One way Apple differentiates its latest, premium iPhones over other models is by giving them exclusive features.

This year, Apple has come up with a new camera feature known as Portrait Lighting. It's supposed make it easier for you to take photographs with professional-level lighting using just an iPhone and no additional equipment or software. But, as we hinted, you can only use it on certain iPhones. Here's everything you need to know about Apple's Portrait Lighting feature, including how it works.

What is Portrait Lighting?

Portrait Lighting is a camera feature that expands upon Portrait Mode.


Portrait Mode

Last year, when Apple launched the iPhone 7 Plus, it announced Portrait Mode, which takes advantage of the phone's two cameras on the back to a deliver a more DSLR-like photo with a shallower depth of field. You can access it swiping between the different shooting modes in the camera app, as you've done before with modes like Panorama and Square. You can read more about this feature from here.

Portrait Mode was originally launched in beta, and as more and more users played with it, Apple claimed the feature got better over time, so it decided to challenge its engineering team to do that again: to make it easier for people to take advantage of an advanced photographic technique -but with an iPhone, rather than a DSLR. So, this year, Apple said its team decided to focus on portrait lighting.


Portrait Lighting

If you've ever had a professional photograph taken, you'll have noticed all the professional-level equipment needed, like soft boxes, all of which requires a great understanding of advanced photographic techniques. In regards to lighting, photographs can do things like sculpt how lighting lands on your face in order to create a specific mood for a portrait photograph. Enter Portrait Lighting.

With this new feature, Apple is trying to make the advanced photographic technique of portrait lighting possible for all of us who use an iPhone. All you need is one of the newer iPhone models that have dual cameras and Apple's latest A11 Bionic chip (you can read about A11 Bionic from here), such as the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X. Like Portrait Mode, it is in beta, but it will ship with the iPhone 8 Plus.


How does Portrait Lighting work?

Depth map

When you compose a photo with Apple's Camera app in iOS 11 on a compatible iPhone, swipe between modes until you find Portrait (between Photo and Square). The dual cameras and the image processor on the device will immediately "sense" the scene, according to Apple. It'll then create a depth map to separate your subject from the background of your shot.


Facial landmarks

Using machine learning, the Camera app will then create what Apple called "facial landmarks", meaning it'll identify the high points on your face. From there, it'll adjust the lighting and the contours (or shadows) over your face accordingly - all while you're composing the shot.


Lighting effects

Now, when you select Portrait Mode in iOS 11 on a compatible iPhone, you will see a new menu with lighting effects, such as contour light and natural light and stage light. Apple stressed that these are not traditional "filters" like you'd find in Instagram. This is real-time analysis of the light on your subject's face. But you can still go to this menu after you take a photo to change the effect.


All you have to do is swipe between the different lighting effects.


How do you use Portrait Lighting?

Follow these steps:

  • Open Apple's Camera app in iOS 11 on a compatible iPhone.
  • Swipe between modes until you find Portrait (between Photo and Square).
  • Compose your shot.
  • Swipe between the different lighting effects until you find one to try.
  • Take your photo by pressing the capture button.

Note: You can change the lighting effect after taking a photo, too.


Is there a Portrait Lighting example?

Yes. The images above and below are examples of Portrait Lighting, using Apple's Portrait Mode. The top one actually uses the stage lighting effect in Portrait Mode. It drops away the background to create a dramatic photograph.


Which devices support Portrait Lighting?

You need an iPhone with a dual camera and the A11 Bionic chip, so the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X.