A cartographer studies a map on a backlit table

A cartographer and photogrammetrist could...

Survey rough terrain by plane to create accurate maps. Aerial photo of sparse fields next to a river Use photos to make a map of the Moon's craters. Magnified image of the Moon
Create nautical charts to help guide ships through treacherous waters. Close-up image of lines on a nautical chart Develop city maps to help tourists find their way. Three people look at a paper map
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Maps can give us much more information than ways to get from A to B. Maps can give us topographic, climate, and even political information. Cartographers and photogrammetrists collect a vast amount of data, such as aerial data and survey data to produce accurate maps and models. For example, by collecting rainfall data, a cartographer can make an accurate model of how rainfall can affect an area's watershed. The maps and models can then be used by policy makers to make informed decisions.
Key Requirements Mathematical reasoning; comfort with computers; the ability to see patterns in distracting materials; the ability to add, subtract, multiply, or divide quickly and correctly; and the ability to think in three dimensions
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Algebra, geometry, trigonometry; if available, computer science, drafting, and mechanical drawing
Median Salary
Cartographer or Photogrammetrist
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Much Faster than Average (21% or more) In Demand!
Interview Watch an interview with Gennady (Henry) Mogilevich as he discusses, in detail, his career experiences as a geographical information systems guru.
Related Occupations
  • Surveyors
  • Civil drafters
  • Mapping technicians
  • Park rangers
  • City and regional planning aides
  • Postal service mail carriers
  • Mail clerks and mail machine operators, except postal service
  • Bus drivers, transit and intercity
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Most cartographers and photogrammetrists have a bachelor's degree in surveying or a related field. A number of states require cartographers and photogrammetrists to be licensed as surveyors, and some states have specific licenses for photogrammetrists.

The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing has voluntary certification programs for technicians and professionals in photogrammetry, remote sensing, and GIS. To qualify for these professional distinctions, individuals must meet work experience and training standards and pass a written examination. The professional recognition of these certifications can help workers gain promotions.

Education and Training

Cartographers and photogrammetrists usually have a bachelor's degree in cartography, geography, surveying, engineering, forestry, computer science, or a physical science; although a few enter these positions after working as technicians. With the development of GIS, cartographers and photogrammetrists need more education and stronger technical skills—including more experience with computers—than in the past.

Other Qualifications

Cartographers and photogrammetrists should be able to visualize objects, distances, sizes, and abstract forms. They must work with precision and accuracy because mistakes can be costly.

Nature of the Work

Cartographers and photogrammetrists are responsible for measuring and mapping Earth's surface. Cartographers and photogrammetrists collect, analyze, interpret, and map geographic information from surveys and from data and photographs collected using airplanes and satellites. This occupation plays a key role in the field of geospatial information.

Watch this video showing how a geographic information specialist can provide information about a location to help policy makers understand the effects of their decisions.

Photogrammetrists and cartographers measure, map, and chart Earth's surface. Their work involves everything from performing geographical research and compiling data to producing maps. They collect, analyze, and interpret both spatial data (such as latitude, longitude, elevation, and distance) and nonspatial data (such as population density, land-use patterns, annual precipitation levels, and demographic characteristics). Their maps may give both physical and social characteristics of the land. They prepare maps in either digital or graphic form, using information provided by geodetic surveys and remote sensing systems, including aerial cameras, satellites, and LIDAR. LIDAR—light-imaging detection and ranging—uses lasers attached to planes and other equipment to digitally map the topography of Earth. It is often more accurate than traditional surveying methods and also can be used to collect other forms of data, such as the location and density of forests. Data developed by LIDAR can be used by cartographers and photogrammetrists to provide spatial information to specialists in geology, seismology, forestry, and construction, and other fields.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have become an integral tool for cartographers and photogrammetrists. Workers use GIS to assemble, integrate, analyze, and display data about location in a digital format. They also use GIS to compile information from a variety of sources. GIS typically are used to make maps that combine information useful for environmental studies, geology, engineering, planning, business marketing, and other disciplines. As more of these systems are developed, many mapping specialists are being called geographic information specialists.

Work Environment

Cartographers and photogrammetrists spend most of their time in offices using computers. However, certain jobs may require extensive field work to verify results and acquire data.

On the Job

  • Identify, scale, and orient geodetic points, elevations, and other planimetric or topographic features, applying standard mathematical formulas.
  • Collect information about specific features of the Earth using aerial photography and other digital remote sensing techniques.
  • Revise existing maps and charts, making all necessary corrections and adjustments.
  • Compile data required for map preparation, including aerial photographs, survey notes, records, reports, and original maps.
  • Inspect final compositions to ensure completeness and accuracy.
  • Determine map content and layout, as well as production specifications such as scale, size, projection, and colors, and direct production to ensure that specifications are followed.
  • Examine and analyze data from ground surveys, reports, aerial photographs, and satellite images to prepare topographic maps, aerial-photograph mosaics, and related charts.
  • Select aerial photographic and remote sensing techniques and plotting equipment needed to meet required standards of accuracy.
  • Delineate aerial photographic detail such as control points, hydrography, topography, and cultural features using precision stereoplotting apparatus or drafting instruments.
  • Build and update digital databases.
  • Prepare and alter trace maps, charts, tables, detailed drawings, and three-dimensional optical models of terrain using stereoscopic plotting and computer graphics equipment.
  • Determine guidelines that specify which source material is acceptable for use.
  • Study legal records to establish boundaries of local, national, and international properties.
  • Travel over photographed areas to observe, identify, record, and verify all relevant features.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Cartographer or Photogrammetrists

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