I came across some high res DEM and would like to create a quality hill shade. Target quality should be ESRI's world_hillshade as shown here: https://services.arcgisonline.com/arcgis/rest/services/Elevation/World_Hillshade/MapServer that is not the normal hill shade I would obtain using the relevant function in my GIS (I use QGIS).

I am sure it is a composite hill shade made with multiple different illumination images blended together, still I cannot obtain a similar result. I see mountain ridges should appear white, so apart from the composite blending I suspect there might be some slope layer involved. Has anyone developed a procedure for obtaining similar "artistic" hill shades out from a raster DEM?

  • I've been using the GDAL Hillshade tool in QGIS with the multi-directional shading setting checked to create better hillshades than the basic ESRI Surface/3D Analyst tool. As with any raster you can stretch/render it in different ways when you bring it in to a project.
    – John
    Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 18:30

3 Answers 3


The key to the ESRI hillshade layer is the multidirectional hillshading, according to their blog: https://www.esri.com/arcgis-blog/products/arcgis-living-atlas/mapping/introducing-esris-next-generation-hillshade/

But otherwise it seems pretty basic.

Even just using the built in hillshade renderer in QGIS (which supports multidirectional hillshading) you can get a result which is very close. But you just need to adjust the brightness and contrast.

My example in QGIS using a coarse 200 meter DEM:

enter image description here

ESRI same area:

enter image description here

Renderer settings:

enter image description here

  • Set your Resampling to something better!
    – inc42
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 20:13
  • 1
    Fair point. Usually do! Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 10:28
  • what is that Oversampling for? how should we use it? i tried tweaking but no visible result is obtained whatever value i insert...
    – Loumpa
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 11:06
  • It will work when you are zoomed out it creates a more smooth impact the higher the number is and set to "Average". Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 11:21

I highly recommend the Batch Hillshader plugin for QGIS by PANOImagen (GitHub).

It generates a three light exposure composite using the methodology outlined in this paper:
Ref.: Gantenbein, C. (2012): "Creating Shaded Relief for Geologic Mapping using Multiple Light Sources". U.S. From "Digital Mapping Techniques'10--Workshop Proceedings". Geological Survey Open-File Report 1171

Loosely, the exposures are setup thusly:

In practice, I think it works excellently for my usage:
enter image description here

  • Does this work on QGIS 3 and up? I am getting "Plugin "batch_hillshader-master" is not compatible with this version of QGIS. It will be disabled." in my logs on 3.10.0 Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 16:02
  • Yep. Working just fine here on 3.12 and 3.13 Nightly. Make sure you read the documentation and install all the correct dependencies: github.com/PANOimagen/batch_hillshader Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 16:08
  • 1
    Thanks for the quick reply, works after installing laspy! I was confused because the docs seem to imply you only need it if using .las or .laz: "For processing LiDAR data (allways in ASPRS format *.laz, and *.las) you must to install some external dependecies:" Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 16:35

To complete other answers note that most very good hillshade seem to be created using a mix of of GIS and non GIS tool (ie. 3d rendering or image traitement tools) or some "hillshade only" specific software. So even if some really nice hillshade could be created using QGIS only don't limit yourself to a single tool

Have a look at these site : Relief Shading Website (lots of information on shaded relief), Tom Patterson Shaded Relief website or Daniel Huffman Blender relief tutorial.

Even if you want to use only QGIS these link should give you some direction on how to get the specific hillshade look you want.

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