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Home / Tips and Tricks / You are not using iPhone portrait mode correctly: here’s how to fix it

You are not using iPhone portrait mode correctly: here’s how to fix it



One of the coolest camera features on the iPhone is fashion portrait. It makes your subject stand out and can give your photos a dramatic look. Basically, when you take a photo, the subject stays in focus while the background of the photo looks artistically out of focus. This popular effect replicates photos taken with a mirrorless or DSLR camera with a long lens and shallow depth of field. Depending on the model of iPhone you have, Portrait mode can be used for people, pets and even certain objects.

Read more: Phone Photography 1

01: CNET’s Guide to Taking Better Photos

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Brett Pearce / CNET

Portrait mode was first available in 2016 on the iPhone 7 Plus. Over the years, Apple has improved the way it “cuts” the person from the foreground and blurs the background. For example on the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, a new lidar sensor is used to measure the distance from the phone to your subject and makes this distinction look better.

Apple has also added Portrait Lighting mode looks that apply popular photographic lighting styles to your photos. In addition, you can change the amount of background blur behind the subject.

With all the tools and settings Apple has built in in portrait mode, it can be easy to overlook their functionality or even know they’re there. I’ve collected seven tips and tricks to help you master portrait mode on iPhone. I must warn you that depending on the model of iPhone you have, some of these tips may not apply.

This is what portrait lighting actually does to your face

My favorite tools in portrait mode are the portrait lighting looks. These are not filters. Instead, they change the way the light appears on your subject and can make your photo look stylized. There are six portrait lighting effects:

  • Natural light is on by default and, as the name suggests, does not change anything.
  • Studio light brightens the face of your subject.
  • Contour light makes shadows and highlights look more dramatic.
  • Phase Light removes the actual background and adds a black.
  • Stage Light Mono is the same as Stage Light – only in black and white.
  • High Key Mono your subject changes to shades of gray and the background changes to white.
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There are six different portrait lighting looks, including High Key Mono, shown here.

Patrick Holland / CNET

You can change the portrait lighting looks before or after taking a photo. But if you plan on using Stage Light, Stage Light Mono or High Key Mono, I recommend switching to that look before taking the photo. That way, you can adjust the framing and subject to get the best shot and have the most flexibility.

Read more: Want more lifelike iPhone selfies? Use this iOS 14 trick on your front camera

Selfies in portrait mode and night mode

You can take photos in portrait mode with iPhone selfie camera. Everything you can do with portrait mode on the rear cameras applies to the front camera, except you can’t zoom in or out.

If you have an iPhone 12, you can take portrait mode photos with night mode. If it is dark enough and you are in portrait mode, look at the screen top left angle. If your flash is off, you will see it yellow night mode icon. If you don’t see it, it may be too bright to activate the mode.

If it is dark enough, you will see the yellow night mode icon in the top left corner.

Patrick Holland / CNET

Then when taking a photo in portrait mode, keep your subject still and keep the phone as still as possible while capturing, which can take anywhere from a few seconds to 30 seconds (if you’re using a tripod). The result is a picture that looks brighter.

If your iPhone allows it, make sure to use 1x magnification to use night mode.

Adjust the blur in iPhone portrait mode

You can adjust the depth of field before or after taking a portrait photo. On a real camera, the depth of field is determined by the aperture of the lens. In portrait mode on an iPhone, when you adjust the depth of field, it changes the amount of blur in the background. By adjusting the depth of field in advance, you can hide any imperfections along the edges of your subject’s crop.

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The depth slider changes the amount of background blur. Lower aperture numbers mean the background is more blurred.

Patrick Holland / CNET

In portrait mode, go to the top right corner of the screen and tap it Depth button that is a circle with the letter f in it. If you didn’t know, the f stands for f-stop and is a measure used for the aperture on a camera lens.

Read more: Rumors about the iPhone 13 camera: we will probably see the specifications and upgrades

When the Depth button is yellow, you can use the horizontal one Depth slider above the shutter button to adjust how blurred the background looks. On the iPhone, you’ll see f-stop numbers that help you adjust the amount of background blur. Lower f-stops indicate more blur and higher ones indicate less blur. Unless your subject is an animal or an object of an odd shape, don’t worry too much about fine-tuning the blur as you can change it after taking the photo.

How to remove portrait mode from a photo

To undo or remove portrait mode from a photo, find the photo you want to change in the Camera app and tap it Edit button. Go to the top of the screen and switch to yellow Portrait button off. It’s that simple.

There is a good way to frame your subject in portrait mode

Portrait mode works best when your subject is between two and two meters from the phone, which is roughly between 0.5 and 2.5 meters. If your subject is too far away (or too close), iPhone will politely ask you to adjust your distance. If you are trying to take a portrait photo with a subject out of reach, the camera will take a regular photo instead.

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In portrait mode, some iPhones can photograph 1x, others 1x or 2x and others 1x or 2.5x.

Angela Lang / CNET

If your subject is stationary, try moving closer or further away. Also on certain iPhone models you have the option to take either a 1x or a 2x or 2.5x portrait photo, which is kind of a close-up. To switch between magnifications, tap the 2x or 2.5x button at the bottom left of the screen. To return to a wider view, tap the 1x button.

When framing your shot, make sure your subject has a small distance between themselves and their background. If they are in front of a wall, rotate your subject 90 degrees to add some perspective and depth to the photo.

Tap the eye of your subject to focus and adjust the exposure

When setting up your masterpiece in portrait mode, look for yellow options on the screen. In particular, look for it Natural light label at the bottom of the screen to turn yellow. This indicates that the iPhone has identified and focused on your subject and can separate it from the background. Also look for the yellow rounded corners of an invisible rectangle that appear around the subject’s head. If you don’t see the yellow corners, tap the subject’s eye in the frame to help iPhone find focus and exposure.

Edit photos in portrait mode

After taking a photo in portrait mode, you can adjust things to your taste in the Camera app. A quick way to find all your portrait mode photos on your iPhone is through the Room app, go to it Albums tab, look under the Media types section and tap it Portrait album.

Once you’ve selected your photo, tap it Edit button. When you edit a photo in portrait mode, you get two additional tools. One of them lets you change the look of Portrait Lighting and adjust how much of the look is applied. The second tool changes the amount of background blur.

You can adjust the amount of portrait lighting applied to your photo.

Patrick Holland / CNET

For portrait lighting, go to the top left corner. Tap on it Portrait lighting icon, which looks like a hexagon. At the bottom of the screen, use the Portrait lighting carousel to switch between looks. Use the horizontal Portrait lighting look slider under the Portrait lighting carousel to adjust the amount of effect applied.

Tap the button to change the blur Depth button in the top left corner, which is an oval with the f-stop number in it. When you activate it, the button’s icon changes to a yellow circle with the letter f in it. Then adjust the horizontal line Depth slider at the bottom of the screen.


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