A cost-effective method of synthesizing images of arbitrary complexity is described that combines high-resolution depth maps of scale model scenes with reflectivity data. A small scale model is made of a scene of interest. Regions of the model are textured according to the type of surface they will represent. The model is digitized under different iilumination directions, and a depth map is calculated by photometric stereo. Tables of reflectivity and/or emissivity data for scene materials are cornbined with the surface gradient map and flight geometry information to yield an intensity image at any desired wavelength, after which various kinds of noise can be incorporated into the image. The method is discussed with respect to the simulation of airborne active thermal infrared images of surface-laid minefields. However, no specialized sensors are necessary, and the method can be used for active or passive sensors of any wavelength, provided reflectivity or emissivity values are published or can be measured. The method may be also applied to the generation of images that are more general than aerial views of terrain.