Tiny Planet Pictures: The Outdoor World From On High

Backpackers.com – Tiny planet pictures are all the rage. If you haven’t seen one yet, prepare to be amazed. We’re living in an age when a smartphone — yes, the one in your pocket — can capture the roundness of Earth in a single shot.

Below is a collection of outdoor tiny planet pictures that feature mountains, snow, and forests. Like any picture, timing, setting, and composition are everything. Josh Smith — better known as Instagram-er and Redditor jsmooth — snapped each of these on an epic trek. We interviewed him about the process, which you can read below.

Tiny Planet Pictures Interview with jsmooth

Backpackers: How long have you been a photographer? How long have you been shooting tiny planet pictures?

jsmooth: I’ve been taking pictures since I was 11 and I went hiking in the Rockies with my family. Back then I had a little film camera and only a limited amount of film, so I had to be selective about what I took pictures of. Also to get a panorama shot, you had to literally attach the pictures together after they were developed. Since then I’ve always enjoyed taking photos while I’m up in the mountains.

tiny-planet-pictures-Panorama-Ridge-in-Garibaldi-Provincial-Park-BC
Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Provincial Park, British Columbia.

As for tiny planet pictures, I’ve been taking those since 2012. That’s when I bought a Nexus 4 and learned they could take these really cool looking shots. I did a bunch of experimenting, trying taking tiny planet pictures in lots of different places. Some failed badly while others looked amazing. Tiny planets taken from the top of a mountain always came out fantastic so I kept taking them.

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Mt. Laughington and the Cheam Range, British Columbia.

Backpackers: What gear do you use to capture the tiny planet pictures?

jsmooth: Just my phone! My phone takes pretty average looking pictures, nothing special. But since tiny planet pictures are the result of a whole bunch of photos stitched together, it doesn’t seem to be an issue. The final result usually looks pretty great.

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Mt. Hope, British Columbia.

I’ve also tried taking them using my actual camera. And those can look really good too. But I usually just stick with my phone to take them.

Backpackers: If someone wanted to try this, what would be the best way to start?

If you have an Android phone, just download the Google Camera app (only available in some countries, for an APK Mirror of the app go here), find a relatively open area and try taking one yourself. There are tutorials available that can direct you through it, but it’s pretty straightforward.

First you take a photosphere. This involves slowly spinning around several times, taking a picture in every direction, including straight up and down. Then the app will stitch together your photo. Once that’s done, you just apply the Tiny Planet effect and you’re all done. The first one you take might not work perfectly, but usually it doesn’t take too long to get the technique down.

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E.C. Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia.

Note that if you have an Apple phone, you’ll have to use a different app but the general process will be similar. I’ve never tried this myself, so I don’t know the exact details or how well it works. Again, the best thing to do is just experiment for yourself and see if the results look good.

For people who are really ambitious, it’s also possible to take one using a regular camera too. You won’t have an app guiding you through the process, but you can also potentially get a higher quality end result than using just a smartphone.

tiny-planet-pictures-Cape-Chignecto-Provincial-Park-Nova-Scotia-and-the-Bay-of-Fundy
Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy.

Backpackers: Do you take these photos mostly on day hikes, or are they backpacking trips?

jsmooth: Both! I almost always have my phone with me while hiking, so I’ll take one anytime I find a good spot. For backpacking trips I just have to make sure I’m careful with battery life. I keep my phone off except for taking pictures.

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Mt. Seymour, British Columbia.

Backpackers: It looks like most of your photos are in British Columbia. Is this where you trek most of the time? Have you been to other areas of the world to do this, or to hike in general?

jsmooth: I grew up in British Columbia and I currently live in Vancouver, so yes, most of my hiking is in this area. These photos tend to work best when you are at the very top of something so the British Columbia mountains are fantastic for that. I also lived in New Brunswick for a couple years, and I did take some of these photos out there too. I also have some from Iceland (pictured in this article) when I visited for a couple weeks. The surreal Iceland landscapes worked really well for tiny planet pictures.

tiny-planet-pictures-Skyline-Trail-and-Mt-Frosty-in-Manning-Provincial-Park-BC
Skyline Trail and Mt Frosty in Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia.

Backpackers: How do you decide to take one of these pictures? Do you base it on a specific high point, particular scenery, something else?

I have a few things I look for. The best is when there is an unobstructed 360 degree view and you are at the highest point around. You want there to be something interesting going on in every part of your tiny planet, so the fewer things blocking the view, the better.

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Artist Point and Mt. Baker, Washington.

Also if you are near something tall or on a slope, you’ll end up with an oblong tiny planet, which looks wonky. It’s good if you can avoid crowds of people. That said, if you are hiking with a few other people, it’s nice to get them to stand in the shot somewhere. It can really add to the effect. Just make sure they stand still while you take it. (Unless of course you want them to be in your picture multiple times, that can be fun too.)

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Ptarmigan Glacier, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Washington

Backpackers: What are your favorite trails or trips you’ve taken?

Oh, that’s a tough one, there are so many to choose from! Definitely one of my favorites was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail through Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington. Most of it was up in the alpine, and you get some really nice views of Mt. Adams, Mt. St Helens and Mt Rainier, sometimes all at the same time. It’s some very classic Washington hiking.

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Goat Rock Wilderness, Washington.

Also I loved hiking in Skaftafell National Park, Iceland. I got some of the best glacier views I’ve ever seen. Plus the lack of trees meant you got 360 degree views pretty much the whole entire hike.

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Skaftafell National Park, Iceland.

When an app makes something simple, beauty gets created through skill. Try your hand at these tiny planet photos, and tag Backpackers.com on Instagram with #BackpackersCom to get featured!

Daniel Zweier

Daniel Zweier is Editor-in-Chief of Backpackers.com. Beyond orchestrating the daily flow of Backpackers.com, Daniel writes surrealistic short fiction and novels, adventures into the backcountry and abroad, surfs, reads, drinks tea, and obsesses over gear. A lot of gear. Visit his website if you want to learn more about his authorial pursuits.