[IMPORTANT NOTE: this post was initially written for Google Earth versions 4.0 through 4.2, but has been updated with tips covering Google Earth 5.2. For more info, you can read tips on navigating from the GE User Guide.]
If you are new to Google Earth (GE), or looking for ways to improve how you interact with GE, then this entry may be of help. Additional resources are referenced below. Note: this blog entry assumes you are using Google Earth 5 or higher. For tips on Google Earth 4, you can view the Google Earth 4 user guide.
Learning to manipulate the mouse and keys to control GE is crucial to getting the most out of sightseeing the Earth. The first important thing to know is how to zoom in closer to the Earth. You have many ways to do this: double-click your mouse button (left button, if you have multiple buttons, to zoom in, right button to zoom out); use the mouse scroll-wheel (if you have one); use the + and - keys; or use the PAGE UP or PAGE DOWN keys to zoom more quickly. You can also use the navigation gadgets – the “+” and “-” buttons with slider on the far upper-right to change your altitude. The mouse scroll-wheel is probably the favorite method of most typical GE fans. All of these methods adjust your altitude above the Earth’s surface. You can see your height above sea level in the lower right of the GE viewing window. You can move the Earth to position it where you want to see by clicking a point with the left mouse button and slide the cursor to the middle of the viewing window.
At first, many people don’t realize Google Earth is much more than a map with aerial and satellite photos attached. GE uses data from NASA Space Shuttle missions which provides 3D terrain data for the entire land surface of the Earth. Let’s demonstrate this.
Click on this link to go to GE and fly to Mount St. Helens. Beautiful view right? But, try this: hold your SHIFT-DOWN key combination and watch GE tilt your view so you can see Mount St. Helens as a 3D mountain (if you don’t – check to see that the “Terrain” layer is turned on). Very cool right? SHIFT-UP will tilt your view back up. You can also use the slider control at the upper right of the navigation control for tilting. A nice tip: hit the “u” key to tilt back straight up automatically. The “r” key will reset to north and tilt up.
An easier way to tilt and pan your view is to click and hold the middle mouse button or scroll wheel button (those of you who have a Mac with one mouse button have to use the above key or navigational control techniques – but, I would recommend getting a 3-button mouse). While you’re holding the middle button if you move your mouse forward and backwards it will tilt the view. Side to side will pan your view around the point you are looking at.
While some of the tips no longer apply, this short 2 minute video tutorial from Google can help cover some of these navigation basics.