Take amazing portraits with your iPhone 7 Plus: in-depth guide of Portrait Mode

Take amazing portraits with your iPhone 7 Plus: in-depth guide of Portrait Mode

There is a wider gap between this year's iPhone models than between those of years prior, and this time around the differences go beyond screen size, battery capacity, and amounts of RAM. The iPhone 7 Plus has a big standout feature against its smaller sibling in the form of an excellent dual-shooter setup on its back. Comprised of a wide-angle camera and a telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom, it swiftly turned the iPhone 7 Plus into one of the best smartphones for shutterbugs out there.

Apart from producing far better and more detailed zooms than regular cameras, the telephoto lens has another ace up its sleeve – the new bokeh-licious Portrait mode that allows anyone to shoot professional-looking portraits with simulated depth of field. We recently pitted the iPhone 7 Plus against a $1600 professional camera in the ultimate portrait shoot-out, and Apple's latest managed to hold its own quite well. This time around, however, we won't be performing a crazy test. Instead, we thought we'd take an in-depth look at how Portrait Mode performs in different environments and lighting scenarios, where it excels and what makes it stumble, and extract some useful and insightful tips for you to improve your photos with. Let's jump right in!

Setting


Scenery

At its best, Portrait mode pleasantly blurs out visual distractions in the distance, leaving the subject of your photos squarely in focus against a pleasant backdrop of creamy colors and smooth shapes. Ironically, intricate patterns are both what Portrait mode is currently having the most trouble with, and what you'd usually try to tone down in most situations. Although results vary from shot to shot, a general rule of thumb we gleaned from our experience with this mode is: the more intricate the background, and the closer it is to your subject, the bigger the chance for errors.

Currently, Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus performs best with simple backgrounds, such as a cloudy sky or a large body of water in the distance, and has a bit of a hard time with pattern-rich scenery containing multiple layers of foliage, for example. This could be chalked up to Portrait mode still being in beta. Still, when it performs well in such scenarios, and it does perform well often enough, the results can be quite impressive. Let's take a look at some samples:

Regular
Portrait mode
Regular Portrait mode

While the tree branches look really cool with the bokeh effect applied on the light passing through them, the background blur is not accurate enough for the subject to blend perfectly in

Regular
Portrait mode
Regular Portrait mode

100% zoom

Regular
Portrait mode
Regular Portrait mode

When Portrait Mode works, it works really, really well


As you can probably tell by now, I chose a rather cloudy day to perform this camera test. This is generally not a great idea when shooting portraits, but it brings me to my next point:

Conclusions:

  • Complex scenes look great when blurred out in the distance, but Portrait mode currently has some difficulties performing well in such situations
  • Simpler backgrounds are easy for the software blur and blend with foreground objects
  • When Portrait mode works well, the results can be quite impressive


Light is your friend

Despite the gloomy skies, thanks to my charming model, I still managed to snap some acceptable samples for us to take a look at. Still, you should keep in mind – the more light there is, the better your photos will turn out. When shooting in Portrait Mode, the iPhone 7 Plus uses its telephoto lens exclusively in order to create a better shallow depth of field effect. However, since the zoom lens has a smaller aperture than the wide-angle camera next to it (f/2.8 against f/1.8), meaning less light can enter through and reach the sensor, the iPhone compensates by increasing ISO sensitivity to properly expose the final image. Unfortunately, higher ISO settings entail noise, loss of detail, and overall deterioration of image quality. In other words, the less light there is, the more noisy and unappealing your photos will be. If the environment is too dark, your 7 Plus will outright refuse to apply any background blur to your photos, so just give up on even trying.

