over the years since i first posted my little planet timelapses online, i’ve received a number of inquiries as to how they were made (as its a very unique look and i believe i was the first to create them).

the first step is to gather the series of equirectangular images.

back in 2009 when i first came across the little planet look and started shooting time-lapses of these, cameras that shot all the data in one image and at a low price did not exist. despite designing a somewhat automated system to create the sequence of equirectangular time-lapse images, i kept researching and desiring a camera that could easily shoot these without the whole stitching process and those have now begun to manifest [though looking at how to manifest is a topic for another discussion]

today i’d recommend using such a camera, like the Ricoh Theta. it has some limitation in image quality, particularly in image noise in the time-lapses (more so depending on how wide of an angle one chooses in the rendered images) and in dynamic range, compared to shooting with a camera with a larger image sensor. despite, these limitations, using this camera makes it far simpler as the app (iOS or Android) now has an interval timer option so you can easily set it and leave it running (and it takes up much less space/weight than all of the gear that would be needed with another setup). the interval timer also comes in handy for still images on a tall pole or when flying on a kite or quadcopter (though i’d be careful with the latter as the camera’s tripod mount is made of plastic rather than metal and it broke on my first camera, however a new hard case option was just announced that would prevent the loss of the camera if the mount were to break in the air).

there are many ways to mount the camera. depending on your shot (for little planet shots rather than ‘tunnel’ shots), i take into consideration how the camera is going to be mounted as everything above, all around, and below the camera will be in the shot. to minimize the size of the tripod or mounting equipment in the shot itself, its important to choose or design a rig that will have a very narrow size below the camera (so most of it will effectively disappear below the camera). a simple, inexpensive option, that works for natural locations is to get a piece of pvc pipe, stick it into the sand/dirt/grass/etc, and have a cap on top of the pipe with a hole that is drilled into it for a 1/4″-20 bolt that the camera can screw into. a longer bolt (and/or using special adapters or nuts or whatnot) will help elevate the camera above the pipe so the pipe doesnt show up as much in the photo. this method is good if the pipe is short as its quite flexible and would be sway with wind if too tall (again be careful as the tripod mount is plastic and you don’t want to cause unnecessary vibrations to the camera — thick yet small rubber washers under the camera may help too).

if you do go the route of the Theta camera, here’s a link to purchase it (this is a special affiliate link, please use this one if you choose to purchase it — it doesn’t affect your price and it helps support this site): Ricoh Theta on Amazon i’d recommend the white colored camera as you do see a little bit of the camera in the center of the little planet images (unless you don’t mind a bright color there from one of the other available options).

another option for capturing the equirectangular images would be to use a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a circular fisheye lens mounted to a panoramic adapter and take 3 shots around. if you have it perfectly aligned and the lens you are using is giving over 180 degrees in all directions, you can get by with 2 shots but that leaves little room for any stitching error or misalignment. this route will give better quality time-lapses (and stills) though takes significantly longer to process the images. i won’t go into all the details.. basically, you need to stitch one image perfectly into an equirectangular image and then repeat that exact process (or duplicate the stitching parameter files modifying the file numbers/names) for all the other images. i had a custom bracket machined to position and hold the camera high up over the tripod so that it minimized the size of the tripod (and tripod head) in the center of the shot. (i’m open to selling this if anyone is interested in higher quality images)

after shooting and gathering all the equirectangular shots, to create a time-lapse, i do the stitching in the Hugin open source software (available for OS X on the Mac, Linux, or Windows). you can find tutorials for all the details of how to use this software online. here are the basics of what i do..

begin with the first equirectangular shot and load it as the sole image to work with in in a new stitching project. go to the settings for the lens parameters (you may need to have the interface set to advanced or expert to see these options). set the lens type to equirectangular and the horizontal field of view (hfov) to 360 degrees.

