Monoplotting Tool

Reconstructing the landscape dynamic using historical pictures

Developed in the first half of the nineteenth century, photograhy soon became a very effective method of documenting landscape features and dynamics. As a result, many large collections of old photographs in public or private archives exist, representing an enormous resource for the study of landscape evolution and land use change. Unfortunately, on account of the difficulties in obtaining quantitative geographical data from single oblique pictures, this resource long remained unexploited by most researchers in historical geography. In fact, reconstructions of landscape history are often based on the analysis of old maps or aerial photographs.

In recent times, the general increase in computing power, the improvements in digital elevation models (DEM), as well as the implementation of user-friendly and versatile releases of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have opened new perspectives for a broad use of single terrestrial oblique pictures for photogrammetric purposes. Monophotogrammetry or monoplotting, mono-photogrammetry or monoplotting represents a photogrammetric system where single oblique and unrectified photographd or aerial (nadir) images are related to the digital elevation models (DEM) of the corresponding real world. In practical terms the camera, the picture and the DEM are related to each other so that a line from the camera center and passing through a selected point in the picture plane, will intersect the land surface (DEM) in the corresponding real point.

At the WSL we developed a new monoplotting interface with the aim of offering an intuitive platform for georeferencing and orthorectifying ordinary individual oblique photographs. Resulting calibrated images allow the user to produce georeferenced vector data by drawing them directly on the pictures and exchanging them with traditional GIS-Systems. Resulting polygons may be visualized on terrestrial pictures (Fig. 1) or orthophotos and maps. Similarly, present geographical elements can be projected on historical pictures.

Furthermore, thanks to the cooperation and the financial support of FOEN, the present monoplotting release 2.0 offers an interface to the StorMe 3.0 platform to facilitate the description and documentation of natural hazards events. See below, as well the FOEN page on StorMe Naturereigniskataster (German, French or Italian)

Image 1 of 5
Fig. 1: When carefully looking at this picture dating back to the beginning of the 20 century, one can detect several semi-natural channels for the downhill transport of timber (green: interpretation highly reliable, red: interpretation doubtful).
Image 2 of 5
Fig. 2: Thanks to the WSL monoplotting tool it is now possible to plot the recognized channels (usually called «óva», «tracióo» «tröcc», «vandüll» o «vestacc» in the local language) on the historical picture on a 1:10’000 map.
Image 3 of 5
In the georeferenced historical picture of Loco dated at 1885 we digitalized the bulk of former terraced vineyards ...
Image 4 of 5
… and reproduced them on the present map.
Image 5 of 5
Thanks to the WSL monoplotting tool it is also possible to visualize present geographical elements on a historical picture, so for instance the contour lines of the present DEM on the historical picture of Loco

Terms of use

The WSL Monoplotting Tool is shareware. It may be used and redistributed freely for non-profit purposes, as long as no modifications are done to the original distribution package. The author retains the copyright of the software.

If you choose to use the program, please provide us with

  • your name and e-mail address
  • the name of your organisation, if applicable
  • a short description of the project you are using the program for

Please send this, as well as any questions, remarks and comments to the addresses mentioned under contacts. In return we will keep you informed on updates and any news on the subject.

If you write scientific articles including results obtained using the WSL Monoplotting tool, you must include a proper citation. Because the status of our own publication will change with time, the proper citation must be checked when your article is submitted or resubmitted after revision.




Fischer, R.; Bozzini, C., 2013: Fotos wie Karten lesen. Horizonte – Das Schweizer Forschungsmagazin Nr. 96, März 2013 (pdf)

Fischer, R.; Bozzini, C., 2013: Lire les photos comme des cartes. Horizons - Le magazine suisse de la recherche scientifique no 96, Mars 2013 (pdf)

Wiesmann, S.; Steiner, L.; Pozzi, M.; Bozzini, C.; Hurni, L., 2012: Reconstructing Historic Glacier States Based on Terrestrial Oblique Photograph.AutoCarto International Symposium on Automated Cartography, Columbus, Ohio, USA, 16-18 September 2012 (pdf)


Related work by users

  • A century of landscape change in the southern Rocky Mountains and Foothills of Alberta: Using historical photography to quantify ecological change by Christopher Alec Stockdale (PhD thesis)
  • Assessment of the viability of worldwide application of the WSL Monoplotting Tool in reconstruction of past glacier stands by Iris Hansche (bachelor thesis)