Greg Kempe

Using leaflet.js to pan and zoom a big image

14 Jun 2014

I recently used leaflet.js to embed a large image in a webpage and allow users pan over it and zoom into it. There’s a Stack Overflow post about how to do this for a single image, but the anwsers don’t have enough detail to make it easy to understand and do.

The image I used was of a newspaper article. It’s not big enough to need segmentation, but it’s too big to show on a page at full scale. I need to be able to read the article text. By using Leaflet I can zoom out to get an overview of the layout, and zoom in and pan to read the text. Leaflet takes care of all the user interaction details for me.

Update 2016-04-05: See this gist for a full working example HTML file.

The result

Here’s the end product.

and here’s the code to make it work.

How it works

Let’s walk through the code.

  minZoom: 1,
  maxZoom: 4,
  center: [0, 0],
  zoom: 1,

We want to be able to zoom over 4 levels (1 to 4). Zoom level 3 is going to be the actual size (1 to 1) of the image. That means zoom level 4 will be twice as big, zoom level 2 will half as big, and zoom level 1 a quarter of the original size. We start by focusing on the center of the image, at zoom level 1.

  crs: L.CRS.Simple

This tells Leaflet to use a simple 1-1 mapping between screen pixels and its internal latitude-longitude coordinate system. In other words, our image is flat, not a globe that we’re projecting onto a flat image.

Image sizes and coordinates

// dimensions of the image
var w = 2000,
    h = 1500,
    url = '/images/newspaper-big.jpg';

This is the size of our image in pixels and its location.

// calculate the edges of the image, in coordinate space
var southWest = map.unproject([0, h], map.getMaxZoom()-1);
var northEast = map.unproject([w, 0], map.getMaxZoom()-1);
var bounds = new L.LatLngBounds(southWest, northEast);

This is the fun bit. We want to tell Leaflet how to place the image on the map. So we ask it to unproject the pixel coordinates of the south-west and north-east corners of the map into lat-long coordinates. We tell it to do that zoom level 3 (or getMaxZoom()-1) since at that zoom level, the image must be actual size and fill the map.

In pixels, Leaflet considers the origin (0, 0) to be the top-left corner. So the bottom left corner has a y-coordinate of h and an x-coordinate of 0. Similarly, the top right corner has a y-coordinate of 0 and an x-coordinate of w.

The bounds variable now describes the lat-long coordinates of where on the map the image must be placed such that it is actual size at zoom level 3.

// add the image overlay, 
// so that it covers the entire map
L.imageOverlay(url, bounds).addTo(map);

// tell leaflet that the map is exactly as big as the image

Finally, we add the image itself as an overlay to the map using the bounds we just calculated. We then tell Leaflet that the total size of the map is only as the image, so the user can’t drag past the edges.


The biggest step for me was wrapping my head around Leaflet’s coordinate system and how and when to project from screen pixels into lat-long coordinates such that my zoom levels worked as expected.

I’ve found this to be a really powerful way of showing large images in a small page when users need to be able to get both an overview and see the details. Leaflet does all the hard work of providing a great-looking interface that the user is familiar with (provided they’ve used a mapping website).