The iPhone 7 has a new portrait mode that takes pin-sharp photos of people, but blurs the background in a pleasing way. Several Samsung phones have had this feature for ages and here is how to use it.
This a well-used photographer’s trick that has probably been around forever. When you take a photograph of someone (it doesn’t have to be a person and it can be anything), the background can be a distraction.
Photograph a person, animal or object against a pin-sharp and busy background and the subject is lost. However, if you blur the background then it becomes far less distracting and noticeable. The subject really stands out in the photo.
Photographers achieve this effect by using a slightly longer lens than normal, a wide aperture and a shallow depth of field. That is easy if you have a traditional camera, but is impossible on a point and shoot smartphone with limited camera and lens controls.
The iPhone 7 now has it, but it has been on top-end Samsung phones for some time. Are you using selective focus with your portrait photographs? You should be because it is a great effect and it is as good as the iPhone 7.
It isn’t quite the same on a technical level and the iPhone uses two lenses, but Samsung’s method is simple, yet effective: It takes three photos with different focal lengths.
Pick a mode
Open the camera app on the phone. (I am using a Samsung Galaxy S6, but it is available on other Samsung phones too.)
Press the MODE button in the bottom left corner of the screen. It can be hard to see in bright sunlight, but it’s there.
Set selective focus
A collection of camera modes is displayed. Press Selective Focus. This returns you to the camera screen and there is a message telling you to position the subject about 50 cm from the camera.
When taking a photo, get really close and tap on the screen to focus on the subject.
Keep still and tell your subject to keep still because three photos are taken and if any movement is detected, the Selective Focus shot will be abandoned.
View the photo
Open the Gallery app and open the photo. Notice that there is a button in the middle of the screen. Press it.
Select the focus
At the bottom of the screen are four buttons - Near focus, Far focus, and Pan focus. Press Near focus to focus on the subject and blur the background. The Pan focus is what you would normally get and the background and foreground are both sharp.
You can see the effect in these two images.
Near focus is selected
Pan focus is selected
In the top right corner of the screen are buttons to save the selected image, discarding the other two, or to save the current image as a new image, keeping the original 3-in-1 shot.
Cats are difficult subjects because they won’t keep still enough to take selective focus shots. It is far easier with people. Try it and see.
- Written by Roland Waddilove
- Created: 03 October 2016