Category Archives: QGIS

Community Health Maps in Michigan: Four Workshops in Four Days in Four Cities!

This past week Kurt Menke traveled to Michigan and taught four Community Health Maps workshops for the University of Michigan. These were organized by the University of Michigan Libraries and were done in four days on four different campuses: Ann Arbor, Flint, Detroit Center and Dearborn.


A map showing the four workshops and the route taken between them.

Due to great outreach by the University of Michigan team of – Tyler Nix, Marisa Conte, Alexa Rivera, Justin Schell, Sara McDonnell, Troy Rosencrants, Kui-Bin Im and Claudia Walters – the workshops had great attendance and ran like clockwork.

The first was held at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor at the Hatcher Graduate Library.  Twenty eight people attended. The audience was mainly a mix of faculty and representatives of local public health/community organizations with a few students. The final hour was reserved for group discussion and Justin Schell did a fantastic job moderating. Ideas for mapping park safety and identifying underserved populations were discussed as projects where mapping could help.


Participants at the Ann Arbor workshop

The second was held the following day at the UM Flint. We started in the University Center Happenings Room and moved to Thompson Library for the afternoon QGIS session. Forty five people came out for this second training, quite a bit more than we expected. This included some walk-ins and late registrants. In addition to faculty and students there were quite a few representatives from local county health departments and non-profits.


UM – Flint workshop participants working on QGIS.

The third was held at the UM Detroit Center on April 4th. Thirty people registered for this workshop. This was probably the most diverse group including some UM faculty, plus Wayne State faculty, county public health staff (including some as far away as Saginaw County) and non-profit public health workers.


Kurt Menke describing Help Resources at the Detroit Center

The fourth was held at UM Dearborn on April 5th. This was the smallest of the four with 20 registrants. However, this allowed us to get a little farther into the capabilities of QGIS.


Data collection at the UM Dearborn campus.

One of the most helpful components was a web page Marisa Conte set up for the workshops. It initially had all the important details for each workshop, including driving directions, links to the slides and workshop data. This alone set a new standard for workshop outreach and organization. During the discussion on the first day she began adding url’s for sites containing useful data and other resources identified during the afternoon discussion. During the week this  evolved into what is now a fantastic resource for everyone who attended. This will be helpful to anyone implementing CHM related projects or those who weren’t able to attend.

For the week  123 people were trained in Community Health Maps! This is a record that may never be broken. However what came out of the week more than the numbers, is the incredible potential for projects that can make a real difference in these communities. I’m looking forward to working more with everyone I met. Thanks again to UM Michigan for organizing such a successful series of workshops.

QGIS 3.6 Noosa Released!

This past weekend QGIS 3.6 Noosa was released as the next stable release. You can visit the QGIS download site to find installers for Windows, Mac and Linux.


At the same time QGIS 3.4 Madeira became the latest long-term release. This means that version 3.4 will be supported for a calendar year with bug fixes. This is now the version you should install and  work with for the next year.


If you have not yet worked with the new 3.x line you can look at the visual changelogs here: Version 3.0 – Version 3.2 – Version 3.4. In general the QGIS 3.x line is a major upgrade from 2.x. I encourage you to install it and make a map!

Mapping Field Photos in QGIS

We are on the eve of another QGIS release. Version 3.6 will be released any day now. This will mark an important milestone in QGIS development. QGIS 3.4 will become the first long-term release for the 3.x line. With 3.6 will come one specific change pertinent to this topic: the Raster Image Marker. Consider this post a small preview of what you can expect with v3.6!

In the typical CHM workshop attendees are shown how to use Fulcrum to download data collection points. These include photos. It is also possible to quickly and easily map any geotagged photo from your smartphone using just QGIS. For this example, I am using some photos I took yesterday during a hike with my iPhone.

