X

Favorite Portrait Mode photos: CNET Editors share their best

One of the biggest trends in phone photography in 2017 was the adoption of portrait mode that creates a blurry, artistic background much like a dSLR can. We tested a lot of phones, and here are our favorite outcomes.

5
5

Patrick Holland

See full bio

iphone-8-camera-0985-004
1 of 31 Josh Miller/CNET

Our favorite portrait mode photos

One of the biggest trends in phone photography in 2017 was the adoption of portrait mode that creates a blurry, artistic background much like a dSLR can. We tested a lot of phones, and here are our favorite outcomes.

009-marta-marilyn
2 of 31 Mariana Marcaletti/CNET

iPhone X: Marta becoming Marilyn

My co-worker and multimedia producer for CNET en Español Marta Franco looks amazing in this portrait. By the way, she is one of the most well-read people in the world. This photo is hilarious and was taken during our Halloween party at CBS Interactive. The entire female team from CNET en Español dressed up as Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroes. We had a great time choosing the colors, make up combinations and dying the wigs. Marta looks simply stunning in this portrait taken with the iPhone X.

-Mariana Marcaletti

img-e0772
3 of 31 Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

iPhone X: Chinatown portraits

We were taking pictures in Chinatown for our iPhone X vs. iPhone 8 Plus comparison and saw this woman with beautiful, striking hair. So we just had to ask if we could take her photo. It turns out the iPhone X had the edge when it came to detail. Her hair was rendered beautifully on the X and details were sharp.

- Lexy Savvides

002-iphonexyosemite
4 of 31 Mariana Marcaletti/CNET

iPhone X: Eyes Wide Open at Yosemite

In October, my mother-in-law Rosa visited, so my husband and I took her to Yosemite. I love her awe-inspiring expression as she overlooks El Captain. It captured the way many of us feel when looking at incredible landscapes like this one.

-Mariana Marcaletti

img-e0744
5 of 31 Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

iPhone X: Chinatown murals

Vanessa took this photo of me against one of the walls in Chinatown. It's a photo that probably would look fine even without portrait mode, but the subtle blur isn't overwhelming or synthetic-looking. I love how the camera makes the colors pop.

- Lexy Savvides

jocelyn
6 of 31 Patrick Holland/CNET

iPhone X: The impossible portrait

My friend Jocelyn and I decided to try out the Impossible Burger at Jardinière in San Francisco. The restaurant was dimly lit, but I liked how the candles made her skin glow. I used the studio lighting effect on the iPhone X to add a touch of light to her face. I still can't believe how well this came out. Looking at the photo now takes me back to that cozy and delicious moment.

-Patrick Holland

img-e0682
7 of 31 Lexy Savvides/CNET

iPhone X: Chinatown

I love the mosaics in this portrait and the way the camera renders the light on her face and the background.

- Lexy Savvides

fabf32c9-835c-421a-8004-5b2f2cc7cbc7
8 of 31 Patrick Holland/CNET

iPhone X: Stella!

I'm not the first person to use portrait mode on a pet, but I like this photo a lot. When I saw my cat Stella basking in the sunlight with her paws crossed, I knew I had to take a picture. Moments later she was asleep.

- Patrick Holland

couple-portrait-iphone
9 of 31 Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

iPhone X: Couple shot

This adorable couple was so intrigued by our homemade rig holding both the iPhone 8 Plus and Pixel 2. Of course, I had to ask if we could take their photo.

- Lexy Savvides

img-0132
10 of 31 Patrick Holland/CNET

iPhone X: Go fish

I was on a video shoot with Lexy at the California Academy of Sciences. As a joke we tried shooting portrait mode photos of the fish. It worked surprisingly well! This was shot with the natural lighting effect on the iPhone X.

-Patrick Holland

img-e0134
11 of 31 Patrick Holland/CNET

iPhone X: One more fish

Not only does portrait mode work well on fish, the stage light effects nail it every time. When I use the same effect on people I have mixed results. I took this portrait of a canary rockfish inside the California Coast exhibit.

-Patrick Holland

005-iphonex-marta-castro
12 of 31 Mariana Marcaletti/CNET

iPhone X: Enjoying the Castro

I love this easygoing, urban photo of Marta Franco smiling and wearing sunglasses. Notice the trolley on the left side and an LGBT flag on the right. These two symbols illustrate perfectly what the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco is like.

