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With each new rendition of its smartphone, Apple is getting increasingly closer to removing the gap between its iconic product and a dedicated DSLR camera. With the latest iPhone 7 Plus, one of the major selling points is Portrait Mode, which offers the ability to take professional quality portraits with a bokeh, or out of focus, background.
Here are some tips to get the most out of your portrait pictures with the iPhone 7 Plus.
First of all, to use Portrait Mode, you will need the iPhone 7 Plus with iOS 10.1 or later. Then you can get to work creating some stunning images.
The iPhone 7 Plus introduces the first dual-camera system in its lineup — that’s two cameras that shoot as one.
The 12-megapixel, wide-angle camera features optical image stabilization to cut back on the blur associated with any motion or shaky hands, and a larger f/1.8 aperture, allowing up to 50 percent more light onto the camera sensor.
It works alongside a 12-megapixel telephoto camera with optical zoom at 2x. Portrait Mode automatically creates a depth-of-field effect that keeps faces (or whatever the subject is) in focus while delivering a beautifully blurred background.
It’s an extremely user-friendly experience, but it won’t happen on its own, so here are some tips to get you started.
When you think of a portrait, you oftentimes think of a headshot. And that’s not a bad idea with Portrait Mode, but it’s certainly not a hard-and-fast rule, by any means.
Portrait Mode uses the telephoto lens on iPhone 7 Plus, so stay within eight feet of your subject, or get even closer if you’d like. The on-screen prompts will let you know whether you need to move closer or farther away. In fact, you may be inside of eight feet and still get this message. That’s OK. Just work with it, moving in and out a bit — maybe even pointing the camera to the ground and back at your subject again to refocus — until you see a yellow box with Depth Effect written inside it.
Also, encourage your subject to be still. You’ll get the best results when there isn’t any movement. This includes you. Use a tripod and remote shutter if you need to.
From there, look carefully at your subject, especially along the edges of what you want in focus, and move the camera in or out to get just the look you want. There may be times when certain items in the shot could muddle the depth effect. The camera doesn’t know what you want in focus, so stick to simple compositions, if at all possible.
In this dressing room shot, the ballet dancer and her purse are in focus. The camera didn’t know what I wanted in focus, so it latched on to the dancer and what was on the table beside her. In this case, it didn’t take away from the photo at all. In fact, I think it adds to it. The dancer is still the most noticeable part of the picture and the background is nicely out of focus. Use your judgment if you’ve got a “busy” image.
You can also get creative and have the foreground in focus while the subject is blurred in the background.
In order to take full effect of the capabilities of Portrait Mode, you will need plenty of light. This is extremely important.
Again, the on-screen prompts will let you know whether there is enough light or not. If there isn’t, consider taking the shoot outdoors if possible or simply add an external light source. There are any number of ways to add more light to your image, some more professional than others — like a studio lighting kit with bulbs, light stands, a softbox, and/or umbrella, and the like. Just make sure there is plenty of light available for the best results possible.
In this black and white shoot with singer/songwriter Lacey Sturm, we took advantage of the natural late-day light to get some amazing quality. Portrait Mode is very strong in this environment. In fact, many people would not even be able to tell whether the picture was taken with an iPhone or a DSLR.
Portrait Mode will almost always work best outside, but if you are inside, be prepared to add some light.
With the yoga pose above, there were two soft boxes available that salvaged what would’ve been an impossible task — shooting in a relatively dark room. The extra lighting saved the day and that will sometimes be the case with an indoor shoot, so again, be prepared.
The simpler the background — and the farther away it is from the subject — the better. Again, these are not rules, just suggestions. Trying it for yourself will determine what works best for you.
Since the background is going to be blurred, it would seem that it wouldn’t make that much of a difference what it is, but that’s not entirely true. The goal is to put the focus (pun intended) on the subject and limit any potential distractions as much as possible. So pay attention to the subject, but don’t forget to compose a good picture.
I set a rose in the middle of a downtown street and tried not to get run over while taking a portrait of it. The background was very far away — a full block — so you can see just how out of focus it is. This really puts an emphasis on the subject.
Portrait Mode isn’t just for pictures of people, even if that was what it was intended for. Try it on any number of inanimate objects and enjoy the results.
In fact, this is a pretty good way to test your Portrait Mode skills before working with a human or pet. Try it out on a stuffed animal, a light bulb, or a water bottle. Just about anything, really. The results will amaze you and you will probably find yourself using Portrait Mode more and more in your everyday photography.