A range of creative effects can be achieved using the “little planet” effect. This effect can be produced by the “polar co-ordinates” filter in Adobe Photoshop. This filter was probably created to allow a map of the world to be transformed from an equilateral projection to a polar projection. Flaming Pear has produce a Photoshop plugin called Flexify that offers a number of enhancements on this process. There are a range of different projections available, with controls to adjust the longitude and latitude of the central point.
To create the “little planet” we use an “extreme panoramic” photograph (instead of a map) as our starting point. This photograph is produced by joining 30 or more individual images together in photomerge. The panorama should go 360 degrees horizontally and 180 degrees vertically. In other words it is a photograph of everything visible from a given point. The filter will bend the panorama around to give the illusion that you are standing above a “little planet”. It is similar to the appearance you get when you peer at the reflection in a very shiny door knob. The resulting image is quite distorted—but still understandable. There is often curving of straight lines and compression of objects near the horizon.
1, Taking the photosI use the camera in portrait orientation. The images overlap by something around 30-50 percent. I usually combine 3 layers of panorama. One level with the horizon and another with the camera angled 35 degrees up and a final layer angled at 35 degrees down. Although a tripod is helpful it is not essential. One problem with using the tripod is distortion due to parallax. Objects in the foreground intersect with the horizon (or background objects) in different places in subsequent photos. This can be avoided if you rotate the camera around the panoramic axis (roughly the position of the aperture ring – and not the point where the tripod attaches). I will end up with around 30-36 images.
- Preparation and Photo-merge.
I will batch edit the photos down to a smaller size (eg 1024 x 678) in order to reduce demands on my computer processor. I will then open all of the 32 odd images in Adobe Photoshop. Next I will open the Photomerge dialogue (File > Automate > Photomerge) and elect to “add open files”. All of the images should now appear in a list in the dialogue. With the Layout set at “Auto” and “blend images together” ticked I will hit the OK button. The process may take 15 to 20 mins, so I go out and make a coffee.
The Panorama will be oddly shaped. The first thing to do is to “merge all layers.” Next I might correct misalignment errors by using—”Edit > transform > Warp” (Note this tool will not work on the background layer—so you may have to duplicate the background layer—or alternatively ‘select’ a portion this is distorted, then copy and paste this selection as a new layer.) It takes a bit of skill using the warp tool—but I find I can correct most errors with patience. Now I take the right hand end of the panorama, and copy and paste it over the left hand end of the panorama. This needs to be seamless—so spend a bit of time ensuring the alignment is spot on. (I often reduce the opacity of the pasted selection to 50%, as in the picture above, to ensure that objects line up. Once lined up – return to 100% opacity.) Correct errors of exposure by using a gradient mask to graduate from one layer to the next. Next find an identical spot at both ends and rotate the canvas so that the two points are at identical heights. Finally you are ready to crop the picture at this identical point so that the two ends of the panorama will match perfectly.
Firstly I add a little ground and sky (around 10-15%) using “Image > Canvas Size” command. This will allow the little world to develop a healthy spherical shape rather than a miserable puckered shape. That is when you get to the final product—you won’t be able to tell now. Then I change the aspect ratio to match the size of the picture that I wish to create. In flexify I prefer a rectangle with a 2:3 ratio. In Polar co-ordinates it does not work unless it is a perfect square. Use the “Image > Image size” command with “constrain aspect” unticked. If you are using Polar co-ordinates you also have to rotate 180 degrees so that the image is upside down.
In photoshop you run “Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates”. In a blink of an eye the little planet will be created. You will find that objects are very compressed as they get close to the outside circle.If you have loaded the Flaming Pear “Flexify” plugin you run “Filter >Flaming Pear > Flexify”. In flexify you have many options. I suggest you use equirectangular as your input mode and stereographic as your output mode. In this mode the sky is stretched out and looks more natural.
Adjust the sliders to get the result that you want. At one end of the spectrum you can create a mini planet. At the other extreme a tube world. There is endless variation between these two extremes.
6. Finally you will want to patch the big white hole in the middle of your image. You can do this with an extra photograph taken straight down at the ground when you took your initial panorama. If you forgot to do this, use the clone tool to make a convincing patch. Finally you have created your little planet. Well done. Was it worth all of the hard work? I hope so. This is the one that I decided to keep.