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Generate elevation data using the DEMs wizard

Available with Advanced license.

Elevation data can be derived from the stereo image pairs using photogrammetry algorithms. A stereo pair is two images of same area taken from different angles at different geolocations. The stereo image pairs of an image collection are used to generate a point cloud (3D points) for which elevation data can be derived.

Stereo image pairs collected from different angles

The 3D points generated from stereo pairs in the DEMs wizard are classified to two categories: ground (bare earth) and above ground (buildings and trees). The elevation data derived from points of a ground type is called DTM and elevation data derived from points of above ground type is referred to DSM. The derived elevation will be used to orthorectify the image collection in the ortho mapping workspace.

DTM and hillshaded DSM

Elevation can be derived when the image collection has a good amount of overlap to form the stereo pairs. Typical image overlap to produce point clouds is 80 percent forward overlap along a flight line and 60 percent overlap between flight lines, so that every location on the ground is covered by multiple images. It is often used in processing drone images, digital aerial images, or certain satellite images captured specifically for stereo applications.

The DEMs wizard can to generate two types of digital elevation products: a digital terrain model (DTM), or a digital surface model (DSM). This wizard provides two preconfigured steps to produce the outputs:

  1. Generate point cloud to construct stereo pairs from the image collection, in order to compute the point cloud.
  2. Interpolate a raster at a user defined resolution from the point cloud.

You can modify the default processing parameters, but you cannot remove a step. If you wish to perform a specific step, you can use the Custom wizard.

Point Cloud Settings page

The first step is specifying the parameters for the Point Cloud Settings page.

Parameters for Point Cloud Settings

Parameter nameDescription

Matching Method

There are three matching methods for generating point cloud:

  • ETM (Extended Terrain Matching)—is a feature-based stereo matching in which the Harris operator is used in detecting feature points. It is recommended for DTM generation.
  • SGM (Semi-Global Matching)—is an algorithm which produces points that are denser and with detail info of the terrain. It can be used for images of urban areas. This is more computational intensive than ETM.1
  • ESGM (enhanced SGM)—produces sharper edges for buildings.

Maximum Object Size (in meters)

A search radius that is used to filter out objects above ground. Objects smaller than the threshold will be filtered as ground otherwise it will be treated as objects such as buildings, bridges, or trees.

Point Ground Spacing

Defines the spacing, in meters, at which the 3D points are generated.

The default spacing is five times the source image pixel size.

Minimum Intersection Angle (in degrees)

The value, in degrees, that defines the minimum angle the stereo pair must meet. The default is 10.

Maximum Intersection Angle (in degrees)

The value, in degrees, that defines the maximum angle the stereo pair must meet. The default is 70.

Minimum Area Overlap

The percentage of overlapping area over the whole image. The default is 0.6.

Maximum Omega / Phi Difference (in degrees)

The maximum threshold for the Omega/Phi difference, between the two image pairs. The Omega values and Phi values for the image pairs are compared. If the difference between either the two Omega or the two Phi values is above the threshold, the pairs will not be formatted as a stereo pair.

The default threshold difference, for each comparison, is 8.

Maximum GSD Difference

The threshold for the maximum ground sample distance (GSD) between two images in a pair. If the resolution ratio between the two images is greater than the threshold value, the pairs will not be built as a stereo pair. The default is 2.

Number of Image Pairs

The number of pairs used to generate 3D points. The default value is a minimum of 2 image pairs.

Sometimes a location may be covered with many image pairs. In this case, the tool will order the pairs based on the various threshold parameters specified within this tool. The pairs with the highest scores will be used to generate the points.

This parameter limits one pair to be used too many times. The parameters that affect the order of the stereo pair, besides Minimum Intersection Angle, Maximum Intersection Angle, Minimum Area Overlap, may also include Maximum Omega / Phi Difference, Maximum GSD Difference, and Adjustment Quality Threshold.

Adjustment Quality Threshold

Specify the minimum adjustment quality that is acceptable. The threshold value will be compared to the adjustment quality value that is stored within the stereo model. Image pairs with an adjustment quality less than the specified threshold will receive a score of 0 for this criteria and will descend in the ordered list. The range of values for the threshold is from 0 to 1. The default value is 0.2, which is equal to 20 percent.

DEM Interpolation Settings page

The second step is specifying the parameters for the DEM Interpolation Settings page.

Parameters for DEM Interpolation Settings

Parameter nameDescription

Surface Type

Create a digital terrain model or a digital surface model.

  • DTM—Create a digital terrain model by interpolating only the raster surface using ground only points.
  • DSM—Create a digital surface model by interpolating a raster using all the points; both ground and above around points.


The cell size of the output raster dataset.


The format for the output raster dataset:

  • Cloud Raster Format
  • TIFF Format
  • Meta Raster Format.

Interpolation Method

The method used to interpolate the output raster dataset from the point cloud.

  • TIN Linear Interpolation—Also known as triangulated irregular network (TIN) linear interpolation designed for irregularly distributed sparse points, such as solution points from block adjustment computation.
  • TIN Natural Neighbor Interpolation—This is similar to triangulation but generates a smoother surface and is more computationally intensive.
  • Inverse Distance Weighted Average Interpolation—This is used for regularly distributed dense points, such as point cloud LAS files from the Generate Point Cloud tool. The IDW search radius is automatically computed based on average point density.

Smoothing Method

Select a filter to smooth the output raster dataset.

  • Gaussian 3 by 3—A Gaussian filter with a 3 by 3 window.
  • Gaussian 5 by 5—A Gaussian filter with a 5 by 5 window.
  • Gaussian 7 by 7—A Gaussian filter with a 7 by 7 window.
  • Gaussian 9 by 9—A Gaussian filter with a 9 by 9 window.
  • No smoothing—No smoothing filter is applied.

Fill Missing Pixels Using

A DEM raster input that is used to fill NoData areas. Areas of NoData may exist where pixels do not have enough information, from the input, to generate any values.

Orthorectify images using DEM

The generated DEM will be used to refine the orthorectification of the image collection. This is the default behavior.

if you do not wish to replace the current elevation model of the with the newly generated DEM, you can uncheck the option.


  1. Heiko Hirschmuller et al., "Memory Efficient Semi-Global Matching," ISPRS Annals of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences, Volume 1–3, (2012): 371–376.

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