The Scoop on Portrait Mode, Macro Photography & Apple Arcade

In the 123rd episode, David and Donna share all the ways to take advantage of the new-and-improved Portrait Mode with iOS 13. Other topics include best gear for macro photography and early impressions of Apple's new gaming platform, Apple Arcade.

Click here to listen and subscribe. If you like what you hear, be sure to leave a review. And remember to tune in every other week to hear our editors share with you the latest Apple news, best apps, iPhone tricks, and coolest accessories. 

This episode was brought to you by Withings. Know yourself with the Withings Body+ Composition Wi-Fi Scale, and unlock the secrets of weight loss.

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Question of the week:

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Transcript of episode 123:

Donna Cleveland:          Hi, and welcome to the iPhone Life Podcast. I'm Donna Cleveland, editor in chief at iPhone Life.

David Averbach:            I'm David Averbach, CEO and publisher.

Donna Cleveland:          Each episode, we bring to you the best apps, great gear and top tips in the iOS world. Thanks so much for tuning in today. Before we get started, David has a message from our sponsor.

David Averbach:            I'm really excited to tell you guys about this one because, first of all, it's a new sponsor from a company I love, Withings.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah, I'm so glad they joined us.

David Averbach:            Yeah, they're awesome. And they're, I think, a really good fit for all of you guys. They have smart health accessories, and they have a wide range that are really cool. They have a smart blood pressure cuff, which is amazing, but I specifically requested to talk about their scale because I have had their scale for like five years.

Donna Cleveland:          I know. I feel like I've heard you talk about this scale. [crosstalk 00:00:49].

David Averbach:            I talk about it pretty regularly. So, it's a smart scale and so there's a lot of really cool benefits of it. The first one and the most logical and obvious one is it syncs with an app, so you have access to all of your health data on this app and it tracks it over time.

David Averbach:            So, I've gotten in the habit for the last five years or so of weighing myself pretty much every day. And just recently, because I've been kind of on a kick of trying to lose weight, I went and looked in and it's so cool. I can see my weight patterns for the last five years, like which years did I lose weight, which years did I gain weight?

Donna Cleveland:          That's pretty amazing.

David Averbach:            Yeah. And so it's fun just for the dork in me, but also, I find it's really helpful to weigh yourself every day because you start to get a feeling of what behaviors are helping lose weight and which ones are not. So, for example, there's a lot of research out there that says that exercise is really good for your health, but it doesn't really help lose weight. For me, I actually don't find that to be true. I find pretty regularly, when I exercise regularly, I lose weight.

David Averbach:            So, there's a lot of things you can learn from this. It's just a great scale. Let me tell you a few more things. First of all, it's pretty affordable. It's $99, so you get all these cool health features. You can have up to, I think, 12 profiles. So, I have a profile, my partner has a profile, her son has a profile. So, tracking his weight as he grows and making sure he's in healthy ranges is really nice.

Donna Cleveland:          And can it automatically tell who's stepping onto it? [crosstalk 00:02:22].

David Averbach:            It can automatically tell who's stepping on it. Yeah, exactly. And it tells you... It measures your fat percentage, your muscle mass, your water percentage, which I have an old one that didn't measure that, so I was really jealous when I saw that the new ones do measure that. And so you can have it for your whole family, and it's $99. You can go to to get it. It's available on Amazon and the Apple store, all sorts of places.

Donna Cleveland:          Cool.

David Averbach:            Can I tell you a funny story about it, though?

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah.

David Averbach:            I don't know if this will discourage people from buying it or encourage people. It will track what it considers to be unidentified weights. In other words, it matches your weight. It knows, when you step on it, who it is, but if somebody steps on it and it doesn't match it, it just tracks it. And so you end up with this weird place in your app where you can go and view random weights in your scale.

Donna Cleveland:          So, random people have stepped onto it?

David Averbach:            Yeah, and they of course have no idea, and it's a personal thing. And so for example, I had a house cleaner and she would weigh herself every time she came to my house and I could just see her weight over time.

Donna Cleveland:          That's creepy.

