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A panoramic photo is capable of showing a 360° angle-of-view all around. Such an image is difficult to print and see as a whole due to its extreme aspect-ratio. One way to show everything at once is to transform the panorama into a wee planet. This creates an unusually interesting image that looks like a small planet shot from above using a fisheye lens.
The technical term for wee planet is stereographic projection, although if you Google that you will see a lot more math than simply searching for wee planet. This technique requires a panorama with an angle-of-view of exactly 360° and distorts is so that it gets wrapped in a circle which fits nicely into a square image.
The first step in creating a wee planet is therefore to make a 360° panorama photo. Because the horizon gets looped into a circle, anything other than 360° will not make a seamless planet. If you stitched images using panorama software that handles 360° panoramas, edges should exactly match as long as the horizon is level. Although it is better to assemble a panorama photo from level shots, modern panorama software can often level things for you.
If you used your camera’s built-in Sweep Panorama (Sony) or Motion Panorama (Fuji), you may have more than 360°. In that case, it is important to crop the opposites sides of the panorama so that they match exactly. Do so after the leveling because it affects edges.
With your panorama ready, it only takes a few moments to make the wee planet in Photoshop. The first step is to open the panorama and to transform it into a square. This is done using the Image -> Image Size dialog. Start by unchecking the Constrain Proportion box. Then make the width, in pixels, the same as the height or one more. So, if your image was 20636×6515, you can size the image to 6515×6515 or 6516×6515.
If you added the extra pixel, the outside of the planet can be filled with a color of your choosing. Otherwise, the pixels on the edge of the planet will streak out. To add that color, use the Image -> Canvas Size dialog:
Then you need to rotate the image by upside-down. This is done using the Image -> Image Rotation -> 180° menu item. Skipping this step will result in a tunnel rather than a planet. The next step actually creates the planet: Filter -> Distort -> Polar Coordinates. Just make sure the Rectangular To Polar option is checked and click OK.
There you have it! You now have your own miniature planet. While this article ends here, the planet can be enhanced further. While you are in Photoshop you can be more creative and replace the sky with another sky photo for example. What is neat is that the wee planet image is square and much easier to print than a traditional panorama.
Itai Danan is a travel photographer and leading expert on digital photography who has been demystifying digital cameras since 2006. He regularly leads photo tours to Ecuador and other exotic destinations. Plus, he teaches group and private photography classes in Montreal, Canada where he currently lives.
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