You may have seen tiny planet photos around the place. It’s pretty obvious how they get their name–they look like tiny planets by exaggerating the distortion.
They’re real photos. They just dial the fisheye effect up to eleven. But they do need software that can give you control over the perspective and distortion.
They’re also easy enough to create with the right tools. The first is a 360-degree camera. Technically, you don’t need 360-degree images, but they make things easier and give you more flexibility in the end result. It’s also a way of using images created with cameras like the Ricoh Theta S or Nikon KeyMission 360.
The second is software that can warp the image. You can actually accomplish it in something like Photoshop, but that’s more work than using a dedicated app. And if you don’t already own Photoshop, it’s a very expensive way to do it. (As a cheaper (ie. free) alternative, here’s a guide to doing it in GIMP.)
The app I’ve been using is Circular Studio. It’s Mac only and is available from the Mac App Store. Here are the basics of how it works.
Using Circular Studio to Create Tiny Planets
Naturally enough, you start by importing the image you want to work with. I generally start with 360° equirectangular images created with a Ricoh Theta S, but there’s no reason you have to use that particular camera. Any of the images created by the new generation of 360-degree cameras will work, as will shooting the old-fashioned way with a DSLR and stitching several images together. And, for that matter, it’s not essential that you start with a 360° image–you can start with any image to generate some weird and wonderful effects. But for the best tiny planet looks, I find 360° images work best.
When you import the photo you get the option of cropping and straightening it. I’ll usually do that part before bringing it into Circular Studio, but if you’re pulling the image directly out of the camera it’s handy to be able to fix some things before you get started.
I’m starting here with a shot from in front of the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, VA.
I’ve left the cropping as the default. When I hit the “Crop” button at top right, it imports the image directly into the main workspace. As you can see, it starts with some default setting that get you that tiny planet look right out of the gate.
If you’re using a 360° image, you’ll want to check the 360 Mode button in the bottom right. That will smooth out the seam. On some images, the difference is marginal, but it is an improvement. I have come across some instances where the seam is still visible, and for those I’ve gone in later in Photoshop and cleaned it up. Here’s a before/after with the 360 Mode to show what it does.
Next you’ll want to start messing with the zoom and rotation. I obviously want to zoom out a bit, and I can choose where I want the rotation to be. In this case, I’m going to spin it a little.
This looks unbalanced to me–it’s too heavily weighted to the top of the frame. I could, of course, go in later and crop the whole thing, but there’s another adjustment I can make first. And this is where you can really go crazy. It’s using the Flip Y and Flip X sliders. If you want to be extreme, you can move it through a complete inversion, like this:
Instead, though, what I’m trying to do is balance things out a little. So I’m going to use the slider much less.
And with a slight adjustment in the zoom, that gives you a basic tiny planet look. You can then export the image as a JPG, PNG, or TIF image.
Other Controls and Special Effects
Of course, there’s no reason you have to stop there, and what I’ve done here so far is really only using a small part of the app. There are also a bunch of other things you can do to go hog-wild with psychedelia. There’s no right or wrong with any of these–it’s purely whatever you want.
If something like this is what you prefer, knock yourself out with the melt, blocks, spiral, and tunnel sliders.
You can insert graphic clip-art:
Or sky and cloud effects:
And any of the effects, textures, or elements can be edited individually as a layer, so you can adjust things like size, opacity, and saturation.
I generally prefer to leave the images without any generated graphics, but there aren’t many limits on the weird and wonderful looks you can generate even without moving it into Photoshop.
Here are a few examples of some shots I’ve taken out and about in Washington DC. I have more here.