David Averbach:            And sometimes I'll have friends come over and they won't know and they'll weigh themselves in my bathroom.

Donna Cleveland:          Oh, it's sort of like a smart home cautionary tale, I feel like, because that's the type of thing people are paranoid about is smart homes.

David Averbach:            It's a good cautionary tale. If you see a Withings scale in someone's bathroom, think twice before stepping on it. I've sort of gotten out of the habit of looking because it just felt like, at some point, a common courtesy to not look, and I switched cleaners and my new cleaners don't weigh themselves.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah, I'm thinking to myself, I'm like, "Have I weighed myself in David's house?" I don't think so.

David Averbach:            But it is a weird little quirk of this scale.

Donna Cleveland:          That's really funny. Okay. Next up, we want to talk about our daily tips newsletter. If you go to, you can get an email from us once a day that teaches you something cool you can do with your iPhone in less than a minute. So, it's really easy, low commitment from your side and you'll find, over time, that you are way better at using your iPhone than you ever were before. So, it's really awesome. Go to to sign up and give it a try.

Donna Cleveland:          And I have a tip for you this week. We have iOS 13 tips coming out a lot lately, and so this was a fun one that I learned a lot from. I've been enjoying the iPhone 11 Pro camera, and there are new features of portrait mode that has have come out with iOS 13 that just enhance these capabilities. You don't need an 11 Pro to use this feature, by the way. So, this tip is how to adjust portrait mode lighting on your iPhone. Have you been using this feature at all?

David Averbach:            I have. I enjoy it a lot.

Donna Cleveland:          Okay. So, how this works is if you open up your camera app... And maybe remind who all can use portrait mode at this point, that would be good clarification.

David Averbach:            So, you need to have the 2X zoom to be able to use the portrait mode. So, if you have a 2X zoom, you can. And it gets a little bit murky because sometimes they did it on the Pluses. I'm pretty sure it's the 7 Plus, the 8 Plus... No, it's a 7 Plus, the iPhone 8, the 8 Plus, the X or later.

Donna Cleveland:          That sounds right.

David Averbach:            With maybe the exception of the iPhone XR, which does have a... I think you can do it with software, but it's not a 2X zoom.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah, I think of the XR has it, yeah.

David Averbach:            Yeah, but it does not have a 2X zoom, so it's a weird caveat.

Donna Cleveland:          Oh, okay.

David Averbach:            And it's not as good.

Donna Cleveland:          So, for those of you who aren't aware of this feature, portrait mode is a feature that allows you to create a depth of field effect with your photo and it focuses your subject and blurs the background. It's really awesome. You should give it a try if you haven't used it.

David Averbach:            Yeah. I mean, that's a tip, right, in and of itself, because I find myself using it a lot. Anytime I have the opportunity... The times when you don't want to use it or when you need to take a really quick photo because you have to kind of fuss with it to be the right distance from your subject matter, which is annoying, but if there's situations where you'd have the time, I find it really improves the photo. It makes it seem so much better. It looks really professional, like you have a DSLR camera.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah, I know. I've seen some pictures that you've taken, like family photos and stuff and they were really... I thought they looked like they could've been professionally done.

David Averbach:            Oh, thanks.

Donna Cleveland:          You're welcome. So, this feature, I'll walk you through how to use it. You open your camera app on your iPhone, you swipe right or left to get to different camera modes and you'll find one that says "Portrait." That's the one that you want. From there, there are now two little icons in the upper right corner. One is a little hexagon. That's what controls the lighting, and there's one that controls the level of depth of field effect. So, you can control both of these things from here. Now, if you tap the hexagon, you'll see options for your different portrait lighting modes. If you're on natural light, that doesn't actually any level of extra light to your photo, so you won't see the option here. So, you want to toggle over. There was one... I believe it was like a contour light. That's what I was playing with when I was using this.

