Comparison of terrestrial LiDAR and digital hemispherical photography for estimating leaf angle distribution in European broadleaf beech forests

Jing Liu*, Tiejun Wang, Andrew K. Skidmore, Simon Jones, Marco Heurich, Burkhard Beudert, Joe Premier

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    Leaf inclination plays a crucial role in regulating the radiation, carbon and water fluxes in plant canopies. Accurate measurement of the probability density function of leaf inclination (i.e., the leaf angle distribution or leaf inclination distribution function (LIDF)), is very important for modelling photosynthesis as well as measuring leaf area index. In spite of its importance, in situ measurement of LIDF is very challenging. Both digital hemispherical photography (DHP) and terrestrial LiDAR (TLS) have been used to measure LIDF. However, the consistency and relative accuracy of these two techniques has never been evaluated.

    In this research, we aimed to evaluate which in situ technique, either DHP or TLS, could measure LIDF more accurately, with respect to both field-based and synthetic datasets. The field-based datasets were collected from 36 natural European beech stands covering a range of forest structures. The synthetic datasets were generated from 44 virtual forest scenes using TLS and DHP simulators. Due to the inability of differing leaf and woody materials in DHP, the average plant inclination angle (θ¯) from DHP and TLS was selected for LIDF comparison. The average inclination angle (θ¯) was retrieved from TLS point clouds using a geometric method, and from DHP using three gap fraction inversion methods including the NC method (Norman and Campbell, 1989), as well as the CAN-EYE and Hemisfer software. Results from the field-based datasets showed a significant difference and inconsistency between the average inclination angle (θ¯) retrieved from TLS and DHP (respectively θ¯∈(40°, 58°) from TLS, (15°, 86°) from DHP NC, (36°, 78°) from DHP CAN-EYE, (0°, 67°) from DHP Hemisfer).

    Results from the synthetic datasets demonstrated that the accuracy of θ¯ from TLS was considerably higher than that obtained from DHP (R2: 0.90 > 0.74; RMSE: 5.38° < 13.30°).

    This study demonstrated that the LIDF estimated from TLS and DHP were not coherent. Based on the experimental results as well as deduction from theoretical arguments, we recommended using TLS when measuring leaf inclination in broadleaf forests, especially for stands with a heterogeneous structure.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)76-89
    Number of pages14
    JournalISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


    • Leaf inclination
    • Leaf orientation
    • Leaf angle distribution
    • Terrestrial LiDAR
    • Digital hemispherical photography
    • Gap fraction


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