ArcGIS Living Atlas

Hack a silky hillshade in ArcGIS Online with effects and blends and gumption

The glories of the World Hillshade tile layer are rich and varied. It provides beautiful terrain context for so many basemaps. Sometimes when I add World Hillshade to a web map, I find I get lost in the rapturous texture of our shared planet, just panning and zooming to areas of geological wonder.

But not being able to leave well enough alone, the burning ember of visual effects and blend modes calls to me…whispering little ideas like, “hey, maybe you can use blur to create a more diffuse multidirectional hillshade and blend it into a crisp version of the hillshade” or “say, maybe you can hack a mask effect by boosting the contrast of the hillshade and using the screen blend mode.”

These are the things that I wonder, then try, and then retroactively rationalize and document. For example…

So I hope you engage in some experimental extra-curriculars when you fire up the World Hillshade tile layer in ArcGIS Online. You might find that the extra-curriculars become the curriculars when you like what you make and start sneaking them into your work. And others get to benefit from the bit of adventure where you discovered something new and useful.

This sort of process reminds me of one of my favorite lyrics, written by Regina Spektor…

…this is how it worksYou peer inside yourselfYou take the things you likeAnd try to love the things you tookAnd then you take that love you madeAnd stick it into someSomeone else’s heartPumping someone else’s blood

Happy mapping! John

P.S. If you want to play around with this hillshade already set up, here’s a link to the map made in this video.

About the author

I have far too much fun looking for ways to understand and present data visually, hopefully driving product strategy and engaging users. I work in the ArcGIS Living Atlas team at Esri, pushing and pulling data in all sorts of absurd ways and then sharing the process. I also design user experiences for maps and apps. When I'm not doing those things, I'm chasing around toddlers and wrangling chickens, and generally getting into other ad-hoc adventures. Life is good. You might also like these Styles for ArcGIS Pro:

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