Navigating in Google Earth

Google Earth iconAt a basic level, getting around in Google Earth is pretty simple, just click and drag. However, there are many short cuts that can make the process faster and even easier.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to make the best use of your time in Earth and create views that really show off the locations in your tours.

To start, you’ll need a mouse with a scroll wheel (which on most models includes a third button), especially if you’re using a laptop. You can do everything with a trackpad, of course, but the mouse is so much easier and precise.

The Basic Tools (without a mouse)

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In the lower left corner of the viewing screen, you’ll find a few tools for controlling how you view a location in Google Earth. Google often calls your view the “camera” and that’s the terminology I’ll be using.

The minus and plus signs will zoom the camera out and into the center of the current view. Tapping the arrows on your keyboard will shift the camera in that direction.

The 3D button changes the display from a flat, two-dimensional view to one that appears three dimensional. It does this by switching to Google’s 3D imagery, if it’s available for the current location, and tilting the camera view.

Screen shot of DisneyWorld from Google Earth Screen Shot 2020 11 12 at 12 29 50 PM

You can see the difference in these overhead views of the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, Florida. The 3D effect becomes even more noticeable when you zoom the camera in closer.

Clicking the compass to the left of the globe will reorient the view with north at the top of the window.

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If you double-click the compass, it swaps position with the globe and allows you to click and drag the circle to rotate the view around the current center. Double-click the globe to swap the two controls again.

The globe is mostly an overview reference to show you where on Earth you are currently viewing. However, you can also click and drag on the globe to draw an arrow to move you to another location. It’s not an obvious move and requires practice to make it useful.

The target in the upper right of this area will move the camera to your current location. This requires giving the browser permission to know your location (based on the IP address of your computer) and it’s probably not a good idea, especially if you’re working with students.

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Finally, we have Pegman. As in all Google mapping tools, clicking him will show you where Street View is available. The blue lines indicate where Google has taken one of their Street View camera arrays. The blue circles indicate where a 360° images was taken by one of their Local Guides (which could be you).

Click somewhere on a line or on a circle to enter the Street View scene. Click the arrow in the upper left corner of that window to exit back to the Earth viewer.

Using a Scroll Wheel Mouse

Instead of the keyboard arrows, left-click and drag the mouse in the viewing window to move the camera in any direction.

Use the scroll wheel to zoom the camera in and out of the center of the viewing window. You can also left-click and drag the mouse to more quickly move in and out of the window.

Hold down the Shift key and click on a spot in the viewing window, then move the mouse left or right to rotate the camera around that position. Move the mouse forward or back to tilt the camera view more or less. You’ll see a compass rose (a circle with lines for the four directions) to indicate the center of the actions.

You can also make these changes in how the camera views the scene with just the mouse. Click the button under the scroll wheel, then move left or right to rotate or back/forward to tilt.

In a static document it’s hard to illustrate how much easier using a mouse can make navigating Earth, so you’ll just have to try all these tricks for yourself. The more you work with Google Earth, the better you’ll learn how to navigate to wonderful places on the globe.