How to Use Portrait Mode Effects on the iPhone camera

Portrait Mode Effects Ios Featured

Portrait Mode is a setting that you can use in the Camera app on the iPhone, allowing you to capture photos that dramatically draw attention to subjects while blurring the background elements behind them.

This photography technique of applying “background blur”, known as bokeh, can be accessed on the iPhone in a few simple taps in a range of distinct styles. Learn how to point and shoot like a pro on your iPhone.

How to Activate Portrait Mode

Before we start, check out the iPhone models that support portrait mode.

  1. To enable Portrait Mode start by launching the Camera app on your iPhone. 
Iphone Camera Launch
  1. Swipe left once from the middle of the screen to switch to “Portrait” from the photo effects carousel.
Iphone Portrait Mode Switch
  1. A yellow box will appear in your viewfinder outlining your subject. Follow the onscreen instructions to properly frame your photo. You may be asked to move closer or further away from your subject.
Iphone Camera Frame
Image source: Apple
  1. Tap the shutter button highlighted below to quickly capture the shot.
Iphone Shutter Button

How to Toggle Between Portrait Lighting Effects

The Portrait Lighting feature encompasses a set of five studio-quality lighting effects that can be applied instantly to Portrait Mode photos to isolate, enhance, or otherwise brighten key elements of your subject. Portrait Lighting uses computational photography to generate artificial lighting edits that a professional photographer might apply in a post.

However, the iPhone allows users to see a real-time preview of each effect in their viewfinder before they take the shot. It’s like having a professional photographer and photo studio with you in your pocket!

Tip: Learn how to secure your photos in the cloud with iCloud Photos.

  1. Retrace steps #1-#3 from the section above, and locate the cube icon with a solid white circle inside of it near the bottom of the viewfinder. This is your Portrait Lighting toggle.
Iphone Portrait Mode Icon
  1. Place your finger on the Portrait Lighting toggle and swipe left to move between effects. Choose from Natural Light, Studio Light, Contour Light, Stage Light, Stage Light Mono, or High-Key Light Mono.
Iphone Portrait Lighting Toggle
  1. When you have selected the photo effect that you would like to use, lift your finger off of the effects slider and tap the shutter button to take a photo.
Iphone Shutter Button 1

Portrait Lighting Effects Explained

  • Natural Light: Your subject’s face appears sharp against a blurred background. 
  • Studio Light: A bright light is applied to your subject’s face and shadows are reduced. 
  • Contour Light: Artistic lowlights and highlights are applied to your subject’s face while dramatic shadows accentuate key features. 
  • Stage Light: A spotlight effect is simulated outlining your subject’s face against an inky black background.
  • Stage Light Mono: Applies a classic black and white filter onto stage light photos. 
  • High-Key Light Mono: Outlines your subject by administering a grayscale filter before masking it against a pure white background. 

Adjust Depth Control in Portrait Mode

  1. Go to Portrait Mode on your iPhone just like we showed you above and tap the focal length icon represented by the letter “f” highlighted below.
Iphone Focal Length Icon
  1. Drag the slider below the viewfinder to the left to make the background behind your subject appear sharper.
Iphone Focal Length Sharp
  1. Alternatively, you can drag the slider to the right to make the background appear more blurry.
Iphone Focal Length Blurry

How to Remove Portrait Mode Effects in a Post

  1. To remove the Portrait Mode effect from a photo after you have taken it first select the blue “Edit” button in the upper right-hand corner to edit photos within the Photos app.

Tip: If you need to further edit your images, you can use on of these free tools to enhance your photography on Mac.

Iphone Photo Edit Button
  1. Then tap the “Portrait” button outlined in yellow at the top of the screen to toggle portrait mode off. 
Iphone Portrait Mode
  1. To save your changes tap the yellow “Done” button in the bottom right-hand corner of the display.
Iphone Photo Edit Done Button

Frequently Asked Questions

Do all iPhone models support Portrait Mode photography effects?

Natural Light Portrait Mode photography is supported on the iPhone 7 Plus. On the iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, and later you can use studio-quality lighting effects. Depth control and the High-Key Light Mono effect is available on the iPhone Xs, iPhone XR, and later. On the iPhone XR Portrait Lighting effects including Stage Light, Stage Light Mono, and High-Key Mono are only available while using the front-facing TrueDepth camera array.

Can I add/remove Portrait Mode lighting effects in a post?

Yes. Simply select the blue “Edit” button in the upper right-hand corner of the photo viewer. Then place your finger on the Portrait Lighting toggle and swipe left or right to move between effects. When you are satisfied with your edits select the yellow “Done” button in the bottom right-hand corner to save your edits.

How can I troubleshoot Portrait Mode if it’s not working?

Portrait Mode photos generally require an adequately-lit environment. While natural sunlight works best, you can always activate your flash to aid you in dimly-lit scenarios. While framing your portrait mode photo, the Camera app may ask you to move forward or backward to calibrate the effect. A general rule of thumb is to remain within 2-8 feet of your subject. If you do not have enough space in your environment to move around you can switch between cameras on newer iPhones with more than one camera lens.

Note: While using the 2x telephoto lens on select iPhone models, Portrait Lighting and depth effects are not available if photos are captured without proper framing.

Image credit: Apple. All screenshots taken by Brahm Shank.

Brahm Shank
Brahm Shank

Self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur and tech enthusiast Brahm Shank is captivated by the impact of consumer tech: “It’s profoundly moving when people discover that the phone in their pocket or the tiny computer on their wrist has the power to enrich their lives in ways they never imagined.” Apple, Inc. and its unique position at the intersection of technology and the creative arts, resonates deeply with Brahm and his passion for helping people unleash their potential using technology. Over the years, Brahm has held various podcasts - including famed technologist David Pogue of The New York Times on topics such as Big Tech and digital wellness.

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