This post has gotten a very strong reaction from many people, mostly negative. They say use of Google Earth imagery in the manner outlined here is inappropriate, an illegal violation of the Google Earth EULA/TOS. More specifically, words like “theft”, “stealing” and “dirty” have been used to describe this. I feel that this use of Google Earth imagery for personal and non-commercial uses falls under the guidelines of “fair use”, and I explain why here. “Fair use” is not theft. But I acknowledge that I could very well be wrong about this falling under the umbrella of “fair use” protection, in which case it would be illegal. I’d welcome opinions from those knowledgeable about the rights and limitations of “fair use”, and will pull the post if an expert on these issues says that using Google Earth imagery as described below doesn’t constitute “fair use”.
You can save the displayed view in Google Earth by using the File=> Save => Save Image command (Ctrl-Alt-S is the shortcut), which saves the contents of the view window as a JPG file. But in order to use this image in a GIS program, it has to be georeferenced, i.e. coordinates assigned to the pixels. There are free image georeferencing options out there, and I’ll cover some of those soon, but that’s not necessary in this case – there’s a simpler way to get the georeferencing data for an image exported from Google Earth.
You will need to have installed Google Earth (of course), the free GIS program MapWindow, and the Shape2Earth plugin for MapWindow. Shape2Earth’s main function is converting shapefiles to Google Earth KML files, and while the full version costs $29.95, it will work in unregistered demo mode for up to 500 shapefile vertices, and here for georeferencing Google Earth imagery.
1. Open Google Earth, and zoom in to the area of interest.
2. Double-click on the “N” in the compass at the upper right to orient north to the top of the screen. Also double-click on the “0 tilt” icon (the box with the “X” in it on the left in the tilt adjustor) to set the tilt angle to zero.
3. Open MapWindow; if you haven’t already activated the Shape2Earth plugin, do so from the plugins menu.
4. From the Shape2Earth menu in MapWindow, select “Get Image from GE”, and click on the “Capture Image” button. If you haven’t already oriented the image with north at the top and zero tilt, you will be prompted to do so.
5. Save the image with the desired name as a JPG file. This will save a black-and-white jpg image of the current view in the Google Earth window, along with a worldfile (*.jpgw) containing the georeferencing information.
6. Go back to Google Earth, and without moving or changing the view in any way, save the current view (File => Save => Save Image) with the same name and location as the image in step 5,. This overwrites the previous black-and-white image with a color one of exactly the same area.
You now have the Google Earth image with the georeferencing data contained in the worldfile (geographic coordinates, WGS84 datum), which most GIS programs can open and read successfully. If there’s a problem, try changing the extension of the worldfile from *.jpgw to *.jgw.
Limitations of this approach:
- The view in Google Earth is orthographic, i.e. you’re looking at a sphere from above. For views that are zoomed to view a relatively small area, the area is essentially a flat plane, and the georeferenced image shouldn’t have a large deviation from the true coordinates. The larger the area covered, the greater the deviation between the true and georeferenced coordinates.
- Coordinates in Google Earth can be off from the true coordinates even for small areas; see this post for more info. This process doesn’t correct for any such deviation.
- Imagery in Google Earth is copyrighted, and using it for any other purpose than viewing in Google Earth falls under the restrictions of copyright law and fair use. In particular, you have to leave the Google logo and copyright notices unaltered to maintain proper attribution.