Tutorial: The making of a Wee Planet…

As promised, here is a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of a wee planet:
(UPDATE:  Stay tuned for a special giveaway at the bottom of this post!)

If you’d like to try this at home, first read this important safety message (sanctioned by your mother) about taking photos in silly places like the middle of the street or pastures:

Please borrow a friend as a spotter for the day and use appropriate safety precautions.  (Side note: Sometimes I wonder about all of the legal disclaimers in our culture: professional driver on a closed course; do not try this at home; warning – coffee is hot… A neighbor child promised he wouldn’t sue me as he asked my permission to pogo down the steps in our sidewalk earlier this summer – sheesh!  I know I’m getting way off topic…Just be responsible and use your best judgement.) 

STEP 1: Scout a location. TIP:  The cleanest & easiest planets have something fairly uniform in the top and bottom third of the photo – sky above and grass or water, etc., below.  

The ideal time for taking photos is usually (a) the middle of the day when the sun is above you, the lighting is even everywhere and the shadows are minimal, (b) an overcast day can work for the same reasons, or (c) at dawn or dusk, give or take twenty minutes.

STEP 2: Stand in the middle of your scene (watch for traffic!) and slowly turn in a circle taking photos all the way around.  We’re after a 360 degree panorama of the location, showing sky above everything (take an extra layer of photos if there is a tall tree or building.)  

STEP 3:  Stitch the photos together to create a 360 degree panorama.  Many photo editing software programs will have tools to help line-up and blend your images where they overlap.  TIP:  The horizon should be level in your photo and the left and right edges should line-up.  If not, your planet will have a big crack or cliff edge in it!

STEP 4:  Leave it as-is or get creative and accentuate the image.  You can either do this digitally with the filters and tools in your photo editing program or print out your panorama and enhance it by hand with your own art supplies.  TIP:  One suggestion is to print in black and white and artificially color your image.  When complete, scan or photograph your finished image.

Below is the final version of my panorama photo.  I replaced an overcast gray sky with a cloudy summer sky, added some green leaves to a winter-bare tree, exaggerated the height of the buildings and made the colors pop a bit for an artistic feel.

STEP 5:  There are several ways to convert your finished panorama to a wee planet.  One of the easiest methods is by using the Polar Coordinates filter in PhotoShop.  To do so, first rotate your panorama 180 degrees so that it is upside down.  Next, adjust the image size so that the height and width are the same – your image will now be stretched out.

Finally, apply the Polar Coordinates filter (Rectangular to Polar) to your image.  Ta-da!  Finally, clean-up and add any finishing touches to your planet.

 Here is my “before” wee planet:

And here is the final version of Wee Planet Downtown Bryan, with all of the little artistic touches that make it sing:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peak behind the scenes!  I absolutely love this art form and plan to do a series of “local” planets in the near future…

P.S.  Have you used this technique to make a wee planet of your own?  Leave a link in the comments – I’d love to see your creations! 

P.P.S.  Do you have a great 360 panorama photo you think would make a lovely planet?  Read about my Open Call for Panoramas!

If you live near Bryan/College Station, Texas, be sure to check out the November 6th Sunday edition of The Eagle.  I am honored that they will be featuring my Wee Planet artwork in the paper.  So to celebrate, I’m giving away an 8″ x 8″ glossy print of a local Wee Planet!  (See my Wee Planet gallery here.)  To enter, simply leave a comment on this post.  (Or Share, Digg, Tweet or Like it and let me know.)  Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win!  I’ll announce the winner at the end of the month.  (And if there are a lot of entries, I’ll add an extra planet print or two…)

Credits: All downtown Bryan photos and wee planets copyright by Nikki Smith.  My good friends Ralph and Susan Brussard provided the source panorama for the volcano planet above from their trip to the Tongariro Volcanoes.  Thanks also to the following kind souls for sharing their cow and car photos with a Creative Commons Attribution license: “A Cow” by Stuart Alldred / SocialRobot and “Retro / Vintage / Car” by Andrew / CubaGallery.  For every Creative Commons photo I use, I am uploading one of my own to share with the community.  See my Creative Commons photo collection here.

Comments 8

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  4. Great technique. I have made panoramics before but never the polar coordinates feature in Photoshop. I am inspired to try it on my next “artistic” day.

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