Donna Cleveland:          And from there, you'll see... If you have the hexagon tapped, you'll see sort of the... I don't know how to describe it. A little toggle or sliding scale that lets you control the level of that effect that you put on it, and that's nice because at the most extreme, it doesn't look natural at all. And so if you're going for a more professional natural look, it's nice to scale these down for the most part, is what I am doing. I also have been... Then, if you tap the little other icon that's for the depth of field effect, you can also scale down how blurred the background is. So, those are both nice things to control.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. I think they added a lot of really nice features. In general, the contour light's kind of the only one I'll switch to. I kind of switch between the natural light and contour light. The other ones, I have a really hard time making them look cool. Apple always shows these really cool photos in their events of black background and High-Key Mono and all these things. I never take photos that look good that way. Do you? Studio light and contour light are both the ones that I think are good. [crosstalk 00:08:48].

David Averbach:            Yeah, that's true. Studio late, I'll use sometimes.

Donna Cleveland:          Stage light, stage light mono. I agree. They're kind of harsh and extreme looking. I wasn't that impressed with them.

David Averbach:            Well, and because what they do is they get rid of the background altogether and either put a black background or a white background. It has to be a... The phone has to perfectly have been able to distinguish between the subject matter in the background, and what I find is a lot of times, that's not the case, and you end up with weird little digital things like you have a tiny bit of the background but not a lot of it, and it looks terrible unless it gets it perfect, and then it looks cool. Does that make sense?

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. No, I agree. One nice tip for this as well is that sometimes, you don't want to fuss with settings a lot while you're taking the photos because let's say you're taking a picture of a person and they're moving around, impatient or they're a kid or something like that. You can actually edit the studio lighting and depth of field effect afterwards. So, one thing I would recommend doing is turning on... Go into portrait mode, choosing a potentially a studio lighting effect that you like, but not spending a lot of time fussing with it there because you can actually do all of that afterwards.

David Averbach:            Yeah, I never set it when I'm taking the photo. I just leave it on natural and then deal with it later.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. So, when you tap "Edit," you'll see all those same options that I just walked you through.

David Averbach:            And I will say... This is funny cause this was actually going to be my complaints and learning, so I have to come up with a new complaints and learning for insiders, but I'm really enjoying the control of aperture, the being able to control the depth of field, because for the same reason, where Apple... The phone isn't always perfect distinguishing between the subject matter and the background, and so sometimes it's too aggressive and it blurs things that you don't want to be blurred or it doesn't blur things that you do want to be blurred. Particularly for me, because I have curly hair, it can sometimes be really aggressive, like blurring my hair, which just looks terrible. And so that's a really nice functionality to be able to edit how much depth of field you have. Because what I find is a lot of times, I'll scale it back and add a little bit more of the background because then it's not aggressively editing my subject matter.

David Averbach:            And the other nice feature that... I don't know if it's new or not, but I've just discovered it, is if you tap on the word "Portrait" when you're in Edit Mode, it turns off portrait mode all together.

Donna Cleveland:          Oh. Oh, I see. Yeah, you can... That's been around for a while, but that's just to compare. [Crosstalk 00:11:20].

David Averbach:            Oh, okay. I didn't know about it. okay. I'd forgot. I didn't know about it. To compare, but also sometimes you take a portrait mode and it really too aggressively blurs your background and it just ruins the photo. So, it's a nice way of having a backup where if you do use portrait mode but it just didn't work out, you can just have a normal looking photo.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah, I knew about that feature, but I was still thinking of being in portrait mode as an irreversible, like you've chosen that mode for the photo. So, that's a good reminder.

David Averbach:            It's reversible.

Donna Cleveland:          So, you can leave portrait mode on more often maybe without worrying about it and you can always have the photo without that effect.

David Averbach:            And same thing too, if for some reason you're messing around and you're in some of the stage lightings or the High-Key Monos, and then you later go back and you look and you realize that it didn't properly get the background perfect, you can just switch it to natural then, so you don't have to worry about it. If it looks imperfect. You can just have it be natural and it has the background then, and so it's much easier for the photo to look good.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. One clarification too is that, I was saying, there's an icon for the aperture, but I didn't say what it looks like. It's a little F in the corner. And you won't see the hexagon icon until you actually swiped to get into one of the lighting effects, and then you'll see that other icon pop up as well.