-Mariana Marcaletti

img-0385
13 of 31 Patrick Holland/CNET

iPhone X: I'll never be a homeowner

I'm always curious how portrait mode will do with inanimate objects. Enter a plate of avocado and chimichurri toast from Nourish Cafe in San Francisco. I like how well the iPhone X separates the toast and toppings from the background.

-Patrick Holland

003-huaweimate10pro-mariana
14 of 31 Mariana Marcaletti/CNET

Huawei Mate 10 pro: Playing it cool in LA

I am impressed by the image quality from the Huawei Mate 10 Pro and its dual Leica camera. I like the wide-angle lens and how it shows so much of the scene in Melrose. The blurred cars and palm trees add a cool LA feeling to this picture.

-Mariana Marcaletti

00100sportrait-00100-burst20171015143812278-cover
15 of 31 Lexy Savvides/CNET

Pixel 2: Selfies

There aren't enough words to express how much Vanessa and I love taking selfies with silly expressions. We're not serious selfie people and never will be, so testing out the front-facing camera on the Pixel 2 with portrait mode was the perfect excuse to pull out our game faces.

- Lexy Savvides

00100dportrait-00100-burst20171-20
16 of 31 Patrick Holland/CNET

Pixel 2: Cafe smiles

This was taken indoors with tons of daylight pouring in from the windows, giving my friend Beste's face a beautiful cool glow. The Pixel 2 captured the detail of her eyes expertly and I like the way it separated her from the background.

- Patrick Holland

00100srportrait-00100-burst20171012122756572-cover
17 of 31 Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

Pixel 2: Frisco Fred

Frisco Fred was performing at San Francisco's Pier 39 and we couldn't resist taking a photo of this magician. He pulled out some cards and was ready to go with this perfect pose. I think he's done this before.

- Lexy Savvides

pixel-2-selfie
18 of 31

Pixel 2: Making faces

I was testing the selfie portrait mode feature on the Pixel 2 at my desk -- not the most exotic of locales. I like how well this shot came out. The Pixel 2's selfie camera separated me from the background so well. It made a mundane open office selfie look pretty epic.

- Patrick Holland

portrait-mode-becca-pixel-2-xl
19 of 31 Patrick Holland/CNET

Pixel 2: Gimme a break

Even at a busy website centered around technology, we need to take the occasional break. I took this shot of my co-worker Rebecca Fleenor in the break room at CBS Interactive. What makes this picture so special was how the Pixel 2 captured her expression and rendered the wonderful blurred colors of the cafe behind her.

- Patrick Holland

taylor-portrait-note8
20 of 31 Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

Note 8: Slide Ranch

We took this image during our comparison between the iPhone 8 Plus and Galaxy Note 8. Taylor, our subject, was a total natural! Her pose was perfect. The Note 8 let us adjust the amount of background blur after the shot was taken with an onscreen slider.

- Lexy Savvides

010-note-8-erica
21 of 31 Mariana Marcaletti/CNET

Note 8: Chilling at the park

Erica Argueta is a multimedia producer at CNET en Español and my gym buddy. We were testing the cameras on the Note 8 and LG V30 in North Beach, San Francisco. Erica looks spectacular and radiant in this shot taken with the Note 8. The colors are saturated but still look realistic. Erica is perfectly framed by the out-of-focus trees and cars in the background.

- Mariana Marcaletti

bella-blanket-note8
22 of 31 Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

Note 8: Bella with blanket

Bella was another amazing model we worked with on our Note 8 vs. iPhone 8 Plus shoot. We found this colorful blanket and asked her to hold it as the background. Even though she was facing the sun and the light was harsh, the Note 8 made her pop without blowing out details on her face.

- Lexy Savvides

004-note8-oregon-mariana
23 of 31 Mariana Marcaletti/CNET

Note 8: Pretending not to freeze in Oregon

This photo was taken at the Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon. I tried the so-called "beauty effect" on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. It made my face look soft, pale and at least 10 years younger -- for better or worse. In spite of that, I love the way the Note 8 rendered the bright, saturated colors of the flowers -- even if the colors were more muted in real life.

