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How to use portrait mode on the iPhone XS and iPhone XR

Ask yourself: More or less blur?

iphone-xs-max-portrait-mode
Jason Cipriani/CNET

Apple's iPhone XS ($1,199 at Amazon)XS Max ($1,052 at Amazon) and iPhone XR have a new feature built into their cameras that gives you more control over photos captured in portrait mode.

Instead of having to live with the amount of background blur, also referred to as bokeh, captured in each photo, the most recent crop of iPhones now let you make changes before and after the photo is captured.

Let's take a look at how you can get the exact shot you want.

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More or less blur?

iphone-xs-max-portrait-mode-f4-5
Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Using an iPhone XS, XS Max or XR, open a photo captured in portrait mode and tap on the Edit button. The photo may take a second or two to fully load, but once it does you'll see a series of lines just beneath the photo with the label Depth.

Above the preselected line should be f4.5. This label details the aperture at which the current photo is set, and is also referred to as an f-stop. The smaller the f-stop is, the more blur will be present in the background. Conversely, the larger the f-stop, the less blur there will be. The iPhone XS and XR can be adjusted from f1.4 to f16.

adjust-portrait-mode
Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Using the slider, you can adjust the Depth until you get the look you want. Changes are made in real time, so you can adjust back and forth and view its impact instantaneously. When you're happy with your photo, tap Done.

Before the shot

ios-12-1-adjustable-bokeh
Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

After you've updated your iPhone to iOS 12.1, you'll see an option to adjust the f-stop before you take the photo. This is especially handy if you want to experiment with various f-stops and see what the photo will look like before you press the shutter button.

The process of adjusting in the camera app is simple. Open the Camera app, select Portrait, then tap on the f button. A slider will show up next to the shutter button, for you adjust the f-stop, and see the changes as you move it. Once you're happy with the way your photo will look, tap on the f button again. Notice that the button now displays the currently selected f-stop. 

The only thing left to do now is to take your photo.

Originally published Sept. 26.
Update, Nov. 2: Added information about iOS 12.1, iPhone XR and new features.

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