Donna Cleveland:          All right. That was a long explanation. We were just saying with the daily tips, it's just one minute a day. Usually when we talk about the tips in the podcast, we get into more details of how we're using it in our lives, but that's not how... You can learn things really fast with the daily tips newsletter, we promise.

David Averbach:            Well, and a nice segue too because we're just about to talk about the insider where we add a lot more context and a lot more detail of how to use these in our guides on insider, and we do have a guide that talks about this and how to use your camera for portrait mode. So, we have in-depth guides and they're available for our iPhone Life Insider subscribers. And Donna, what else do you get as an Insider subscriber?

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. So, for our premium subscription, you get in-depth guides. We have one for iOS 13. We have a basics guide we just came out with that really helps you get all the fundamentals you need for your iPhone. We also include a digital subscription to iPhone Life Magazine. That includes our archive of over 30 issues and every new issue as we come out with it, where we just came out with our buyer's guide. So, going into the holiday season, we have great gear roundups in there. You get access to our editors, so you can send in any tech questions or issues you're having and we'll help you find a solution.

Donna Cleveland:          You also get a premium version of the iPhone Life Podcast. So, you get exclusive content in this podcast and also none of the ads, and I believe that's it. Oh, and video versions of our daily tip newsletters. So, you get short bite-sized videos every day that teach you cool things to do with your phone.

David Averbach:            Did you mentioned the digital subscription to the magazine?

Donna Cleveland:          I did.

David Averbach:            Okay, good.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah.

David Averbach:            Sometimes I'm just so used to hearing that, I don't hear it. And we have a really aggressive discount for you all now. We are taking our podcast listeners seriously and we really want you guys to be insiders. So, you can now say 50% off, and we have an extra discount for people who are seniors, service members, veterans. You get an extra 10% off. So, you saved 60% if you use the following URL.

Donna Cleveland:          It's, and the senior discount is for 60 years and up, and so that's something we've added recently that we've been excited about.

David Averbach:            Yes.

Donna Cleveland:          All right. Let's talk about apps and gear. Do you have any updates?

David Averbach:            I do. I'm excited to tell you guys about it. I signed up for my free trial of Apple Arcade.

Donna Cleveland:          Oh, nice.

David Averbach:            And I've been using it. Yeah. We talked about this in the last episode, how I was planning on signing up for this. I think I talked about this. And I have been wanting... I was excited about it when they announced it for a couple of reasons, largely for my stepson who... First of all, we now just got him a phone, and I am concerned about the free gaming industry. There's a lot of privacy concerns for free games. They're all ad-based, they're all trying to upsell him other games, and they're also just... The games are kind of rigged. They're all rigged in a way to get you to pay money to get some special character or whatever, and so they sort of just designed to hack his poor little brain to make him lose and really frustrating ways until he decides to pay money, which, A, he's not going to pay because it's my money.

Donna Cleveland:          Exactly, yeah.

David Averbach:            And B, it's like it creates a real frustration, and I hear him start screaming at his phone in the back of the car and it's like... It's rough. So, we've been doing Apple Arcade, and I've been pretty happy with it so far. It's still early days, and I don't gain that much so I haven't done a whole lot, but I've been impressed by the quality of the games. They had a lot more games from brands and with characters that I knew than I expected, which was nice.

Donna Cleveland:          Really? Like what?

David Averbach:            Well, part of their appeal was like, "Oh, we're helping promote indie developers," which I think they are and they have a lot of great games for that, but there was a Lego game on there for him, which was really nice. They had a Sonic the Hedgehog racing game, which was cool.

Donna Cleveland:          Oh, man. I loved Sonic as a kid.

David Averbach:            There's this cool game that he'd been wanting for a long time. It's called like... I can't... The Floors Is Lava, which is really funny. You know that game that every kid plays growing up of you can't touch the floor because it's lava?

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah.

David Averbach:            Well, some smart developer made a game of that and you're trying to jump from chair to chair in this game and not touch the floor, and so he's gotten really into that game and we'll play that game together sometimes.

Donna Cleveland:          Are they mostly geared towards kids?

