Google Earth Basics

Configuring Google Earth’s Local Settings

You can configure several setting in Google Earth by going to the Tools à Options menu.  In addition to changing the settings for your personal preference, you may want to recommend settings for your students to use when they view tours you’ve created.


3D View Tab 


Elevation Exaggeration – This setting is used to control how exaggerated topography is displayed.  When set to 1, the topography is not exaggerated.  Google warns that any setting over 1.5 may look unnatural.  This setting is especially useful when trying to show topographic features.


Touring Tab 


Fly-To Speed – Controls the speed in which Google Earth moves from one place to the next automatically when you click a placemark in your Places or Search Tabs, or when you play a tour.


Tour Speed – Controls the speed in which played tours move from one placemark to the next.


Tour Pause – Controls the number of seconds that Google Earth will pause when it reaches a placemark.


“Show balloon when tour is paused” checkbox – Checking this box will cause the information balloon to appear when a tour reaches a placemark.  This can be used in conjunction with the tour pause setting to create an annotated tour.

The Sidebar

Google Earth’s sidebar is broken into three panels:, search, places, and layers.


Search Panel 


The Search panel is used to:

  • Fly to a specific place, geographic feature, or address
  • Find businesses, and institutions
  • Create, save, and play driving directions

The Search panel contains a search history list that shows all of the things you have searched for during the current session.  Pressing the play button will play through the search history, including driving directions.


For more information about the Search panel, please refer to the Google Earth help.


Places Panel 


The Places panel works similar to bookmarks in a web browser. The Places panel contains the folders and content that you’ve viewed, downloaded, or created.


You can play a tour of a series of places by selecting the folder that contains the series and clicking the play button. A tour sequentially hops from one item of the series to the next.  All the items in the folder, including items in subfolders, are played.  If the description balloons are not displayed when you play a tour, please refer to the “Configuring your settings” section to learn how to make them display.


The ‘Temporary Places’ folder is a special folder in Places that stores information for the current Google Earth session. When Google Earth is closed you are asked if you want to delete the items in the ‘Temporary Places’ folder, or save them to “My Places."


For more information about the Places panel, please refer to the Google Earth help.  


Layers Panel 


According to Google, “The Layers feature in Google Earth provides a variety of data points of geographic interest that you can select to display over your viewing area. This includes points of interest (POIs) as well as map, road, terrain, and even building data. The full list of layers is available in the Layers panel."


To turn on a layer check the checkbox next to the title of the layer.  To view a layer’s sub-layers, click the plus box located to the left of the layer title.


For more information about the Layers panel, please refer to the Google Earth help.  

 Creating Placemarks


Creating your own placemark is as easy as clicking the add placemark button in the toolbar, dragging the placemark to the desired location, then typing in a name and description.  

Placemarks have several properties that you can configure.


For a complete list and instructions please refer to Google Earth help.  



 Figure 1 small 

Creating Paths and Polygons

Ploygons button 

To create a path, click the add path button in the toolbar.  Then, on the map, click the starting point of your path.  You can add as many points to the path as you like.  When you have finished adding points, give the path a name and description, then click the “OK” button.  Like placemarks, paths have several adjustable attributes.


To create a polygon click the add polygon button in the toolbar. Polygons are creating using the same method as creating paths. As you add points the interior or the polygons will be filled with color. 


For more information about paths and polygons, please refer to the Google Earth help

Creating Image Overlays

Creating Image overlays icon The image overlay feature of Google Earth allows you to place a digital image over the map.  To create an overlay, click the add image overlay button in the toolbar.  Google Earth will accept images that are located on your computer, or on the Internet.  To use an image from your computer, click the Browse button and browse to the image.  To use an image from the Internet, type the images address into the Link box.


Once you have selected the image, use the green lines to position, rotate, and resize the image to fit the map. Clicking-and-dragging the green crosshair in the image will allow you to move the image. Clicking-and-dragging inside the green diamond will allow you to rotate the image. Clicking-and-dragging an edge line will allow you to resize the image.

Measuring Distance

Ruler tool icon You can use the ruler to measure the distance between points.  Click the ruler button on the toolbar. Click the start point, then click the end point.  Google Earth will display the length of the line in the Ruler window.  Clicking the Path tab in the Ruler window, allows you to measure the distance of multi-segment lines.


For more information about image overlays, please refer to the Google Earth help.  

Saving Your Data

To save data, right-click the item (this can be anything in the Places, or Search lists), then choose Save As.  Finally, browse to the location you would like to save to, give the file a name, and choose whether to save as a KML, or KMZ file.  If you are saving an item that has custom images on the map, like a custom icon, or an image overlay use a KMZ file, otherwise use a KML file.