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Calculating NDVI Using QGIS

A Step-by-Step Guide to Calculating NDVI Using QGIS

Introduction to calculating NDVI using QGIS

The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is a crucial tool in remote sensing, allowing researchers and professionals to measure and monitor plant growth, vegetation cover, and biomass production from satellite imagery. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of calculating NDVI using QGIS.

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What is NDVI?

NDVI is a ratio that provides insights into the presence and condition of green vegetation. It’s calculated using the formula:
[ NDVI = \frac{(NIR – Red)}{(NIR + Red)} ]

Here, NIR represents the near-infrared light, which vegetation strongly reflects, and Red represents visible red light, which vegetation absorbs. The resulting value can range from -1 to 1, with higher values indicating healthier vegetation.

Identifying the Relevant Satellite Bands

For the purpose of NDVI calculation, we need to identify the relevant bands from satellite data:

  • Red Band: Represents the red portion of the visible spectrum.
  • Near-Infrared (NIR) Band: Represents the near-infrared portion of the spectrum.

For many satellite datasets, such as Landsat 8, the Red is typically Band 4, and NIR is Band 5. However, always refer to the satellite’s documentation to confirm.

Calculating NDVI in QGIS

  1. Load the Data:
  • Open QGIS and import the Red and NIR bands of your satellite data.
  1. Access the Raster Calculator:
  • Navigate to the raster calculator tool within QGIS. This tool allows you to perform mathematical operations on raster datasets.
  1. Enter the NDVI Formula:
  • In the raster calculator, input the NDVI formula using the Red and NIR bands. Ensure the order of bands is correct for subtraction.
  • The formula to input is: (NIR - Red) / (NIR + Red)
  1. Save the Result:
  • Designate an output file for your NDVI result, preferably saving it as a TIFF file for optimal compatibility.

Visualizing the NDVI Result in QGIS

  1. Adjust Symbology:
  • Once the NDVI calculation is complete, you can adjust the symbology to better visualize the values.
  • Use color ramps to differentiate between high (healthy vegetation) and low (sparse or no vegetation) NDVI values.
  1. Interpret the Results:
  • Areas with high NDVI values indicate healthy, green vegetation.
  • Low NDVI values, especially those close to -1, often represent water bodies, as water absorbs near-infrared light.


NDVI is a powerful tool in the world of remote sensing, offering invaluable insights into vegetation health and coverage. With QGIS, calculating and visualizing NDVI becomes accessible and straightforward. Whether you’re a researcher, student, or professional, mastering NDVI calculations in QGIS can greatly enhance your geospatial projects.

(FAQs) About the NDVI calculation process using QGIS:

What is NDVI and why is it important?

  • NDVI stands for Normalized Difference Vegetation Index. It’s a measure used in remote sensing to determine the presence and health of vegetation based on satellite or aerial imagery.

Which satellite bands are used for NDVI calculation?

  • Typically, the Red and Near-Infrared (NIR) bands are used. For many satellite datasets like Landsat 8, Red is Band 4 and NIR is Band 5.

How do I access the raster calculator in QGIS?

  • The raster calculator can be found within the ‘Raster’ menu in QGIS or by typing “raster calculator” in the QGIS search bar.

What do the NDVI values indicate?

  • NDVI values range from -1 to 1. Higher values (closer to 1) indicate healthy vegetation, while lower values (closer to -1) might indicate water bodies or barren land.

Why are the Red and NIR bands specifically used for NDVI?

  • Vegetation reflects NIR light strongly and absorbs most of the Red light. This unique characteristic is utilized in the NDVI calculation to determine vegetation health.

Can I use NDVI for urban areas?

  • Yes, NDVI can be used for urban areas, but it’s primarily used to identify green spaces or vegetation health within urban settings.

How do I interpret negative NDVI values?

  • Negative NDVI values, especially those close to -1, often represent water bodies since water absorbs near-infrared light.

Is there a specific color map recommended for visualizing NDVI in QGIS?

  • While there’s no strict rule, many professionals use a color gradient ranging from brown (for low NDVI values) to dark green (for high NDVI values) to represent vegetation health.

Can I calculate NDVI for any satellite imagery?

  • As long as the imagery provides separate Red and NIR bands, you can calculate NDVI. However, the specific band numbers might vary depending on the satellite.

Are there other vegetation indices similar to NDVI?

  • Yes, there are several other indices like the Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI), Soil Adjusted Vegetation Index (SAVI), and more, each with its own specific use cases and advantages.

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About the Author
I'm Daniel O'Donohue, the voice and creator behind The MapScaping Podcast ( A podcast for the geospatial community ). With a professional background as a geospatial specialist, I've spent years harnessing the power of spatial to unravel the complexities of our world, one layer at a time.

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