Blender 3D: Noob to Pro/Navigation in 3D

This tutorial was created with Blender v2.49

To move around in your scene you have to be able to pan (move your viewpoint left/right/up/down), rotate and zoom. The easiest thing is to pan; we have to talk a bit about rotating and zooming.


Stopping the animations:

If you find the animated images on this page distracting, press Esc to stop them.


Perspective vs. orthographic viewEdit

Image 1: From perspective to orthographic view

A perspective view is an approximate representation, on a flat surface (such as a monitor), of an image as it is perceived by the eye. The two most characteristic features of perspective are that objects are drawn:

  1. Smaller as their distance from the observer increases
  2. Foreshortened: the size of an object's dimensions along the line of sight are relatively shorter than dimensions across the line of sight.

In orthographic view every line remains to scale.

It is often easier to construct an object in orthographic view. If two objects are aligned in the 3D space, they are also aligned in the view port if you are in orthographic view. Objects of same size appear with the same size. The camera on the other hand renders by default in perspective view.

  • You switch between these two options with View->Orthographic or View->Perspective, or by pressing NUM5.

If you're having trouble distinguishing between orthographic view and perspective view, you should activate View Name in the User Preferences window in the section View & Controls (see below how to do that).

Moving your viewpoint (Pan)Edit

To move your viewpoint:

  • In the 3D view use Shift-MMB to move in the direction you want to go. MMB = middle mouse button.
  • In the other windows MMB alone is sufficient to pan.

You will find some shortcuts to pan in the View menu of the 3D window.


Since rotating means rotating around something, you have to be aware about the something you rotate around. By default you rotate around the center of the 3D view.

  • To free-form rotate (any way), move the mouse while holding down MMB.
  • To rotate around a vertical axis (sideways), leaving objects' vertical orientation unaltered, use NUM4 and NUM6.
  • To rotate around a horizontal axis (upward), leaving objects' horizontal orientation unaltered, use NUM8 and NUM2.

Sometimes the center of the 3D view may be at a place where you don't expect it to be, because it is invisible, so rotating seems to get weird. Here the center of the 3D window is visualized with a black dot in the following images, but there is no visible marking in the 3D window itself.

Image 2a: Easy rotation. The center of the 3D window (black dot) is in the center of the coordinate system.
Image 2b: Not so easy rotation. The center of the 3D window (black dot) might not be where you expect it.

In Img. 2a the center of the 3D window (black dot) is also the center of the coordinate system. Rotating is probably exactly like you would expect it. In Img. 2b the starting situation is exactly the same as in 2a, but the center of the 3D window lies behind the center of the coordinate system. You bring it back with the use of the 3D cursor.

  • Set the cursor to your point of interest, and use View->Align View->Center View to Cursor or the keyboard shortcut ALT+HOME.
  • If you want to rotate around an object, select this object and press NUM. (the period key on the num pad).


Image 3: Zooming in perspective mode

What you have learned for rotation also applies to zooming in the 3D window. Beginners often find themselves in a confusing situation:

  1. When you're in perspective mode you zoom to a point, i.e. the center of the 3D window. You won't move beyond this point, no matter what you do. Zooming only gets slower and slower and slower ... So if the center of the 3D window is somewhere where you don't expect it to be, zooming seems to be broken.
  2. In Orthographic-Mode you zoom as if you look through a camera and use the camera zoom. You can increase the visible image, but you don't change your point of view. So you always see the surface of the object next to you, you can't zoom through it.

So the same cure works for zooming as for rotating: set the 3D cursor to your region of interest or the object you want to zoom to, and press C.

You can also use Shift-B to zoom to a region (pans and zooms).

Standard viewsEdit

Image 4: Setting up the screen to show the four standard views

The standard views are accessible with shortcuts:

  • NUM1: Front view. Z-Axis pointing upwards, X-Axis to the right.
  • NUM7: Top view. X-Axis to the right, Y-Axis upwards.
  • NUM3: Side view (right).
  • NUM0: Camera view.

Camera view is in perspective mode if the camera is rendering perspective (default), it's orthographic if the camera is rendering orthographic.

You reverse the standard orientations Front/Top/Right with Ctrl, viewing Back/Bottom/Left.

Ctrl-Alt-Num0 sets the camera to the current viewpoint.

Changing user preferencesEdit

Image 5: View and Controls preferences

If you are a bit more accustomed to Blender, you may want to change some of your User Preferences.

  • View Name: Shows the name of the used view and whether you are in perspective or orthographic mode. This is a very useful option.
  • Zoom to Mouse Position: Zooms to the mouse cursor and not to the center of the 3D view.
  • Auto Perspective: Changes to orthographic mode if you use one of the standard views.
  • Around Selection: Rotates the view around the current selection. The problem with this option is that you often don't want to rotate around the current selection, but don't want to give up the selection.
  • View Rotation: Changes what type of rotation Blender will use. Trackball will enable view 'rolling,' yet the Turn Table setting disables it, allowing for easier orientation in most cases.