Regular
Portrait Mode
Regular Portrait Mode

Left -- Portrait Mode becomes generally unusable at dusk, shortly after which it stops working altogether. Right -- Interestingly enough, Portrait Mode performs well during the blue hour, provided your subject is lit by an artificial light source and you manage to work the sky into your shot somehow

Regular
Portrait Mode
Regular Portrait Mode

Zoom of photo on the left

Regular
Portrait Mode
Regular Portrait Mode

Light is good, but don't go overboard like I did here. Since we enjoyed only around four minutes of sunlight that day in total, I was eager to just snap some quick contre-jour shots before it was too late. That's when I found out that the 7 Plus has some trouble focusing in Portrait Mode when shooting directly against the sun. Out of around 10 photos I took, only 2 turned out in focus. The image on the right is one of many that ended up completely out of focus

Conclusions:

  • Light = good, darkness = bad.
  • Shooting against direct sunlight = mostly bad

Examples, do's & don'ts


Use your imagination!

No, seriously. As cliché as this sounds, your imagination is the only limit when it comes to photography. Despite the technical limitations of the iPhone 7 Plus and current shortcomings of Portrait Mode, you can take some seriously impressive photos with Apple's latest 5.5-incher. What's on offer here is capable enough to fool the laymen that they are looking at photos taken with a dedicated camera. If you spend some time with this mode, we bet you will be able to produce some results to impress even serious enthusiasts with (dare we also say semi-pros?). With that said, let's now go through some miscellaneous examples and useful tips.

Regular
Portrait Mode
Regular Portrait Mode

Don't overdo it -- Portrait Mode is easily addictive but like all addictive things can do more bad than good when used excessively. Some backgrounds are unobtrusive enough as they are and don't really benefit from the added blur. In this particular case, Portrait Mode has decided to pretty much erase a few strands of hair blowing in the air. This may be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it

Regular
Portrait Mode
Regular Portrait Mode

Photography 101 -- guiding lines (in this case the curb running along the length of the pier) are key in establishing depth and creating engaging compositions. Use them to your advantage!

Regular
Portrait Mode
Regular Portrait Mode

Left -- guiding lines again (tree branch in right portion of the shot) to highlight depth. Right -- just Portrait Mode faring well

Just a good example of Portrait Mode faring well in dealing with a complex backdrop. Unfortunately, the regular, non-blurred version disappeared somehow. Good thing it wasn't this one, or I would have been pissed!

Just a good example of Portrait Mode faring well in dealing with a complex backdrop. Unfortunately, the regular, non-blurred version disappeared somehow. Good thing it wasn't this one, or I would have been pissed!


More tips:

  • Basic photography rules apply here as much as they do when you are shooting with a dedicated camera
  • Composition is key, use the grid in the camera app to your advantage. The rule of thirds is one of the basic guidelines you can and should follow
  • Just like Instagram filters, Portrait mode can be a slippery slope. Don't overuse it
  • Portrait mode doesn't like movement. That means no shaky hands!
  • Sometimes the initial preview of the effect may seem slightly different from the final result. This is hard to illustrate but comes down to the fact that the bokeh effect itself is not rendered until after you take the picture. This is done to keep the camera app running smoothly, as this effect needs a lot of processing power to render.


Whew, that was a lot of information! Next time you are out taking pictures with your iPhone 7 Plus, try out some of the things we discussed in this article. We are not saying you should retake the same photo 10 times in a row until you get that depth of field effect just right — that's not the main idea here — but keep our advises in mind and your results will improve with each shot.

Use your imagination, rely on the composition grid in your camera app, don't be afraid to experiment! Best of luck!

Take amazing portraits with your iPhone 7 Plus: in-depth guide of Portrait Mode
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Related phones

iPhone 7 Plus
  • Display 5.5" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 7 MP front
  • Processor Apple A10 Fusion, Quad-core, 2340 MHz
  • Storage 256 GB
  • Battery 2900 mAh(21h 3G talk time)

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27 Comments

1. yann

Posts: 604; Member since: Jul 15, 2010

If users need a guide to make pictures, then Apple lost simplicity of the OS itself. Nice pictures in Sea garden in Varna.

