How to Create Surreal Little Planets

Creating surreal little planets is something you can do at home, from the comfort of your chair. Using landscape images or panorama’s that you had taken pre-lockdown – you can create unique surreal images simply in Photoshop in just a few steps.

how to create surreal little planets
Sydney Harbour – created from a five-shot pano
The right image

Choosing the image that will create a surreal little planet is about half the equation. It would help if you had a landscape or pano with a sky of 30% or more. It also helps if the horizon on both sides of the image is reasonably level. This forms the area around our circular planet. Panorama’s do work best for surreal little planets, but with one extra step, landscape work. If you have a panorama to start with, you can skip ahead.

little planets
Cape Du Coedic Lighthouse, Kangaroo Island – 3 shot pano
Using a landscape Image

If you don’t have a panorama suitable, you can still create an incredible little planet. We’ll make our image wider. This is the image we’re using.

creating surreal little planets
High Country, Victoria

With your image open in photoshop, select the crop tool. As soon as you do this, you will see white ‘handles’ appear around the edges of your image. Grab the right-hand middle handle and drag it to the right.

Drag it to the right until the new area is about one third wider than your image. It doesn’t have to be exact. It will go white once you let go of the left click. Next, we want to copy what’s on the left and put it on the right. To do this, select the Rectangular marquee tool. It’s the second one from the top, and drag a box around your left-hand image. The ‘marching ants’ will mean it’s active.

little planets

On your keyboard choose Ctrl + C (Command + C on Mac) to copy and Ctrl + V (Command + V on Mac) to paste. It will look like nothing has happened as it’s directly over the top of your image. But don’t stress.

On the top menu bar beside File, click Edit – scroll down to Transform and Flip Horizontal. Now you still have one image, but it’s reversed. Don’t stress we are going to move it to the white area.

Select your move tool (it’s the four-sided arrow at the top). Next, left click on your image and drag it to the right over the white area. Move it till you are happy with its position. I kept mine reasonably close together, but that’s a personal choice.

You will find you have a line where they join. To fix this, click the layers panel, then click the icon at the bottom (it looks like the Japanese flag). That will create a layer mask on your image. Next, take the brush tool, select black as your foreground colour, set the opacity to about 40%, and brush over the join to blend them in. If you take too much off, brush with white to put it back. Don’t stress getting a perfect match; we can refine that at the end stage after it’s warped.

high country surreal little planets
Our symmetrical pano

I didn’t use all the new area I created, so that I will crop that off.

That’s it. We now have our panorama and can make our little planet. If you already have a panorama – then this is where you start.

Using a Panorama Image

You can skip this step if you want – but it will make the result a bit better.

Click on the gradient tool – if you can’t see it, it’s behind the paint bucket. Just left-click and hold over the bucket, and the submenu will pop up. Next, click on your foreground colour palette at the bottom of the left taskbar. Then move towards your image, your cursor will turn into an eyedropper. Hover over the sky on your image. Click about the middle of the sky, and you will see the foreground colour on your colour palette is now blue. Next, click on the gradient tool (13th tool down, again left-click and hold if you don’t see it as it’s behind the paint bucket). You will see the gradient editor in the top menu – make sure you are on the first one to the right of the colour window.

surreal little planets

Left-click and hold just above the image in the centre, and drag down into the sky, and stay within the sky as much as you can. You don’t want to colour your trees or whatever you have. When you let go, the blue will be even from one side to the other.

We’re on the home stretch now. Click the image, then Image Size – we need to make the image square. You will see the little chain link is active – this keeps the image in proportion. For the sake of what we are doing, we don’t want that. Click on it to turn it off, and the lines linking both sizes will go. (don’t forget to turn it back on once you are finished with your planets)

how to create surreal little planets

I tend to keep the smallest side pretty much the same in the actual size. Mine is 8821 x 5196, so I will go 5000 x 5000. Now that it’s looking odd, we need to flip it 180°. Go to image – then Image Rotation – then 180°

upside down
Last Step!

Except for some tidying up, we are almost done. Click Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates. The little window will pop up – make sure its set to Rectangular to Polar

polar coordinates surreal little planets

Final Housekeeping

Our little planet is done but needs a little bit of cleaning up. Also, I’m not too fond of that distinct blue ring around it on the right-hand side. I would rather it blended a bit more.

To do that, I clicked the foreground colour again to activate the eyedropper and click on the deeper blue just inside the edge of the outer circle. Then I swapped to the brush tool (9th tool down). I set the opacity to 30% on the top menu, then brushed over the outer paler areas till it blended (staying within the lighter areas). To select the size of the brush, use the bracket keys on your keyboard [ to make the brush/spot smaller or ] to make it bigger.

how to create surreal little planets

Lastly, I used the spot healing brush (it’s behind the bandaid 8th tool down; hold and click again if you don’t see it) to clean up those spotty bits of branches hanging down. As well as the bad join at the top of the branches.

surreal little planets
Finished image

And we are done. I hope you found this helpful. Have fun with your surreal little planets! For more inspiration check out Paul Reiffers gallery

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