How to Use Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting on Your iPhone

These new modes lend themselves to professional-looking studio shots

Different examples of portrait lighting on the iPhone X
From left: Stage Light Mono, Natural Light, Studio Light.

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Taking studio-quality photos used to require a high-end DSLR camera, a trained photographer, and a studio. Not anymore. Thanks to the Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting features on some iPhone models, you can capture beautiful, dramatic photos using just the phone in your pocket.

Portrait Mode requires an iPhone 7 Plus or newer.

What Are Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting, and How Do They Work?

Woman posing for photos.
Ryan McVay / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting are photo features of the iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X in which the subject of the photo is in focus in the foreground and the background is blurred. While the features are related, they're not the same thing.

  • Portrait Mode makes the background blurry while the subject of the photo is in focus in the foreground.
  • Portrait Lighting takes Portrait Mode images and applies studio-style lighting effects.

All iPhone models that support these features—the iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X—have two lenses built into the camera on the back of the phone. The first is a telephoto lens that frames the photo's subject. The second, wide-angle lens measures the difference in distance between what’s "seen" through it and what’s "seen" through the telephoto lens.

By measuring the distance, the software creates a "depth map." Once the depth is mapped, the phone can blur the background while leaving the foreground in focus to create the Portrait Mode photos.

How to Use Portrait Mode on iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X

Portrait mode on iPhone
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To take photos using Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, or iPhone X, follow these steps:

  1. Move within 2-8 feet of the subject of the photo.
  2. Tap the Camera app to open it.
  3. Swipe the bar along the bottom to Portrait.
  4. With Portrait selected, the app will suggest how to capture the best image, such as moving closer or farther away, and turning on the flash.
  5. The app should auto-detect a person or a face (if they're in the image). White viewfinder frames appear on the image around them automatically.
  6. When the viewfinder frames turn yellow, take the image by tapping the onscreen camera button or clicking the volume down button.

You can apply filters to the image before taking it. Tap the three interlocking circles to reveal them. Tap different filters to see how they will look.

How to Use Portrait Lighting on iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X

Portrait lighting on iPhone
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If you've got an iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X, you can add pro-quality Portrait Lighting effects to your images. All of the steps for taking the photo are the same, except for the lighting options wheel at the bottom of the screen.

Swipe through lighting option cubes to see how they will change the resulting picture. The options are:

  • Natural Light: The default setting.
  • Studio Light: Brightens facial features.
  • Contour Light: Heightens the drama of an image by adding directional light.
  • Stage Light: Puts the subject of the photo in a spotlight.
  • Stage Mono: The same as stage light, but in black and white instead of color.

After you've selected a lighting option, take the photo.

You can adjust these effects. Tap the screen so that the viewfinder outline appears, then swipe slowly up and down to move the light slider. The changes appear on the screen in realtime.

How to Take Selfies with Portrait Lightning on iPhone X

Portrait lighting selfies on iPhone
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To keep your selfie game strong with an iPhone X, apply Portrait Lighting to your shots. You must have the front-facing camera activated.

Select Portrait in the bottom bar then pick your preferred lighting option.

Click volume down to take the photo (tapping the onscreen button works, too, but volume down is easier and less likely to accidentally get your hand in the photo).

Removing Portrait Mode From Your Photos

Man posing by the ocean
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After you've taken photos in Portrait Mode, you can remove the Portrait features in the Photos app by tapping Edit then Portrait.

If you change your mind and want to add the Portrait mode back again, just repeat the steps above and make sure Portrait is yellow when you tap it. This two-way conversion is possible because the Photos app uses non-destructive editing.

Changing Portrait Lighting on Your Photos

Selecting the contour light option
 Apple Inc.
  1. You can also change the Portrait Lighting selection on photos taken on the iPhone X after you've taken them. Just edit the photo in the Photos app by swiping the lighting opens wheel to one that better meets your preferences.