How to remove the background from your Portrait photos

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Geese with transparent background
Honk honk! Goodbye pesky background.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

The iPhone’s incredible Portrait mode does a great job of blurring the backgrounds of photos, making the subject stand out from busy backdrops. (Apple also uses this depth information for its truly awful Portrait Lighting effects — has anyone ever gotten a good result from the Stage Light filter? — but that’s another story.)

What if you could use the depth information inside Portrait photos to get rid of the background entirely? Wouldn’t that be something? Well, yes it would. And if you have the right app, it’s really easy to remove photo backgrounds.

Remove photo backgrounds with Focos

The Focos app can't remove the background on all Portrait mode photos.
Focos can’t remove the background from all Portrait mode photos.
Photo: Cult of Mac

The app you’ll need is Focos, which is usually the answer to any question that begins with “Can I?” and ends with “Portrait mode.” A great photo-editing app, Focos specializes in using the 3-D depth information contained in Portrait mode photos to edit, manipulate and totally transform your images.

Looking good, Barbie. Use Focos photo editing app to remove photo backgrounds when using iPhone's Portrait mode.
Looking good, Barbie.
Photos: Cult of Mac

Focos offers several tools to manipulate a photo’s background. It can make it black, like Apple’s Stage Light, only with more control. It can add a new background photo in behind your subject. Or it can remove the background altogether, rendering it transparent. That’s the one we’re checking out today.

To get started, open Focos. Then either snap a Portrait mode photo using the app’s camera or open up a Portrait picture you shot earlier. Then, on the right-side panel (on the iPad version) tap the Magic Wand tool, then the button marked Transparent Background. On the iPhone, tap the same Magic Wand tool, but then tap the + button to bring up a panel where you can choose depth effects. You’ll find Transparent Background in this panel.

How to remove the background in Focos

Then, you have two controls to do the actual background removal. The top slider has two handles, to select the amount of foreground and background that gets removed. Experiment to see how it looks. The quality of the result depends entirely on the quality of the depth information. You might find that elements at the edge of the screen remain in the image, because they are at the same depth as the main subject.

The second slider sets how much you want to blur the edges of your selection, for a smooth transition.

When you finish, you can tap the checkmark. You can continue with further edits, or you can tap Save to save the result as a transparent PNG file. You’ll find the edited image in your Camera Roll, ready for sharing or opening with any other app.

If you’ve never used Focos before, you really should check it out. Pretty much anything you want to do to a Portrait photo, you can do with Focos. It’s free to try (with an in-app purchase for the pro version), so there’s really no excuse.

Focos

Price: Free with in-app purchase

Download: Focos from the App Store (iOS)