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How to use Portrait Mode like a Pro

The iPhone portrait mode is easily one of the standout features of the iPhone 7 Plus, and we perfectly understand why. It shoots with the built-in secondary 56mm-equivalent telephoto lens, exclusive to the iPhone 7 Plus and iOS 10.1. The iPhone portrait mode is a game-changer in mobile photography, once again putting the iPhone camera on the map.

If you're fortunate enough to get your hands on the latest iPhone, you'd know that its camera features can take your creativity up a notch. But we're here to take it all the way to pro level --with the iPhone portrait mode, at least.

First things first. Just to be sure we're all speaking the same language, let's spell out a few things. Having a telephoto lens means that your iPhone 7 Plus can capture images with 2x magnification or ''zoomed-in'' photos in high quality. The portrait mode is for taking photos of a single subject, using a narrow field of focus to make the person stand out from its background. Given that you're already running iOS 10.1, the portrait mode will automatically make use of the telephoto lens to put the background out of focus.

Some things you should know:

  • iPhone portrait mode will give you a live preview of the depth effect before you take the shot.
  • You can't zoom-in on your subject when using the iPhone portrait mode
  • iPhone portrait mode allows you to use the 3- and 10-second timers.
  • You can't access the Flash, HDR, Live Photos, or Filters with the when taking a photo with the iPhone portrait mode.

How to take shots with Portrait mode?

Step 1. Stand within 8 feet of your subject and hold your phone up to it. The face and body detection technology of the iPhone 7 Plus will automatically identify your subject.

Step 2. Check the Camera app's prompts. You may need to make some adjustments based on these prompts: "Move farther away", "Place subject within 8 feet" or "More light required".

Step 3. When you're all set, you'll see a yellow banner at the bottom, which says "Depth Effect". This is the go signal for you to take the shot.

Now that we're good with the basics, let's go pro! Here are some things to keep in mind when shooting with the iPhone portrait mode.

Keep It Bright

As with any kind of photography, bright, diffused lighting is the way to go, but adequate light is especially important when using the iPhone portrait mode. For one, this mode won’t allow you to access the flash, and more importantly, it will simply refuse to take the shot unless you meet its requirements. So, if you want to see the "More light required" prompt out of the way, make sure you're in a fair or brightly-lit environment.

Does this mean there's no way for you to take photos with the iPhone portrait mode in low light? Sadly, yes. BUT, you can still use the telephoto lens, which will give you maximum clarity and resolution. Plus, you can simply resort to these impressive Depth Effect apps for your iPhone:

Depth Effects

The name of the app itself is a giveaway. This background blur effect app gives you full control when creating the depth effect. You can choose where or which area to blur and it allows you to manually increase or decrease the strength of the blur effect on your background.


FabFocus makes use of facial recognition technology to automatically blur around your subject. You can also manually mask the object, especially if it's not a face. Its mask feathering feature allows you to achieve a more realistic depth effect and you can also adjust the blur amount to your liking.

Patch: Smart Portrait Editor

Patch automatically blurs your background with 5 different levels. This allows you to have just the right depth effect or go absolutely wild. You can also make use of its different brush sizes to mask out parts that you don’t want to blur.

Background Still Matters

Yes, you're ultimately going to blur out the background, but it's still important to avoid chaotic scenes. By keeping your background simple, you can minimise the distractions from your subject. Also, having other faces in the background may confuse the camera's algorithm and can result in blurring off parts of your subject along with the background.

Notice how the hand of the subject has blurred together with the background.

Another rule of thumb: keep as much distance as possible from the background. For example, letting your subject stand right in front of a wall won’t make your subject pop as much.

Keep Your Subjects Big and Simple

The iPhone portrait mode works on subjects other than humans. But, for best results, keep your subjects big. And if you can, stick to people. Shooting small objects and subjects with crazy borders isn't exactly portrait mode's specialty. Though the iPhone portrait mode can do a really decent job in outlining an object's borders to keep it in focus, it may get a little confused with an oddly shaped piece of art or even fuzzy hair. This may result in parts of your subject being smeared into the background.

The photo below shows a plant with irregular borders, so you can see how some of its elements are less defined.

Choose Landscape Orientation

Don't chop off the bokeh effect by taking a vertical photo. You may capture more of the actual body of your subject when you shoot in vertical orientation, but, you'll get more blurred background and therefore, more contrast when you use landscape orientation. A wide photo will enhance the subject in focus and looks much like that of a photo taken from a DSLR.

If you're into photography (like we all are), then i'm pretty sure the portrait mode is just about the most appealing feature of the iPhone 7 Plus. Its twin-lens camera setup truly seals the deal. Now with just these simple tips and a whole lot of fun practice, there's no stopping you from taking beautiful photos with a professional bokeh depth effect. Try the portrait mode on your iPhone 7 Plus today!

  • Jul 28, 2017
  • Category: Articles
  • Comments: 0
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