Your iPhone Has a Built-In Photo Tool That's Like Photoshop

You can instantly cut out people, pets and other things from your photos.

Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
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  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Patrick Holland
2 min read
A photo of a cat on an iPhone

With iOS 16, removing items from photos is now easier than ever.

Celso Bulgatti/CNET

Apple is expected to release the final version of iOS 17 soon. And one of the most fun features is the ability to make stickers and animated stickers out of photos and live photos, respectively. Stickers are based on one of my favorite iOS 16 features, which you can use until iOS 17 is out.

The tool doesn't have an official name, but lets you separate a picture's subject, like a person, from the background. All you need to do is tap and hold on a photo to make it work. If you keep holding, you can then "lift" the cutout from the photo and drag it into another app to post, share or make a collage, for example.

iOS 16 debuted alongside the iPhone 14 line with a number of cool new features. Before iOS 16, if I wanted to remove a photo's background, I would need to use an app like Adobe Photoshop. But what's great about this tool is that it's built right into iOS 16 eliminating the need to download a special app or set up an account.

Technically, the tap-and-lift photo feature is part of Visual Look Up, which was first launched with iOS 15 and can recognize objects in your photos such as plants, food, landmarks and even pets. In iOS 16, Visual Look Up lets you lift that object out of a photo or PDF by doing nothing more than tapping and holding.

During the WWDC, Apple showed someone tapping and holding on the dog in a photo to lift it from the background and share in a Message.


Robby Walker, Apple senior director of Siri Language and Technologies, first demonstrated the new tap-and-lift tool during WWDC. He had a photo of a French bulldog and tapped and held on the dog. Walker dragged the dog's "cut out" from the photo and into the text field of a text message.

"It feels like magic," Walker said.

Sometimes Apple overuses the word "magic," but this tool does seem impressive. Walker was quick to point out that the effect was the result of an advanced machine-learning model, which is accelerated by core machine learning and Apple's neural engine to perform 40 billion operations in a second.

Knowing the amount of processing and machine learning required to cut a dog out of a photo thrills me to no end. Many times new phone features need to be revolutionary or solve a serious problem. I guess you could say that the tap-and-hold tool solves the problem of removing a photo's background, which to at least some could be a serious matter.

I couldn't help notice the similarity to another photo feature in iOS 16. On the lock screen, the photo editor separates the foreground subject from the background of your wallpaper's photo. This makes it so lock screen elements like the time and date can be layered behind the subject of your wallpaper but in front of the photo's background. It gives the lock screen a slick magazine cover vibe.

I've used the new Visual Look Up feature many times now and I'm still impressed how quickly and reliably it works.

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