What is a GeoTIFF?

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Image files such as digitized maps, satellite imagery, and aerial imagery can come in different formats.  In order to use this type of imagery within GIS software, georeferencing information has to be included.  For many image formats such as TIFF and JPEG files, the georeferencing information is contained in a separate sidecar file with .tfw and .jfw extensions respectively.

How Georeferencing Information is Stored for TIFF and JPEG Image Files

In this example, a world raster image stored as a TIFF  (Tagged Image File Format) file has an accompanying .tfw file.  This file contains georeferencing information in the form of the six rows.  First row is the X-direction pixel size.  Second and third row are the rotational components which in this case are set to zero as the image is not rotated.  The fourth row is the Y-direction pixel resolution (which is almost always negative).  The fifth and sixth rows are the coordinates of the upper left pixel for the image.

GeoTIFF Georeferencing

A GeoTIFF  is a public domain metadata standard which has the georeferencing information embedded within the image file so there is no accompany .tfw file needed.  The georeferencing information is included by way of tif tags that contains spatial information about the image file such as map projection, coordinate systems, ellipsoids, datums.  The Open Geospatial Consortium recently published the OGC GeoTIFF standards which specifies “requirements and encoding rules for using the Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) for the exchange of georeferenced or geocoded imagery.”  Prior to that, GeoTIFF standards had been last updated in 2000 by the developer of the GeoTIFF, Niles Ritter.

To use a GeoTIFF within a GIS software application, you will only load in a .tif file with any accompanying sidecar .tfw file.

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