How to Make a Planet

November 29, 2009

I get asked reasonably often how to make a Planet image, so I thought I would make a step-by-step guide to making them in Photoshop. This one is very far from perfect (it’s a bit rough) but I hope it serves well enough.

The strength of Photoshop is that it is a general collection of very simple tools that can be infinitely combined to produce impressive-looking images. I’ve set out the stages I go through to make my Planets, though I’m aware that there are more straightforward, cleverer and efficient ways of doing the same. Hugin is a program used frequently by the Planet makers on flickr but I have to confess to finding it rather difficult.

I use a Nikon D80 with an 18-120mm lens. Obviously the wider-angle the lens, the fewer photographs you need to take but the more distortion you have. With an 18mm lens, I take about forty photos covering the whole scene: all the horizon, all the ground and all the sky with a generous overlap.

It’s a good idea to take the photographs portrait rather than landscape as this reduces the distortion a little.

Photoshop has a photo merge function that I use to save time, but this has to be done in small chunks: if all the images are put in together there’ll be some amount of ambiguity as to where the image starts and ends, and it’s good to reserve decisions like that to yourself. Therefore, only give the photo merge tool 180° or so at a time for each line of images. These halves can then be manually stitched together to produce a full 360°. This image is made of four such blocks: two at normal eye level and two tilting downwards:

Before the image can be rounded to produce a planet, each end has to perfectly match up. To do this, I split the image in the middle and move each half to the opposite side. If there’s enough overlap I can then manually stitch together the new centre.

I make the planet round by using the Polar Coordinates tool in the Filters/Distort menu, but applied to the panorama as it is will produce a horrible result. First, the image must be square so the result is circular and not oblong, squashed so the scene does not appear stretched, and upside-down (as the top-edge becomes the centre).

Having applied the Polar Coordinates filter the image becomes:

The Planet can then be rotated to give the emphasis to one part (it’s easier to decide the orientation now before the sky is in place):

I photo-merged another block of photographs from the nadir of the scene:

I took a photograph that my sister took of Crafthole & I at our door (in our moving house outfits):

I patched these two things into the Planet:

Next, the sky. I had meant to make a Planet photo of this house for a long time, but didnt get round to it until the day we finally moved out. The sky on that day was unfortunately extremely dull, so I did what I quite often do, which is to add my own. I took a photograph from my library of a very cloudy sky, stretched it to fit the image and curved the clouds round the planet with the lens distort tool.

The rest of the finishing touches were achieved with the shadows/highlight tool:

and the addition of textures:

The cobbles were patched very badly but half my joy is to carry on fiddling :-)


One Response to “How to Make a Planet”

  1. Dear Lady C.
    Thank you for instant reply. I do understand, I have a long way to go with this PHOTOSHOP-thing. I got my first MAC 2 years ago in January 2008 (almost 2 yrs) as a 58 yrs old thing. I hope I will be as genius as you are, in 1 or 2 years! Thank you for your inspiration!

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