Portrait photography is simple, but its feature integration and application in practical photography is beyond just portraits. It is called portrait mode, but its name can be rather misleading as it is not particularly optimized or used only for faces and portraits.

For this, we’ll be using the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom that we reviewed here.

Before we begin, we have a video talking where we show how to take portrait mode pictures and how to use manual mode too.
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What exactly is portrait mode?

Like I said earlier, the name “portrait mode” is quite misleading. Sure, this photography technique is used mostly for portraits, but it’s not exclusive to portrait photography only. Portrait mode photography is distinctive in a way that the subject to be photographed is in focus and with sharp details.

Anything in front or behind the subject in focus is blurred. In some cases, this photography trick is also loosely known as “bokeh”.

Take this picture for example. It’s taken by my Nikon D7000 with a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens.

D7000 original

To take such a picture – dubbed “portrait mode” – you’ll need to blur the background. There are two ways to do this:

  • Adjusting the aperture to a very low value (eg. f/2.8 or f/1.7)
  • Artificial blurring through software (also known as software blurring)

With smartphones, portrait mode photography is done by the second option. You can learn more about how dual-camera smartphones can help in taking such photos. Hybrid lens dual-camera systems like ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom uses has two different aperture values and zoom values. Stereoscopic lens dual-camera systems like the Huawei P10 however, will theoretically have better software blurring as it can sense depth more accurately.

Dual-Camera Smartphones
They might look the same – but in fact, they’re very different. Learn more about it here.

With that in mind, we’ll have a look at what the smartphones can do.

How to shoot portrait mode photos with smartphones

As mentioned earlier, portrait mode photography for smartphones is simple. Just head over to the filters menu, tap on Portrait Mode (at least on the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom), and you can start taking such pictures.

But there’s a catch – the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom’s portrait mode has a slider to select the aperture value – at least artificially. Remember, smartphones don’t have variable aperture as far as I know. These images with varied aperture value will still be f/2.7 in the metadata – which is absolutely normal.

bokeh locked aperture

However, the variable aperture here is to select the amount of blur that you want for your picture. f/0.95 is the maximum value you can select on the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom’s portrait mode, and it’ll give the maximum amount of blurring as shown here.

ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom bokeh
At f/0.95 for portrait mode.

The “minimum” amount here is “off”, which means no artificial blurring or sharpening done to the picture.

ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom bokeh
At “off” setting for portrait mode.

Of course, the “portrait mode” technique isn’t only used for portraits of people exclusively. It can also be used for other types of subjects in photography, such as carvings on a tree in a busy forest or figurines like what I’ve done here.

ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom bokeh
A random picture was taken in One Utama with Portrait Mode. This effect is widely applicable.

How to use manual mode?

It’s pretty simple – the manual mode in smartphones and DSLRs operate with the same parameters. Sure, there are a few differences here and there, but mastering the exposure triangle is the first step to taking great pictures.

ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom manual mode

To see how I did it, I highly recommend you watching the video that we embedded up at the top. The video may be brief, but it has all the information that you need.
Here are the steps that I personally use and recommend:

  1. Get a tripod. We need zero shakes when taking long exposure pictures.
  2. Set ISO all the way to its lowest value. The lowest ISO value is 50 on the ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom and 100 on the Nikon D7000.
  3. Set the desired aperture value if option available. This varies between cameras and smartphones.
  4. Set the exposure compensation to 0 (zero).
  5. Set the appropriate shutter speed. Look at either the exposure meter or live viewfinder to get to know a preview of the final image before taking the shot. For me, my pictures are slightly brighter.
  6. Take the picture!

That’s the basics of what you need to know and do to take a great picture! Of course, you can take RAW format pictures so that you can further enhance the image in Lightroom or Photoshop. The amount of flexibility for fine-tuning RAW format pictures are vast.

Trust us – here at Nasi Lemak Tech, all of the pictures taken for reviews are in RAW format and gone through post-processing in Lightroom. 😉

Wrapping up

Portrait mode is a pretty much the general term used to describe pictures that have a subject which is sharply focused, and the background is blurred up. The technique is similar to bokeh.

As for manual mode, smartphone cameras and DSLRs work pretty much the same, albeit a few hardware limitations on smartphones. Whichever the case may be, all of the fundamentals in photography is the same for both types of cameras.

One trick here – shots with extreme high and low brightness are extremely difficult to strike a balance. But then again, take note of what you want to appear in the final picture what you don’t. Make those unnecessary things in the picture disappear.

Also, DSLRs just take clearer, sharper, and cleaner pictures overall – but that’s a story for another time. We’ll go deeper into why DSLRs are always superior to smartphone cameras.

Difference DSLR smartphone
The difference is huge, but DSLRs are bulky and inconvenient for most people.

Until then, click here to visit our Facebook page and give it a Like for more information about tech and follow us on Twitter to keep in touch! I’ll be happy to answer your questions 😀

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The enthusiastic nanoelectronic engineer who found his way into simplifying the world of tech for everyone. Introverted, but noisy. Nice to meet you!