Photogrammetry vs. LiDAR Scanning: Understanding Their Benefits and Limitations

In the realm of remote sensing and spatial data collection, two prominent technologies stand out: photogrammetry and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanning. Both methods are used for creating accurate 3D models and maps of natural and manmade environments, but they differ significantly in their approach and capabilities. Understanding these differences, along with their respective benefits and limitations, is crucial for professionals in fields like surveying, archaeology, forestry, and urban planning.

Photogrammetry: Capturing the World in Images

Photogrammetry involves the use of photography to measure and record the 3D structure of a scene. It’s a process that stitches together multiple overlapping photographs taken from different angles, typically from a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), to create detailed 3D models and maps.

Benefits of Photogrammetry:

  • Cost-Effectiveness: Generally, photogrammetry is less expensive compared to LiDAR, making it more accessible for small-scale projects or organizations with limited budgets.
  • High-Resolution Imagery: Photogrammetry provides high-resolution colored images, which are useful for detailed analysis of the surface features, including textures and colors.
  • Flexibility: It can be performed with standard cameras, including those found on drones, making it a versatile option for various applications.

Limitations of Photogrammetry:

  • Light and Weather Dependency: Photogrammetry relies heavily on lighting conditions and is less effective in low light or at night. Bad weather can also impede the quality of the imagery.
  • Time-Consuming Data Processing: The process of stitching together and analyzing hundreds or thousands of photos can be time-intensive.
  • Lower Accuracy in Dense Vegetation: Photogrammetry might struggle to penetrate thick vegetation, making it less effective for mapping terrain in heavily forested areas.

LiDAR Scanning: Precision Through Laser Light

LiDAR scanning uses laser light to measure distances to the Earth’s surface. This technology emits rapid pulses of laser light and measures the time it takes for each pulse to
bounce back after hitting an object. These measurements are then used to create highly accurate 3D representations of the scanned area.

Benefits of LiDAR Scanning:

  • High Accuracy and Precision: LiDAR provides extremely accurate distance measurements, resulting in precise 3D models.
  • Effective in Various Conditions: Unlike photogrammetry, LiDAR is effective in low-light conditions and can be used at night. It’s also less affected by weather conditions.
  • Penetration of Vegetation: LiDAR can penetrate dense vegetation, making it capable of mapping the ground surface in forested areas.

Limitations of LiDAR Scanning:

  • Cost: LiDAR technology tends to be more expensive than photogrammetry, both in terms of the equipment and the processing power required.
  • Lack of Visual Data: LiDAR data does not include color or texture information, which can be a drawback for projects that require detailed surface imagery.
  • Data Overload: The high level of detail in LiDAR data can lead to large datasets that are resource-intensive to process and analyze.


Both photogrammetry and LiDAR scanning have their place in spatial data collection and 3D modeling. The choice between the two largely depends on the specific requirements of the project, budget constraints, and the desired outcome. Photogrammetry is excellent for projects requiring high-resolution imagery and color data at a lower cost, while LiDAR is unparalleled in its precision and ability to capture data in challenging environments. In some cases, combining both methods can provide the most comprehensive understanding of a surveyed area, leveraging the strengths of each technology. Most of the projects we work on comprise of using both technologies to provide our customers with the best possible actionable data. What will you use?