If you look down and see flowers, you’re likely out in nature or passing a neighborhood flower bed. However, if you look up and see flowers, you’re likely looking at the kind of fireworks Charlie Sin strives to capture.
Every Independence Day since 2013, the Los Angeles-based photographer has trekked up to his favorite viewing spot in the hills above his city to photograph the evening sky. The resulting photo series—aptly named Night Flowers—is a stunning collection of images that could easily trick even trained eyes into seeing flora when they’re actually looking at flares in the sky.
Sin is able to create this particular form of optical illusion thanks to a technique known as focus blur. Using a tripod-mounted Nikon DSLR with a 70-200mm telephoto lens, Sin adjusts the focus ring from in-focus to out-of-focus for the duration of a long shutter exposure (roughly two seconds). The result is an image where part of the firework—the thin lines and flyaway sparks—is sharp while the rest is softer thanks to the out-of-focus light. Each image, then, looks like it has crisp “stems” and “leaves” with more lush “petals.” Boom: flowers.
It all happens quickly, so the process requires a very patient shooter. During a typical fireworks event, Sin tends to shoot approximately 200 frames, but with such fast-moving subjects, only a handful of those images turn out to his liking. “Each year, it is different but growing,” Sin says. The first year I only got four images. The second year, I got six. The third year, I got ten images. Last year, I got 67. I have no control over the subject. The only thing I can do is time it right to click the shutter and do a focus blur technique.”
The fireworks show Sin photographs is done from his hometown in La Crescenta-Montrose, California. The surrounding mountains provide a nice backdrop and being slightly removed from urban LA means there’s far less light pollution. Those factors contribute to photos where the fireworks look like marigolds, dandelions, and poppies set against stark black backgrounds.
Thus far, Sin has captured his Night Flowers images in Southern California. That’s because he went straight from high school to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. But he graduated in December and now has plans to photograph his nighttime extravaganzas in places other than his hometown. “One of the places I want to visit is Japan,” he says, referring to the place where pyrotechnics are known as hanabi meaning “fire flower.” “They do a great show at the Kuwana Suigo Fireworks Festival and they have a yearly firework competition.”
Sounds like the perfect place to make the boom bloom.