Portrait Mode: People AND Nature?

Recently I upgraded my beloved iPhone 6s for the Xs.  I wasn't too excited to drop the $1150 for a new iPhone, when my 6s worked wonderfully.  However, after teaching a few of the Mindful iPhone courses, I noticed that more of the students were upgrading to the X (and it's variations)--and I better start becoming familiar with the camera features!

First, I was really curious about the portrait feature --- of course, I expected to take better people pictures, but what about nature shots?  Everyone loves that blurred background , also known as Bokeh.  Bokeh is associated with aperture, or f-stops in manually adjusted cameras. Hence the "f" in the upper right corner of the Portrait mode screen. The smaller the number (f1.4) the greater the blur, the larger the number (f16) the more things will be detailed. (This corresponds to the aperture being "wide open" at f1.4 or closed down to f16.)

Let's take a look at both features:


The iPhone is quick to recognize faces in Portrait Mode, and does a wonderful job of blurring the background with people in the photograph.

Portrait Mode: People


Start by sliding your camera mode to PORTRAIT.   You can adjust the bokeh or depth while taking the photo (selecting the "F" at the top of the screen).


Edit Portrait Mode

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After you take your photo, you can edit both the depth (what would be the aperture in regular camera) and the effects. Just select "EDIT" from the top icon to bring up the features and depth menu. Note that you can only edit these options for photos taken in Portrait Mode. 

Mostly I use "Natural Light" Effect in Portrait Mode. The other effects-- Studio Light, Contour Light, Stage Light Mono, etc aren't quite the look I want (natural!).  Although, I'm not in love with the black background for people,  I thought it might be cool for photos of flowers. Would it work on other subjects besides people? 

Let's see as I took the iPhone Xs out for a test...

First, I went out hiking....

As you can see -- the camera automatically blurs the background from the subject, giving the photo more depth and interest. 

Portrait Mode does require you to be a fair distance away (at least 3 feet) for it to

1. Recognize portrait mode

2. give you the full functionality of the mode (editing fstop, and effects). 

This tree was far enough away to render some interesting results:

Bokeh Test : Portrait Mode for Larger Objects

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I love the bokeh effect for flowers, and smaller more delicate objects, so I wanted to test out this feature on flowers.  Right away I noticed that the Portrait Mode would not engage if I wasn't at least 3 feet away (not great for detail shots).  However, if I backed far enough away, it would allow me to adjust the background--then I could crop the image afterwards.

Portrait Mode for Smaller Objects

    The first image is the original shot in portrait mode. 

    The second image is cropped and has the fstop adjusted to f16 -- see all the detail of the plant and the edge of the wood table in the background? 

    The last image is also cropped and has the fstop adjusted down to f1.4, with everything blurred in the background.  Surprisingly, there is still decent detail in the flower. 

    Lastly, I wanted to see if STAGE LIGHT MONO would work on non-people objects. I used Snapseed to get this effect of this Lily, would the iPhone be able to automatically render the same effect using STAGE LIGHT MONO?

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    Sadly, all it did was convert the image to a high contrast black and white photo. Looks great, but not the same effect as with people.


    Portrait Mode is a great addition to the new iPhone. I really enjoy using it with people.  However, for non-people objects and trying to obtain that blurred background, it falls short.  It's a good substitute in a pinch, but I still prefer my manual camera for detailed shots with good bokeh. 

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