Cartographers and photogrammetrists collect, measure, and interpret geographic information in order to create and update maps and charts for regional planning, education, and other purposes.

Duties

Cartographers typically do the following:

  • Collect geographic data
  • Create visual representations of data, such as annual precipitation patterns
  • Examine and compile data from ground surveys, reports, aerial photographs, and satellite images
  • Prepare maps in digital or graphic form for environmental and educational purposes
  • Update and revise existing maps and charts

Photogrammetrists typically do the following:

  • Plan aerial and satellite surveys to ensure complete coverage of the area in question
  • Collect and analyze spatial data, such as elevation and distance
  • Develop base maps that allow Geographic Information System (GIS) data to be layered on top

Cartographers are mapmakers who design user-friendly maps. Photogrammetrists are specialized mapmakers who use various technologies to build models of the Earth’s surface and its features for the purpose of creating maps.

Cartographers and photogrammetrists use information from geodetic surveys (land surveys that account for the curvature of the Earth’s surface) and remote-sensing systems, including aerial cameras and satellites. Some also use light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology. LIDAR systems use lasers attached to planes or cars to digitally map the topography of the Earth. Because LIDAR is often more accurate than traditional surveying methods, it can also be used to collect other forms of data, such as the location and density of forests.

Cartographers and photogrammetrists often develop online and mobile maps. Interactive maps are popular, and cartographers and photogrammetrists collect data and design these maps for mobile phones and navigation systems.

Cartographers and photogrammetrists also create maps and perform aerial surveys for governments, to aid in urban and regional planning. Such maps may include information on population density and demographic characteristics. Some cartographers and photogrammetrists help build maps for government agencies for work involving national security and public safety. Accurate maps help emergency responders provide assistance as quickly as possible.

Cartographers and photogrammetrists who use GIS technology to create maps are often known as geographic information specialists. GIS technology is typically used to assemble, integrate, analyze, and present spatial information in a digital format. Maps created with GIS technology combine spatial graphic features with data. These maps are used to provide support for decisions involving environmental studies, geology, engineering, land-use planning, and business marketing.

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Work Environment

Cartographers and photogrammetrists held about 11,800 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of cartographers and photogrammetrists were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals       33%
Architectural, engineering, and related services    23
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services    7
State government, excluding education and hospitals    6
Federal government    5

Although cartographers and photogrammetrists spend much of their time in offices, certain jobs require extensive fieldwork to collect data and verify results. For example, cartographers may travel to the physical locations they are mapping to better understand the topography of the region. Similarly, photogrammetrists may conduct fieldwork to plan for aerial surveys and to validate interpretations.

Work Schedules

Most cartographers and photogrammetrists work full time. They may have longer workdays during fieldwork.

Education and Training

Most cartographers and photogrammetrists need a bachelor’s degree in cartography, geography, geomatics, or surveying. Some states require cartographers and photogrammetrists to be licensed as surveyors, and some states have specific licenses for photogrammetrists.

Education

Cartographers and photogrammetrists usually have a bachelor’s degree in cartography, geography, geomatics, or surveying. (Geomatics combines the science, engineering, math, and art of collecting and managing geographically referenced information.) Although it is not as common, some have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, forestry, or computer science.

The growing use of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology has resulted in cartographers and photogrammetrists requiring more courses in computer programming, engineering, math, GIS technology, surveying, and geography.

Cartographers must also be familiar with Web-based mapping technologies, including newer modes of compiling data that incorporate the positioning capabilities of mobile phones and in-car navigation systems.

Photogrammetrists must be familiar with remote sensing, image processing, and light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology, and they must be knowledgeable about using the software that is necessary with these tools.

Many aspiring cartographers and photogrammetrists benefit from internships while in school.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensing requirements for cartographers and photogrammetrists vary by state. Some states require cartographers and photogrammetrists to be licensed as surveyors, and some states have specific licenses for photogrammetry and remote sensing. Although licensing requirements vary by state, candidates must meet educational requirements and pass a test.

Cartographers and photogrammetrists may also receive certification from the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS). The United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation offers certifications for GIS professionals. Candidates must meet experience and education requirements and must pass an exam. Although certifications are not required, they can demonstrate competence and may help candidates get a job.

Personality and Interests

Cartographers and photogrammetrists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a cartographer and photogrammetrist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Cartographers and photogrammetrists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Computer skills. Both cartographers and photogrammetrists must have experience working with computer datasets and coding. Because maps are created digitally, knowing how to edit them on a computer is essential.

Critical-thinking skills. Cartographers work from existing maps, surveys, and other records. To do so, they must be able to determine the thematic and positional accuracy of each feature being mapped.

Decision-making skills. Both cartographers and photogrammetrists must make decisions about the accuracy and readability of a map. They must decide what information they need in order to meet the client's needs.

Detail oriented. Cartographers must focus on details when conceiving a map and deciding on the features needed on a final map. Photogrammetrists must pay close attention to detail when interpreting aerial photographs and remotely sensed data.

Problem-solving skills. Cartographers and photogrammetrists must be able to identify and resolve issues with the tools available to them.

Pay

The median annual wage for cartographers and photogrammetrists was $65,470 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,670, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $103,380.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for cartographers and photogrammetrists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government    $90,800
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services    64,910
Local government, excluding education and hospitals    64,780
Architectural, engineering, and related services    62,280
State government, excluding education and hospitals    58,680

Most cartographers and photogrammetrists work full time. They may have longer workdays during fieldwork.

Job Outlook

Employment of cartographers and photogrammetrists is projected to grow 15 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 1,700 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Consumer demand for accurate and reliable maps is expected to increase the need for more cartographers and photogrammetrists. The expanding use of maps for government planning should fuel employment growth. In addition, the growing number of mobile and Web-based map products should result in new jobs for cartographers and photogrammetrists as they make the information usable by people who are not experts.

The management of forests, waterways, and other natural resources will continue to require constant updating of maps. Cartographers and photogrammetrists will be needed to operate Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which are increasingly being used to map and locate areas that are in need during natural disasters.

Job Prospects

Job prospects are likely to be excellent due to the increasing use of maps in government planning.

For More Information

For more information about cartographers and photogrammetrists, visit

Cartography and Geographic Information Society

For more information about photogrammetrists, photogrammetric technicians, remote-sensing scientists, image-based cartographers, or GIS specialists’ careers, visit

American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing

For information about careers in remote sensing, photogrammetry, surveying, GIS analysis, and other geography-related disciplines, visit

Association of American Geographers

For information related to GIS certification, visit

United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation

 

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