Apple first introduced Portrait Mode to iPhone users back in 2016. It’s now been four years since its creation, and with each new annual Apple update, the iPhone camera gets stronger & more capable. We often get asked how to use portrait mode on iPhones since it does take a certain technique to get the camera to recognize the subject and activate Portrait Mode. If you’re an avid iPhone camera user, you’ll be familiar with the common message that pops up when you are too close to a subject, which advises you to move back to capture your subject and get the Depth of Field effect.
We wanted to create a mini-masterclass for you to understand which conditions are best suited for Portrait Mode images on iPhones and include tips on how to get better shots. No matter how tempting, I am going to advise you not to photograph something as basic and boring as the image on the left. I’ll walk you through exactly how we achieved the image on the right and how to use Portrait Mode on iPhone so you won’t struggle with it ever again! Watch the full tutorial below, and if you enjoy this type of content, make sure you check out our newest release: Creative Photography 101!
Video: How to Use Portrait Mode on iPhone
1. Find a Background, Less Busier the Better!
In order to create the Portrait Mode look (shallow depth of field), the iPhone camera uses depth mapping to figure out what is in the foreground of the image. Data from the wide-angle and telephoto lenses are used to compute a depth map, which then artificially blurs objects depending on how far they are from the in-focus subject.
2. Create Distance Between You and the Subject
Earlier, I mentioned that the iPhone prompts you to ‘Move Further Away’ when it can’t detect a clear subject. This likely means your camera is too close to the subject for the technology to map the depth. This will take some trial and error, but start making small adjustments by taking one step at a time away from your subject until you see the background blur.
3. Choose a Flattering Perspective
Unlike the standard lens that comes with iPhones (~28mm equivalent), the Telephoto lens is a much more zoomed-in focal length (~52mm). This means that when you switch from the standard lens to Portrait Mode you’re going to see a more zoomed-in image on your phone. In this example, you’ll see that we can still see some of the concrete sidewalk in the frame, and it takes away from the green landscape around our subject. To avoid that, I rotated the lens and brought it closer to the ground to conceal the concrete. Play around with your framing to ensure you’re still in a position to blur out the background.
4. Pose & Photograph Your Portrait!
There’s nothing left but to shoot! If you move from your original position or have your subject move, the phone may take a couple of moments to adjust to the new position and give you the same message as we saw in Step 2; however, it should be pretty quick to detect subtle movements. The final image was edited in Lightroom Mobile using Visual Flow Presets using the Crush Pack!
If you enjoyed this tutorial on how to use Portrait Mode with iPhones, check out Creative Photography 101, our newest course dedicated to teaching you how to shoot and edit pro photos with just your phone. All photos in this course were taken on my iPhone 11 Pro Max to emphasize that it isn’t about the gear, it’s about the magic you can create with any camera!