Ever since Google released the Photosphere feature for their Nexus devices, I have been obsessed with making tiny planets. The photosphere feature enables you to take 360 degree photos, essentially creating a “room” of photos. You also have the ability to turn your panorama into a “tiny planet”. Android does all the work for you, and while you may get some errors with the stitched image, they usually turn out pretty great.
Here’s a video showing how it works:
Going down the rabbit hole
While Android does a pretty good job, it wasn’t enough for me. “How the hell does it do that?” I found out that there were plenty of tiny planet photographers out there. The technique is called stereographic projection. This fancy word really just means mapping out a sphere to a flat plane. The way we make tiny planets is by taking a flat image, and mapping it to a sphere. Confused yet? Here, I’ll show you.
First lets choose a landscape photo
This is Cannon beach in Oregon. (I’m moving to Oregon in just a couple weeks and cant wait to visit here and get some photos of my own)
Next we are going to open it up in Photoshop and do a few quick manipulations/distortions
1. Image Size > Uncheck Scale Styles and Constrain Proportions
2. Make the image a square
4. Flip image vertically
3. Filters>Distort>Polar Coordinates
Polar Coordinates will wrap your image around a focal point on the top center point of the image. You can see the line created in the center of the image is where the two edges of the photo line up. One way of fixing this is to take a panoramic photo, mirror it horizontally, and then perform the steps above. That way you will get a symmetrical planet.
This will work with any photo, it doesn’t have to be a landscape at all. Its a great technique to make all sorts of interesting circle patterns. I find that illustrating patterns, and applying this technique can turn out pretty great.
The work isn’t done after I “Tiny Planet” my photos. Most of the time is spent in Photoshop, manipulating the photo so I can get exactly the planet I want. Some of my pieces are made from 20+ photos, and some are made of just one.
Below is a photo I took with my Nexus 4 using photosphere, and then turned into a tiny planet in Photoshop. The gif shows you how I fix stitching mistakes, add highlights, shadows, and some overall touch-ups.
Here’s the final product:
Now go make some tiny planets. Its fun.