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Using the new Portrait feature on iPhones

Do you love using your iPhone to create imagery when you are travelling?  I do!  In fact there are some situations where using my phone has not only been a much faster option for photography, it has also been a lot less fussy than swapping lenses and getting ready to shoot a scene – especially when you just want to capture the moment and that moment is so fleeting.

Shortly before I went on my recent trip to India, I upgraded my phone to the new iPhone 10 and I realised that my newer model now comes with a Portrait feature.

This incredible piece of technology allows you to create studio style portraits within your phone so in India, I took my phone on the road and experimented.

India is one of the most amazing places in the world for portrait photography.  Not only are the people there beautiful to photograph, they also love having their photo taken with you.  It’s no wonder that you see so many large billboards on the streets of India advertising “The best phone for selfies”.  I’ve lost count of the amount of requests I’ve had from Indian people wishing to take my photo.  This recent trip was no different.  I’m convinced that I am a super famous star on Facebook in India.  When I ask “Is that going on Facebook?”, I usually get a smiling Indian waggling his head and sheepishly confessing “yes”.  It never worries me.  I simply love seeing a country that is so enthralled by photography and the equipment of choice is usually a phone on the streets of India.

So with phone in hand I went to India where I found myself in speeding minibuses travelling the back roads of Gujarat and watching the world unfold through the windows of a car in traffic.  At one point we came across a large wedding procession in the area so we had to slow down to not hit everyone crossing the road.  All of a sudden we were momentarily swept up with the crowd so we stopped.  Realising I had the wrong lens on my camera, I decided spontaneously to use my phone.  In the crowd of kids who instantly surrounded us, I saw this little girl so I asked if I could take her photo.  Within seconds this is what I had created.


Right then and there I had just shot my most favourite image of the trip – on my phone.

How to Use the Portrait Feature

To use the Portrait feature of your phone just follow these steps:

  1. Open the camera on your phone
  2. In the various camera functions at the bottom of the screen, choose Portrait
  3. Shoot your image

The incredible aspect of this feature is that you can use ONE of the settings within it to shoot an image but later on you can switch between them to get different effects.

So always start with shooting the original image in Portrait mode to unlock this capability.

A Few Tips on Shooting Good Images using Portrait

It is important to remember a few tips when you start to use this new feature of your phone:

  1. Try to ask whoever you are photographing to stand in the shade.  You will find it doesn’t work well if there is direct sunlight creating shadows on faces or the light is too strong.
  2. It is best if your subject is standing a little bit away from whatever background you have.  If they stay too close to the background, parts of that will show too much in the black surrounds of the image.
  3. Keep a bit of distance from your subject.  The camera will tell you if you are too close and that you need to stand back.
  4. There are five different modes to use in Portrait.  Choosing one over another doesn’t matter.  You can edit the photo later by switching through the modes.  So long as you shoot the original image in Portrait mode, you can do this.
  5. Portrait mode editing does NOT work with images shot in other modes on your phone.  You MUST shoot in Portrait to work further in Portrait.

The Five Different Settings in Portrait Mode

The image above can be seen in five different ways.

This is the first (or original) image shot in Portrait Mode’s “Natural Light” setting.


The second image below is using the “Studio Light” setting.  As you can see the lighting on this little girl’s face is just a bit brighter, yet still subtle.

The third image uses the “Contour Light” setting.  You will see the increased contrasts in the image creating greater depth and detail.

The fourth (and in my opinion most dramatic) image is the option using “Stage Light”.  See the instant black background?  To me this setting adds an instant “Wow!” factor.

If you prefer your Portrait images in black and white, the fifth image below is shot in “Stage Light Mono”.  (This is the original image I posted above).

The black and white image above was the mode I shot the original image in when I met this little girl.  Immediately after I took her photo I showed her and this lovely smile washed over her face.  I don’t think she realised just how pretty she looked!

Editing Images Shot in Portrait Mode Using the Photo App

As I mentioned earlier, if you shoot a Portrait image using this mode, you can easily switch it back to the other modes like my examples above.

  1. Go to the photos app in your phone.
  2. Select the image you shot in Portrait mode.
  3. Press “Edit” in the top right hand corner and wait for a second.
  4. You will see the Portrait icon appear in the top middle of the screen, press on that and you will see the five different Portrait modes at the bottom.  From there you can easily switch between each to look at the different effects.
  5. You can also play with other edits using that app but if you really want to bring out the best of these images I would suggest you open the image in a third party app.

Editing Images Shot in Portrait Mode Using Third Party Photo Apps

If you are planning to take your editing one step further, then I would suggest you edit your Portrait images in a third party app like:

  1. Snapseed
  2. Carbon (for Black and White editing)

Using these apps will allow you to alter sharpness, colour saturation, contours, brightness and even change the facial features of your Portrait subject!

Never Underestimate The Powerful Tool You Have With Your Phone!

As you can see from this image and others below, I loved playing with the Portrait feature on my iPhone.  I am about to leave for China and I hope to use it more when I am there.  After all, the image itself is around 2.5MB as shot from my phone in JPEG format, which is a big enough size to use in blogs, Facebook posts etc.

Later in the trip we were lucky enough to do a formal portrait shoot with some local Mir Rajasthani women in Gujarat.  While I shot a lot of images there using my DSLR, I also shot a few using my phone as follows.

The effect is quite stunning isn’t it?  Tell me what you think!

One thought on “Using the new Portrait feature on iPhones

  1. great post! Thanks for sharing this amazing post.

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