    1. Using the Processing Toolbox, search for and open the Import Geotagged Photos tool and set it up as shown in below, pointing the tool to the folder containing your photos and naming the output point file.ImportGeoTaggedPhotos
    2. The data are in geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude). It will be helpful to project the photopoints to a Cartesian coordinate system such as UTM or State Plane. To do this right-click on the photopoints layer in the Layers Panel and choose Export –> Save As from the context menu.
    3. In the Save Vector Layer As window save a new copy of the layer. If you need help determining which coordinate system to use feel free to reach out to Kurt Menke (kurt at He is happy to help!SaveVectorLayerAs
    4. Now you have a couple interesting ways to visualize these points. First you can generate something called a Wedge Buffer.  These are pie shaped polygons that you can set up to represent the field-of-view of the photograph.wedgebuffers
    5. Search the Processing Toolbox for the Create Wedge Buffers tool.  The Input Layer will be the reprojected photopoints. The Buffers output can be a shapefile in your photos folder. The real trick is using what is known as a Data Defined Override. In QGIS you can use values in attribute columns or expressions for tool inputs instead of putting in a single typed value. In the animation below, a Data Defined Override is being used for the Azimuth parameter. This determines which way the wedge will be pointed. The Import Geotagged Photos tool extracts more than just photo location. It also extracts direction, altitude etc. Here the Azimuth parameter is simply being pointed to the direction attribute column and this orients the wedge in the direction the photo was taken! The only other parameter to set is the Outer Radius. This determines how long the wedge will be. Here it is being set to 300 meters.wedgebuffers
    6. Now there are both photo locations as points, and wedge buffers showing the field-of-view! wedgebufferscreated


  1.  Next let’s improve the default symbology for the wedge buffers using a Shapeburst fill. You will open the Layer Styling Panel (F7) and set the wedge buffers as the target layer. Next select the Simple Fill component and switch the Symbol layer type from Simple fill to Shapeburst fill. You can then set the two colors to use. Here I am using red and transparent. You can then set a distance for the effect and play with other settings like Blur strength. shapeburst
  2. Finally you will learn a feature that will be released with QGIS 3.6: Raster Image Markers. Here the target layer is the photopoints layer. The Symbol layer type is being switched from Simple fill to Raster image marker. Then the Data Defined Override for the image is being set to the photo field, and the Rotation parameter is being set to the rotation field!rasterimagemarker
  3. Now the photos have been mapped. Their field-of-view is being represented by a wedge buffer, and the photo itself is added to the map with a Raster image marker!photosmapped

Stay tuned for more tips on mapping and updates about this latest QGIS release.

QGIS 3.4 Released!

On November 2nd QGIS 3.4 ‘Madeira’ was released. It is the first long-term release in the new 3.x platform.  To install it you can visit the QGIS Download page. Installers are ready for Windows, Max OSX and Linux.

Remember QGIS always has two main versions available. There is the long-term release, which is the most stable because it is supported for one calendar year. In addition there is always a latest release. QGIS 3.4 falls into this former category.

QGIS 3.4
This is a great time to update your version of QGIS. Especially if you are still using the 2.x line. QGIS 3.x is fast, stable and feature rich. If you are still a 2.x user there is a huge list of new features and useful changes. At this point most of the popular plugins have been migrated over from 2.x to 3.x. The chart below shows the steady migration and growth of 3.x plugins. You can review the visual changelog for this version here. You can also find the changelogs for versions 3.0 and 3.2.


QField – A QGIS Related App for Data Collection

QField is an application for collecting field data via an Android device. It was started 4-5 years ago by the Swiss company LLC which also employs several core QGIS developers. QField has reached the point where it rivals most data collection apps. The only reason we have not been using it for Community Health Mapping workshops is that it is not available for iOS. This is simply because the open source license used by QField does not allow it to be wrapped into a proprietary software license like the one Apple employs for it’s store.  If however, you are a Community Health Mapper who uses Android it is a fantastic choice.

NOTE: It is possible to set up an app which is compatible with iOS but does not participate in the App Store. This solves the licensing issue. Setting up an app this way necessitates becoming part of the iOS Enterprise Program which costs money.  QField developers would like to make this happen, and it will likely involve iOS users donating to QField.


QField Logo

Although QField is rooted in QGIS code it is not a miniature version of QGIS. Rather it is a streamlined data collection app. As they say, “the buttons are few and they are large,” so you can work with it out in the field. QField lets you create a map in QGIS and upload that map to your mobile device. From there you can collect data.

The workflow for QField looks like this. You begin by making a QGIS project on  your computer. Importantly this project will contain the point, line or polygon layer(s) you want to populate in the field. (NOTE that Fulcrum only allows the collection of points!) This means you think of your survey form and data to be collected in the office, and create fields in your GIS layer(s) for each question you want to answer. With a little bit of QGIS editing familiarity this isn’t any more difficult or time consuming than creating a form in Fulcrum.  You then upload the folder containing the QGIS project and data to your mobile device. The GeoPackage data format, which is the default for QGIS 3.x, works great with QField. There is even a QGIS Plugin named QFieldSync that facilitates migrating your project to your device. Once the data has been copied to your mobile device you can open your QGIS map file using QField.


