Before we jump into this article, I want to set the stage properly. This piece is not meant to be an exposé nor is it meant to be a definitive statement on ArcGIS and GeoTIFFs. Rather it is an article based on recent observations we have made when providing processed satellite images in GeoTIFF format to our clients. And well to keep it simple, we have run into multiple instances recently of clients using ArcGIS Desktop versions 10.5.x to 10.6.x having issues with GeoTIFFs we provided to them when they did not have these same technical issues in the past. I can lump these issues into two categories: accuracy or georeferencing errors; and visualization errors.
When it comes to positional errors all of the issues have been related to State Plane projections in the United States, Colorado and California more specifically. After orthorectifying the imagery to known control, the GeoTIFFs were provided to several clients and when loaded in ArcGIS 10.5 or higher, the image appeared hundreds of miles from where it should. After struggling to a find a solution, I exported the same GeoTIFF files the client had issues with to GeoTIFF format again but used ArcGIS Desktop 10.3.1 for the export and it worked magic, solving the problems instantly. After inspecting both files, no one could figure out what changed, but it worked so sweet!
A more recent issue we have seen is related to the visualization of a color only GeoTIFF. When the file was loaded into my version of ArcGIS (i.e. 10.3.1), it looked perfect. However, when the client loaded the exact same file in ArcGIS 10.6.1, it displayed as a completely black tile on the top half and then as a weird red-colored image on the bottom half. Again, no solution seemed to work until the client simply exported the GeoTIFF to IMG format and what do you know, it worked perfectly! Weird stuff and again no seemingly logical reason that solution worked but we were glad it did!
Automated Color Balance in ArcGIS
As a final note to this short article, I would like to harken back to an article I wrote in 2014 about ArcGIS 10.x and its application of a color balance to all raster images. Now this might sound like a good idea when you have 16-bit imagery that is not color corrected, but if you have an 8-bit image that has been corrected, this automatic balance will make the colors look just awful. So before you panic, check out the YouTube video here and the article linked to above for some tips on turning off the automatic balance that ArcGIS 10.x will apply to your data!
Thanks for the time and happy GIS-ing. We would love to hear your own stories with GeoTIFF struggles in ArcGIS – leave a comment below if you have a story!
Brock Adam McCarty