First Look: ‘Portrait Mode’ for the iPhone 7 Plus

| Dr. Mac's Rants & Raves

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #196

I’ve always loved photography and videography, but I didn’t have much time or opportunity for either before the iPhone. There’s an old saying that posits: “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” After running around with an iPhone in my pocket for many years, I’ve come to agree.

Over the past few years I’ve found myself using the camera in my iPhone more and more and my 35mm DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) less and less. My trip to Germany earlier this year was the tipping point, marking the first time I’ve traveled abroad without five or ten pounds of camera bodies, interchangeable lenses, cables, and batteries—lots of batteries.

My last remaining reason to lug the big DSLR around—at home or away—was to have a modicum of control over depth-of-field. Put another way, the big camera lets me specify a focal point and control the amount of blur (aka “the bokeh effect”) in the foreground and/or background.

I’ve wished I could easily add a convincing bokeh effect after the fact for as long as I’ve been shooting digital images. And, while some apps today do it with varying degrees of realism—most notably Focus CK from MacPhun, but also mainstream image editors like Pixelmator, Adobe Photoshop CC, Photoshop Elements, or Acorn—it still takes time, patience, and a modicum of talent to get it to look just right.

Portrait Mode Rocks!

Fortunately, Apple’s new depth-of-field effect—which I’ve been beta testing and is coming soon to the iPhone 7 Plus (only)—does a phenomenal job of simulating that effect most of the time. It’s so good, in fact, that I’m pretty sure I’ll be selling my DSLR real soon now.

But what I find even more phenomenal is that all you have to do to achieve the effect is set your camera to Portrait mode instead of Photo, Square, or Pano modes, like this:

Portrait mode as seen through the viewfinder.

Portrait mode as seen through the viewfinder.

That’s what’s so amazing about the Apple rendition—it’s totally idiot-proof. Just tap the screen to select the subject and it just works. It even previews the effect onscreen before you trigger the shutter.

This magic—simulating the depth-of-field effect almost perfectly—is a product of the iPhone 7 Plus’s two cameras, its powerful A10 Fusion processor, and what Apple implies is the secret sauce—advanced machine learning.

I’m not sure about that. In fact, I’m not sure the secret sauce doesn’t involve voodoo, witchcraft, or a deal with the devil. Yes, it’s that good.

The photo as shot in Portrait mode.

The resulting photo.

If you have an iPhone 7 Plus, it’s going to blow you away when it becomes available to the general public later this year. The only downside is that the subject needs to be within about 8 feet, and you don’t have much (any?) control over how much or how little bokeh is applied.

That being said, the algorithms generally do a fine job of it:

Portrait mode (depth-of-field) Example #1

Portrait mode (depth-of-field) Example #1

Portrait mode (depth-of-field) Example #2

Portrait mode (depth-of-field) Example #2

Portrait mode (depth-of-field) Example #3

Portrait mode (depth-of-field) Example #3

Prisma: Artistic Photos with most iPhones

In a similar vein, I’ve been having a ball with Prisma, a free iOS app that transforms photos (and, as of an update last week, videos) into art in the style of famous artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, and more. Unlike the Portrait mode depth-of-field effect, which will only work on the iPhone 7 Plus, Prisma runs on any iPhone, iPad, or iPod touches that can run iOS 8 or later.

These are not your usual photo filters; instead, these creations use a combination of neural networks and artificial intelligence to turn photos and videos into incredible simulations of art.

A picture is worth many thousands of words in this case, so check out the examples of Prisma artistry below as well as in the Prisma Instagram feed. Finally, feel free to check out even more of my Prisma creations and depth-of-field effect shots at my new Image Gallery.

“Composition” is just one of the many gorgeous artistic effects offered by Prisma.

I've been Prisma-ized!

I’ve been Prisma-ized!

And that’s all he wrote…

4 Comments Add a comment

  1. The Prisma app looked interesting until I read the terms:

    Prisma does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Prisma a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you stylize on or through the Service, subject to the Service’s Privacy Policy, available here, including but not limited to sections 3 (“Sharing of Your Information”) and 4 (“How We Store Your Information”). Some of the Service is supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions, and you hereby agree that Prisma may place such advertising and promotions on the Service or on, about, or in conjunction with your Content. The manner, mode and extent of such advertising and promotions are subject to change without specific notice to you.

  2. I wouldn’t download apps like Prisma either. That includes Facebook, Instagram etc. When it costs nothing, you are the product.
    Who cares about your content? Those companies definitely don’t. It’s your data and what you do that’s much, much more interesting, valuable and profitable.

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