Screenshots showing (left to right) selecting Mode, setting the Mode to Digitize and choosing the active layer. Images from

QField uses the same rendering engine as QGIS so the map will look identical to how it did in the office.  Once the map is open you can select from one of two modes: Browse or Digitize. When collecting data you would choose Digitize. Then select the layer you want to work with.


Screenshots (left to right) showing the map in QField, clicking the edit button, populating the attributes and the resulting point. Images from

For public health officials with security concerns QField is a great fit because there is no third party cloud platform involved. The data is not being streamed across the internet. All the data is stored locally on your mobile device. You can simply use the My Files app on your device to navigate to your GeoPackage file and email it to yourself. If it is too large you can connect your device to you computer to download it or use a data sharing app such as DropBox or Google Drive.

Since this is an open source project you can request new features and report any bugs you encounter by contacting the developers! Since QField doesn’t cost anything to download and use, you can also consider donating to the project to help it continue. Even small donations are helpful to projects like this. Doing this makes QField better for everyone. I encourage you to try it out.

A Pair of Community Health Maps Workshops at the ASTHO Climate and Health Summit

During the last week of May the Community Health Maps team (Janice Kelly, John Scott and Kurt Menke) traveled to Honolulu to participate in the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) Insular Area Climate and Health Summit. There were representatives from:

  • American Samoa
  • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Federated States of Micronesia
  • Guam
  • Palau
  • Puerto Rico
  • Marshall Islands
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Hawaii Department of Health
  • Pacific Island Health Officers Association (PIHOA)
  • CDC
  • NOAA

Insular Climate & Health Summit Group Photo

The first afternoon was focused on the impacts of climate change, preparedness and building resilience. There were great presentations on climate change (Capt. Barry Choy – NOAA), an overview of the tools and programs available from the CDC (Paul Schramm), and issues with vector-borne diseases and mosquitoes (Janet McAllister).  The ASTHO grantees then gave some some sobering presentations on current issues people are dealing with in the Mariana Islands, Micronesia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


The opening session

The second day focused more on tools and resources. There were more detailed talks given by the CDC on Technical Assistance for Vector Control and Tools and Resources for Climate and Water Safety. That afternoon we taught a 3.5 hour Community Health Maps Train-the-Trainers workshop to a group of health officials from each territory.  We went through the entire CHM workflow: A) how to design a data collection form, B) how to collect data, C) how to make a map in Carto and D) how to bring the data into QGIS.

The last morning we taught a second Community Health Maps workshop open to everyone. We had about 30 attendees and again went through the entire CHM workflow.


John Scott addresses the attendees on the final morning

Most of the trainees had little to no GIS training yet instantly knew how mapping could apply to their work and lives. They want to map everything related to hurricane relief, salt water resistant taro farms, infrastructure related to mosquito outbreaks etc. A benefit of having the community do this is that they can be in charge of their own data and it helps build community relationships.

Over the three days I heard a lot of side discussions about the usefulness of the free/low cost/open source CHM approach. The cost of proprietary solutions is often a significant barrier to entry into the world of community data collection and mapping. We were gratified to hear some very positive feedback on the workshops and CHM overall during the closing session. There seems to be a lot of potential in CHM helping both U.S. Territories and ASTHO deal with the immediate and long-term health issues related to climate.

QGIS 3 Released!

On February 23rd QGIS 3 was formally released. Since then the developers have been working on completing installers for Windows, Mac and Linux. As of yesterday the software is ready to be installed on every operating system! To install it you can visit the QGIS Download page.

QGIS always has two main versions available. There is the long-term release, which is the most stable because it is supported for one calendar year. In addition there is always a latest release. QGIS 3 falls into this latter category, it is the latest release. At the moment the long-term release is version 2.18. The latest release is still considered stable, but a new one comes out every 4 months.

If you want to have one version of QGIS without having to worry about updates, use the long-term release (2.18). If you want to experience all the new features that come with version 3 you will want the latest release (3.0). As mentioned last month, version 3 is a major new release with a lot of changes and new features.

On Windows machines you can have both. You can easily install both versions of QGIS side by side with no conflicts by using the OSGeo4W Network Installer. On Mac and Linux machines you can only have one version, so you need to choose.

QGIS 3 is fast, stable and feature rich. The main issue for many users is that not all Plugins have yet  to be ported to QGIS 3. This is because this responsibility falls onto the individual plugin authors. With that said, at last count there were already 117 plugins available for version 3.