Portrait Mode: The Complete Guide To Stunning Portraits On iPhone

Do you want to know how to use Portrait mode on iPhone? Portrait mode is the perfect tool for creating incredible iPhone portraits. In this tutorial, you’ll discover how to use Portrait mode. You’ll learn how to use it to take stunning portraits with a professional background blur!

1. Use Portrait Mode For Incredible Portraits
Portrait mode is a shooting mode on the iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XR, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XS.
What does Portrait mode do?
When you shoot in Portrait mode, Apple’s technology identifies the main subject and the background. The software then blurs the background while keeping the subject sharp.
Notice the background blur in the photo below:

This creates very unique portrait photography. Portrait mode photos feature a portrait subject—standing before an out-of-focus background.
The amount of a photo that is sharp is called the depth of field. A photo has a shallow depth of field if very little is in focus. A photo has a deep depth of field if most of the image is in focus.

One photo above (left) has a deep depth of field. The other photo (right) has a shallow depth of field.
Portrait mode uses a shallow depth of field. In the next section, I explain why a shallow depth of field creates such stunning portraits.
2. Use A Shallow Depth Of Field For Portraits That Pop
Do you want to create jaw-dropping, dramatic portraits?
Then use a shallow depth of field. Use Portrait mode.
A shallow depth of field is fantastic because it emphasizes the subject. It makes them stand out. It does this by creating a soft, dreamy backdrop.

A shallow depth of field makes portrait subjects pop.
A shallow depth of field is especially useful when shooting in locations with a busy, messy, or distracting background. The blur brings the viewer’s attention back to the main subject.
Note: A shallow depth of field isn’t something you’d use for every kind of photo. You wouldn’t want a blurry background in a landscape or architectural photo. You’d want to see everything clearly—from foreground to background.
The photo below looks better with a deep depth of field. This emphasizes both the subject and the background.

However, in portrait photography, a shallow depth of field makes a huge difference. By blurring the background, you can make your subject pop off the screen. The photo below needs Portrait mode to shine. Otherwise, the viewer would get lost in the busy background.

Therefore, if you’re interested in making beautiful, compelling portraits, use Portrait mode.
3. How To Use iPhone Portrait Mode
How do you use iPhone Portrait mode? It’s simple!
Open the Camera app. Look for the camera modes listed at the bottom of the screen. Then scroll to select Portrait mode.

When switching to Portrait mode, the screen will zoom in. This is because Portrait mode uses the telephoto lens on your camera. The telephoto lens allows for closer, more in-your-face images.
One exception to zoomed-in Portrait mode is on the iPhone XR. Why? Because it doesn’t have a telephoto lens!
Instead, the iPhone XR uses its wide-angle lens for Portrait mode.
This results in slightly more distorted portraits. It also means that you have to get very close to your subject for more powerful images.
Another exception to zoomed-in Portrait mode is when using the front-facing camera. If you have the iPhone X, iPhone XR, iPhone XS, or iPhone XS Max, you can use Portrait mode while taking a selfie.
How do you do this?
Simply tap the front-facing camera icon, and then use Portrait mode as described below.

Now, when you compose a shot in Portrait mode, there are a few requirements.
First of all, you can’t use Portrait mode in low light. If the light is insufficient, a message will appear on the screen. The message will indicate that more light is required. The exact wording may vary among the iPhone models.
Second, your subject has to be within eight feet of the camera—and must be at least two feet away from it. If your subject violates either of these conditions, directions will appear on the screen. On the iPhone XS, these are “Move farther away” and “Place subject within 8 feet.”

For iPhone 7 Plus users: You’ll notice the words “Depth Effect” appear at the bottom of the screen. Once you’re the correct distance from your subject, these words will be highlighted in yellow (as shown in the photo below).

For iPhone 8 Plus, X, XR, XS, and XS Max users: You’ll see a menu just above the shooting modes. These are the Portrait Lighting options and will be covered in the next section. When you’re the proper distance from your subject, the type of Portrait Lighting will be highlighted in yellow.
For an example, see the image below, where the words “Studio Light” are highlighted. This means that the camera is the proper distance from the subject.

If you have the iPhone 7 Plus, then you’re ready to shoot. Go ahead and tap the shutter button. Then skip to Section 5: Enhance Portrait Photos With Editing.
If you have one of the newer iPhones (iPhone 8 Plus, X, XR, XS, or XS Max), then there’s another thing you should consider: Portrait Lighting.
7 Hidden iPhone Camera Features
As it turns out, the most important iPhone camera features are completely hidden from regular iPhone users. That’s why we created this free video revealing 7 hidden iPhone camera features that every photographer should use. Click here to watch this video.

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4. Use Portrait Lighting For Dramatic Photos
Portrait Lighting only exists on the newer iPhones: the iPhone 8 Plus, the iPhone X, the iPhone XR, the iPhone XS, and the iPhone XS Max.
What does Portrait Lighting do?
Portrait Lighting makes your iPhone portraits far more dramatic. It makes photos look like they were taken in a studio.

How does Portrait Lighting do this?
When you use Portrait Lighting, Apple’s software edits your photo instantly. The outcome depends on the type of Portrait Lighting you select. Portrait Lighting might brighten your subject’s face. It might add shadows or black out the background.

The important thing: You can use Portrait Lighting to make your photos look even more professional.
To use Portrait Lighting, make sure that you have your camera set to Portrait mode.
There are five Portrait Lighting settings, all featured at the bottom of the screen (just above the shooting modes). Scroll to change the type of lighting.

Natural Light doesn’t affect the final image. It doesn’t edit the photo at all. You get a standard Portrait mode photo. The image below shows a portrait with the Natural Light setting applied.

