The trippy twist stretching across your screen is a doctored flower—though you won’t see this creation at a wedding reception anytime soon.

Each spiral is a product of an editing technique called slit-scan photography. In this documentation method, a photographer takes a video or string of back-to-back images as a scene rushes by. Then they cut a narrow strip out of the same place in each photograph or filmed scene and stack the slits in sequential order. The collage shows how a specific, narrow focal point recorded something different in each successive image. Since its early days of helping to determine which horse crossed a finish line first, the technique has evolved to include applications such as documenting all the objects that roll down a high-speed factory conveyor belt (line scan cameras) and creating a distorted selfie using the Time Warp Scan filter in TikTok.

In these examples, photographers Ted Kinsman and David Parker traded running horses for video stills of a spinning flower. When horizontal slices of each flower image, captured as the flower spun stem-side down, were assembled and turned sideways, the composite resembled a twirly rope. “I personally find these images new and exciting to make,” Kinsman wrote in a post at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Photography Blog in 2017. “Even after making these images for 20 years, I still never quite know what to expect.”

Magnolia blossom created this raspberry ripple photograph. Magnolias are considered some of the oldest flowering plants around—so old that they evolved before pollinators such as bees and butterflies and instead rely on beetles and flies to spread their pollen.

Native to Mexico and the surrounding area, the dahlia plant is known internationally for its pretty blossoms. The plant’s blooms and underground tubers can steal the show on dinner plates, too, with the latter component having a long history in the diets of Mesoamerican cultures.

These more somber hues belong to lilac flowers. The delicate blooms cover shrubs or trees, depending on the variety. And the common lilac shrub can grow up to 20 feet tall.

Science in Images