Little Planets

Little planets have been around (ahem cough cough excuse the pun) for a few years now and it's something I've wanted to try since then but there was very little info at the time on how do these amazing and unbelievable pictures, until now.
As a subscriber to Digital SLR Photography my September 2012 issue dropped through the letterbox and landed with an angel like grace sitting there waiting for me to make a coffee so I could relax and sift through the pages,  it wasn't long before I stumbled upon the complete picture section and bang there it was everything I needed to know about panoramics and little planets.
A little spark grew in me as the very thing I've been dying to try over the past couple of years was now in an easy to read and well explained guide and I couldn't believe how easy it was.
So far I have only done two planets but already I can see an endless scope of opportunity and ideas for this little gem know as "Little Planets". 

A step by step tutorial is provided further down the page

My two Little Planets
Train World
Planet De La Warr

Taken in Bexhill-on-sea Planet De La Warr includes the famous De La Warr pavilion and the upper pavilions of the Colonnade built in 1911.

Planet De La Warr is made up of 19 separate pictures and was taken with My Nikon D300s attached to my Manfrotto 055xprob tripod and cable release.
Unfortunately I had on my Manfrotto 496 RC2 ball head which is not really suited to this job as it doesn't have panoramic capabilities but I soldered on and would correct my mistake next time by taking my pan and tilt head instead.
I used my sigma 10-20 at its widest setting and turned my camera into the portrait format to squeeze in every bit of landscape as I could and proceeded to take 19 pictures moving my camera to the right after every shot and making sure the pictures overlapped slightly to create the panoramic which is needed to complete the planet.

Train World was taken in a railway sidings, I am very impressed how this turned out as it was a handheld panoramic which included 16 shots to form my "Little Planet".
I will explain how I took this shot below.

I had with me my Nikon D300s with Hahnel battery grip and Nikon 16-85 VRII and nothing else so I had to improvise.
I shot all 16 pictures in portrait format to gain every ounce of my surroundings and thanks to my Hahnel battery grip I could keep the right orientation without twisting my arm off, this also helped keep the succession of pictures straight and steady.
Before taking my shots I made sure all my settings where set up to make sure the pictures where as seamless as possible.
I used auto focus on a point of interest then flipped the focusing back to manual to stop the focusing searching between shots.
The light was a bit dark in places so I upped my ISO to 400 to get a better shutter speed and switched on Vibration Reduction to help further.
I chose a preset white balance to keep the colouring consistent between pictures then took a test shot to check exposure then adjusted any settings accordingly in manual mode, I set the aperture and shutter speed myself so they stayed exactly the same after every shot.
Once I was happy with my settings I raised the camera to my eye and composed the first shot, I then tucked my arms nice and tight against my body and proceeded to take the pictures, turning clockwise after every shot making sure each one overlapped.

Here are the 16 shots I took

The camera shows roughly my starting position with the arrow showing the direction I took to get all 16 pictures.
Once you have all the shots in the bag the next thing is the processing stage to bring all these shots together to make your "Little Planet".
I e-mailed Jo Lezano, Editorial Co-Ordinator at Digital SLR Photography to ask if I could scan the two pages of the tutorial to use on my blog and share it with you guys, not only did I get their blessing Jo sent me the two pages as a PDF to get the best quality available, Thanks Jo you are a star.
The PDF has been converted to jpeg for convenience.

Here is the Tutorial provided by Digital SLR Photography Magazine

Click on the picture to bring up the large version of the tutorial to read.
Just follow the 8 easy steps to to take you to "Little Planet" heaven.

I am also listing the 8 steps below.

  1. Pick your location. Choose a scene where the bottom 20-25% of each image is fairly plain - grass, water, sand on a beach and paving are ideal. This area forms the centre of the planet pan and also gets distorted more than any other area, so it works better if it's plain.
  2. Wait for a plain sky. The scene should also be relatively plain in the top 20-25% - cloudless sky is ideal - as this area will form the outside edge of the planet pan. If it's complicated it will look odd. Wait for a sunny day when the sky is blue for the best results.
  3. Centre the horizon. The horizon must be in the centre of the frame. Why? Because the left-hand and right-hand edges of the 360 pan will meet when you create the planet pan. So if the horizon isn't central, it won't meet and you'll have a big crack in your planet!
  4. Set up. Having found the right scene, set up your camera and prepare to shoot a conventional 360 panorama. As the coverage is so great, it's crucial that the camera is set up level, so be sure to use a spirit level.
  5. Stitching Images. Download the source images to your computer then stitch them together using whatever stitching software you use. Once the stitch is complete, crop the top and bottom as required, flatten the layers and save.
  6. Set height and width. In Photoshop, go to Image>Image size and uncheck Constrain Proportions. Next, set the height of the image to the same size as the width to distort it, then go to Image>Image Rotation and rotate 180 degrees.
  7. Create your Planet Pan. Go to Filter>Distort>Polar Coordinates and in the dialogue box choose Rectangular to Polar. This will transform the image and create the striking planet effect you're after. Cool or what?!
  8. Rotate and clean up. Rotate the planet until you're happy using Image>Image Rotation>Arbitrary. If the join between the two ends isn't perfect, clean it up with the Clone Stamp Tool, then adjust colour and contrast.

If you are unsure of how to stitch together a panoramic you can google it, try youtube or order the September issue of Digital SLR Photography or e-mail me and I will give extra information on this.

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial and have found it useful and if so please feel free to leave a comment.