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How To Use The New Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus by Austin Mann

Many thanks to my friend Austin Mann who has granted permission for us to reproduce his article on the new Portrait Mode for the iPhone 7 Plus.

Take a look at these notes by Mann to help you master these great new features.

You can read this article on his site here

A New Creative Tool in your Pocket

As photographers, we’re always looking for new ways to direct the eye of the audience throughout our images.

Our eyes are generally drawn to color, clarity, brightness, and contrast. We can adjust and manipulate each of these parameters to direct the viewer’s eye to different points in our images.

Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus allows us to radically adjust the “clarity” parameter, giving us a whole new capability on the iPhone camera platform.

Capturing the Essence of the People that you Love

Every time we get a new feature on the iPhone like burst mode, slo-mo, Live Photos, or now Portrait Mode, it’s exciting to think about how the feature can be leveraged to tell better stories and capture life around us in a deeper, richer way.

Portraits are about capturing and sharing the essence of a person. A great portrait makes the viewer feel like they know the subject in a way they’ve never felt before.

You never know when the perfect moment to capture a portrait could present itself. The four shots below were just spontaneous moments when I was hanging with my community and wanted to shoot a portrait. To me, this is exactly what’s so cool about this feature. You don’t need to be carrying your dSLR with a 50mm f/1.2 lens around to get a killer shot when that unpredictable moment presents itself. You’re just ready for it—all the time.


©Austin Mann – Jeremy Cowart at PhotoPlus Expo in New York City. iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode, edited in Snapseed. 

Spontaneous Fashion Shoot?

One of my good friends and a fashion photographer, JerSean Golatt, played with Portrait Mode on one of his recent shoots and came away with some really cool stuff. Below are a couple of my favorite images.

As you’re shooting and playing with this new feature, try experimenting with a variety of backgrounds. Some are handled better than others. If you look closely at the fence in the left image below, you’ll notice a couple of details the effect didn’t nail perfectly. It seems the feature still has occasional challenges with geometric shapes and patterns (and thus this feature is still officially in beta).

Even so, if you had tried to tell a pro these were shot on an iPhone even a few months ago, they never would have believed you.

Photo by fashion photographer JerSean Golatt. iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode, edited in VSCO. 

Before and After

I used Portrait Mode to draw the focus to the tip of Bruiser’s finger in the image below. Take a look at the image on the left and notice how your eye doesn’t really have a clear place to land. Then look at the image on the right. We naturally land our eyes on what is sharpest, and in viewing the image on the right, it feels more natural because our eye has a clear place to land.

Non-Portraiture Applications

Portrait Mode is aptly named—it’s clearly designed for making portraits. (It even uses facial and body recognition to help determine focus points.) But I’ve also played with it on a few different products, including things like coffee mugs and the Apple Watch.

Photographing really small products can be a challenge (you need to be a few feet away for Portrait Mode to work), but once you get in the right zone you’ll capture some really beautiful images.

Remember, like any new lens or new piece of gear, go out and experiment with this feature. You’ll have a blast and will come away inspired with new possibilities.

Bokeh, Bokuh, Bouquet?

Thanks to the beautiful blur we now see in Portrait Mode, many of us are reading and saying the longtime photo industry word “bokeh.”

Bokeh is a noun and it refers to the visual quality of the out-of-focus region of a photograph. Different lenses have different qualities (usually affected by the mechanics inside the lens).

It’s based on the Japanese word “boke,” which means blur, and is pronounced “bow” like “bow-and-arrow” and “keh” like “kettle,” not like bouquet or bow-kuh.

Final Thoughts

Today the iPhone 7 Plus became way better at capturing the most important thing in our lives: the people we love. If you haven’t already, be sure to download iOS 10.1 (Settings > General > Software Update) and give it a shot. You’ll be capturing stunning portraits in no time.

Austin intuitive passion for innovation began early. “Even as a kid I was incessantly starting things—from business ideas to new ways of fixing people’s computers.” As an 8-year- old, Austin began in Photoshop in eventually spent thousands of hours building websites and tinkering with the earliest versions of Flash on his trusty 1998 Bondi Blue iMac he bought with savings from months of mowing lawns and working on neighbor’s computers. Fifteen Macs later, Austin still loves to explore, invent, and tirelessly test all things tech. After picking up his first camera as a sophomore in college, Austin’s eye for capturing the splendor of Creation, along with his proclivity as an early-adopter has taken him on a fascinating journey to every corner of the globe. His work has been widely published in both corporate to non-profit worlds, from National Geographic and the Travel Channel, to Samaritan’s Purse and the Global Poverty Project. Over the years, Austin’s wide range of experience has enabled him to organize and teach workshops worldwide on how to leverage photography & storytelling to dignify people, build communities and promote changes. Austin’s skill set is best described as a Gladwell-esque concoction of creator, storyteller, educator, consultant, entrepreneur, technician, thought leader, and behind-the-scenes maven . . . the proverbial “square peg” artist in the “round hole” world of professional nomenclature. However—and perhaps in spite of—his dexterity in a number of fields, the native Kansan is ultimately compelled by an unrelenting passion to equip and empower the people around him to dream bigger and create better. Austin’s belief in this magic—the kind that is sparked within intentional, collaborative community--birthed the vision for his latest entrepreneurial pursuit: WELD, a curated collective of freelance artists who work and create together. WELD’s flagship studio is located in Dallas, Texas, with an up-and-coming Nashville collaborative workspace opening at the beginning of 2015.