Basic features user guide

Navigating in Google Earth

Tip - Follow a tutorial on navigating in Google Earth or play the video below (English only).

In Google Earth, you see the Earth and its terrain in the 3D viewer. You can navigate through this 3D view of the globe in several ways:

Using a mouse

To get started navigating with your mouse, simply position the cursor in the middle of the 3D viewer (image of the earth), click one of the buttons (right or left), move the mouse and note what happens in the viewer. Depending upon which mouse button you press, the cursor changes shape to indicate a change in behavior. By moving the mouse while pressing one of the buttons, you can:

  • Drag the view in any direction
  • Zoom in or out
  • Tilt the view (requires middle button or scroll wheel)
  • Look around from a single vantage point
  • Rotate the view (requires middle button or scroll wheel)

The following table describes all the actions you can accomplish using the mouse:

 
Move the view in any direction (north, south, east, or west) To move the view, position the mouse cursor on the viewer and press the LEFT/main mouse button. Notice that the cursor icon changes from an open hand Open hand to a closed hand Closed hand. Pull the viewer as if the hand cursor is like a hand on an actual globe, and you want to drag a new part of the earth into view.

Move the view in any direction

You can drag in any direction to reveal new parts of the globe, and you can even drag in circular motions.

Once you are at ground level, you can move around as if you were walking by using the W, A, S, D or arrow keys.
Drift continuously across the Earth If you want to drift continuously in any direction, hold the left/main mouse button down. Then, briefly move the mouse and release the button, as if you are "throwing" the scene. Click once in the 3D viewer to stop motion.

Zoom in There are a number of ways to zoom in with the mouse.
  • You can double-click anywhere in the 3D viewer to zoom in to that point. Single-click to stop, or double-click to zoom in more.
  • If your mouse has a scroll wheel, use it to zoom in by scrolling towards you. Use the ALT (Option on the Mac) key in combination with the scroll wheel to zoom in by smaller increments.
  • You can also position the cursor on the screen and press the RIGHT mouse button. Once the cursor changes to a double arrow, move the mouse backward or pull toward you, releasing the button when you reach the desired elevation. Note that crosshairs appear and that your view zooms toward this.

  • If you want to zoom continuously in, hold the button down and briefly pull the mouse down and release the button, as if you are "throwing" the scene. Click once in the viewer to stop the motion. Note that your viewing angle swoops (tilts) as you approach ground level.
  • On some Macintosh laptops, you can drag two fingers across the trackpad to zoom in and out.
Zoom out There are a number of ways to zoom out with the mouse.
  • Using the RIGHT mouse button, double-click anywhere in the 3D viewer to zoom out from that point. The viewer will zoom out by a certain amount. Single-click to stop, or right double-click to zoom out more.
  • If your mouse has a scroll wheel, you can use the scroll wheel to zoom out by scrolling away from you (forward motion). Use the ALT (Option on the Mac) key in combination with the scroll wheel to zoom out by smaller increments.
  • You can also position the mouse cursor on the screen and press the RIGHT mouse button. Once the cursor changes to a double arrow, move the mouse forward or push away from you, releasing the button when you reach the desired elevation. Note that crosshairs appear and that your view zooms toward this. If you want to zoom continuously out, hold the right button down and briefly push the mouse forward and release the button, as if you are "throwing" the scene. Click once in the viewer to stop motion.
Tilt the view If your mouse has either a middle button or a depressible scroll wheel, you can tilt the view by depressing the button and moving the mouse forward or backward. If your mouse has a scroll wheel, you can tilt the view by pressing the SHIFT key and scrolling. You can also press Shift and the left mouse button and drag. Note that crosshairs appear and that your view tilts from this point.

See the Tilting and viewing hilly terrain section for more information.

Look To look around from a single vantage point, as if you were turning your head, press CTRL and left mouse button and drag.
Rotate the view

If your mouse has either a middle button or a depressible scroll wheel, you rotate the view by clicking on the middle button and moving the mouse to the left or right. You can also press Shift and the left mouse button and drag. Note that crosshairs appear and that your view rotates around this.

You can also use the CTRL key in combination with the scroll wheel to rotate the view. Press CTRL and scroll UP to rotate clockwise, CTRL + scroll DOWN to rotate counter-clockwise.

See the Tilting and viewing hilly terrain section for more information.

Interact with 3D buildings Learn more about interacting with 3D buildings.
Mouse wheel To change the mouse wheel settings, click Tools > Options > Navigation (on the Mac: Google Earth > Preferences > Navigation > Mouse Wheel Settings). Move the slider to set how fast or slow your viewpoint of the earth zooms in or out. Check 'Invert Mouse Wheel Zoom Direction' to reverse the direction of zooming when you use the mouse wheel.
Other controllers (Windows and Linux) Tools > Options > Navigation > Navigation Mode > Pan and Zoom. (on the Mac: Google Earth > Preferences > Navigation > Non-mouse controller settings). If you use a joystick or other non-mouse controller, you can also change how perspective moves in the 3D viewer under 'Non-mouse controller settings'. Choose 'User-Based' to move your particular vantage point or 'Earth Based' to move the globe. Check 'Reverse Controls' to reverse the actions of the joystick.

