Apple’s newest iPhones (specifically the iPhone 8 Plus and the soon-to-be-released iPhone X) have a hidden talent: They’re both really, really good at making you (and all of your friends) look way, way hotter. In fact, they honestly just make everything you take a photo of — from food to landscapes — look incredible. How is this possible, you might ask. Magic? Photoshop? Some form of voodoo?
Nope. It’s called Portrait Mode.
If you’ve ever owned an iPhone 7 Plus — or ever wondered how your 7 Plus–owning friends constantly fill their feed with those perfectly semi-blurred, semi-focused pics — you know what Portrait Mode is. It’s that setting that makes pretty much every photo look better by allowing the fancy dual-camera system inside the Plus to focus on whatever is in the foreground and blur out the background (which is basically the key to taking a primo-quality Instagram photo). Portrait Mode isn’t exactly new, but the way it is used in the 8 Plus (and the upcoming X) will honestly make you feel like it is.
Back in the 7 Plus era, Portrait Mode was in beta. (And even when it officially arrived in iOS 10.1, it was still working out a lot of kinks.) Taking a photo that had that perfectly bokeh Depth Effect look going on would take a couple of tries, or would at least require you to wave your phone back and forth a bit until the almighty Apple gods gave you the go ahead. With the iPhone 8 Plus, all that struggle is replaced by an honestly stunning simplicity. You simply swipe over to the Portrait tab in Camera and start shooting. Practically every single photo you take turns out gorgeous, which is saying something for a simple point-and-shoot smartphone camera.
Take, for example, these two pics:
Both of these were captured in one take, from the same distance and angle (in a very poorly lit burger joint, mind you) only a few seconds after each other. But just look at the difference. The photo on the left was shot on my iPhone 6s and it is pretty objectively awful: it’s awkwardly framed, pretty boring, and all in all looks exactly like it was taken randomly mid–dinner convo (which it totally was). Meanwhile, the photo on the right — shot on the 8 Plus — is practically a freaking work of art. Portrait Mode causes the camera to automatically zoom in 2X — which frames the picture much more nicely — and adds that glorious-looking bokeh effect, which transforms this otherwise pretty humdrum, low-light photo of my friend Jess into an ethereal glamour shot.
The key to using Portrait Mode effectively is to have a singular subject in the foreground — ideally in high-to-medium light — and something somewhat interesting going on in the background. This will be blurred to produce the bokeh effect, so it won’t be the focal point of your image, but it’s nice to give your viewers just a slightly obscured glimpse of the glamorous life you (of course) lead.
These are two photos I took on the iPhone 8 Plus in one take, with minimal-to-no positioning or focusing whatsoever, and they look pretty fantastic. Both the high-light (left) and low-light (right) examples have practically HD-level quality in the foreground, which is definitely complemented by that pretty bokeh blur in the background. These effects are achieved pretty much automatically when using Portrait Mode, which means that even if you hand your phone off to a technologically challenged relative, the few pics they manage to snap of you will probably actually turn out to be worthy of the ‘gram.
The iPhone 8 Plus and X also boast a whole host of new settings for Portrait Mode photos called Portrait Lighting that, well, change the lighting of your Portrait Mode photos, and is pretty useful when it comes to readying your pics for the ‘gram.
The first three settings make small changes to the lighting and color of your photo that often does away with the need for most edits. After you take a photo using Portrait Mode, you can go back and flip through the different Portrait Lighting options in Edit. (Pro tip: The black-and-white one is really good for taking awful-yet-somewhat-spooky Halloween pics of your friends.)
The new iPhone camera will also step your selfie game up to totally new levels. First and foremost, the selfie cam (as seen in the photo on the left) is fantastic on its own and takes well-lit, clear photos. However, it’s far from the main attraction.The best move for the selfie-obsessed is actually to just flip the camera around (or get a selfie-stick, if you’re into that) and take your close-ups with Portrait Mode engaged to give them that extra little something, something that only bokeh can provide.
It’s also worth noting that neither food nor drink is immune to the beautifying effects of the 8 Plus. Who would have guessed that your vegetarian burger would look better with a little blur?
As of right now, these fancy new settings can only be found on the iPhone 8 Plus (sorry 8 Regular users), but starting November 3, they’ll also be available on the iPhone X.