What exactly is Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus, and how do you use it? Here's everything you need to know.

If you've been lucky enough to get your hands on an iPhone 7 Plus and iOS 10.1, you have access to iOS's newest camera feature: Portrait mode. Exclusively available for the iPhone 7 Plus, this mode shoots with the 56mm-equivalent "telephoto" lens on your iPhone; as such, it only works in fair- or brightly-lit conditions (though you can trick it to fire by shooting in low-light with bright light sources nearby).

NOTE: Though many (myself included) have argued that this system is closer in comparison to a normal or portrait lens than a true telephoto, I understand Apple's intentions here: Because they're marketing the lens in conjunction with a 2x feature, it may seem more appropriate to call it "tele" than "normal" or "portrait" to the average user — especially considering Apple's"Portrait" feature that utilizes both lenses. For that reason, I'm referring to the lens as Apple names it — tele, or telephoto — even though I don't necessarily agree with that branding.

Even though you're looking at a photo as seen by the telephoto lens, the wide-angle is also working for you when you shoot in Portrait mode: It automatically measures the difference in distance between what it sees and what the telephoto sees, creating a nine-point depth map. This depth map is then used to create the most fun part of Portrait mode: artificial depth of field, which blurs the background and a teensy bit of foreground to create a DSLR-camera-like image.

When in Portrait mode, you can only shoot with the telephoto lens — there are no zoom options, digital or otherwise — nor can you access the Flash, HDR, Live Photos, or Filters. (You can, however, access a 3- and 10-second timer if you want to take a timed photo.)

Portrait mode is currently in beta, and only officially supports taking pictures of people with its face and body mapping — but you can experiment with other subjects, too. Here's how!

Apple occasionally offers updates to iOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS as closed developer previews or public betas for iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Mac (sadly, no public beta for the Apple Watch). While the betas contain new features, they also contain pre-release bugs that can prevent the normal use of your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, or Mac, and are not intended for everyday use on a primary device. That's why we strongly recommend staying away from developer previews unless you need them for software development, and using the public betas with caution. If you depend on your devices, wait for the final release.

How to enable Portrait mode

  1. Update your device to iOS 10.1.
  2. Open the Camera app.
  3. Slide the Camera wheel over to Portrait mode.
  4. Tap Try the Beta.

How to shoot portraits

  1. Line up the shot you wish to take within 8 feet of your subject. The face and body detection should automatically identify your subject.
  2. Pay attention to the Camera app's prompts (either "More light required," "Place subject within 8 feet," or "Move farther away."
  3. Once you've met the camera's needs, you'll see a yellow banner at the bottom that reads "Depth Effect". You can then take a photo at any time.

How to shoot other objects and animals

Shooting other, non-human objects isn't officially supported within Portrait mode, but you can still do so if you wish; just be prepared for the artificial depth of field to not look perfect.

  1. Line up the shot you wish to take within 8 feet of your subject. To identify what subject you want in frame, tap once on the screen to bring up the focus point.
  2. Pay attention to the Camera app's prompts (either "More light required," "Place subject within 8 feet," or "Move farther away."
  3. Once you've met the camera's needs, you'll see a yellow banner at the bottom that reads "Depth Effect". You can then take a photo at any time.

How to shoot with the telephoto lens in low light

If you're shooting in a dark room, you won't be able to officially use Portrait mode — there's just not enough light for the effect to work properly. But you can still use Portrait mode to take a low-light snap with the telephoto lens (in the normal Photo mode, it'll default to a digitally-zoomed wide-angle shot if there's not enough light): Just line up your shot and take a snap, even if the Depth Effect isn't live.

You won't get the nice artificial blur that comes with the Depth Effect, but you'll still get a low-light portrait — though it may not be the nicest shot in the world. (There's a reason Apple automatically switches to the wide-angle in Photo mode.)

Questions?

Let us know in the comments.