Using the navigation controls

To view and use the navigation controls, move the cursor over right corner of the 3D viewer. After you start Google Earth and move the cursor over this area, the navigation controls fade from sight when you move the cursor elsewhere. To view these controls again, simply move the cursor over the right corner of the 3D viewer.

Note - If the navigation controls do not appear when you move the cursor over the right corner of the 3D viewer, click View > Show Navigation > Automatically and try again.

To hide or show the compass icon in the 3D viewer, click View > Compass. See also Showing or Hiding Items in the 3D Viewer.

The Google Earth navigation controls offer the same type of navigation action that you can achieve with mouse navigation. In addition, you can use the controls to zoom and swoop (perhaps for a perspective on terrain) or to rotate your view. The following diagram shows the controls and explains their functions.


 
Using the Navigation Controls
  1. Click the north-up button to reset the view so that north is at the top of the screen. Click and drag the ring to rotate your view.
  2. Use the Look joystick to look around from a single vantage point, as if you were turning your head. Click an arrow to look in that direction or continue to press down on the mouse button to change your view. After clicking an arrow, move the mouse around on the joystick to change the direction of motion.
  3. Use the Move joystick to move your position from one place to another. Click an arrow to look in that direction or continue to press down on the mouse button to change your view. After clicking an arrow, move the mouse around on the joystick to change the direction of motion.
  4. Use the zoom slider to zoom in or out (+ to zoom in, - to zoom out) or click the icons at the end of the slider. As you move closer to the ground, Google Earth swoops (tilts) to change your viewing angle to be parallel to the Earth's surface. You can turn off this automatic tilt (Tools > Options > Navigation > Navigation controls; Mac: Google Earth > Preferences > Navigation > Navigation controls).

You can also use the keyboard to control navigation. See 3D Viewer Navigation in Keyboard Controls for more information.

 

You can also manipulate your view of the earth by tilting the terrain for perspectives other than a top-down view. Finally, you can reset the default view for a north-up, top-down view wherever you are.

Tilting and viewing hilly terrain

When you first start Google Earth, the default view of the earth is a "top-down" view, which is straight down.

  • Tilt the terrain from 0 - 90 degrees - You can use the mouse to tilt the view in order to see a different perspective of the area you're exploring. You can tilt to a maximum of 90 degrees, which provides a view of the object as well as the horizon, in some cases.
  • Turn on terrain - Using the tilt feature is particularly interesting when you are looking at a part of the earth where the terrain is hilly. Make sure the terrain setting is on.
  • Rotate the view for a new perspective - Once you have tilted the view so that you are looking at a particular object, such as a hill, you can also rotate around that object. When you do this, the object remains in the center of the view, but you look at it from different perspectives (i.e., north, south, east, west) as you rotate around it.
  • Use the middle mouse button (if available) for seamless movement - If your mouse has a middle button or a depressible scroll wheel, you can depress the button to both tilt and rotate the view. Movements up or down tilt the view, and movements left or right rotate the view. See Using a Mouse for more information.

The following figures show a comparison view of Mount Shasta in California with and without tilt enabled.

spacer Top down view
Top down view
Imagery Date: December 31st, 2004
c. 2010 Google

spacer Tilted view
Tilted view
Imagery Date: December 31st 2004
c.2010 Tele Atlas 
c.2010 Europa Technologies

You can adjust the appearance of the terrain if you would like the elevation to appear more pronounced. To do this, click Tools > Options > 3D View from the Tools menu (for the Mac, choose Google Earth > Preferences > 3D View) and change the 'Elevation Exaggeration' figure. You can set it to any value from 1 to 3, including decimal points. A common setting is 1.5, which achieves an obvious yet natural elevation appearance. See Viewing Preferences for more information.

Navigating the ocean

You can navigate under the surface of the ocean just as you can anywhere else in Google Earth. This means that you can explore sea floor terrain, such as deep ocean trenches.

You can hide or display the surface of the ocean. To do this, click View > Water Surface. You can view this visual effect from above or below this surface. Note that you can navigate under the ocean surface when it is displayed.

Tip - To view exciting content related to oceans, in the Layers panel, click Ocean.

Resetting the default view

After tilting and rotating the 3D view in Google Earth, you can always quickly reset to the default north-up and top-down view. To do this:

  • Click the North-up button North-up button to reset the view so that north is at the top of the viewer.
  • (Windows and Linux only) Click in the 3D viewer and type r on the keyboard to reset the view (see Keyboard Controls for more).
Note - To quickly return to a known, familiar spot if you get lost, click the 'Starting location' placemark in the 'My Places' folder. This returns you to the center of your country (or a country that speaks your language). You can also edit the location for the 'Starting location' placemark if you want to. See Editing Places and Folders for more information.

Consider also using the Overview Map Window as a way to provide an additional perspective on your location, especially when you are zoomed in to unfamiliar places.

Setting the start location

You can set the starting (default) location that appears each time you launch Google Earth. To do this, navigate to the appropriate location and perspective and click View > Make this my start location.