iPhone X: New Apple Ad Reveals Portrait Lighting-Powered Selfies

The company's latest ad lifts the lid on the iPhone X feature.

The iPhone X has an impressive array of selfie-taking front camera features, but you may not know it at first glance. A 38-second ad released by Apple on Sunday, which features Muhammad Ali reciting a poem as portrait images flick past, shows the real performance at play in the company’s flagship smartphone.

Portrait Lighting, the brand name for the device’s A.I.-powered lighting modes, is an impressive feat of technology. The feature uses depth information to change the perceived light around a subject. Previously, such information has been used since the iPhone 7 Plus launched in 2016 to blur the background of the subject, a feature known as Portrait Mode.

Portrait Lighting takes this to the next level, with a number of effects built into the camera app:

  • Natural is the simplest effect, retaining the same blurred background from Portrait Mode.
  • Studio is similar to Portrait Mode, but it lights up the subject’s face.
  • Contour aims for a starker difference in shadows and light on the subject’s face.
  • Stage Light uses the depth information to darken the background entirely, giving the effect of the subject standing on the stage.
  • Stage Light Mono is the same as Stage Light, but it uses a monochrome filter.

iPhone Portrait Lighting in action.


The feature is the culmination of years of research into machine learning. The A11 Bionic chip that powers the iPhone X makes a number of improvements that boost artificial intelligence speed on the device. The new chip has two performance cores, 25 percent faster than the chip found in the iPhone 7, alongside four high-efficiency cores that are 70 percent faster than its predecessor. The CoreML framework, which allows developers to take advantage of these features, has been hailed by Polarr app CEO Borui Wang as part of a new generation of offline A.I. apps.

The Portrait Lighting feature is also present on the $899 iPhone 8 Plus, which launched at the same event as the X with the same A11 Bionic chip under the hood. However, the feature only works on the rear-facing camera as the front sensor lacks the depth perception present on the X.

While it may seem like a simple lighting feature, Portrait Lighting is a strong demonstration of the powerful hardware and software at play in Apple’s newest devices. Just a shame the iPhone X itself could see an early retirement.

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