MapCarte 285/365: Lake Wakatipu by Simon Bardsley, 2014


Terrain representation is vital to good topographic cartography. It goes a long way to defining the look and feel of a map and has become a subset of cartographic expertise and practice that has defined many cartographers and their research interests and products. Classic terrain representation has long been associated with artists who were able to marry a keen eye for terrain with a well honed artistic ability. We might look at the work of Eduard Imhof as perhaps the finest exponent of hill shading for instance (See MapCarte 58). Many of the very best techniques began their life as manual techniques for which others have experimented with analytical versions. It’s debatable whether analytical techniques retain the elegance and beauty of manual techniques but they are sufficiently developed for map-makers to now be taking their experiments further.

In this example, Simon Bardsley has gone beyond default hillshade techniques to use a multidirectional model which captures the terrain in a stylized way. The shading almost represents contouring and might be seen as terracing if shown using traditional colours (or merely darker on the non-illuminated South-East slopes). Yet he’s used a range of pink and orange hues to subtley shade the hillshade and create a different aesthatic altogether. Bardsley describes the effect he was attempting to convey as a sunrise over the mountains. Certainly, the rich colours give that impression but it perhaps goes further.

MapCarte285_bardsley_detailWhether these are the actual colours one might see is perhaps questionable but it’s the impression evoked. It’s how we relate the palette we see in the real world and mentally merge it with the detailed hillshade. The map is abstract in real terms yet we are able to imagine the mountains at sunrise through the lens Bardsley paints. There’s even some hydrographic detail picked out using the technique which, of course, wouldn’t necessarily look that way in reality but leads us to imagine shimmering, reflecting light as it casts across the surface.

Terrain experimentation often leads to unexpected results. Bardsley illustrates that you can do interesting things with hillshading and analytical terrain representation and we get a beautiful map as a result.


MapCarte 100/365: The Heart of the Grand Canyon by the National Geographic Society, 1978


Bradford and Barbara Washburn were mountaineers, explorers and cartographers.  During an impressive career they were strongly supported by the National Geographic Society and many of Bradford Washburn’s maps are unrivaled in the realm of mountain cartography.

It took seven years and numerous skilled individuals to survey and map the Grand Canyon at 1:24,000.  Washburn’s original maps were combined by Lockwood Mapping, cliff-drawing was by Rudi Dauwalder and Alois Flury in Switzerland and relief-shading crafted by Tibor Toth at National Geographic.  Browns bear similarity with natural wood and textures help immerse readers in the landscape.  The colour transition of the landscape from the vivid green plateaus to the ocher red canyon arms to the deep brown-grey valleys and turquoise waters creates a stunning contrast.  The colour palette is exquisite.


At such a scale, Washburn was able to represent the Canyon in a way never before seen and as a large format poster the map remains a classic National Geographic product for which the Washburns received the Alexander Graham Bell Medal for “unique and notable contributions to geography and cartography.” Maps are simply not made like this any more. It’s the epitome of dedication and commitment to the craft of making a map.

It’s a spectacular map that represents  some of the very best in terms of data acquisition as well as detail, accuracy and cartographic representation. The fact that the map has such a strong aesthetic is the icing on an already impressive cake. If only all maps were made to this standard!

MapCarte 30/365: Tourist Editions of the One Inch map by Ordnance Survey, 1950s/60s


By the middle of the twentieth century, developments in surveying, photogrammetry, cartographic reproduction and printing technology had modernised medium scale topographic mapping. Ordnance Survey’s popular One-inch to the mile series provided the foundation for various tourist editions that demonstrated the mapping technology using the dramatic geography of the united kingdom’s most scenic and varied landscapes. The example here is from the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs Tourist Map (1:63,360) and illustrates the accurate contouring that characterised the work but also the way in which the design effectively captures both high and low relief areas.

The maps could have merely illustrated contours for representing relief but they added purple/grey hill shading for the shaded slopes and a light yellow-buff for the lit slopes that gave character to the slopes and which mimic, to some extent, the purples often seen on heather-clad slopes. Pale green tints are applied to lowland areas. This map would not have worked as well with Imhof-inspired blue hues better suited to mountainous areas and demonstrates that the geography of an area should in part lead the map-maker to make choices in depiction that relate to specifics and not just cartographic principles. There’s a subtlety in the colour choice that works particularly well on this map.