If control over the look proves difficult or the design direction is oddly specific, a 3D artist could displace the map using actual 3D data. Just a thought (edit - hey I'm not the only one).
Here are a few samples using various displacement technologies:
The one you did in the middle looks great, what program was that done in?
3D Studio Max 2008 (also running ver. 8 & 9 - all legal) and Mental Ray rendering technology including ambient occlusion (spherical harmonics to create the shaded valleys). I used a satellite captured greyscale digital elevation map of Salt Lake City as seen on the lower right to displace the dense plane at render time.
This is my day job
I like your thinking! :thumbup: I also think photography could provide a more interesting look that while it could be simulated very accurately, the cost of doing it in 3D would begin to surpass the logic and aesthetic of doing it in camera.I think you should commission Shea for the job!