How to Create a Little Planet in Photoshop

Earth-Day-2018-750.jpg

You’ve probably seen these “little planets,” “little worlds,” or “polar landscapes” before — they were incredibly popular just a few years ago. These days, we’re not seeing them as often, but I still love creating them! They’re fun to look at, fun to make — and who doesn’t need a bit more whimsy in their life, you know?

I made this one to wish everyone a Happy Earth Day from our desert home in the UAE. One of my Photoshop students asked how it was done, so I decided to share the basic steps here. As a Photoshop instructor, I have to say that creating little planets is actually a great way to practice basic skills and use common tools in the program. So let’s get to it…

(1) Choose a good image. By “good” image, I mean a landscape that is fairly symmetrical or even throughout. For example, one that has trees on the right side, but no trees on the left side will be difficult to work with. Also, having three horizontal sections (like a sky; mountains, water, forest in the background; and something consistent like dirt, sand, grass, water in the foreground) will make a more interesting planet.

desert-landscape-sand-dunes-blog.jpg

(2) Create symmetry. This step isn’t always necessary. If your original image seems fairly symmetrical, go ahead and skip to the step three. But usually you’ll need to make the image more even in Photoshop. In my example, I selected about one-third of the right side of the photo, flipped it horizontally, then placed it over the left side of the photo. I then did a bit of blending (using a layer mask and a soft brush), but didn’t care to get it perfect because it’s about to be distorted anyway!

how-to-make-a-little-planet-in-photoshop.jpg

(3) Prep the image by turning it into a square. Starting with a square ensures that the planet will be a perfect circle. Otherwise, it will be an oval. The steps are purely technical; just follow below:

Go to image —> image size —> unlink the width and height by clicking on the paperclip between the two —> copy either the width or height and paste that number into the other field, so that both dimensions are the same —> ok

The resulting image, now a square, will be distorted, but this is fine.

how-to-make-a-little-planet-in-photoshop-2.jpg

(4) Flip vertically, then run the distortion filter. Again, purely technical. Follow below:

Go to image —> image rotation —> flip 180 or flip canvas vertical

Your image will now be upside down. 

Go to filter —> distort —> polar coordinates —> check “rectangular to polar” —> ok

Viola! You should now have a little planet! But you're not done yet...

(5) Touch up and stylize. This is the fun part — you now have creative freedom to transform and stylize the image any way you want. This is also when you should fix problems (like seams), and make adjustments to brightness or color so that the entire image is consistent. Make use of the healing brush and clone stamp tools, as well as layer masks and regular brushes, to fix things; use adjustment layers like curves or levels, as well as fill layers and blend modes to stylize the image. You can even incorporate elements from other photos. I inserted a camel in mine!

That’s it — just a few simple steps to create the planet. The real skill (and art) is in the additional editing (step 5) which can be tricky to get the image to work. But once you succeed… hey, what fun was that?