Use this camera feature to capture professional-quality shots.
Portrait mode on the iPhone Plus models and the iPhone X is the perfect tool for creating amazing portraits that can usually only be achieved with a DSLR camera. In this tutorial, you'll discover how to use the iPhone to capture professional-looking photos with a wonderful background blur.
What Is Portrait Mode?
Portrait is a unique shooting mode available in the native Camera app. It uses a special software tool to create a shallow depth of field in your photos. Shallow depth of field simply means that only a small portion of an image is in focus while the rest is blurred. In most cases, you would want your main subject to appear in sharp focus while the background appears blurred (figure 1).
Why Use a Shallow Depth of Field?
A shallow depth of field is often used by portrait photographers. Why? Because it places the emphasis on the person (or animal) that is the subject of the photo and creates a soft, dreamy backdrop behind them. Blurring the background is also really useful when shooting in locations with a busy, messy, or distracting backdrop. The blurring makes the background secondary, bringing the viewer's attention back to the main subject in the foreground.
Shallow depth of field isn't something you'd use for every kind of photo. You typically wouldn't want a blurry background in a landscape or architectural photo, as you'd want to see everything clearly from foreground to background. However, in portrait photography, a shallow depth of field will make a huge difference to the impact of your image. By blurring the background, you can really make your subject stand out (figure 2).
Creating Background Blur with Your iPhone
In the past, the iPhone camera hasn't allowed you to have any control over the depth of field in your photos. You've mostly just had the option to have everything in focus—unless your main subject was very close to the lens, in which case the background would appear blurred. But with Portrait mode on the iPhone, you can choose what's in focus and what isn't (figure 3).
While Portrait mode is perfect for shooting photos of people and animals, it can actually be used to blur the background behind any subject (figure 4). Many things look better when placed in front of a soft, dreamy background— especially if that background would distract the viewer from the main subject.
How to Use iPhone Portrait Mode
Creating a shallow depth of field with Portrait mode is easy. Start by opening the native Camera app and then swiping through the shooting modes (Video, Photo, etc.) until Portrait is highlighted in yellow:
The first thing you'll notice when you switch to Portrait mode is that everything gets bigger. That's because the camera automatically switches over to the iPhone's telephoto lens. The telephoto lens typically creates more flattering portrait photos than the wide-angle lens which can distort facial features. You'll also notice the words Depth Effect appear at the bottom of the screen. Your phone will help you by giving on-screen instructions if you haven't framed the image optimally. For example, you might see the words “Move farther away” or “More light required.”
Once you're the right distance from your subject, the words Depth Effect will be highlighted in yellow. You'll also see four yellow crop marks, roughly indicating the face of your subject. You're now ready to shoot, so tap the shutter button to take your photo. After taking the picture, you'll notice that two versions of the image appear in the Photos app. One image will have the Depth Effect (figure 6) and the other won't (figure 5).
Comparing these two versions of the image really shows how much nicer a portrait photo looks when it has a shallow depth of field. If for some reason you're not sure which of the two photos had the Depth Effect, it will be clearly labeled in your photo library like so (figure 7).
Tips for Creating Great Background Blur
When shooting in Portrait mode, it's important to consider your background as well as your subject. The type of background you shoot against and how far it is from your subject will have a big impact on the final image.
The Depth Effect works best when your subject is far away from the background. The further away the subject is from the background, the more pleasant blur you'll get. Note the difference in the amount of background blur between the two images in figure 8.
If your background doesn't look blurry enough when shooting in Portrait mode, move your subject further away from the background. It's also important to actually have something in the background, so that there's some detail for the camera to blur. In figure 9, my subject was placed in front of a plain white wall.
Even though I used the Depth Effect in Portrait mode, the background doesn't look blurred because there's no detail there to blur. In figure 10 and figure 11, there's a small amount of detail on the wall behind my subject.
You can definitely see the difference in figure 11 with the Depth Effect. But the photo could be a lot more dynamic if there were some more details on the wall to show the blur effect.
In figure 12, there's a lot of detail and different colors in the background. This makes the blurring much more obvious.
Remember, if you want to achieve beautiful background blur, you need to have something in the background, and ideally it should be far away from your foreground subject.
iPhone Portrait Mode: Conclusion
The iPhone has always been an amazing tool for many types of photography—such as landscape, architecture, and street photography. But now the iPhone offers the ability to shoot amazing, high-quality portrait photos too (figure 13). The telephoto lens on the iPhone is more flattering for shooting people than the standard wide-angle lens. And the magical Depth Effect tool in the iPhone Portrait mode creates beautiful background blur, simulating the shallow depth of field that could previously only be achieved with a DSLR camera.
Taking photos with the iPhone Portrait mode is a joy. And your subjects are sure to be excited when you show them how good they look in your photos. And don't forget, while Portrait mode is perfect for taking photos of people and animals, you can use it on any subject where you want to create a lovely background blur.