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Chapter: Civil : Remote Sensing Techniques and GIS : Image Interpretation And Analysis

Basic Elements of Image Interpretation

This radiation is measured and recorded by a sensor, and ultimately is depicted as an image product such as an air photo or a satellite image.


As we noted in the previous section, analysis of remote sensing imagery involves the identification of various targets in an image, and those targets may be environmental or artificial features which consist of points, lines, or areas. Targets may be defined in terms of the way they reflect or emit radiation. This radiation is measured and recorded by a sensor, and ultimately is depicted as an image product such as an air photo or a satellite image.


What makes interpretation of imagery more difficult than the everyday visual interpretation of our surroundings? For one, we lose our sense of depth when viewing a two-dimensional image, unless we can view it stereoscopically so as to simulate the third dimension of height. Indeed, interpretation benefits greatly in many applications when images are viewed in stereo, as visualization (and therefore, recognition) of targets is enhanced dramatically.


Viewing objects from directly above also provides a very different perspective than what we are familiar with. Combining an unfamiliar perspective with a very different scale and lack of recognizable detail can make even the most familiar object unrecognizable in an image.


Finally, we are used to seeing only the visible wavelengths, and the imaging of wavelengths outside of this window is more difficult for us to comprehend. Recognizing targets is the key to interpretation and information extraction. Observing the differences between targets and their backgrounds involves comparing different targets based on any, or all, of the visual elements of tone, shape, size, pattern, texture, shadow, and association.


Visual interpretation using these elements is often a part of our daily lives, whether we are conscious of it or not. Examining satellite images on the weather report, or following high speed chases by views from a helicopter are all familiar examples of visual image interpretation. Identifying targets in remotely sensed images based on these visual elements allows us to further interpret and analyze.



Tone refers to the relative brightness or colour of objects in an image. Generally, toneis the fundamental element for distinguishing between different targets or features. Variations in tone also allows the elements of shape, texture, and pattern of objects to be distinguished.


Ground objects of different colour reflect the incident radiation differentlydepending upon the incident wave length, physical and chemical constituents of the objects. The imagery as recorded in remote sensing is in different shades or tones. For example, ploughed and cultivated lands record differently from fallow fields. Tone is expressed qualitatively as light, medium and dark. In SLAR imagery, for example, the shadows cast by non-return of the microwaves appear darker than those parts where greater reflection takes place. These parts appear of lighter tone. Similarly in thermal imagery objects at higher temperature are recorded of lighter tone compared to objects at lower temperature, which appear of medium to darker tone. Similarly top soil appears as of dark tone compared to soil containing quartz sand. The coniferous trees appear in lighter tone compared to broad leave tree clumps.


Size of objects in an image is a function of scale. It is important to assess the size of atarget relative to other objects in a scene, as well as the absolute size, to aid in the interpretation of that target. A quick approximation of target size can direct interpretation to an appropriate result more quickly. For example, if an interpreter had to distinguish zones of  land use, and had identified an area with a number of buildings in it, large buildings such as factories or warehouses would suggest commercial property, whereas small buildings would indicate residential use.


Pattern refers to the spatial arrangement of visibly discernible objects. Typically an Orderly repetition of similar tones and textures will produce a distinctive and ultimately recognizable pattern. Orchards with evenly spaced trees and urban streets with regularly spaced houses are good examples of pattern.


Texture refers to the arrangement and frequency of tonal variation in particular areas of animage. Rough textures would consist of a mottled tone where the grey levels change abruptly in a small area, whereas smooth textures would have very little tonal variation. Smooth textures are most often the result of uniform, even surfaces, such as fields, asphalt, or grasslands. A targetwith a rough surface and irregular structure, such as a forest canopy, results in a rough textured appearance. Texture is one of the most important elements for distinguishingfeatures in radar imagery.


Shadows cast by objects are sometimes important clues to their identification and Interpretation. For example, shadow of a suspension bridge can easily be discriminated from that of cantilever bridge. Similarly circular shadows are indicative of coniferous trees. Tall buildings and chimneys, and towers etc., can easily be identified for their characteristic shadows. Shadows on the other hand can sometimes render interpretation difficult i.e. dark slope shadows covering important detail.


Association takes into account the relationship between other recognizable objects orfeatures in proximity to the target of interest. The identification of features that one would expect to associate with other features may provide information to facilitate identification. In the example given above, commercial properties may be associated with proximity to major transportation routes, whereas residential areas would be associated withschools, playgrounds, and sports fields. In our example, a lake is associated with boats, a marina, and adjacent recreational land.


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Civil : Remote Sensing Techniques and GIS : Image Interpretation And Analysis : Basic Elements of Image Interpretation |

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