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How to Use Portrait Mode to Photograph People Using the iPhone 13

Your iPhone comes with a lot of incredible settings to help you create a variety of portraits, right at the moment you take the photos, or as we photographers like to say, Make the Photos.

In this tutorial you will learn how to use Portrait Mode on your iPhone, before and after you make the photo. We cover what Portrait Mode and Depth of Field are and how to use them, and look at the creative Lighting Effects you can add to your subject using Portrait Mode.

Let's first review Portrait Mode

What Portrait Mode Does and Why to Use It

Portrait Mode in your iphone uses artificial intelligence to create a blurry background so that your subject can stand out more. Having things blurry in the background and/or foreground is called a Depth of Field effect. This effect is a creative tool that is useful for portraits.

For example, in these two images you can see the difference in the background. On the left, the chair, the painting, the TV and the window are all sharp. In the right one, all those elements are now somewhat blurry.

What is Depth of Field?

Depth of field is the portion of your image that appears in focus and sharp. When you hear or read somewhere that a photographer is using shallow depth of field, that means that only a very tiny portion in the picture has sharpness on purpose, so that it stands out and the rest is blurry. On the contrary, deep depth of field is when you have a larger portion of your picture appears in sharpness detail, because you chose so and would like the viewer to appreciate everything in the frame as equal.

Usually your phone camera will give you an image where everything is in focus and sharp, as it doesn’t know that you may want make something blurry.

How to Use Portrait Mode for With Creative Depth of Field

  1. Open your camera app and choose Portrait.
  2. Once inside you will have a few options. Start with the default one: Natural Light. The iphone will give you instructions if you are too close or too far away to apply the effect of depth of field. Follow the instructions until the title Natural Light becomes yellow
  3. Tap to take your first photograph with Portrait Mode!

The background, even though it is close to the subject, becomes blurrier, making the subject stand out as sharper but still framed in front of the beautiful nature:

How to Apply the Depth of Field Look in Editing

Now that you have a portrait done with Portrait Mode, you can change the quantity of Depth of Field in the editing mode. To change the depth of field follow these simple steps:

  1. Tap Edit on the top right corner.
  2. Select the number showing on the top left (that is the depth of field the camera captured for you)
  3. Adjust the slider to the left, lower number, to achieve shallow depth of field (more blurry background) or adjust the slider to the right, higher number, to achieve deep depth of field (sharpness in all the image).
  4. Once you choose, click Done

More Portrait Lighting Modes

Now let's add some more fun to the portrait by using some lighting techniques available in your camera!

The Portrait Mode contains six Lighting modes that can help you enhance the light and also play with the background of your image. The first one is Natural Light, which we used in the Portrait above: a blurred background while keeping the available light. 

Please note that depending where you make the photos and with how much light you already have in your image, these adjustments may become more or less visible.

The second is Studio Light, which brightens the face of your subject to make it stand out more.

The third is Contour Light, which gives a more dramatic lighting.

The fourth is Stage Light, which turns the background to black and it is used to isolate the subject from the background. Maybe you don’t really want to see what is in the background or want to use this as if you were in a studio with a black backdrop. 

The fifth is Stage Mono, which is similar to the Stage Ligh,t but now creating a black and white picture.

The sixth is High-Key Light Mono, which turns your background to white, mimicking a traditional style of photographing using lots of light on a white background. 

Add Lighting Modes Later

As with the Depth of Field, if you recorded in Portrait Mode you can also choose to edit the type of lighting afterwards. You can do this by selecting the photo, pressing Edit and using the sliding bar to pick another type of lighting mode. 

Now that you learned more about the Portrait Mode, go out and make your first photos with shallow depth of field! The good thing about this technology is that if you don't like the outcome, you can always change it in post-production by entering the photo, selecting edit and pressing on Portrait. That option will turn your Portrait Mode photo into one without the effect. 

Next Steps

Once you created your first series of portraits you can play around with more settings on your iphone. Here are a few more free tutorials and resources to help you explore smartphone photography:

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