Hal Shelton Revisted: Designing and Producing Natural-Color Maps with Satellite Land Cover Data

Tom Patterson, US National Park Service
Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso, National Geographic

Published in Cartographic Perspectives (No. 47, Winter 2004), the journal of the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS).


We report with sadness that Hal Shelton (photo) passed away on November 2, 2004.


This paper examines natural-color maps by focusing on the painted map art of Hal Shelton, the person most closely associated with developing the genre during the mid twentieth century. Advocating greater use of natural-color maps by contemporary cartographers, we discuss the advantages of natural-color maps compared to physical maps made with hypsometric tints; why natural-color maps, although admired, have remained comparatively rare; and the inadequacies of using satellite images as substitutes for natural-color maps. Seeking digital solutions, the paper then introduces techniques for designing and producing natural-color maps that are economical and within the skill range of most cartographers. The techniques, which use Adobe Photoshop software and satellite land cover data, yield maps similar in appearance to those made by Shelton, but with improved digital accuracy. Full-color illustrations show examples of Shelton’s maps and those produced by digital techniques.


PDF (2.4MB)



Natural-color maps
made from NLCD and


Sample MODIS natural-color map (layered Photoshop file, 6.4MB)

Sample NLCD of USA (TIF file,152KB)

Photoshop color look up table for NLCD and natural color (4KB)

Mac and PC Photoshop Droplet for buffering (68KB)


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