Portrait Mode allows iPhone users to take stunning shots with depth-of-field (DoF), creating a blurred bokeh effect in the background (similar to a DSLR camera).
Simply put, DoF is the distance from your lens to the subject that allows it to stay sharp and in focus, while the rest of the image appears blurry.
If you want to take great portraits on your iPhone, you need to know how to use Portrait Mode. In this article we offer several useful Portrait Mode tips and apps.
Does Your iPhone Have Portrait Mode?
While Portrait Mode is great, it’s only available on select iPhone models, specifically ones with dual camera capabilities.
Current iPhone models with Portrait Mode include:
- iPhone 7 Plus
- iPhone 8 Plus
- iPhone X
- iPhone XR
- iPhone XS
- iPhone XS Max
Every iPhone from iPhone X upwards also has Portrait Mode enabled for the front-facing selfie camera.
1. How to Use Portrait Mode
It’s easy to start capturing portraits with Portrait Mode. Just follow these steps:
- Launch the Camera app by swiping left on the lock screen, from the Control Center, or tapping the Camera icon on your home screen.
- Select Portrait from the available camera modes, located under the viewfinder (for iPhone X and higher, this works for the selfie camera as well).
- Provide enough distance between your device and the subject. When you’re satisfied, just tap on the shutter button to capture the image.
2. How to Get Portrait Mode on Your iPhone
Portrait Mode should already be available on your device if it’s capable, and there’s no additional setup required.
However, if you have an iPhone 7 Plus and haven’t ever updated iOS, then you may need to do so in order to gain access to Portrait Mode. Apple added Portrait Mode for the iPhone 7 Plus when iOS 10.1 became available, so you need to have 10.1 or later. Those who don’t have a compatible iPhone can try apps that replicate Portrait Mode effects.
3. How to Get Portrait Lighting on Your iPhone
Portrait Lighting is a powerful feature that allows iPhone photographers to add professional lighting effects to their Portrait Mode photos. Once you have your subject framed in Portrait Mode, select the type of lighting you want from the Portrait Lighting dial at the bottom of the viewfinder.
Available lighting options include Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage Light, and Stage Light Mono (black and white). Each one has a different effect, and there’s a live preview so you get an idea of how it affects the portrait.
If you decide you want to change the Portrait Lighting on a photo later, you can. However, it must be a picture taken in Portrait Mode. You’re not able to add Portrait Lighting to a standard photo.
To change the chosen Portrait Lighting effect:
- Open the Photos app and select the photo you want to edit.
- Tap Edit.
- Scroll through the dial and pick the lighting effect you want.
- Tap Done to save your changes.
When you edit the chosen Portrait Lighting effect, it overrides the original. You won’t be able to save a copy of the photo with the new lighting effect. However, you can always change it back to the original lighting, or choose another option entirely. There’s no limit on the number of edits you can make.
4. Move Farther Away for Better Portrait Mode Shots
When using Portrait Mode, you need a bit more distance between you and your subject than usual. This is because Portrait Mode utilizes the 2X telephoto lens, so the viewfinder zooms in a bit more than the standard Photo mode. A Move farther away message appears at the top if you’re too close, so just back up a little until you’re in the clear.
Since the depth effect appears in real time, just tap on the shutter button once you’re satisfied with your shot.
5. How to Edit Depth Effect on iPhone XS
If you’re using an iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, or iPhone XR, your iPhone comes with the ability to edit depth effect after you’ve clicked the shot. You can do it live as well.
To edit depth effect, open the photo in Photos app and tap on Edit. You’ll see a slider at the bottom of the photo. This will let you change the background blur from f/16 to f/1.4. Simply put, you can increase or decrease the software blur effect to your liking using the slider.
6. How to Edit Depth Effect on Older iPhones
While the default depth effect editing feature is exclusive to the newer iPhones, you can get the same feature on older iPhones using a third party app called Focos. In fact, Focos is much better at depth effect manipulation.
Open the Focos app and select a Portrait shot from your gallery. Then use the slider below to adjust the background blur in real time. Focos has a much better range for background blur (up to f/20 aperture) and it’s better at edge detection and smoothing out rough edges than Apple’s own software. Even if you’re using an iPhone XS, try to see if you can get a better edit out of Focos.
You’ll also notice that Focos has an array of settings and options below the slider. You can change the type of blur shape and add a tint as well. While the basic features are free, you’ll need to pay for a Focos subscription to access premium feature like blur effects.
Download: Focos (Free, subscription available)
7. How to Make Portrait Mode Shots Look Even Better
Photo editing apps like Snapseed help elevate your photos using friendly editing tools (as long as you know how to use Snapseed). However, they usually don’t work for Portrait Mode shots.
This is because Portrait Mode photos contain metadata for the background, foreground, and the image as a whole. So you can edit every single detail in three different ways if you want.
Infltr is an app that does this incredibly well. When you select a portrait photo for editing, you’ll see three icons at the top: Foreground, Background, and All. First select the layer that you want to edit, and then from the bottom bar, select the editing feature. The app offers multiple filters along with basic editing options for brightness, contrast, highlights, and so on.
Download: Infltr (Free, subscription available)
Use Camera Apps to Improve Your Smartphone Photos
Whether you’re an amateur or professional, the iPhone’s Portrait Mode is a powerful tool when used correctly. And the Portrait Lighting options mean you always have professional lighting to spruce up your portraits. However, there will come a time when you reach the limits of what the iPhone camera app can do.
Maybe you want to shoot a clear, low-light shot, or you want precise control over the shutter speed for a long exposure photograph. In which case you should check out the best camera apps, all of which can make your smartphone photos look even better.