How to use Portrait mode and Portrait Lighting on the iPhone 8 Plus

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What exactly is Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus, and how do you use it? Here’s everything you need to know.

While people love the #plusclub for a variety of reasons, I chose a Plus model for one reason, and one reason only: Portrait mode. Exclusively available for the iPhone 7 Plus, 8 Plus, and upcoming iPhone X, this mode uses the 56mm-equivalent “telephoto” lens on your iPhone to shoot incredible images (in portrait or landscape orientation) with “bokeh”-style blurred backgrounds and foregrounds.

Note: Though many (myself included) have argued that this system is closer in comparison to a normal or portrait lens than a true telephoto, I understand Apple’s intentions here: Because they’re marketing the lens in conjunction with a 2x feature, it may seem more appropriate to call it “tele” than “normal” or “portrait” to the average user — especially considering that Apple’s”Portrait” feature utilizes both lenses. For that reason, I’m referring to the lens as Apple names it — tele, or telephoto — even though I don’t necessarily agree with that branding.

How does Portrait mode work?

When you shoot in the Camera app’s Portrait mode, you’re framing an image as seen by the telephoto lens, but the wide-angle is also working for you: It automatically measures the difference in distance between what it sees and what the telephoto sees, creating a multi-point depth map. This depth map is then used to create the most fun part of Portrait mode: artificial depth of field (and, on iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, Portrait Lighting), which blurs both the background and foreground with various “bokeh” effects to create a DSLR-camera-like image.

When in Portrait mode, you can only frame with the telephoto lens (there are no zoom options, digital or otherwise), but as of iOS 11, users have most other Camera app features available to them. That includes flash — including the iPhone 8 Plus’s and iPhone X’s Slow Sync flash — along with timed photos, filters, and HDR. You won’t get Live Photos quite yet, but you can always record your iPhone’s screen while in the Camera app.

How does Portrait Lighting work?

The iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X support Portrait Lighting. It augments existing Portrait mode features by using the depth map to add different lighting options to your image on the spot or later in post-processing.

Think about it this way: professional studio photographers use all sorts of lights when photographing a subject. By altering these lights, an experienced photographer can use the light on or around the subject to emphasize certain areas of the photo; Portrait Lighting allows users to do the same thing, but digitally. And as with Apple’s other editing features, it’s non-destructive: You can add or remove Portrait Lighting at any time.

Note: Portrait Lighting is currently in beta, and officially only supports photographs of people (though we’ve been taking images of dogs, people, and all sorts of other objects for the last year without harm).

There are currently five different types of Portrait lighting: Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage Light, or Stage Light Mono.

Natural Light

This is the basic lighting mode that Portrait Mode has always used, which keeps your subject’s face in focus and blurs the background for contrast.

Studio Light

Your subject’s face will be in focus and brightly light allowing you to see more detail in the face while the background will blur for contrast.

Contour Light

Will cast shadows on your subject’s face and surroundings to show a dramatic difference between highlights and lowlights.

Stage Light

Cuts the background of the photo out into a deep black while light on the subject is bright and clear, giving a dramatic, high-contrast photo.

Stage Light Mono

Just like Stage Light, Stage Light Mono will cut the background of the photo away and brightly illuminate your subject; however, it will also apply a monochrome filter with a black and white photo.

How to shoot a person in Portrait mode or Portrait Lighting mode

  1. Open the Camera app.
  2. Swipe over to the Portrait setting.
  3. Line up the shot you wish to take within 2-8 feet of your subject. The camera’s face and body detection should automatically identify your subject.
  4. Pay attention to the Camera app’s prompts (either “More light required,” “Flash may help,” “Place subject within 8 feet,” or “Move farther away.”)
  5. Once you’ve met the camera’s needs, you’ll see the banner at the bottom (iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X) or top (iPhone 7 Plus) turn yellow.

    Note: You can still shoot with the telephoto lens in Portrait mode even if the banners don’t turn yellow — it just means you won’t get depth or lighting effects.

  6. If you have an iPhone 8 Plus or X, you can swipe or tap on the cube icons above the shutter button to change your lighting effects.
  7. Press the shutter button to take your photo.

How to take photos of other objects and animals in Portrait mode

Shooting other, non-human objects isn’t officially supported for Portrait mode, but you can still do so if you wish; just be prepared for the artificial depth of field to not look perfect.

  1. Line up the shot you wish to take within 8 feet of your subject. Your iPhone will attempt to automatically identify a subject or focal point, but you can also tap on the screen to set a manual focal point.
  2. Pay attention to the Camera app’s prompts (either “More light required,” “Flash may help,” “Place subject within 8 feet,” or “Move farther away.”)

  3. Once you’ve met the camera’s needs, you’ll see the banner at the bottom (iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X) or top (iPhone 7 Plus) turn yellow.

    Note: You can still shoot with the telephoto lens in Portrait mode even if the banners don’t turn yellow — it just means you won’t get depth or lighting effects.

  4. If you have an iPhone 8 Plus or X, you can swipe or tap on the cube icons above the shutter button to change your lighting effects.
  5. Press the shutter button to take your photo.

How to remove depth or lighting effects on a photo

Stage lighting? Not always such a good call. But taking it away is an easy fix.

If you took a shot in Portrait mode and decide you’d rather not have that bokeh effect or Stage Lighting gracing your image, removing either option is an easy fix. And because Apple operates non-destructively, you can always restore the look later on if you so choose.

Note: Though you shoot both Depth effects and Lighting effects in Portrait mode, they exist independently of each other: You can remove Depth without removing lighting effects, and vice versa.

How to remove a photo’s depth effect on your iPhone

  1. Open the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Find the Portrait mode photo you want to edit.
  3. Tap Edit.

  4. Tap on the yellow Portrait button when it appears at the top of the screen.

    Note: Users can only remove depth effects on images taken on iOS 11 or later; Portrait mode photographs taken on iOS 10 won’t load the Portrait removal button.

  5. Tap Done.

How to remove or change a photo’s lighting effect on your iPhone

Note: This feature is only available for iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X.

  1. Open the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Find the Portrait mode photo you want to edit.
  3. Tap Edit.

  4. Tap on the cube in the bottom center of the screen to bring up the lighting menu.
  5. Swipe right on the cubes to return to the Natural Lighting option, or pick an alternate lighting option.
  6. Tap Done.

How to remove a photo’s depth or lighting effect on macOS High Sierra

  1. Open Photos from your Dock or Applications folder.
  2. Double-click on the photo you want to edit.

  3. Click Edit.
  4. Click on the Portrait button in the bottom-left corner of the editing screen to disable it. You can also click on the cubes (if available) to adjust lighting effects.
  5. Click Done.

Just as you can on iOS 11, go back in and click the Portrait button again to restore the bokeh effect to the photo.

Questions about Portrait mode and Portrait Lighting?

Let us know in the comments.

Updated September 2017: Completely updated for iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, and iOS 11.



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