The wonder of modern technology means it no longer takes millions of years to form a new world – you just need a spare afternoon. Your world, or panosphere, requires a 360° panoramic image and a bit of brute Photoshop force. Let’s get straight into the technique…
Gathering Raw Materials
You can create a 360° panorama with almost any camera. A tripod helps keep the image edges aligned; position the tripod head so the camera keeps the horizon level as you rotate round 360°. Check how the scene looks through the viewfinder, and ensure taller elements in the scene (e.g. trees, skyscrapers) do not rise out of frame. Shoot a series of images, ensuring at least 30% of the preceding image is included in the current one, and that the first and last images also overlap.
If your camera offers manual exposure, use it to produce uniform illumination across images. For those unused to manual exposure, set the camera to your preferred mode (landscape, aperture priority etc), make a note of the aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings, switch back to manual and apply those settings.
An alternative to manual exposure is the exposure lock function. With cameras that don’t offer manual exposure or exposure lock, try using exposure compensation if you notice shots are getting significantly lighter or darker (Photoshop can try to blend the tone and colour of adjacent photos, but they need to be reasonably similar to begin with).
The Stitch Up
Load the images into your computer and view them in Adobe Bridge. If shooting RAW, make RAW window adjustments to one image and apply the same settings to all the others in the set. Select all the images and merge them: tools->photoshop->photomerge
Or, from Photoshop: file->automate->photomerge and select the files or folder you wish to merge.
In the photomerge window select the options shown below, and take a tea break.
Photomerge results vary with the files input; if the above options do not produce a reasonably neat panorama with even illumination experiment with layout options and maybe de-select vignette removal.
Each source image becomes a layer with a mask created by photomerge to make the stitching seamless. At 100% magnification, scroll from one end of the image to the other using the hand tool (h) looking for areas where adjacent image elements have not lined up properly. These can often be fixed by manually refining the masks of relevant layers. To quickly identify the relevant layer/mask, select the move tool (v), check auto-select, and click on the problematic area of the image. Switch to the brush tool, and click on the mask before brushing. Remember that white reveals the current layer whilst black conceals it. You may need to conceal part of one layer before you can properly reveal the corresponding section of its neighbour, depending on which layer is on top. Once there are no more fault lines in your nascent world flatten the image and crop out any border.
Squaring the Circle
Squeeze the panorama into a square: image->image size (cntl + alt + i), uncheck constrain proportions and set width and height to identical values. Photoshop may struggle with huge images, so choose a value between the two extremes – but closer to the original height. If your image is 16bit, reduce it to 8bit to speed things up & enable Photoshop’s distort filters (for later on): image->mode->8 bits/channel
The larger the dimentions you choose, the more likely you will need to take another tea break before ending up with something like the following (rather funky) image:
Rotate the images 180°: image->image rotation->180°
Now for the magic dust: filter->distort->polar coordinates and select rectangular to polar and enjoy a final cuppa as your world is created.
Once the filter has done its work it just remains to tidy things up a little. You may wish to rotate your world so that the most interesting or attractive element runs across the top.
Examine the image borders for striping (from the Polar Coordinates filter). Fix with the clone stamp and healing brush, or by cropping. Next look at the centre of the world where there are more filter distortions. Select the area with the elliptical marquee tool, press shift + backspace and from the resultant fill menu select content-aware. In older versions of Photoshop, apply the clone stamp and healing brush again. Apply tonal and colour enhancements to taste, and your new planet is ready to take its place in the firmament…