Discovering Magic

It’s amazing to me that after all these years immersed in the world of photography, I still find myself stumbling onto techniques—both technical and creative—that I never knew existed. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, considering I’m neither a school-taught photographer nor an avid manual reader, and have always subscribed to the "learn-as-you-go" way of thinking.

Especially with photography. I bring this up only because a recent accidental, yet awesome, iPhone discovery got me giddy with new photographic potential and possibility. All that from one tiny "happy accident." That’s the beauty of any art medium, isn’t it? By working it and working it, one can discover and create things that may have never been done before—at least not by the one who, for the first time, discovered it for themselves.

I’ve always enjoyed shooting out of focus (on purpose) for images that feel more like dreams than reality. And it goes double for shooting light out of focus, as I’m also a sucker for the beauty of bokeh. Although I had long been using this technique with my DSLR, I hadn’t quite mastered consistent results with my iPhone. I test, try, experiment and explore with each shot, learning the ins and outs of the tiny, simple, little camera.

Through trial and error, I’ve gotten more and more consistent with getting the artistic results I’m looking for. From lens flare to getting the exposure I want (with or without the help of auto-exposure) to finding apps that best match my creative sensibilities, I’ve gotten to know my iPhone camera quite well.

And, still, shooting out of focus on command was hit or miss. I would focus on something close by and then hastily move the camera, framing my desired subject and shooting as quickly as possible, in hopes to beat the autofocus that always wants to focus on the subject for you. That is its job, after all. As for "tricking" the camera to shoot out of focus, sometimes the results were just what I was hoping for, while other times I would just hit delete.

Then, one day, while using my herky-jerky method, I focused on something close and pressed my finger to the screen for just a second longer than normal when—to my surprise—the focus locked! And when I pointed the camera toward my intended subject, it was magically and majestically out of focus and it stayed that way until I touched the screen to focus again. Eureka! Discovery made and mind blown in a single second. The world of dreamy iPhone images was now open!

I realize that something as simple and seemingly obvious as my phone’s focus controls might not blow everyone’s mind like it did mine. (I honestly thought I might be the only iPhone user on the planet who didn’t know about it.) But that’s not really the point. The point is recognizing and being open to what’s possible with every click of your shutter. As we keep exploring, experimenting, expressing ourselves in our work, we continue to learn, grow and evolve as photographers. No matter how long we’ve been shooting, how well we know our equipment or how many times we’ve read the manuals (or not), there’s always going to be more magic to discover.

SHUTTER SISTERS is a collaborative photo blog ( and thriving community of women, passionate about photography. Photographer, author, teacher Tracey Clark ( is the founder of Shutter Sisters and the author of Elevate the Everyday: A Photographic Guide to Picturing Motherhood (Focal Press).

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