Apple’s Portrait mode lets you shoot images with an enhanced depth of field and background blur, thanks to smart software tweaks and the iPhone 7 Plus’ dual lens system. But it’s not perfect — it can’t officially shoot depth-of-field shots in low light, for one.
Portrait mode engages when two factors are met: your subject is well-lit, and your iPhone is far enough back to allow both lenses to meter distance. As such, as long as you can convince your iPhone that your subject is lit and you’re standing at the right distance, you can make Portrait mode work even in the darkest of rooms. There are a few ways to accomplish this with various light.
1. Use Portrait mode’s brightness slider
As with the regular Camera app, Portrait mode offers a brightness slider next to its focusing square to artificially lighten or darken a scene. You can sometimes use this in questionable light to get just a bit of extra brightness and enable the feature.
2. Use ambient light
If you’re shooting in a darker space, use that space’s ambient light — be it windows, overhead lights, or other sources — to shed light your subject.
3. Add spot lights
Want to focus on a specific part of your photo? Use specific lights in your frame to shed brightness on your subject and enable Portrait mode. Portable LED lights, Christmas lights, Hue lights, and other small sources can all brighten an area of an otherwise very dark room and provide excellent contrast in your photo.
4. Focus on brighter colors
Whites and pale colors need less light to remain bright in a dark environment; as such, if you can get a little bit of ambient light on them and focus on that spot, you may be able to trick Portrait mode to fire in a situation where it might not otherwise.
5. Put a backlight on your subject to get a halo effect
Normally, backlit subjects are a no-no for strict portrait photography. But when you’re shooting at night, the rules change — and a backlit subject can sometimes result in beautiful low-light photography.
The trick to making Portrait mode fire is to get just enough of a “halo” effect on your subject — a bright outline of light around them — that your iPhone recognizes it as a valid light source.
6. Look for naturally occurring bright sources at night
Neon signs, bright buildings, traffic lights — all of these can provide enough of a light source to light your subject. One note: When picking a shot, you’ll also want to adjust Portrait mode’s brightness slider to make sure you don’t blow out the photo’s lighting.