IPhone Owners Should Know These 7 Tips For Portrait Mode

One of the coolest features of the iPhone camera is portrait mode. It makes your subject stand out and can make your photos look dramatic. Basically when you take a photo, it keeps the subject in focus while defocusing the background of the photo. This popular effect reproduces photos taken on a mirrorless or DSLR camera with a long lens and shallow depth of field. Depending on the iPhone model you have, portrait mode can be used on people, pets, and even some objects.

Portrait mode was first available in 2016 on the iPhone 7 Plus. Over the years, Apple has improved the way it “cuts out” the person in 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 between the phone and your subject and improves this distinction.

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

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

Here’s what portrait lighting actually does to your face

My favorite tools in portrait mode are the Portrait Lighting looks. They 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 enabled by default and, as the name suggests, does not change anything.
  • Studio light brightens up your subject’s face.
  • Contour Light makes shadows and highlights more dramatic.
  • Stage lighting removes the actual background and adds a black one.
  • Stage Light Mono is the same as Stage Light – just black and white.
  • High Key Mono turns your subject into grayscale and changes the background to white.

There are six different portrait lighting styles, including High Key Mono, shown here.

Patrick Holland / CNET

You can change the appearance of the portrait lighting before or after taking a photo. But if you are planning on using Stage Light, Stage Light Mono, or High Key Mono, I recommend switching to this look. before take the picture. This way you can adjust the framing and subject to produce the best shot and have the most flexibility.

Selfies in portrait and night mode

You can take portrait mode photos with the iPhone’s 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 zoom out.

Also, if you have an iPhone 12, you can take portrait mode photos with night mode. When it’s dark enough and you’re in portrait mode, watch on the top corner left corner. If your flash is off, you will see yellow night mode icon. If you can’t see it, it might be too bright to activate the mode.

When it is dark enough, in the upper left corner you will see the yellow night mode icon appear.

Patrick Holland / CNET

Then, when taking a photo in portrait mode, keep your subject still and hold the phone as still as possible during the capture sequence, which can last anywhere from a few seconds to 30 seconds (if using a tripod). The result is a brighter photo.

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

Adjust blur in iPhone portrait mode

You can adjust the depth of field before or after taking a picture in portrait mode. 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 on the background. Adjusting the depth of field beforehand can help hide imperfections along the edges of your subject’s cutout.

iPhone portrait mode tips depth gif

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

Patrick Holland / CNET

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

When the Depth the button is yellow, you can use the horizontal Depth slider above the shutter button to adjust the degree of background blur. On the iPhone, you will see f-stop numbers which are there to help you adjust the amount of background blur. Lower f-stop numbers add more blur and higher ones indicate less blur. Unless your subject is an animal or an object with a strange shape, don’t worry too much about adjusting the blur as you can change it after taking the photo.

How to remove portrait mode from a photo

To cancel or remove portrait mode from a photo, find the photo you want to edit in the Camera app and press the Edit button. Go to the top of the screen and toggle yellow Portrait button off. It is that simple.

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

Portrait mode works best when your subject is two to eight feet from the phone, which is approximately 0.5 to 2.5 meters. If your subject is too far (or too close), iPhone will politely ask you to adjust your distance. If you try to take a portrait photo with a subject out of range, the camera will take a normal photo instead.


In portrait mode, some iPhones can take photos at 1x, others at 1x or 2x, and still others at 1x or 2.5x magnifications.

Angela Lang / CNET

If your subject is still, try moving in or out. Additionally, on some iPhone models you have the option of taking a photo in 1x or 2x / 2.5x portrait mode – which is kind of like a close-up. To switch between magnifications, press 2x or 2.5x button at the bottom left of the screen. If you want to return to a larger view, press the 1 time button.

When framing your shot, make sure your subject has a small distance between them and their background. If they’re in front of a wall, turn your subject 90 degrees to add perspective and depth to the photo.

Tap your subject’s eye to focus and adjust exposure

When setting up your masterpiece in portrait mode, look for the onscreen options in yellow. Specifically, look for the 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 them from the background. Also look for the yellow rounded corners of an invisible rectangle around the subject’s head. If you can’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 tweak things to your liking in the Camera app. A quick way to find all of your portrait mode photos on your iPhone is to open the Camera app, go to The albums tab, look under the Media types and press the Portrait album.

Once you have selected your photo, press the Edit button. When you edit a photo in portrait mode, you get two additional tools. One allows you to change the look of the portrait lighting and adjust the amount of look 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 upper left corner. Press the Portrait lighting icon, which looks like a hexagon. At the bottom of the screen, use the Portrait lighting carousel to switch between looks. Use horizontal Portrait lighting look cursor under the Portrait Lighting carousel to adjust the amount of the effect applied.

To change the blur, press the Depth in the upper left corner, which is an oval with the number f-stop. When you activate it, the button icon changes to a yellow circle with the letter f. Then adjust the horizontal Depth cursor at the bottom of the screen.

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