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If Google Earth Were Designed For Your Wall

I love exploring Google Earth. The window that it provides into our world is mind-blowing and the imagery is fantastic. But the very thing that makes it so amazing—that you can look anywhere in the world in great detail on demand—is a design constraint that leaves room for improvement when the goal is to display a large format image on the wall.

At Ramble Maps, this is our goal. We've got a Natural Color series of maps that combines imagery like the kind you'd see on Google Earth with elevation data to bring these places to your wall.

Here's what we do:

Remove Imperfections

The imagery used in both Ramble Maps and Google Earth involves satellites and planes far overhead making multiple passes of a landscape. Imagery in adjacent areas can be taken minutes, hours, or days later. This is often most evident over water, where reflections and shading can make the different passes easily evident.

Google Earth detail shot of Jackson Lake Ramble maps detail of Jackson Lake
Google Earth shot of Grand Teton National Park (first image, Credit: Google) reveals sun glint and other artifacts of data acquisition. The Ramble Maps version (second image) has these artifacts cleaned up.

Because the maps we make are static images of select areas, we are able to manually resolve these imperfections in Photoshop. The result is an image free of the imperfections that come from data acquisition.

Hand Selected Imagery

Another advantage of making a fixed number of static images is that we are able to go through the satellite record for the most compelling image of a place.

Cape Cod & the islands map
Our Cape Cod map with beautiful water from Sentinel-2 imagery.

Clean Up Hillshade

Another problem related to acquiring data via multiple passes is that the sun moves! In the first image of the Grand Canyon below, you can see that the shadows are different on the left half and the right half of the image (trace up the Colorado River from left to right and you'll see the shadows go from dark to light).

Google Earth detail shot of Grand Canyon Ramble maps detail of Grand Canyon
Google Earth image (first image, Credit: Google) shows hillshade at different angles, changing in the center of the image. The Ramble Maps image (second image) has source hillshade removed and then a uniform hillshade added with the sunlight coming from the northwest.

At Ramble we remove the hillshade from each pass in the image by brightening the terrain in shadow. Then we add our own hillshade, putting the sun in the northern sky so we can avoid relief inversion, which is where valleys look like ridges and ridges look like valleys.

Relief inversion can happen when terrain is lit from below, like in images in the northern hemisphere, where the sun mostly comes from the south.

Meteor Crater in Arizona lit from the south Meteor Crater in Arizona lit from the north
Do you see a crater or a mound? Light from the south (first image) causes many folks to see the Meteor Crater in Arizona as a mound. Hillshade is more intuitive when lit from above, like on the second image.

Since we eliminate shadows in our maps we're able to re-introduce them wherever we like, so we take advantage of this and reposition the sun in the north, so the terrain is easiest to perceive.

Use High Contrast Materials For Print

Our images are made for print on materials that are best suited for these images. After much experimentation, we found that metallic photo paper (which we use for our wood mounted and face-mounted acrylic options) and dye-sublimation prints on metal (our aluminum option) yielded the best results.

As you move around one of these prints, the way the light reflects off the terrain changes as if it were real. And the sharpness and detail you can see on the wood mounted and face-mounted-acrylic options in particular is every bit as sharp as the best 4K monitor.

Mount Rainier on face mounted acrylic
Detail shot of Mount Rainier as a face-mounted acrylic map.

We also tailor our images to our materials because not every good digital image makes a good printed one. We find our images need to be brighter and higher contrast than we'd prefer them on the screen to make a good print.

That's It!

Because we're not trying to show the entire planet with constantly updating imagery on demand we are able to take the time to make a single image as beautiful as we possibly can. We do that, then print on materials that best showcase the imagery we've created.

Hopefully you'll agree that the result looks pretty cool!

San Francisco Bay Area map on wood.
Our San Francisco Bay Area wood mounted map.

If you've read this far you should check out our available maps. I'm really proud of how our images look on our website but I promise, they are even more incredible on the wall!

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