Studio Light makes minor changes to your Portrait photo. It subtly brightens the subject’s face so that they pop a bit more. The image below shows a portrait with the Studio Light setting applied.

Contour Light applies shadows around the subject’s face. This creates a more dramatic portrait. It also adds depth to your image. The image below shows a portrait with the Contour Light setting applied.

Stage Light is one of the more interesting lighting effects. It makes your subject appear as if they’re standing in a spotlight—as if they’re on a stage! Use this for an especially dramatic effect. The image below shows a portrait with the Stage Light setting applied.

Stage Light Mono is the final type of Portrait Lighting. It has the same effect as Stage Light, except the image is converted to black and white. Use this for a more formal look. The image below shows the Stage Light Mono setting.

To sum up: If you’re looking for something subtle, choose Studio Light or Contour Light. If you’re looking for something dramatic, choose Stage Light or Stage Light Mono. If you’re looking for a normal Portrait mode photo, choose Natural Light.
Once you see how Portrait Lighting makes your portraits stand out, you won’t regret using it.
5. Enhance Portrait Photos With Editing
Now you’ve taken a photo with Portrait mode. Are you happy with it?
If not, that’s okay. I’ll show you how to fix any Portrait mode problems. But first, let me answer an important question:
Why might you be unhappy with your Portrait mode photo?
As great as Portrait mode is, it sometimes makes mistakes. Apple’s software isn’t perfect. Occasionally, it blurs out part of the foreground. Also, it might think that bits of the background are part of the foreground, and thus apply Portrait Lighting effects incorrectly.

For example, look at the photo above. Just under the subject’s right arm, the gate’s metal is blurred—but it should be sharp! Apple’s software incorrectly identified the metal as part of the background.
Now, look at the photo below. This is a photo that uses Stage Light Mono Portrait Lighting.

Unfortunately, part of the background wasn’t blacked out. The software identified it as part of the foreground. With such an image, I would change the Portrait Lighting effect or remove the Portrait effect entirely.
How do you do this?
If you have the iPhone 7 Plus, you’ll find two photos in your Photos app: A Portrait mode photo and a non-Portrait mode photo. This way, you never have to worry about whether using Portrait mode was a good decision. That’s because you don’t have to use the Portrait mode photo!
If you have any of the later iPhones, you have the same option. While your Photos app won’t contain two versions of the photo, you can remove Portrait effects very quickly.
Find your Portrait mode photo in the Photos app. Tap Edit.

The editing screen will open.
Find the Portrait icon at the top of the screen. It will be highlighted in yellow. Tap it, and all Portrait effects will be removed. You’ll notice that the background blur vanishes.

You can also edit your Portrait photos like you’d edit a normal photo. You can open them in any photo editor and change exposure, contrast, color, etc.
Finally, if you own any of the iPhones after the 7 Plus, you can change your Portrait Lighting.
Open your portrait. Tap Edit. You should see the Portrait Lighting options. They’ll look exactly as they do on the camera screen.

Scroll through them. You’ll be able to preview different Portrait Lighting effects on your photo. Once you’re finished, tap Done.
As you can see, Portrait mode doesn’t always work as promised. However, don’t give up on Portrait mode and Portrait Lighting! Portrait mode is often reliable and can give stunning results.
Therefore, if you have the iPhone 7 Plus, you can choose whether to use the Portrait mode image or the non-Portrait mode image. If you have the iPhone 8 Plus or the iPhone X, you can also change your Portrait Lighting.
If you have the iPhone XR, the iPhone XS, or the iPhone XS Max, you still have one more editing feature. It’s part of a new advanced Portrait mode, and it’s called Depth Control…
6. Use Depth Control For More Professional Portraits
Do you want even more control over your portrait photos?
The iPhone XR, the iPhone XS, and the iPhone XS Max all have advanced Portrait mode with Depth Control.
This means that you can change the depth of field after you’ve taken a picture!
How do you use Depth Control?
Open a portrait and tap Edit. Look down to the slider at the bottom of the screen. You should see the symbol “f4.5.”
This is the Depth Control tool.
Swipe right, and watch as the background gets blurrier. Swipe left, and watch as the background gets sharper.

Notice that the numbers correspond to the level of blur: low numbers mean more blur. High numbers mean less blur. In the photo above (left), the number is low (f1.4). The background is blurry.
In the photo above (right), the number is high (f16). The background is sharp.
Therefore, Depth Control lets you change the amount of background blur in your photo. If you want even more flexibility in making portrait photos, then use Depth Control!
7. Consider The Background For Incredible Blur
Do you want to take even better portrait photos? Apple’s Portrait mode technology is great for enhancing your portraits.
A big part of Portrait mode, however, is knowing how to use it.
What will have a significant impact on your final image?
Two important things: How far the background is from your subject, and the type of background you shoot against.
Portrait mode works best when your subject is far away from the background. The farther the subject is from the background, the better the blur will look. Note the difference in the amount of background blur between the two photos below.
The photo on the left has a subject that is close to the background. The photo on the right, however, has a large subject-background separation. This makes for a more pleasing background blur.

Do you want a blurrier background? Make sure there’s a large distance between the subject and the background.
It’s also important to have a bit of detail in your background. Otherwise, there will be nothing to blur. In the example below, my subject stood in front of a plain white wall:

I used Portrait mode. Yet the background doesn’t look blurred because there’s no detail to blur.
In the photo below, there’s more detail behind the subject. This makes for a stronger blur.

Therefore, if you want to achieve a beautiful background blur, use a more detailed background. Also, make sure that it’s far away from your foreground subject.
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