- Mariana Marcaletti

img-e1597
24 of 31 Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

iPhone 8 Plus: Emperor Norton

We stumbled upon this impeccably dressed man, Emperor Norton, while roaming Chinatown in San Francisco. The background was chaotic and yes, there's a couple of blown-out highlights. But the 8 Plus' portrait mode really made this a great shot. I don't feel like it would have been as interesting if everything was pin sharp across the focal plane.

- Lexy Savvides

007-erica-iphone8plus
25 of 31 Mariana Marcaletti/CNET

iPhone 8 Plus: Smiling at Pier 39

Erica Argueta and I were shooting a video about the iPhone 8 Plus, and took each other's picture to test out the portrait lighting mode. My favorite lighting effect is natural light which I used here. I love how it captured her breathtaking smile. 

- Mariana Marcaletti

portrait-mode-xiomara-stage-light-mono-iphone-8-plus
26 of 31 Xiomara Blanco/CNET

iPhone 8 Plus: A singer prepares

Xiomara is a singer with the band The Futurelics. This shot was taken by CNET editor Xiomara Blanco using the stage light mono effect in a dressing room at the Great American Music Hall before a show. I love how this shot makes Xiomara look simultaneously badass and soulful.

- Patrick Holland

img-e1577
27 of 31 Lexy Savvides/CNET

iPhone 8 Plus: Chinatown murals

I love this photo of Vanessa shot on the iPhone 8 Plus. We were doing our comparison between the iPhone X and the 8 Plus to see if the cameras were different and found some vivid walls in Chinatown as our background. Colors on the iPhone 8 Plus turned out to be slightly less vivid than those produced on the iPhone X so it gives more of a natural look.

- Lexy Savvides

006-patricia-iphone8plus
28 of 31 Mariana Marcaletti/CNET

iPhone 8 Plus: Faking a studio photo

The stage light effect is one of the hardest for the iPhone to get right. But this stage light photo of CNET en Español social media manager Patricia Puentes came out perfectly. Here, her silhouette is perfectly cut out from the deep black background. Patricia's face looks like it was lit by fancy photo studio lightning when in reality this photo was taken outside on a cloudy day.

- Mariana Marcaletti

portrait-mode-mel-iphone-7-plus
29 of 31 Patrick Holland/CNET

iPhone 7 Plus: Tater tasting

For me a good photo is all about lighting and there was a lot of gorgeous late-afternoon light pouring over my friend Melanie here. She grabbed a potato and gave me this pose. Technically, maybe the hair on her head is not perfectly separated from the background. But I don't care. I like how the 7 Plus captured this moment.

- Patrick Holland

img-20170620-153231-bokeh
30 of 31 Patrick Holland/CNET

OnePlus 5: Bokeh burrito

This is a shot of CNET senior producer Mariel Myers during a video shoot we did testing the cameras on the OnePlus 5 and iPhone 7 Plus. Here, Mariel was just about to eat a burrito from Pancho Villa in the Mission in San Francisco. The OnePlus 5 proved very adept at using portrait mode on burritos. I like how you can make out Mariel's expression in the blurred background.

- Patrick Holland

001-oneplus5-bokeh
31 of 31 Mariana Marcaletti/CNET

OnePlus 5: Unwinding at the vineyard

This was taken over the fourth of July weekend. My friend Maria was drinking a Zinfandel from the Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa. She looks sophisticated and relaxed gazing over the vineyard. I love the way the 8 Plus rendered the background despite the harsh sunlight.

- Mariana Marcaletti

More Galleries

2022's Best TV Shows You Can't Miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and More

More Galleries

2022's Best TV Shows You Can't Miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and More

93 Photos
The 40 Best Games on Nintendo Switch

More Galleries

The 40 Best Games on Nintendo Switch

41 Photos
Movies Coming in 2022 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and More

More Galleries

Movies Coming in 2022 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and More

80 Photos
2023 Toyota BZ4X Is a Smooth, Comfortable Electric SUV

More Galleries

2023 Toyota BZ4X Is a Smooth, Comfortable Electric SUV

33 Photos
The 51 Best VR Games

More Galleries

The 51 Best VR Games

53 Photos
2022 Audi E-Tron GT Looks Super Cool In Tactical Green

More Galleries

2022 Audi E-Tron GT Looks Super Cool In Tactical Green

40 Photos
55 weird objects seen on Mars, explained

More Galleries

55 weird objects seen on Mars, explained

57 Photos