All images by Charlie Sin. Used with permission.
Fireworks have been a long-standing tradition for cultures around the world. It’s the beauty of the boom. The mesmerizing string of color, gracefully falling down from the sky. Photographers flock to displays in their attempt to document a well-crafted ceremony, but LA-based photographer Charlie Sin goes beyond that. “…I knew there was something that I could do to bring out more from the fireworks,” he says. His series, Night Flower, is an alluring set of images that make you question what you’re looking at. A firework or a flower? The answer; amazingly creative photography. For several years Charlie has shot on July 4th. It has been a journey of trial and error – arriving at a destination called success. We caught up with him to learn more about his magical creations.
Phoblographer: What first attracted to you to photographing fireworks?
CS: I was first attracted to photographing firework at the beginning of my interest in photography. My interest only started because I wanted to learn how the camera worked. Back then, I was still practicing how to use a camera, learning how exposure worked, and reading/watching tutorials about the basics of photography. It was not until the Fourth of July when I came across a tutorial on how to photograph fireworks. Being an amateur photographer who wanted to get his feet in the water, I wanted to try anything I could get my hands on. I wanted to be different, rather than photographing it as what it simply was – anyone can do that. So I got more interested in photographing the fireworks because I challenged myself to create firework imagery that I can call my own.
“It is just a tool/medium that the artists use separate what type of artist you are.”
It was not until the third year (2013) of photographing fireworks that I came across an image that I can call the Night Flower.
Phoblographer: What’s your process in terms of getting set up and ensuring you’re in the best spot to get the shots you want?
CS: The process is the same as how you would typically photograph the fireworks: tripod on a camera with long shutter speed. The only thing that is different for me is that I hike half a mile up a mountain trail to get an eye level with the fireworks.
Phoblographer: It’s this kind of creativity that we feel bridges the gap between photographer and artist. Which do you think best describes you?
CS: I don’t think there is a difference between a photographer and an artist because I think photographers are artists as well. It is just a tool/medium that the artists use separate what type of artist you are.
Phoblographer: In an amazingly creative way, these are not your standard fireworks photos. How did you establish this aesthetic, and how long did it take you to master this approach?
CS: Thank you. It was through a lot of research and practice. I came across an article about focus pulling/ focus blurring a firework in my second year of photography (2012). That year, I gave it a shot doing a focus blur. It was a mess, and I didn’t get the result I wanted, but there were like four images that interested me that resembled a vegetable or flower I could say. (This above image is one that I got that year. I thought it looked like a turnip. Haha.) I realized I could do something with this and wanted to perfect this skill. Since then, every fourth of July, I tried focus blurring the firework and got better each year. It was not until three years ago, I had enough series of images to call the Night Flower project.
Each year is a challenge because this technique is all about timing and playing around with focus pulling. Also, the wind plays a big deal getting the image. Without any wind, the smoke of the firework stays still and gets in the way of the firework.
Phoblographer: By trade, you’re a fashion and product photographer. Comparing your day work to your personal projects, which excites you most creatively?
CS: Definitely personal project excites me more in a creative way. There is nothing holding me back from trying a new idea or an approach. However, I do enjoy working/collaborating with creative clients who know when to push me and know when to let me do my creative approach.
Phoblographer: How about pressure? Do you find yourself feeling more pressured when working to the brief of a client, or when working to your own expectations and personal goals?
CS: I put more pressure working on my own personal work because you are your worst critic when it comes to your personal work, and you are as good as your last work. Saying that, I do have a goal I want to achieve as an image maker. So when clients visit my website, I want them to know that I can do what they have in mind from looking at my work and trust me to do so.
Phoblographer: In terms of shooting the fireworks, what’s your ratio in terms of shots taken against shots worth keeping? And what do you find to be the biggest challenge when it comes to getting the right shot?
CS: I take approximately 200 frames within 30 min of the firework show. Each year, shots worth keeping differs because I have no control over when the firework will fire. Usually, the average of images worth keeping is 10-15 images. Even so, I only pick the ones that are worth looking at. I’ve been taking firework photos for eight years, and there are repetitive looks from the previous year or those that seem generic to me now. Timing is the biggest challenge when it comes to getting the right shot.
“Photography to me is a core of my interest that connects and opens a new road in my life.”
Phoblographer: You seem to have got this series pretty much nailed. Are there any other approaches to capturing fireworks that you would like to explore in the future?
CS: The approach is pretty simple, and I always think of something different to enhance the concept. I do have an idea I want to try this year and will see if it will work. Another approach I want to try is going to new locations to photograph firework shows in the future, such as Japan.
Phoblographer: To end things on a little bit of a more profound note: What does photography mean to you, and what would your life be without it?
CS: Photography, to me, is a core of my interest that connects and opens a new road in my life. I am the type of person who can’t do the same activity over and over repetitively. When I first started photography, I thought capturing a moment is all there is for photography, which I soon got pretty tired of. So I wanted to create an image, rather than capturing it. As I was creating, I learned there are whole productions and thought-processes that goes into creating imagery. Since then, I try to learn a new medium like tech, visual effect, coding, CGI, and motion to bring into my photo idea. It is going one step at a time, but thanks to photography, it helped me shape who I am and who I want to be in the future. It gave me a goal in life that I could see myself in.
You can see more of Charlie’s work by visiting his website.