• garycollins24

This Beautiful World Blog 3 | The Impact of Long Shadows | Flam and Anchorage

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

Welcome to my third blog in the "This Beautiful World" Series which focuses on sharing my learnings around visualising maps, using Mapbox and Tableau.

The previous blog focused on learning how small changes to colour and detail can really make your maps Pop! In this blog I am going to focus on my experimenting with long shadows in Mapbox, and the vizzes of Flam and Anchorage I produced. If you missed the last blog and introduction to this series, please have a read of these first.


The Thinking Behind the Viz

Building on my previous blog, ‘Its all about the details...’ where I experimented with very subtle effects making a huge difference in map vizzes, I wanted to learn how to create long shadows on maps in Mapbox. It is a very subtle effect, but gives extra depth and feel to the viz. I was inspired to try this technique out after watching Jonni Walker's excellent webinar. I can thoroughly recommend watching this webinar.

I had been to Flam in Norway a couple of years ago, and recalled the amazing views of the Fjords, and thought this would make a great base to practice long shadows of the Hills.


Building the Viz

Both the viz of Flam in Norway, and Anchorage in Alaska, USA used exactly the same settings in Mapbox.

Right, lets jump in. I am going to make the assumption that you have read my previous blogs and have got orientated with the basics of Mapbox, including how to bring various layers into a Mapbox map. If you aren’t aware how to do this, please read the earlier 2 blogs first.

There are 5 layers that I have used in Mapbox to achieve this map:

Mapbox Satellite

Mapbox terrain-rgb



*THE IMPORTANT ONE* 15 Hillshades grouped together to give the shadow effect.

Firstly I created a blank template in Mapbox.

Next, I brought in the Mapbox Satellite layer, leaving all the settings as standard. This will give the viz the colouring of the natural earth covering.

Next I brought in the layer ‘Mapbox terrain-rgb’.

The colours I used were :

Shadow Colour : #333c25

Highlight Colour : #ffffff

Accent Colour : # fb1313

Intensity was 0.5 for all colours.

This is the terrain layer on its own…

…and this is what it did when combining to the Satellite layer…

The combination of both the Satellite layer and terrain layers are really powerful, highlighting the natural contours of the land. I spent a while playing with the colours of the terrain on these 2 layers.

I then brought in the water layer, and then changed the colour of this to white. This totally removed any water from the viz, and meant that I was then able to really highlight the shadows of the land onto where the water would have been.

Next, I brought in the Hillshade layer. I wanted to give the viz the effect of the sun setting over the Fjords, and so decided to add a very subtle pink colour. The colours I chose were:

Hightlight colours: #e86fec with a the intensity set at 9.

Fall back colour : #d19257 with the intensity set at 5.

As you can see from looking at this layer on its own, it is super subtle…

…but adds a nice pinkish feel on the mountains when added to the other layers.

As you have been reading this, it may have sounded that I chose the colours in a very linear fashion, layer by layer. In reality, I was playing with the colour of all the layers as I was building the map to get the feel I was after. By this point I have got a good looking map of Flam…but no shadows!

Right, onto the shadows.

To do this, I brought the Hillshade layer into the map again, and save it the following colour #0f0f0f with an intensity set at 1. I then copied this layer another 14 times, and grouped them all together. Lastly, I changed the fill translate for both x and y by 1 pixel for each layer, starting a x=1 and y=1 for the first layer, through to x=15 and y=15 for the last layer.

This translate allows an ‘offset’ of the layer from its original position, and this, combined with the very low intensity setting on 1 will create the shadows. Looking at the layer on its own, it doesn’t look very impressive:

…however when combined with the others, it creates some beautiful shadows:

And there you have it. 5 layers, lots of experimenting with colours, and then using 15 Hillshade layers grouped and each with a growing count of x and y fill translate to give the long shadow effect.

After this, I then brought this map into Tableau, and built the viz. Again, if you don’t know how to bring a mapbox map into Tableau, check out this blog to help you.

I hope you have enjoyed blog 3 in my "This Beautiful World" series and this will help you get to grips with Mapbox to bring new life into your vizzes.

Next in blog 4, I am going to explain how I created the following viz, where my learning objective was to be able to plot a road on a beautiful map:

Thanks for reading!