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How to make enchanting “Little Planet” photos

When you look at Little Planet photos, you can’t help but smile. And they are easy to make, whether you have a smartphone or a “big” camera. Their 360-degree, gentle horizon invites you to look, and look a little more. Fun for all ages, I like to think.

Let’s start with the big cameras… If you use a DSLR camera, many wide-angle lenses will do. I won’t go into all the possibilities here, but I’ll give you a tour inside my toolkit: I marry a fisheye lens onto my Canon 5D camera. Then I take 8 to 12 photographs while walking in a circle around my tripod. Back at the computer, I seamlessly stitch the panorama together using special software to create a super wide-angle view. (See Resources below for a tutorial).

Can you use a smartphone to make Little Planet photos?

Yes, you can. You will find a link to a useful app at the end of this article, after the “Daffodil Basketball” Little Planet.

Little Planet photography combines science, geometry, and art. The technique follows a classic mapping method called “stereographic projection.” This simply means to project a sphere onto a flat surface.

About these Little Planet photos

I’ve selected some of my favorite images and paired them  (like a good wine) with inspirational quotes about nature and the Earth. In each photo caption I describe the scene and how I made the shot.

I hope you enjoy this collection…

Quonset hut and flower garden

Little Planet view of a flower garden in Kodiak, Alaska

There is a lot going on in this Little Planet view of a friend’s garden and Quonset hut-house in Kodiak, Alaska. I’m standing in one of her flower beds. Then I set my camera’s timer and ran to where my friends were sitting (at the north or top part of the photo). See the blue gazing ball near the Quonset hut house? This was a very fun and unique group portrait, blended from 8 photos.

For thee the wonder-working earth puts forth sweet flowers.
— Lucretius (96-55 B.C., Roman poet)

Golden trees in Colorado

Little Planet view in a grove of aspens in fall colors.

For this Little Planet view, I stood in a clearing among aspens that were shimmering in brilliant fall colors. With each breeze, golden leaves sifted around the legs of my tripod. See the sun “star” shining through the tree top in the NW corner of the photo? This picture was created from 8 separate photos.

It is time for us to kiss the earth again,
It is time to let the leaves rain from the skies,
Let the rich life run to the roots again.
— Robinson Jeffers

A foggy day at the harbor

Little planet view of harbor in Kodiak, Alaska

I made this Little Planet picture from 12 photos taken on a foggy day in St. Paul Harbor in Kodiak, Alaska. To take the photos, I stood at the cross section of the two walkways. See the sailboat mast poking into the SW corner of the frame? And the green garden hose snaking along the dock?

How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.
— Arthur C. Clarke

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
— Mother Teresa

Nootka lupine and driftwood

Little Planet view of Nootka lupine flowers near the ocean.

Nootka lupine are one of my favorite flowers. So when I saw this field of lupine and stunted spruce trees thriving in piles of driftwood, I knew I had to make a Little Planet shot. Overcast days are best for this kind of photography, so when the light was right, we took our boat and a picnic lunch over to Long Island, near my hometown of Kodiak, Alaska.

There are many paths to a meaningful sense of the natural world.
— Blackfoot saying

Cold hands

Little Planet view of Denali Park's Winter Visitor Center in Alaska

Brrrrr. At -30 degrees F. it was hard to work the camera controls. But then, I prefer to photograph snowflakes bare-handed, too. This early morning, Little Planet view of the Denali Winter Visitor Center (open year round!) entrance (in the interior of Alaska) was blended from 9 photos. After shooting, I went inside to warm up! Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet (6,190 m) above sea level.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like falling leaves.
— John Muir

Bryce Canyon National Park

Little Planet view of Canyonlands, Utah.

If you’ve never hiked in Utah’s national and state parks, put it on your bucket list. Beautiful rock formations and a fabulous network of trails. Especially in Bryce Canyon National Park. Look carefully in the light-colored section in the middle and you’ll see the trail. I believe it was called Queen’s Garden Trail.  Created from 12 images.

I believe a time will come when in greater understanding we shall have no boundaries anymore. We shall call the earth our country; and we shall, by a process of justice and international assemble, distribute unselfishly the goods of the world according to the needs of the people.
— Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi (the one book that stayed with Steve Jobs his entire life)

Daffodil flowers in the round

Little Planet view of a daffodil farm in Washington State

How fun is this? Daffodils as far as the eye can see! My brothers and sister are standing near the red building. See them at the top? To find the right angle, I tip-toed through the mud, set up my tripod and took 12 shots to make this final “Little Planet” image. The rows and textures resemble a basketball, don’t you think?

No matter what you ask of the daffodil, it will still wait until spring to bloom.
We all open up when the time is right.
— Rudy Francisco

And finally, I think Little Planet pictures would make great jigsaw puzzles, don’t you?

Cheers and blessings to you,

Kodiak, Alask

P.S. If you have any questions, I’d love to know. Drop me a line in the comments below.

More links and resources for you:

1. As promised, here is a link to a Tiny Planet photos app for iPhones.
2. Kodiak Island, Alaska: Where I live…
Many of my Little Planet photos were taken right here in Kodiak, Alaska. A gorgeous place on yes, this little planet. We host the Cliff House B&B, which is located right on the ocean. Killer whales and sea otters swim by. There is a bald eagle nest two doors down…
3. Want to learn more about Little Planet photography? Here is a techie description on Wikepedia.
4. How to make a Little Planet photos: Tutorial here.

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Marion Owen is a “Jill of all trades,” with 30 years of experience as a teacher and columnist. She’s on a mission to help busy people by condensing topics such as photography, cooking, and organic gardening into bite-size pieces. Get her free 4-page “In Good Light: Photo Tips for Busy People” and feel newly recharged when taking pictures.

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