Introduction: Phake Planet Photography

There's lot's of fakery in the world: fake news, fake bacon, and fake love (ok to bust out in a BTS chorus here), so why not make fake planets? It's fun! It's easy! It's fun because it's easy. And it'scheap! You don't have to sit around for billions of years playing Nintendo Switch or Fortnight waiting for them to cool off either. The results are good enough to fool Average Joe Sixpack. You can fake comets, asteroids, and galaxies. Hopefully this won't add fuel for any conspiracies like the fake moon landing etc. because THE MOON LANDING ACTUALLY HAPPENED! Duh! So stick around an' getcher fake on!


A LENS --to produce the spherical image, details to follow with the devil filtered out.

BLACK FELT or VELVET--(no, not the vodka!) sufficient to cover the inside of your tube and to use as a "blackground" for asteroid,comet, and galaxy shots. One third yard is enough. Velvet is better but costs quite a bit more. Some felt has self stick backing and I was lucky enough to have this. By the way, flat black paint doesn't work, been there, done it.

TUBE-- cardboard (mailing tube) or plastic tube to fit your lens, or you can roll one from thick (1/16" / 1.6mm)flat pasteboard like the kind backing those big desk calendars.. If you roll one, go with the grain of the paper or you'll get wrinkles--on the cardboard that is. Wrap it around something like a pipe or large dowel and glue it together with a 1/4 inch(6.4mm) overlap. Wrap it with a lot of string or rubber bands if you do this so the tube retains the shape of the pipe.


GLUE STICK or SPRAY ADHESIVE-- to glue the felt/fabric.

MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS: flashlight, various rocks, textured surfaces, pictures from books etc.

MISCELLANEOUS TOOLS-- sharp knife, hobby saw, scissors, black tape

PHOTO EDITING SOFTWARE such as GIMP, Photoshop, or ones shown in Instructables Basic Photo Editing.



To make fake planets look round you'll need a lens that distorts a flat surface into a spherical one. Technically this is called "barrel distortion"; objects take on a bulge (like my middle age gut) in the middle. You won't need one for the comets,asteroids, or galaxies (explained later). You can use image editing software for the spherical effect, but there's something cool and makerly about this way.

I hacked a lens from an old projection t.v. which is where I got this idea. Most builders won't have that opportunity so here are some alternatives:

a. A half-ball lens or dome magnifier. These are often used as paperweights letting you read fine print as a bonus. They're heavy but give some distortion and they're cheap.

b. Plastic crystal balls. I found 60mm (2.3 inch) one on Amazon for about nine bucks here:

c. Wide angle lenses, especially telephoto wide angle lenses. These are pricey unless you get 'em on the cheap from a yard sale, thrift store, or disgruntled former photographer.

d. Fisheye lenses. These are great, but very pricey unless you use something like a door viewer from your local hardware store. These probably won't work because the camera needs to be so close to the lens that the edge won't show. This edge is what defines the edge of the "planet".

Step 3: THE TUBE

Once you have the lens you'll need to put it in a tube that is covered on the inside with black felt or velvet. I think a three or four inch(76.2 or 101.6mm) diameter cardboardtube is about right. A large mailing tube is perfect. You could use black ABS pipe but it's much harder to cut and modify. This diameter lets you put the camera lens (assuming not a smartphone cam) into the tube and is small enough to exclude most stray light leaking in. These sizes also allow one to easily look in the lens for a nice preview. The best fit is when the diameter of the lens fits tightly into the tube. You may use tape or foam to help. Do this after the tube is cut lengthwise as explained later. You want a smooth, unobstructed lens edge when viewed. The edge of the lens becomes the edge of the planet. I was lucky-- my lens came in a black plastic holder that I could simply tape to the tube.

How long is the tube? It depends on the focal length of the lens which varies with different lenses. You don't have to worry about making it too long because the camera can zoom in to compensate. A tube one foot long is likely sufficient.

Cut the tube. Once the tube is cut to length it's time to cut it in half longitudinally or lengthwise. Cutting it makes it easy to glue the black fabric inside. I tried to just unroll it inside without cutting and couldn't get it right. The best result is a fabric free of flaws. Use the edge of a drawer, ruler, or square to make two lengthwise lines exactly opposite each other on the outside of the tube. Cut along these lines until the tube is in two equal halves.

Glue in the felt. Cut two pieces of felt or velvet into a rectangular shape having dimensions approximately one inch(2.54cm) larger than the dimensions of the halves of the tube. Apply spray adhesive or glue stick to the inside surface of each tube half, then smooth down the fabric atop the glue. If using glue stick, work fast because the stuff dries in a New York minute even if you live in Cali like me. Next, trim the fabric with sharp scissors (the ones you keep from the kids) or a utility knife. Try to get really clean edges t flush with the ones on the cardboard.

Test fit and place the lens. There are different ways to mount lenses. If yours is in a pre-existing metal or plastic case near the size of your tube, tape it to one end with plastic or cloth tape. Ball shaped lenses can fit inside the tube by friction. You can rubberband the tubing together while you experiment. When done test fitting carefully place the tube halves together and tape them, first around the circumference at the ends and center, then along the lengthwise cuts. Now you may install and secure the lens to the tube.


