical data, so I'm going to try Bilinear next.

I wasn't thinking of aerial photos as the same kind of continuous data as DEMs or precipitation data, but whuber pointed out that they are continuous and should be handled as such. Thanks again.

share|improve this question
You might also be interested in the closely related thread at… . – whuber Nov 29 '11 at 3:50
up vote 20 down vote accepted

Aerial photos are continuous data. Each pixel represents the response of a region of a sensor to light directed at it and as that light varies, the response varies continuously. The result is usually discretized (often into 255 or 256) categories, but that doesn't change the nature of the data. Therefore you want to interpolate rather than using categorical algorithms like nearest neighbor or majority. Bilinear interpolation is usually just fine; at some cost in execution time, cubic convolution will retain local contrast a tiny bit better. A small amount of additional blurriness is unavoidable, but that's almost impossible to notice until the image has undergone many such transformations. The errors made with nearest neighbor are much worse in comparison.

share|improve this answer
Thank you for the quick and thorough response! – Tanner Nov 28 '11 at 23:01
This is a great answer. I would add that occasionally cubic convolution introduces unusual banding; especially if the photo has previously been resampled or pansharpened. I generally go with cubic convolution unless I see these distortions, then I switch down to bilinear interpolation. The real question for me is always what histogram to use for the color resampling. I prefer a linear min-max histogram, but sometimes a 2 standard deviation based histogram highlights key features better. – blord-castillo Nov 29 '11 at 0:49
Thank you for sharing your experience, @blord-castillo! – whuber Nov 29 '11 at 1:53

I lack the "reputation" to Comment so...

If radiometric analysis is going to be performed on the aerial photos then it should be done prior to resampling/projecting. Otherwise you will almost certainly introduce unintended bias into the final product. As per blord-castillo's helpful comment above.

If the proximate and final uses of the aerials are for visual appeal or background mapping, then I would go with the fastest method that gives you a usable product.

  • If the cell size of the new aerial is the same as the original, then NEAREST works best IMHO.

  • If the cell size of the new aerial is larger than the original, then BILINEAR works best.

  • If (for some crazy reason) the cell size of the new aerial is smaller than the original, then I would go back to using NEAREST.

The other options, CUBIC and MAJORITY, will produce artifacts in the resampled product, take longer to process, and otherwise don't seem to apply to what you're trying to do.

As a final point: While it's true the process of sampling light emanating/reflecting from the surface of the Earth is conceptually continuous, it is also true that the Earth's surface exhibits both continuous and discrete phenomenon.

  • In general, human activity tends to produce discrete transitions and

  • "Natural" features are often (but not always) continuously varying or at least have fuzzy edges.

So, as indicated in my first portion above, how you manipulate the aerials will depend on how you expect to use them.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.