Navigation tricks in Google Earth

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. Note: this blog entry assumes you are using Google Earth 5 or higher.
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.
Navigating effectively in Google Earth will make your experience much better, and hopefully those tips will help!

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. I have long wished for an easy way to click on a point and be moved so that the view is *from* that point, pinned to the ground. This would be useful in comparing the view from a photo with that of Earth. Do you know of a way to do this?

  2. Another great way to look around in GE is to Hold the Ctrl Button down while also holding the Left Mouse Button. This allows you to freely look in any/all directions while remaining stationary over a single point.
    It’s probably worth mentioning (for GE Newbies) that and excellent navigation tool for GE (and other graphic programs) is the “Space Navigator” by Connexion. It really allows very smooth and free flight navigation and viewing unlike anything else.

  3. Mac Magic Mouse + Mac keyboard users will find things somewhat different. Basic control is the stroked ‘wheel’ for zoom in/out, and you have to treat this gently to restrain the built in ‘over-run’, then lots for experiment.
    One example is hold down shift and wheel forward gently with one finger to tilt, drag image gently in any direction to start to ‘fly’ on smooth autopilot (you can vary speed by force of drag, but orientation remains constant), click to pause, re-orrient if required by compass wheel, finally wheel back with two fingers to return upright (or use ‘u’, then ‘r’ to re-orient).
    Any other tips from Mac users?

  4. More for Mac users – Google seem to have provided lots of ‘hidden’ controls: for example on keyboard hold shift and use left or right arrows to re-orient (useful for a 369 degree panorama from a summit), or up and down arrows to tilt; also in GE or Street View in GE hold control and use mouse ‘wheel’ to zoom in and out of image from stationary position.

  5. Paul van Dinther says

    While SHIFT and an arrow key moves the view angle to your look at target, you can also adjust it using your mouse holding down the right mouse button.
    In addition, try CTRL and an arrow key. Instead of controlling the angle to your look at target, you control in which direction the camera looks while remaining in place.
    Of course you can always jump into and have the smoothest most organic fly-through experience possible.

  6. Paul van Dinther says

    Oh, I forgot to mention that ALT will slow down anything you do. For example. ALT arrow moves your position slowly without changing camera orientation.
    ALT Pgup Pgdwn zooms slower then without the ALT key.

  7. The ‘official’ Google Earth keyboard short cuts for Windows/Linux and Mac are at ‘Google Earth > Help > keyboard shortcuts’ which is part of the basic features user guide, but not sure whether there are other shortcuts not included in the list.
    One thing GE does not seem to have is a means of enlarging the very small default print size in Wikipedia [W] pop up windows, and there also seem to be no accessibly features such as zoom page at least in the ’embedded’ version of Safari used for display of a ‘full [Wikipedia] article’ within GE – a serious deficiency. But does any GEB reader know a ‘shortcut’ to help with this issue?

  8. Is there a way to simply change your viewing elevation without changing the view angle? Currently, I’m having to tilt the view to look down, then zoom in or out, and then tilt back to the original angle. This is rather tedious when all I want to do is move vertically.

    • Timothy Whitehead says

      Pressing ‘r’ resets the view to vertical and North to the top of the screen.
      Also see this post for instructions on how to stop automatic tilting at low altitudes.

      [edit]I see I misunderstood the question. There is no direct way to change just altitude except with a controller like the 3Dconnexion.

      • its so stupid that they never made an altitude shortcut! its the first thing i want to do….. no GE developers actually use this program?

  9. Hi Timothy,

    That didn’t really answer my question. I simply want to know if there is a keyboard shortcut that lets you move strictly in the vertical direction (like an elevator) without moving horizontally and without changing the view angle.

    Thank you!

    • Timothy Whitehead says

      Sadly there are no keyboard shortcuts to do that. Shift and Ctrl have interesting effects but no combination does what you want. If you use Google Earth a lot then I highly recommend getting a Space Navigator as it makes a world of difference to the way you use Google Earth.

  10. Apparently, there is no clear paradigm for navigating in Goolge Earth. Translations and rotations seem to be completely entangled, and nobody seems to understand that “zooming” is no movement at all – it means to just enlarge the image, withaout any change of viewpopint and direction. My suggestion: rotations: left cursor: rotate left (in your present orientation), right cursor: rotate right, up cursor: roatate up, down cursor rotate down, l: roll to the left (conterclockwise), r: roll to the right (clockwise), +: zoom in (enlarge image), -: zoom out, f: move forward (into present view direction), b: move backward. Would be so easy.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.