Above: Take Subway Line 2 or Line 5 to Chongwenmen Station (Chinese: 崇文门 English: Gate of Dignified Culture) and walk east (not south: that’s gaudy malls) towards the old City Wall. There’s a tranquil teahouse by the Wall, which, as demonstrated by the comment-plastered notice-board, is clearly loved by its patrons. At night, the wall is lit with pale coloured lights, which make for a pleasant walk/run around the park that runs parallel to it.
I created this Little Planet on an iPhone with the free Photosynth app from the App Store. The process is incredibly quick and fun to do. The only limitation with the iPhone’s camera here is the apparent dark sky around the sun. More clouds would reduce the contrast and solve this problem.
This is the lawn toward the famous West Gate of Beida (the one tourists pose by). It’s the best place to study in summer, and is usually populated with frisbees, foreigners, a rabbit, lost property and people who read textbooks standing up. Enjoy 😉
Above: Take Subway Line 4 to Xisi Station (Chinese: 西四 English: “West 4th”). Walk 100m west of Exit A to find this Buddhist temple. Recitals begin at around 3:50pm each day (during which I took this photo). Buddhists are allowed into the main building to chant; while visitors are allowed to stand outside and watch from a few meters away.
Being in a temple is a very soothing experience, especially during a recital. Afterwards, walk 50 meters south to find a Christian Church, then 300m further south to find excellent black sesame bao’zi 黑芝麻包子 from A’chunjia Bao’zi Shop (阿春家包子店).
Recipe for Little Planet pictures
1 sunny day
1 pretty place
Software (PTGui Pro and Photoshop with the Flexify 2 plug-in)
1) Choose a beautiful location. This is the hardest part. Good Little Planet pictures have a balance of colours, shapes and structures. 50:50 trees:buildings looks great. I found myself cycling around Cambridge looking in all directions, checking for potential “Little Planet” hotspots. By searching high and low for Little Planet opportunities everywhere I went, I realised the the world was much more beautiful than Al Gore told us in his movie(e.g. Downing Site looks like a butterfly).
2) Take lots of photos of the surroundings. Set the camera up perfectly (fastest shutter, highest ISO without noise, high-speed SD card, no flash, zoom right out). After lots of practice, this step can be done in less than 60 seconds. Photograph everything (360° both horizontally and vertically) and make sure the pictures overlap by at least 50%. Do the ground in great detail. Pause at the mid-levels to avoid (moving) people and wind. Rush the sky to capture moving clouds. Each photo should be about 1 megapixel with no flash. About 80–150 photos will be enough to cover absolutely everything you can see, including the ground and the sky (nadir & zenith). The bending process requires more photos of the ground than the sky (so photograph your feet, even if doing so makes you look like a lemon). Important: Don’t move and remember to photograph your feet (they’re your fixed, detailed ‘nadir’).
3) Blend them into a spherical/equirectangular panorama using PTGui Pro. The resulting picture is distorted, like a projection map of the world, and will be about 9 megapixels (HD versions are possible but they have to be stitched overnight; 9 MP is high-res enough for most purposes).
4) Export as a high-quality JPEG and open in Photoshop.
5) Open the Flexify 2 plug-in and set: Latitude=minus 90; Input=”equirectangular”; Output=”stereographic”. Then play with the zoom/ spin/ longitude settings until the surroundings are balanced on all sides. Keep your feet (your ‘nadir’) exactly in the centre, then use the photo-overlaps to edit them out completely with a cropping tool (as in the picture above).
6) Print Big.
Little Planets Method (text) by James Kennedy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.