Have you ever wondered how to achieve the Insta-worthy aesthetic of a sharp picture with a glossy, out of focus background? If so, you’re talking about depth of field photography. Let’s keep things simple. Depth of field affects the area of sharpness in a picture. By sharpness, we mean the portion of the photo that will appear in focus. When you have a shallow depth of field, the area of the photo that looks sharp (AKA focused) is very small. Meanwhile, a deeper depth of field will mean that much more of the photo is sharp, with just a small area out of focus.
Made widely popular by Apple’s portrait mode — that debuted with the iPhone 7-plus —using portrait mode allows even the most inexperienced photographers to utilize the aesthetic created by depth of field photography.
When using an iPhone’s portrait mode, it’s pretty intuitive. After opening the camera, all you have to do is slide the photo option to portrait mode, tap to focus your picture, make sure it’s focused on the area in question, and then press the button to take a picture. As usual, Apple keeps things pretty simple.
With the average Android, things are a little more complex. While some phones have a portrait mode native to their device, other phones require the use of an app to achieve the look of portrait mode.
On Samsung phones, for example, you’ll be using portrait mode via their Live Focus camera feature. After launching the camera, you can select “Live Focus” on the screen. From there, you can adjust the blur level via the slider on the screen. That way you can really determine the aesthetic you’re going for. Press the camera button and viola!, you’ve accomplished depth of field photography. A cool side note is that you can also add a blur effect to your picture after it’s taken, by selecting the photo from your gallery and clicking the “adjust blur” option.
Much like its rival devices created by Apple, using portrait mode on a Google Pixel is pretty easy. After opening the phone’s camera, all you have to do is select the menu button, click portrait, and snap a photo. After the fact, Google will automatically add a blur to the picture’s background.
For phones without a native portrait mode, an app is needed to score the effect of using portrait mode. Here are a couple recommendations.
With both manual and automatic settings, AfterFocus is a great app for creating the blur effect on your photos. And better yet, it’s free! When using their smart selection tool, you can manually draw the portions of the picture to which you want to apply the blur effect. There are three options to adjust the depth of field: foreground, near background, and far background. If you’re looking for the portrait mode effect with the closest part of the picture as the sharpest, then you should use the foreground effect.
To achieve a portrait mode effect that feels like it’s in real time, AirBrush is the Android and iOS app that you should use. Since AirBrush allows you to use the blur effect while you’re taking the photo within the app, it feels more natural. Using the icon that looks like a camera lens, you can turn background blur on and off. Additionally, you can adjust the blur mode — as well as other filters they offer— after the photo has been taken.
By using either your native phone camera or an app that’s downloaded, you can achieve the dreamy effect that automatically turns your photos from amateur smartphone pictures into ones that have your followers doing a double take. And after all, isn’t that the point of a great pic?