How To: Add a Google Earth Satellite Image Into ArcMap

ArcMap 10 now allows you to bring in Bing Maps imagery as baselayers to your project.  However, this requires a robust network connection because you are constantly feeding in live data from their servers.  As an alternative method to bring in satellite imagery into ArcMap, the following tutorial guides you through the steps of bringing in selected screenshots from Google Earth into ArcMap.  One huge advantage of using Google Earth imagery is that you will be able to bring in historical data that is now available.

Google Earth

You will navigate to the location in Google Earth that you want to bring in to ArcMap.  Then, you will add 4 control points on each corner of the image, record their latitude/longitude coordinates, and export the image as a jpg file.

  1. Open Google Earth
  2. In the Layers panel, turn everything off
  3. Go to Tools -> Options, and change the “Show Lat/Long” option to “Decimal Degrees”
  4. Navigate to the area and extent that you want to use in ArcMap
  5. Press “r” on your keyboard.  This will reset the view angle to be “top down” and rotates the map so that it is “north up”
  6. Press F11 to make your map go full screen
  7. Click on the “add placemark” button
  8. Move the icon from the middle of the screen to the top left corner of the map
  9. Rename the icon “Top-left”
  10. Click the button to change the icon
  11. Choose this icon:
  12. Jot down (or copy and paste) the latitude and longitude coordinates somewhere you can access later
  13. Repeat the process and add icons for “Top-right”, “Bottom-left” and “Bottom-right”
  14. Now it’s time to export the image.  Go to File -> Save -> Save Image and save your file


Now you will import your google earth image, and georeference it based on the 4 control points you created.

  1. Open ArcMap
  2. Go to View -> Data Frame Properties and select the Coordinate System tab
  3. Choose Predefined -> Geographic Coordinate Systems -> World -> WGS 1984
  4. Go to Customize -> Toolbars -> Georeferencing
  5. Add the image file from Google to ArcMap.  If it prompts you to build pyramids, click ok
  6. Zoom into the top left corner of your satellite image
  7. From the georeferencing toolbar, click the “add control points” button
    add control points button
  8. Hover over the exact center of the top left icon you created, and LEFT click once
  9. Now, RIGHT click once and click on “Input X and Y…”
    input x y
  10. Add the correct coordinates for your Top-left control pointWARNING:   Remember that “X” is LONGITUDE and “Y” is LATITUDE
  11. Repeat the process for the remaining 3 control points.  If the map has disappeared from your view port, just right click on the layer, and select “zoom to layer”
  12. To finish your georeferencing, click on the “Georeferencing” menu item from the toolbar, and select “update georeferencing”
    complete georeferencing task

You should now be able to overlay additional layers on top of the satellite image.  Below is an example of a landuse layer on top of a Google Earth image.

Landuse over imported Google Earth image

Landuse over imported Google Earth image

Hot Tip:  Historical Imagery

You can also import historical satellite imagery from Google.  This could be useful to see temporal changes in the landscape of your project areas.

  1. Go to View -> Historical Imagery, or just click on the historical imagery icon from the toolbar
  2. You can then slide the time bar handle to display imagery for available times
    google image timebar