Tiny Planets

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Tiny Planet

Here’s something fun I’ve been playing with lately. I’ve been fooling around with making tiny planets in Photoshop, and I thought I’d share the steps for making them – along with some basic tips that I learned as I played with the process. I have to admit that I had entirely too much fun with these. 🙂

Here’s how it works…

Step 1: Choose the Photo you want to use to create your planet. I’d recommend planning for these shots in advance, and taking some nice pano shots with interesting horizons. But, it works just as well to choose existing photos and crop them to your specifications. I chose this shot from Florida because it had a nice, wide horizon, some pretty reflections in the water, and an interesting sky.

01 starting image

This is what I started with.

Step 2: Make sure your horizon is level, and then crop the photo to create a wide panorama.

02 crop to pano

Here’s my pano crop.

Step 3: Next, we’re going to create a square shape by stretching the image. Choose Image > Image Size, then copy the dimensions for the Width into the Height box and click ok.

03 image size to square

Convert your pano to a square.

Here’s what happens to your image – it gets all stretched out. Stay with me here.

04 square stretched image

It looks weird, but don’t worry.

Step 4: Turn your image upside down. Choose Image > Image Rotation > 180 degrees.

05 rotate 180 degrees

Don’t forget to turn it upside down.

Step 4: Convert your image to 8-bit if it isn’t already. The polar coordinates filter doesn’t work for a 16-bit image. Choose Image > Mode > 8 Bits/Channel.

Step 5: Select Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates. Select the Rectangular to Polar option, and click ok. And there it is! Your very own little planet! It needs a bit more work, but you are mostly there! If you don’t like the result, go back and tweak your original image. You can choose a different one with a more interesting horizon, or crop it differently for a different finished effect. I’d recommend doing some experimentation to see what happens when you choose a wider or narrower panorama, include more or less sky or foreground, and so on.

07 polar coordinates filter

How cool is that?

Step 6: Now it’s time for some cleanup. I use the clone tool, the spot healing brush, and the patch tools – along with content aware functionality – to get the look I want. This is where my Wacom Intuos 5 tablet and stylus come in really handy. I’m zooming way in and working with lots of tiny details – and the stylus lets me have all the control I want. (Did I mention I’m a control freak?) 😉 Anyway – I try to get rid of the sharp “crease” that happens when the filter does it’s work, and then I go in and make sure my reflections and horizon line are just right.

08 clone layer

Cleanup time.

Sometimes, I’ll create a duplicate layer and rotate it to help me achieve the finished look I want. In this case, my horizon wasn’t quite right. I rotated the duplicate layer on top of the original planet, and then used a mask to isolate part of the horizon line for that layer. Then I merged those layers, and continued with the cloning process. I used that little bit of rotated horizon to help me create a cleaner finished look.

09 rotate

Use whatever techniques work best for you for cleanup.

Here’s what the planet looked like when I was done with the cleanup.

10 cleaned up

Here’s my cleaned up planet.

For the finished image, I added some more clouds to fill in the stretched corners. I also added some wildlife. The birds add interest and also provide a sense of scale. I wanted my planet to feel truly tiny.

The Quiet - Varina Patel

What do you think?

Here are a few more examples of what you can create with this fun technique. This glowing planet was created from a burning sunset over Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park.

Flooded Planet


And this one is a Faerie World straight out of Iceland!

Little Green Planet


I’d love to see what you create using this technique! Please share a link in the comments… and feel free to share suggestions for creating great tiny planets as well. Have fun!


About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.