David Averbach:            No, they're just mostly... The ones we've tested are geared towards kids because that's what he plays and don't I play a lot of games, but there seem to be a lot of games. I actually want to dive in and do some more games that are like... Because I do enjoy strategy games, and there are... I feel like they checked the boxes they needed to check to get me to keep subscribing, which is there are enough games in there where it doesn't feel barren. I was a little concerned that I'd log in and they'd have like five games and I didn't like them.

Donna Cleveland:          It's a hundred, right?

David Averbach:            I think they have at least a hundred and growing, yeah. And they're high quality games. There's enough games that I feel interested in. The other area the Apple has rolled out since I subscribed that I haven't gone to experiment with is now those games work on iPad, and also a lot of them work on Apple TV.

Donna Cleveland:          That's pretty cool.

David Averbach:            Which I'm really excited about because, for example, The Floor Is Lava game, it's a little bit too complex to play on your phone as well as I would like, whereas on Apple TV, I'm pretty sure... And this'll be a future thing for me to talk about, I'm pretty sure I can set up my Xbox controller to work with it and then you get access to a lot of cool games that are free that are probably as fun as a lot of the Xbox games we're playing.

Donna Cleveland:          Because a lot of the people who have reviewed Apple TV games so far have said you really need a control... The Apple Watch remote is pretty lousy as a game controller. So, I think that would make a big difference, I'd think. But also, the Apple TV seems better if you're playing games interactively with someone. If you're playing games with your stepson, it'd probably be more fun on the Apple TV, right?

David Averbach:            Yeah, absolutely. I think so. We'll have to see. I'm excited to test that out because it definitely takes it to the next level in terms of usability and willingness for me to keep subscribing. Because I will say I'm saying all positive things, I still am kind of on the cusp of should I keep subscribing? Because despite all the complaints of these free games, there's a wealth of free games out there. He enjoys a lot of them. It drives me crazy because he still keeps downloading games that aren't in the Apple Arcade, and I'm like, I'm paying all this money to have access to Apple Arcade to avoid these games and he's still doing it.

David Averbach:            So, I'm still... I think overall, it's a net positive, but I think that there are still so many free games out there that are still high quality that it's not a no brainer to keep paying. Five bucks a month is not nothing for games, especially because I'm not a gamer myself.

Donna Cleveland:          So, it's five bucks a month for the whole family, right? It doesn't increase if you share it with your family.

David Averbach:            No.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. The other question I was going to ask is, does your kid seem excited about it? Because I feel like that's what it would hang on, whether you keep doing it or not. Is he going to use the Apple Arcade games or is it cool to kids? You know what I mean?

David Averbach:            I think... I don't know. He's a little bit young to appreciate it. He doesn't quite understand the difference. Because he got a new phone and got Apple Arcade at the same time, I don't think he quite understood that I was paying to have this access to all these elite games. It sort of was all just one bundle of awesomeness to him, and I don't think he's parsing through it, but he does really like a lot of those games and he does often go out of his way to download them. So, it's a success overall. [crosstalk 00:20:28].

Donna Cleveland:          So, it seems pretty positive so far.

David Averbach:            Yeah.

Donna Cleveland:          How do you access the games, again?

David Averbach:            It's a tab within the App Store, Arcade, and then- [crosstalk 00:20:39].

Donna Cleveland:          It's kind of weird.

David Averbach:            It's a little... I kind of keep thinking it needs to be its own app or something, which I would like because then I could limit him to just those apps, maybe. It's a tab in the App Store. And then once you download them, they're just like any other game.

Donna Cleveland:          So, it's a list of titles that when you download it, it downloads to your phone it's own app icon or...

David Averbach:            It's a tab. It basically is giving you access to more apps is the way of looking at it. When I download this app, when I download the game, it looks like any other game on my phone.

Donna Cleveland:          But do you always get to it through the App Store?

David Averbach:            No.

Donna Cleveland:          No. Okay.

David Averbach:            Yeah, it has an app icon like anything else, and I actually.. I am curious what happens if I stop paying for Apple Arcade. I'm assuming I will no longer be able to access these games.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah.