Ok, time to get crackin'! Look in the tube and point it at various things: floors, walls, book pages, things with interesting colors and textures. You can get realistic crescent shadows by placing the lens near the surface. Texture is enhanced with low angles of light. One cool effect was my garage floor that looked like the moon with various shades of gray (more than 50!). My patio took on the look of Pluto, and a MIchaelangelo pen drawing in an art book morphed into one of Schiaparelli's famous Mars with canals drawings. A striped melon became a green gas giant exoplanet. A layered candle became a Jupiter time lapse video when I turned the candle slowly in front of the lens. The cylindrical shape of the candle enhanced the bulging, spherical effect. This is another great effect-- you can slowly(very slowly!) pan the camera and lens across a surface and it will appear to be a rotating ball. https

Get your camera into stand-by mode and place the lens into the tube. Try to keep the light level low in the area of the camera end of the tube to eliminate reflections off the black fabric. Watch the image in the preview window and make zoom and focus adjustments. When your planet's nice an' ready, hold the cammy steady, go ahead an' press the shutter--you'll be so hyped you'll start to stutter with ev'ry syllable that you utter and results as smooth as butta. Voila! Sis-boom-bah!

Step 5: To Infinity & Beyond!: Comets, Asteroids, Galaxies + Editing Software

ASTEROIDS! These are super easy to fake and you don't need the lens. You will need some lava rocks with lots of character--holes and crazy textures. You'll have good luck getting these at a lapidary arts shop, gem and mineral show, or local "rockery" that has lava rock. My samples came from caving or "spelunking" in the caverns of the Lava Beds National Monument in northern California.

Procedure: Lay out a section of your leftover black fabric on a table. Place your rock in the center and make the room dark. Place a small, bright flashlight to one side of the rock. Move it around to find the best angle while checking the shot with your camera. You don't want dust or wrinkles showing on the fabric. Try for stark contrast with dark shadows and bright highlights. Use the black and white mode when shooting these as it adds extra realism, simulating those deep space probe shots for a lot less money. You can use video mode and turn the camera (smoothly as possible) or turn the rock (on a turntable) to get the cool tumbling space rock effect.

I made a turntable by robbing the rotisserie motor from my barbeque(it just slides off w/o tools) if you're a rampant maker like me, you start cannibalizing hardware to scratch the itch. I cut a short length of metal rod that fit snugly into the square hole of the unit. You can use anything from pencils to hot Cheetos, to Tinkertoys here. I centered a plastic lid on the rod and married them with hot glue. The lid was covered with black felt, the rock placed in the middle, then I hit the switch. Note the flashlight on the side. I turned off the room lights, then slowly pulled the camera past the rock. As in the words of The Simpsons Reverend Timothy Lovejoy Jr. : "Rock and/or Roll".

Last but not least, bust out your photo editing program. You can do a picture such as the one above of a mama asteroid and her baby by first shooting a picture of a highly textured surface without using the tube and lens. Import the shot into the software and paint a heavy irregular black outline (with the brush tool set wide) around the central image area. The inside of this outline will be the 'roid and the outside will be black space. Use the bucket tool or brush to blacken in everything outside the edge of the outline. You can use the dodge and burn tools to create shadows and bright spots to produce roundness. Do lots of short edits so if you need to undo (control z) anything you won't have to re-do a lot of work. Add in stars as stated in COMPOSITE SHOTS below.

GALAXIES! Another no-brainer. I poured salt out on my black granite counter and swirled it with my finger to make a spiral galaxy and tried my hand at a globular cluster and an edge-on spiral. As you can see in the example, there is a bit of coarseness to the salt. I think if a combo of baby powder and salt were used the texture would be more realistic. I've also found that lightly spraying white paint on black paper makes a nice starfield.

COMETS! Ok this one's not hard at all but you will need GIMP (free) or see the great list under Instructables Basic Photo Editing. I imported one of my asteroid shots into GIMP using the blur tool to drag out streaks from various points on the image. Set the tool for a light blur so you can use lots of strokes for fine control. If the tool is set too heavy, you lose this fine touch. You can see the results above. The streaks resemble the eruption of cryogenic gases on a sun warmed cometary surface.You could produce a fuzzy comet nucleus or a tail as well.

COMPOSITE SHOTS So you want to have more than one celestial object in your frame? Just dig a bit deeper into the editing toolbox. Import the images you want in your picture.into the clipboard of your editing program. You may change their sizes and adjust their colors,contrast, etc. Next,open a new layer with just solid black. Cut and paste your objects (using the freeform select or similar tool) into the black frame. You can easily make stars by using the pen or pencil tool with a fine tip selected and white as the chosen color. Just keep dotting the space around the planets until you're satisfied!

B-B-DEA, B-DEA, TH'TH'TH'THAT'S ALL FOLKS! I hope you have fun with this like I did. Feel free to share your results, improvements, hot Cheetos, etc. in the comment section.

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