How to Use the iPhone Portrait Mode

Updated on April 23, 2020
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Jonathan Wylie is a Digital Learning Consultant who has a passion for helping others get the best out of their technology.


What is the iPhone Portrait Mode?

The iPhone Portrait mode is a photo effect that blurs the background of an image by adding a simulated bokeh. This background blur isolates the subject in a photo and gives it a more professional look, similar to the results you get when using a DSLR camera. Portrait mode is available for dual camera models like the iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and even the single lens iPhone XR. It's not hard to master, but there are some nuances worth knowing about. So, grab your iPhone, and read on.

How to Take iPhone Portrait Photos

  1. Open the Camera app on your iPhone
  2. Swipe along the bottom of the screen until you find Portrait mode
  3. Frame your subject, and be aware of the on-screen prompts that tell you if you are too close or too far away
  4. If you have an iPhone 8 Plus or later, you can adjust the Portrait Lighting effects to fine-tune your image further
  5. When you are ready, tap the capture button to take your photo

Note: If you have an iPhone XR, iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max, you can also adjust the iPhone depth effect before you take the picture. Simply tap the "f" in the top right-hand corner of the screen to activate the depth slider, and move it left or right to adjust the amount of blur in the background of your image.

How to Use Portrait Lighting on iOS

How to Take an iPhone Portrait Selfie

If you have an iPhone X, iPhone XR, iPhone XS, or an iPhone XS Max, you can also use the Portrait mode with the front facing camera to take a portrait selfie. This gives you the same blurred background effect that you get with the rear camera, only this time you can use it on yourself! Here's how it works.

  1. Open the Camera app
  2. Swipe along the bottom of your screen and select Portrait mode
  3. Tap the button to switch between front and rear cameras
  4. Click a volume button or tap the on-screen capture button to take your photo

Note: As with standard portrait photos, you can see a real-time preview of the iPhone depth effect by tapping the "f" in the top right-hand corner and swiping left or right to adjust the effect. You can also use the Portrait Lighting effects by swiping left or right at the bottom of the photo screen.

Adjust the iPhone Depth Effect in Photos

If you didn't adjust the depth of field before you took your photo, and you have an iPhone XR, iPhone XS or Phone XS Max, then you can adjust it later in the Photos app. Here's how.

  1. Open the Photos app
  2. Find the photo you want to adjust the depth effect on
  3. Tap Edit in the top right-hand corner
  4. Move the depth slider left or right to achieve the desired effect
  5. Tap Done when you are finished

How to Edit the iPhone Depth Effect

Edit the iPhone Depth Control With Focos

If you don't have one of the newer iPhones, or you just want some more creative control, download Focos from the App Store. This handy app uses all the data from your original image to let you do adjust the blur effect in portrait images in very much the same way.

Focos also has several other useful tricks that are worth exploring. For instance, you can change the focus point of your image after you have taken it by tapping on another part of the photo. You can also change the appearance of the bokeh by selecting different shapes, or by mimicking the effect found on a variety of classic DSLR lenses. Focos is a free app with in-app purchases that unlock additional features.


More Tips for iPhone Portrait Mode

  1. Although portrait mode on the iPhone was designed to be used with people, iPhones with dual cameras can use it with a variety of other things. Everything from coffee cups to flowers or even pets can benefit from a little extra bokeh.
  2. When taking a portrait shot of an inanimate object, the iPhone will typically try to focus on the object that is nearest to the camera. If you want the focus to be on something else, tap on that area of the screen.
  3. If you are having trouble getting the portrait blur to activate, you may need to move closer or take a few steps back from your subject. You need to be within 8 feet of your subject before Portrait mode will work.
  4. Lighting can be the difference between a great iPhone portrait, and an okay iPhone portrait. Low light situations are not your friend when shooting in Portrait mode, so whenever possible, look for some good, even light to photograph your subject.
  5. Sometimes when taking portraits we are so focused on the subject that we forget to look and see what is behind them. The background is less important when you know it will be blurred, but a simple background with fewer distractions will always look better than a busy background, even when the portrait mode is applied.
  6. Portrait mode works in both orientations, so don't be afraid to turn your iPhone on it's side and try a landscape portrait picture!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Jonathan Wylie


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