David Averbach:            But it's weird because it downloads it as its own game.

Donna Cleveland:          That'd be almost worth canceling just to see what happened.

David Averbach:            Yeah.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. Okay. Interesting. So, this week, I wanted to share one that I don't have firsthand experience with, but I've seen secondhand through our video producer, Rheanne, and that's the Moment lenses. Rheanne's a really excellent photographer and she just held her first photography show a couple of weeks ago, which was really fun to go see, and she's a huge fan of macro photography. That's where you have really magnified in on things like flowers or bugs or things like that, or that's at least what Rheanne takes macro photography of. And there are a few brands out there that she's tried, but she said she likes Moment the best and their lenses are a little under a hundred dollars. It's something that you actually need a special case for to use them, and the case is... I think it was around $30, but it was a an attractive case and it... So, Rheanne wasn't too upset about it, and you put it over your existing camera on your phone and are able to really get these amazing detailed shots of things like a raindrop coming off of a leaf or things like that.

Donna Cleveland:          You can get amazing detail with these lenses and they... She had them. I think one of the true tests of a iPhone photography is how well does the photo print, and some of the macro photography that she had printed looked gorgeous in pretty big sizes. [crosstalk 00:22:46].

David Averbach:            Yeah, absolutely.

Donna Cleveland:          And she used... What is the name of the company? Social Print Studio is what she used to print those photos to, and they have really nice quality prints. So, I just like... Well, David is into photography, but neither of us are as into photography as Rheanne is, and so I'm realizing we don't always talk about this stuff on the podcast, but it's a big area of interest for a lot of our listeners and it's a great way to use your iPhone. So, I think the Moment lenses are a really good thing to check out if you are wanting to take your iPhone photography to the next level. I've been thinking about getting one.

David Averbach:            Yeah. And in particular for macro photography, it's one of those things that you want to take the photo when inspiration strikes. So, you're not necessarily always carrying around a DSLR camera with a great lens when you see the cool bug in the cool flower. So, having options with your iPhone are, in some ways, the best case scenario because your iPhone's always with you. And so yeah, I think macro photography is an excellent fit for iPhone photography.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. And the Moment lenses, they don't have just macro lenses. They also have ultra wide angle, which it feels a little less relevant now that we just got that feature if you have the 11 Pro. Also, though, they have fisheye lens ones, which I feel like I also wouldn't use that often. I feel like they have a few different ones and people like them for different reasons, but macro is one that I know is Rheanne's favorite.

David Averbach:            Okay.

Donna Cleveland:          So, yeah. That's our apps and gear for the week. I guess that wraps it up. We have- [crosstalk 00:24:25].

David Averbach:            Yeah.

Donna Cleveland:          This is a shorter episode. Thank you so much for joining us. Just a reminder, if you like this show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. That can help other people find the show and enjoy it as well.

David Averbach:            We didn't do a question of the week.

Donna Cleveland:          We didn't do a question of the week. We could do something about portrait mode.

David Averbach:            Yeah, I was just going to ask. Do you guys use portrait mode? Do you have any specific use cases that you particularly enjoy for portrait mode?

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. Any tips for... We talked about some of our ways to get the best results from portrait mode. Let us know if you have any tips that we didn't cover.

David Averbach:            Yes.

Donna Cleveland:          So, email us, and we'll see you next episode.

David Averbach:            Thanks, everyone.

Donna Cleveland:          Thanks.

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Author Details

Donna Schill's picture

Author Details

Donna Schill

Donna Schill is the Editor in Chief at iPhone Life, where she oversees all multimedia content production for iPhone Life Insider, the premium educational platform for Apple enthusiasts and lifelong learners. After earning her master's degree from the University of Iowa School of Journalism & Mass Communication, Donna joined iPhone Life in 2012, where she has produced dozens of magazine issues, co-hosted hundreds of podcast episodes, and taught over 20 live online courses. When not glued to her iPhone 15 Pro Max, Donna can be found traveling, writing and podcasting (, or hiking the Iowa prairie where she lives with her partner and their German shepherd, Fox.