Advanced Photo Placement in Google Earth

The other day GEB mentioned a research project called Viewfinder which is attempting to greatly simplify the process for placing photos in the precise orientation the photos were taken for viewing with Google Earth. When version 4.2 was released last August, Google added new KML features and a Photo Viewer mode which lets you share and see photos the way they were taken – in 3D position. The photos can be normal snapshots, panoramas or complete 360 spheres as well (see this helicopter example). Not only that, but you can also have super-high resolution photos where more details are brought in as you zoom (see the Gigapxl photos for example, found under the Gallery layer folder).
If your photo shows terrain or 3D buildings which happen to be modeled in Google Earth, you can match your photo to the background for comparing your photo to the Google Earth world. The Viewfinder video demonstrates the results of this really well.
You can actually enter your photos using the built in Google Earth interface for adding a photo (see user guide tips). However, it can be a bit tricky to place the photos correctly. I’ve created a short video on how to do it. First, I found some photos by turning on the Geographic Web layer. Good candidates are photos with 3D terrain – so, I chose one at Yosemite National Park. Watch this short video for a quick tutorial on adding a photo aligned with background terrain:

(Click here for higher quality version)

Keep reading for more details and advanced photo techniques for Google Earth.

You can add your own photos, or find photos on other sites like I’ve done in the video from Panoramio. Here’s a link to the resulting KML file for the photo of the Mirror Lake shown in the video (photo by ‘andybandi’ at Panoramio). And here is another photo of the Grand Canyon in Google Earth (photo by ‘DJR’ at Panoramio). You can use your scroll wheel on your mouse to zoom in/out.
Not all the terrain in Google Earth is such an exact match. Google has been gradually adding terrain with higher resolution (for examples, see here, and here). Places with high resolution terrain include: the US, parts of western Canada, Swiss Alps, New Zealand, and Portugal.
Advanced: See the tutorial by GELessons on using DigitalUrban’s Photo Overlay Creator tool for processing very high resolution photos. Also see DigitalUrban’s tutorial. There are also details at the Google Earth site about adding photo overlays. One More Tip: the process of moving around to adjust photo position when adding a photo is greatly enhanced if you use a SpaceNavigator.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.


  1. Hi, I couldn’t let such a nice post pass without giving your readers a chance to see our google earth layer, which currently has over 6000 fully spherical PhotoOverlay panoramas, comprising our network of over 50 cities around the world!
    enjoy 🙂
    Jeffrey Martin & the 360cities team

  2. i would like to know how to make a spherical picture iun google earth…
    i read here that it could be done with the DigitalUrban’s Photo Overlay Creator, but i wanted to know if it spossible to do it directly within GE….

  3. Weirwindle says:

    I just downloaded version 4.3 beta and was wondering if anyone else has had problems with photo placement on elevated places. For me it seems to zoom to other places on the world a I try to change the field of view.

  4. Hi Weirwindle,
    I’m having the same problem with version 4.3. The field of view and roll slider are not working properly.

  5. I have added photo but I want my photo to appear large when I click the camera icon.How do I do it?

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