a colorful photo of peppers and other foods at a restaurant in Cusco

Why Portrait Mode is so Great on your Smartphone

If you want to take pro-level and pro-looking photos on your smartphone, look no further than your phone’s portrait mode. This is a major game changer in the smartphone camera world and has been around for a few years now—steadily making its way into nearly every make and model of smartphone.

If we were to put it in context of a “normal” camera…like a DSLR or high-end mirrorless camera, it would be like switching to a very fast lens…like a 35mm f/1.4 or 50mm f/1.4.  In other words, portrait mode enables a very shallow depth of field.

I’ll spare you the details of how the phone actually can do what it does, but I will show you what the results are.  If you’re keen on learning more about what these very small f/numbers do, bop on over to our Apertures and F-Stops page for a deeper dive.

For now, I’d like to show you a few photos that exemplify this portrait mode and what a shallow depth of field can do for your photography.

a colorful photo of peppers and other foods at a restaurant in Cusco

Who doesn’t love to photography food and marketplaces?  If you are only using your phone, portrait mode will add that beautiful background blur that turns your scene into a much more artistic and intriguing shot.

a birding butterfly is framed nicely against blurred background bokeh

Portrait mode naturally zooms in a little, giving you a little bit more telephoto power.  This is part of how the system works, but it also can be super helpful when you can’t get too close to your subject.  More importantly, with the above photo, notice how the background is nicely blurred to minimize any distractions.  In this case, because of how the light is shining through the trees, the shallow depth of field achieved from portrait mode makes these nice blurred spots of light.

a portrait of a girl with reflections of boats in her sunglasses

Finally, portrait mode is for people!  Nine times out of 10, when I’m asked to take a photo of a person, or a couple (and I am using my iPhone), I’m switching to portrait mode to give that nice softness to the photo.  As you’ll notice in the above shot, there is still enough in focus to be a “good photo” but I’m deliberately letting the focus be soft for most of the scene.  This creates a nice allure and mystique with people and travel photography!

So, next time you’re photographing a subject with your smartphone, whether it’s fruits and veggies in a market, a butterfly or other “macro” subject, or your best friend, pop your phone to portrait mode and enjoy the results!

If you’d like to learn even more tips and tricks for your own smartphone photography, check out my upcoming webinar with Natural Habitat Adventures on Smartphone Photography from A to Z.  It’s free to join and always will be!

Cheers, and be well,

Court Whelan Signature