Here's how to use the new Instagram photo feature that brings the best part of the iPhone X to any smartphone

Joern Pollex/Getty Images

  • Instagram rolled out a new portrait mode feature in the app three days ago.
  • It pales in comparison to portrait modes in the iPhone X and the Google Pixel 2, but it’s not a bad alternative for people who don’t have those phones.

I’ve been pining over the iPhone X and its portrait mode: Apple’s giant billboard ads for the feature are hard to miss.

By blurring the background of photos, portrait mode can add a professional looking sheen to your pictures that takes them to the next level. The ability to take those kinds of photos using my phone – an item I carry with me 24/7 – instead of my bulky DSLR, is very appealing. So Instagram’s new “Focus” feature that rolled out earlier this week, and which allows users to easily take portraits with blurred out backgrounds, immediately piqued my interest.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a nice way to punch up your photos.

Here’s how to use it:


To find the feature, click the camera in the top left corner of the app as soon as you open it.

Instagram/Business Insider

That will take you to this screen. The “Focus” feature is right in between the Boomerang and Superzoom buttons under the record button. It’s available for all iPhones made after the 6s, as well as the iPhone SE, and select Android smartphones.


Here’s what the Focus feature does.

Rachel Sandler/Business Insider

The left is a shot in Instagram’s Normal mode for photos, the right is the Focus mode. The Focus feature is much more noticeable when there’s a lot of activity in the background of your shots.


Instagram’s attempt to emulate the “bokeh” effect — the blurred background achieved by focusing on a subject in the foreground — is not as good as it would be on specialised camera phone that has portrait mode.

Rachel Sandler/Business Insider

As you can see, Instagram’s portrait mode produces a wonky kind of haziness in the background. It’s reminiscent of other portrait mode apps I’ve tried, which use shortcuts to add bokeh to photos. One of the biggest problems is how much the haze in the background seeps into the subject of the photo.


I give it major props in video mode though.


Here’s a clip that was shot in Normal mode for reference.


So far, people are pretty jazzed about it.


For comparison, Business Insider reporter Avery Hartmans reviewed the portrait mode in the Google Pixel 2 last year.

Avery Hartmans/Business Insider

The left is a shot in normal mode and the right is the Pixel’s portrait mode.


And here is an example of a portrait shot in the iPhone X’s portrait mode of Business Insider reporter Melia Robinson.

Courtesy of Melia Robinson

As far as how controlled the background blur is, the portrait mode in the iPhoneX and the Google Pixel are obviously better. But if you haven’t upgraded your iPhone yet and still have a 6s, like yours truly, then the Focus feature in the Instagram app is actually kind of neat, if you can handle the weird haze.

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