Apple's Portrait Lighting mode explained

The iPhone 8 Plus and X are trying to make your snaps look like they were lit by a professional photographer.

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iPhone 8 Plus
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Last year, Apple released Portrait Mode along with its iPhone 7 Plus, which uses the phone's dual rear cameras to create artistic blurry backgrounds (bokeh) that look like photos taken on a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

This year, Apple added Portrait Lighting mode, which lets you add professional lighting looks to your photos.


The iPhone 8 Plus and X both come with a nifty new camera feature called Portrait Lighting.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What devices is Portrait Lighting on?

It will work on the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X . But it's unlikely the feature will come to the iPhone 7 Plus since it uses the older A10 processor.

How does it work?

From the Camera app, swipe between modes until you land on Portrait. Frame your subject. Then, using the Portrait Lighting effects dial at the bottom of the screen, choose the look you want and take the picture.


A photo taken with the Stage Light Mono effect.

James Martin/CNET

Can the Portrait Lighting effect be changed after a photo is taken?

Yes, but the photo has to be taken in Portrait mode -- you can't add a Portrait Lighting effect to a photo that was taken in the default camera mode.

To change effects, go into the Photos app and select the Portrait photo you want to adjust. Tap on the sliders icon to edit. Above the bottom row of editing tools will be the circular Portrait Lighting effects dial. Rotate the dial to the desired effect and press Done on the bottom right.

Watch this: iPhone 8 Plus camera gets closer to DSLR quality

What are the different effects?

There are five:

  • Natural Light - makes lighting look softer, less harsh
  • Studio Light - adds an even, soft spread of light across your subject
  • Contour Light - adds gorgeous shadows to contour the face
  • Stage Light - drops the background to black
  • Stage Light Mono - the same as Stage Light, but in black and white

Take a look below to see the what the different effects do.

Apple's new Portrait Lighting mode uses artificial intelligence to apply lighting effects to your subject's face.


Isn't Portrait Lighting just a filter?

"These aren't filters," said Apple's senior vice president of marketing Phil Schiller. "This is real-time analysis of the light on your subject's face."

Portrait mode creates a depth map that separates your subject from the background. Machine learning, aka artificial intelligence (AI), identifies facial features on your subject and changes the lighting to add a soft glow, dramatic shadows or a black background. All this is done instantaneously.

Does Portrait Lighting work for selfies?

If you have an iPhone X it will. Though the iPhone 8 Plus only has a single front-facing camera, the X also has a TrueDepth camera it uses for FaceID and by using both Apple is able to bring Portrait Lighting to your selfies.

So what's the catch?

Well, there's not really a catch. But it should be noted that Portrait Lighting will be released in beta and the effects might not always result in a flawless photo.

It's also worth remembering that the original Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus was in beta for 10 months.

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