Feb 28, 2022

Application of photogrammetry on rock slope characterization

  • Article
  • Photogrammetry
  • Rock slope characterization
  • Joint mapping

Analyzing discontinuities in the rock mass is important when evaluating rock slope stability. Conventional methods for collecting joint data, such as field joint study, window mapping and scanline mapping, are time-consuming and labour-intensive when studying joint sets, fault zones and rock mass classification. It’s even more challenging when there is limited access. The photogrammetry method has been widely used in constructing digital terrain models and rock slope characterization in the past decade and offers a fast and inexpensive way over other remote sensing methods and approaches, such as LiDAR and 3D laser scanning.

  1. Photogrammetry and structure from motion

    Photogrammetry is a technique that uses light rays captured by a camera. The technique fundamentally utilizes two two-dimensional (2D) images of the same object taken from different locations to create a three-dimensional representation of this object. Conventional photogrammetry requires the 3D location of control points or camera positions (locations and orientations). A stereo pair of images is processed to identify the corresponding control points in each image to calculate the 3D coordinates of the common points among the images as well as the camera locations and orientations by complex bundle adjustment algorithms.

    Structure from motion (SfM) is an advanced photogrammetric technique that adopts the same basic principles of conventional photogrammetry, but SfM can determine the camera positions and orientations without specifying the 3D coordinates of control points. With SfM, the camera position is calculated using highly redundant, interactive bundle adjustment algorithms to extract the features from multiple overlapping images and to generate sparse point clouds. The sparse point clouds are then further processed to generate denser point clouds using the multiple view stereo (MVS) approach.

    Application in digitizing rock slope and joint mapping

    Any camera can be used for photogrammetry, such as digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, mirrorless cameras or cellphone cameras. However, better quality cameras and lenses can deliver better images, which yields better 3D model quality. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones are becoming popular as a useful tool to acquire geometric data for rock faces.

    A typical workflow when using photogrammetry to digitize rock slopes includes:

    1. placing the ground control points (GCPs) on or near the rock slope area.
    2. surveying the coordinates of the GCPs or camera locations.
    3. capturing multiple photos of the rock face.
    4. post-processing collected images in photogrammetry software.

    Georeferencing, camera settings and image capture techniques affect the quality and accuracy of obtained models. The accuracy can be less than a few centimeters for 3D models with good georeferencing and practice.

    Structural orientations, joint spacing and joint roughness can be measured on the 3D models of a rock slope for joint analysis. Figure 1 shows an example of a digital terrain model of rock slope with joint mapping. The model was constructed using images taken by an iPhone 12.

  2. Advantages and limitations

    Using photogrammetry to characterize rock slope has many advantages:

    • Fieldwork is fast, cost-effective and saves time and money for desktop interpretation
    • Minimizes the risk of fieldwork
    • Minimizes the impact on site activities
    • Gears are less expensive, easier and faster to use
    • Offers permanent records of rock slope condition

    However, it has the following limitations:

    • Surface covered by vegetation, snow or other objects will not be captured because light cannot pass through.
    • Different lighting conditions and shadows on a rock face between images may make it more difficult for algorithms during the image matching process.


    Applying photogrammetry when investigating, characterizing and assessing rock slope stability is accurate, fast, low-risk and cost-effective, especially when there is limited access. BBA’s geotechnical team has expertise in rock slope stability investigation, rock mass characterization, stability analysis and ground support designs in various projects. BBA will support clients with their needs for any rock slope stability and design challenges!

This content is for general information purposes only. All rights reserved ©BBA

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