Colour image showing the outline of a barn in shades of blue and green. Structural elements are visible in a darker blue

Section through Harmondsworth Barn showing the intensity of the return pulse from laser scanning © Historic England
Section through Harmondsworth Barn showing the intensity of the return pulse from laser scanning © Historic England

Geospatial Imaging

Specialist survey techniques, such as photogrammetry and laser scanning, are a fundamental component of any heritage project.

Often referred to as metric or measured survey, they provide visual and metrically accurate base data for a variety of heritage applications including conservation planning, condition surveys, decay monitoring, recording, architectural analysis, archaeological investigation and site presentation.

Here you can learn about the following apects of these methods:


Colour photograph of a man setting up a total station theodolite on a tripod in front of an old barn
Undertaking survey work at Harmondsworth Great Barn, Hillingdon, Greater London © Pat Payne © Historic England


Colour photograph of a man using a total station theodolite with some ruined walls in the background
David Andrews using a Leica TS15i imaging total station theodolite to undertake survey work at Byland Abbey, North Yorkshire © Paul Bryan © Historic England

Laser scanning provides a fast, automatic method of recording historic places using laser light for measuring in 3D.

Colour photograph of a man setting up a laser scanner with target on a tripod in the foreground and church in the background
Paul Bryan using the Faro Focus 3D to laser scan the structure at Harmondsworth Barn © Pat Payne © Historic England

3D Laser Scanning for Heritage

Published 8 February 2018

3rd Edition. Advice and guidance on the use of laser scanning in archaeology and architecture

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Structure-from-Motion (SfM)

Recent developments in multi-image photogrammetry and machine vision have led to increased use of Structure-from-Motion (SfM) across aerial, terrestrial and close-range applications. SfM allows three-dimensional structures to be derived from two-dimensional image sequences. An application of this technique has included examining Structure-from-Motion photogrammetry of artefacts from Rievaulx Abbey as a means of recording for the English Heritage Curatorial Team at Helmsley Archaeological Store.

You can download some of these recent examples of applying SfM and laser scanning as Research Reports:

Historic England has produced new technical guidance about the archaeological application of photogrammetry with particular reference to Structure from Motion (SfM) techniques. This new publication raises awareness of the issues that are commonly encountered and the many potential uses for photogrammetry across a wide variety of scales, ranging from landscapes to small objects.

Colour image showing lots of blue rectangles around a pair of stone heads. Each rectangle denotes the position of the camera
Digital imagery captured with multiple overlap can be processed within Structure-from-Motion software, such as Agisoft Photoscan, to create a detailed three dimensional model © Paul Bryan © Historic England

Photogrammetric Applications for Cultural Heritage

Published 31 October 2017

This guidance covers the practical application of photogrammetry in recording cultural heritage, with particular reference to structure from motion (SfM) techniques.

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Multi-light imaging

Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) is an innovative multi-light imaging technique that utilises a pre-fabricated dome to produce an interactive output for revealing subtle surface relief.

Colour schematic showing a dome with a camera at the top and a series of angles running down the outside
The virtual lighting dome, centred around a virtual clock, as used to acquire imagery for Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) © Drawn by John Vallender © Historic England

Survey standards and specifications

Use of a defined survey standard allows:

  • An understanding of the project requirements by both client and end-user 
  • Accountability
  • Data consistency
  • Management of client expectation
  • A focus on what an end-user needs from a survey technology.
Colour photograph showing four people gathered around to look at a GPS receiver, with Kenilworth Castle in the background
Using a hand-held GNSS receiver to map the archaeological landcape around Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire © Lucy Millson-Watkins © Historic England

Metric Survey Specifications for Cultural Heritage

To ensure metric survey data is both appropriate and 'fit for purpose', Historic England has developed a standard specification for metric survey

Now in its third edition this document includes all metric survey techniques that are currently applied across a range of heritage applications. This includes laser scanning, multi-image photogrammetry/Structure-from-Motion (SfM), the capture of low level aerial imagery using Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA) and Building Information Modelling (BIM), that are all being increasingly applied across cultural heritage professions.

The title ‘Metric Survey Specifications for Cultural Heritage’ reflects a more generic approach to specification as now used by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

There are further client guides available from The Survey Association.

Metric Survey Specifications for Cultural Heritage

Published 15 September 2015

A revised and updated third edition of specifications widely used by heritage professionals throughout the historic environment sector.

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Traversing the Past

Published 15 February 2016

This publication is one of a series on archaeological field survey techniques published by Historic England. It covers the electronic total station theodolite (TST) and its use in landscape archaeology.

Learn more

Building Information Modelling (BIM)

BIM is a process of illustrating, in digital terms, all the elements that compose a building. It allows a project team to collaborate and create a single source of data that assists construction, estate & facilities management processes throughout the life-cycle of a building.


Screenshot of 3D model of a small wooden building with the menus ad toolbars from the program visible around the edges
Revit model for the Swiss Cottage at Osborne House, Isle of Wight. The creation of a BIM model allows the illustration, in digital terms, of all the elements that compose a building. © Historic England

Within Historic England an internal BIM Special Interest Group (BIMSIG) is considering the impact of BIM across heritage through the Heritage Science Strategy. Historic England commissioned consultants Ramboll to produce a report on the application of BIM for heritage science contexts.

We have also produced guidance on developing a BIM model for historic buildings.

BIM for Heritage

Published 20 July 2017

This publication raises awareness of the potential advantages of a BIM approach to help users successfully implement BIM in heritage projects.

Learn more

Paul Bryan

Geospatial Imaging Manager

Paul Bryan heads up the York-based Geospatial Imaging team that takes the corporate lead across Historic England on applying modern image and laser based survey approaches across heritage. Awarded Fellowship of the RICS in 2013 he has extensive knowledge of image based survey including photogrammetry, laser scanning, low-level aerial imaging using drones and is the Historic England lead on Building Information Modelling (BIM) for Heritage.

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