How to Turn Off 3D Trees in Google Earth

Ah, 3D trees in Google Earth. Like many others, I chuckled a bit the first time I saw one of them rendered on my computer screen.

How do you turn off 3D trees in Google Earth? While the ‘3D Buildings’ section of the Layers menu does contain a ‘Trees’ option, you can disable 3D trees in Google Earth by unchecking the ‘Photorealistic’ menu item. This will disable the entire effect that produces 3D trees.

Keep reading to find step-by-step instructions on exactly how to get rid of the slightly ridiculous 3D trees you see all over your screen.

How to Disable 3D Trees in Google Earth

While I’ll admit that the 3D tree effect is somewhat impressive, it’s just a bit too buggy for my tastes. Just as an example, we have a large sycamore tree sitting at the end of our driveway. Despite the fact that it’s a bit of a pain, the tree is quite beautiful. However, it doesn’t look anything like this:

So, close, yet so far away. Anyways, let’s get on with it and disable these 3D trees.

Easiest to Disable 3D Buildings in its Entirety

The easiest way to get rid of 3D trees in Google Earth is just to disable the entire ‘3D Buildings’ group in the first place. You can find this in the Layers section of the sidebar on the left side of the screen:

If you don’t see a panel like this you’ll have to check that your sidebar is enabled. There are two ways to toggle this sidebar on. First, you can go to the top toolbar and then click on the sidebar button that I’ve highlighted below:

This will bring the sidebar out to the left side of the screen. Alternatively, you can enable the sidebar by going up to the ‘View’ part of the navigation menu and then checking the box for the ‘Sidebar’ option, which should be second in the menu like so:

Lovers of the keyboard will notice the shortcut for this sidebar on the right, which can be used by pressing Ctrl + Alt + B at the same time in Windows (Cmd + Option + B for Mac users).

So to disable 3D trees, the easiest thing to do is to simply uncheck the ‘3D Buildings’ menu item from the Layers menu as shown below:

Assuming that you’re currently viewing a location that has 3D trees present, you’ll be switched back to a view that portrays the trees like a regular satellite image, just perhaps with the tilt adjusted.

The Effect is From the ‘Photorealistic’ Layer

You may have noticed that the ‘3D Buildings’ option in the Layers menu was a group, as there was an icon indicating it was expandable. If you expand this group you’ll see the following options:

As you can see, there are three options in this group: Photorealistic, Gray, and Trees. It truly is counterintuitive in only a way that Google can pull off, but there doesn’t appear to be much of an effect from the Trees option. If you’re in the sub-menu and looking to disable only the trees, the unfortunate reality is that the 3D trees are from the Photorealistic effect, and not from the Trees effect (whatever that is).

For example, this is a random location with the Photorealistic option enabled:

After disabling this option, the screen then adjusts to the following:

The ‘Trees’ Layer Doesn’t Appear to Alter the Screen

I spent a decent amount of time playing around with the different options here, and as far as I can tell, there isn’t really much of an impact from toggling the ‘Trees’ data layer. It’s possible that there might be some minor impact from it, but the effect of making the trees 3D definitely comes from the ‘Photorealistic’ layer.

Watching some old YouTube videos posted by the Google Earth team, it appears that the trees layer was more useful when it was created back in 2010, but it seems that everything is just under the Photorealistic effect at the current moment.

Where 3D Trees Tend to Appear in Google Earth

While I haven’t tested this super thoroughly, it seems that the 3D rendering effect is typically only available to cities and other suburban areas. Small towns don’t appear to consistently have this effect available, as it doesn’t look like Google updates their satellite imagery enough to be able to pull off this effect.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this article managed to fix your problem and you are now much happier with the appearance of your trees in Google Earth.

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By Drew Meulemans

I've long admired forests and devote much energy to learning about them and exploring. I enjoy sharing what I learn and wish to inspire others to do the same.