5. Finalflash

Posts: 4062; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

The terrible outline in all the pictures pretty much destroys the effect. Why can't they softly blur the edges in a gradient. I don't know why they have to have such a sharp edge causing a bubble effect around the subject. How half assed did Apple do this really?

2. ramdroid

Posts: 123; Member since: May 21, 2016

Or just get a mate 9. Simpler. Faster. Better results. Editable after the shot

12. bur60

Posts: 981; Member since: Jul 07, 2014

The mate 9 and p9 have amazing focus effects indeed. I never liked doing things with software in terms of portrait pics and focusing but huawei really has figured it out.

3. ravigill

Posts: 25; Member since: Jan 30, 2013

this is great improvement in camera area...and i love this feature as selective focus on s7

6. RoboticEngi

Posts: 1251; Member since: Dec 03, 2014

Omg it is so freakin ugly its amazing....

7. cmdacos

Posts: 3818; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

It's hilarious how much it looks like the subject was photoshopped in. Apple needs to adjust the software a little to make this look good.

8. jeroome86

Posts: 2314; Member since: Apr 12, 2012

Hmmmm? Don't see my post. Know PA didn't remove it because I see many posts with name calling and pure hate that is left alone. The iPhone 7 plus while it has a great camera, some says is very sub par. They say mid range Androids offer better pictures.

10. Remmy

Posts: 187; Member since: Jul 31, 2012

I think Google Camera does a better job with lens blur, if not for the low resolution output.

11. talha_16

Posts: 62; Member since: Oct 12, 2015

The blur looks so fake tbh. Even with the optical zoom its using image processing to create artificial blur.... smh

13. bur60

Posts: 981; Member since: Jul 07, 2014

Hint for Samsung users: If you want this effect but even more natural and more crisp, get the lens cover with the telephoto lens. Amazing portrait foto's!

14. Ali.M

Posts: 12; Member since: Dec 23, 2013

It's not about the camera sometimes! The lady she is beautiful LOL

15. MikeG77

Posts: 425; Member since: Nov 24, 2008

I definitely agree with you that she is attractive : )

16. kopkiwi

Posts: 86; Member since: May 31, 2013

Any reason why you don't do these articles for every other phone maker? Oh that's right, you're Apple shills. Keep drinking that coolaide guys. The rest of us are having a great time laughing at the joke this website has become. More satire than it is actual news worthy.

17. cbonica

Posts: 17; Member since: Jun 07, 2011

I'll stick to my Nikon

18. nxq90

Posts: 1; Member since: Nov 28, 2016

could make portrait photo with its flash?

19. BlackSheep_Al

Posts: 2; Member since: Nov 29, 2016

The girl is amazing

20. Ali.M

Posts: 12; Member since: Dec 23, 2013

It's all about girl lol

21. shadad

Posts: 22; Member since: Oct 28, 2014

quality of these photos are ugly as hell as expected from iPhone. However, the lady there is veeeeeeery hot. Damn.

22. Ali.M

Posts: 12; Member since: Dec 23, 2013

Looolz

25. shadad

Posts: 22; Member since: Oct 28, 2014

what? we need to say the truth right? Lol i was reading the review at first until... i distracted by that beautiful lady. after that i said to myself the hell with the review XD

27. Ali.M

Posts: 12; Member since: Dec 23, 2013

Sure, we need the truth the lady is attractive

23. drazwy

Posts: 347; Member since: Jan 15, 2014

Yep. I can't stand the sharp outline around the subject. Bleh.

24. tvbinoy

Posts: 1; Member since: Nov 30, 2016

All I can say is, she is looking pretty,..!! :)

26. SuperAndroid507

Posts: 361; Member since: Jan 06, 2014

I love women with big eyes like her.

28. Ali.M

Posts: 12; Member since: Dec 23, 2013

We love women with dark hair, big eyes #its_all_about_lady looooooolz

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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