How to get extreme background blur in iPhone XS photos

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What's the fastest cake in the world?
What's the fastest cake in the world?
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

The iPhone XS Portrait Mode is the best thing to happen to iPhone photography in quite a while. It uses the XS’ dual cameras, plus the A12 chip’s Neural Engine, to work out how far away everything is in your photos. Then, it blurs everything in the background, just as if you used a fancy big camera.

But what if you want more blur? The XS’ Depth Control feature is very realistic, but maybe it’s a bit too realistic? Maybe you want to really wipe out that background with some extra blur. The good news is, there are some great apps that do that.

How does iPhone XS Depth Control work?

Depth Control lets you dial in just the right amount of blur.
Depth Control lets you dial in just the right amount of blur.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Depth Control uses an on-screen slider to control the amount of blur in the background, while the subject remains pin-sharp. You’ll find the slider on the Photos app’s Edit screen. This blur really makes the subject stand out from busy backgrounds: cityscapes, crowded locales, etc. And because it knows how far away everything is, Depth Control blurs picture elements more, the further away they are.

Depth Control and Portrait Mode are designed to mimic the behavior of a DSLR-type camera, and the results are surprisingly accurate, and lead to great, natural-looking photos with some real punch. But sometimes you just want more.

Halide, Slør and blur

A demo of how the Slør app works for blur-editing.
A demo shows how Slør works.

The built-in Camera app isn’t the only app that has access to these amazing tools. Not only can third-party apps access the depth-map of an existing photo, in order to apply their own effects. They can also use the depth camera when they shoot a photo.

Halide is one of our favorite camera apps, and it lets you capture Portrait Mode photos of anything. The iPhone’s built-in camera app is fussy about Portrait Mode, only allowing it when it deems the results will be good. Halide just lets you go for it, and deal with the results later. This lets you capture Portrait Mode photos you can’t get from the native app — photos when the subject id very close, for example.

Then, you can switch to the Photos app and use the regular Depth Control slider on the Halide photo.

Price: $6.99

Download: Halidefrom the App Store (iOS)

Slør goes one better. Not only does it let you tap on any part of a photo — not just the subject — and focus on that. It also has a special mode to give extra blur.

Slør macro mode

Slør does blur.
Slør does blur.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Slør can be used as a standalone photo editing app, or it can be used inside the Photos app’s editing page. Even in standard mode, it gives way more blur that the standard Depth Control in Photos. But switch it to Macro Mode, and the blur id off the charts. Take a look at these three images. The top one is the non-portrait version, with no added blur. The middle one is the best that the native Photos app can manage. At the bottom is Slør’s maximum macro blur:

No depth blur.
No depth effect.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac
Photos app's best effort, blur at ƒ1.4.
Photos app’s best effort, at ƒ1.4.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac
Woah, WTF Slør blur
Woah, WTF Slør?
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

That’s clearly extreme, but unlike many filter apps, even the extreme effect is quite pleasing, and usable in some situations. And yes, those scones are as delicious as they look.

Depth Control is more than just a fancy filter on the iPhone XS. It’s built into the camera at a fundamental level, and accessible to any app that want to monkey with it. I hope to see even. more creative apps in future, but right now, I’m having a ton of fun with Slør, Halide, and a few other blur-tastic apps

Price: $3.99

Download: Slør from the App Store (iOS)