after this, click the button/icon to preview the panorama. on this screen, pick stereographic for the projection. also click the numerical transform (num. transf.) button, and enter in 90 for the pitch and hit ok. you’ll also need to change the HFOV for the new image, which can sometimes be done by dragging the slider underneath the image, though in some versions of Hugin that doesn’t work properly — you’ll need to go to the stitcher tab on the main window and enter in the horizontal field of view there (somewhere between 290 and 330 or so works pretty good, depending how much sky you want to appear around the little planet). while in the stitcher tab, you can also set the canvas size for your new image (set this to the final dimensions you want it to render for your time-lapse video, e.g. 1920 wide and 1080 high for HD).

after you’ve made this change to the horizontal field of view, click the panorama preview button again to see what the new image will look like. you can now tweak the settings, making adjustments to yaw and roll under the numerical transform options and changing the hfov as desired. for a tunnel image, enter in -90 for the pitch instead of 90 above (or enter in 180 if you already have a little planet and want to change it to look like a tunnel instead). when you like the way your still image looks, click the stitch button on the stitcher tab and it will prompt you to save the PTO file and will render out a file (i’d recommend using TIFF for the still images to prevent losing quality due to compression in formats such as jpeg — you may need to turn off compression for the tiff files depending what video software you’re using to import the image sequence)

now that you’ve done one image, you’ll either need to repeat the same exact steps for the next image in the sequence, or the much easier approach is to open the PTO file in a text editor and carefully edit it to change the filename(s) inside it. you’ll need to create a new PTO file for each still image in your time-lapse sequence. if you’re familiar with programming scripts, you could write a script to basically search and replace all the filenames as needed and generate all the PTO files rather than do it manually one at a time.

run these PTO files through the stitcher and you’ll have a sequence of TIFF files that you can then import into your video editor. or for a simple time-lapse you can use software such as the Pro version of QuickTime Player 7 (by Apple) that can load the image sequence and export it into a MOV or MP4 video file. unless you have a long sequence of shots, i would set the frame rate fairly low, somewhere between 6 and 15 fps.

if you want the little planet to appear to move or shift sizes or shapes during the time-lapse, the process is a bit more complicated as each PTO file needs to have different lens parameter settings. basically, for this, you’ll do what you did above for the first image, then repeat that for the last image in the sequence, setting the final position/look of it with the hfov and yaw/roll/pitch settings, and save that as a separate PTO file. you’ll either need to do a bit of math and manually change the settings between each shot for all the different PTO files, or this is where programming a custom script to generate all the PTO files with a smooth transition between each image comes in handy.

this can be a bit of a technical process to create this unique look, though the results are nice when everything works out. i’d highly recommend using a camera like the Ricoh Theta that automatically generates stitched 360×180 degree equirectangular files that are ready to go, as most of the frustration and time comes from trying to stitch the sequence of equirectangular files from multiple fisheye shots for each still image. i shot some that were HDR and this meant 9 files just to create one still image (multiplied by however many series/shots in your sequence) and i don’t remember if i ever rendered any of those because of stitching errors or frustration in attempting to get the images aligned in the beginning. i was shooting these with a motorized head that would precisely turn the camera and shoot the shots automatically and it was still quite a burden (if you do want higher quality images despite the longer time and process, i am open to selling the special motor, which works quite well/precisely with the custom head i had machined). another reason to go with a simpler camera is that the full stitching process hogged up the computer for a couple days (even when not doing an hdr sequence that was fairly short).

if your work feels similar to mine, or is aligned with a similar energy or intent with most of what you find on my website, i can consider collaborating with you for some or all of the process (depending on time and where i’m at in this journey we call life). feel free to contact me. i’m also available for hire for one-on-one or group consultation, or to create images or videos for your projects.

here’s a quick compliation of all the little planet time-lapses i’ve created so far:

(at the time of writing this, more than half of these are older and shot with the longer process/technique.. the latter ones are done with the Ricoh Theta, and some of the beginning ones were only shot with a single fisheye image so are missing some of the data to make up the full planet, which is also a simple option to create these if you don’t mind this limitation. the second one was done with a monopod and not stitched properly nor completed so the pieces of the planet move and its not a smooth sequence)