How to get the bokeh effect in your iPhone photos

addbokeh effect iphone

One of the main differentiating features of the iPhone 7 Plus over its smaller sibling was its dual lens camera system. Right off the box, it allows users of the larger device to enjoy a 2x optical zoom, unlocking yet more possibilities when it comes to iPhone photography.

Perhaps an even more exciting feature is the upcoming Portrait mode that allows you to produce a shallow depth of field in order to generate a fake yet beautiful bokeh effect in your photos.

Portrait mode is still in beta stages, but the good news is, if you want to replicate that bokeh effect in your iPhone photos, you can start doing so today. I’ll show you how.

There is an app for that bokeh effect

For the past several years, I’ve actually used a variety of third-party application to simulate bokeh in some of my photos. You can see several examples of that on my Instagram feed. I’ve been going back and forth between 3 apps, but I always come back to the same one, mostly because it seems to be the best.

That application is called Tadaa SLR and it can be downloaded for $2.99 in the App Store. The two other options are Big Lens, and Bokeh Lens.

Even though this isn’t the most up-to-date, I believe Tadaa SLR has the best edge detection of the three apps, which makes it my go-to when I’m going for that kind of effect.

How to replicate bokeh using Tadaa SLR

The three applications I mentioned above work in a similar way, but I choose to use Tadaa SLR (my favorite) for the purpose of this tutorial. You’re obviously free to try the two other options.

This is the photo we’re going to work from. That’s my daughter Chloé to the left, and her friend Hazel to the right.

Chloe no bokeh

1) After granting Tadaa SLR access to your Camera roll, load up a photo you want to retouch. Make sure the Mask and the Edges options are enabled. The Edges feature is what gives the app control over what it believes are edges in your photos. You can turn this off if you want to have a more granular control. I prefer leaving it on because that is how Tadaa can work its magic best.

2) With your finger, start drawing the mask on your photo. You basically want to draw on what you want to be in focus. As you remove your finger from the screen, you will notice Tadaa SLR adjusts the mask to the best of its ability. Unfortunately, it is not always perfect, especially when you’re trying to add a mask over a person’s body. But the plus side it, you can adjust your mask.

Chloe bokeh edges

3) To adjust your mask, you probably want to zoom in on your subject, then drag your finger on the screen to get a better masking of the edges. For example, here I’m zooming in on my daughter’s arm to better control the masking. Note that Tadaa is smart to understand that when you zoom in, you’re basically trying to get a better mask and it will adjust its automatic edge detection. If you are adding masking where you don’t want to, you can always use the Erase tool, or simply tap the Undo button.

chloe bokeh zoom in

4) Once you’re done masking and erasing, I suggest you zoom out a bit to have an overall view of what your photo looks like. This allows you to make sure you didn’t forget to mask part of the photo. When you’re done, tap on the Next button in the upper right corner of the screen.

chloe bokeh perfect edge masking

5) This is where you can go crazy on the blur and bokeh effect. You can play a little bit with the various options at the bottom. You can switch between circular, and linear blur, or choose to go with the All option, which is what I usually use. It really depends on the subject and the effect you’re going after. You can also play with the aperture and the range. Finally, if you realize you messed up your mask, you can go back to fine tuning that from that screen too. If you’re happy with the results, tap Apply in the upper right corner.

chloe bokeh blur

6) You can now add filters, play with the basic brightness, contrast, and saturation of the photo, crop, and add vignetting. Tap Save when you’re done to save the photo to your Camera roll.

bokeh effect iphone effect brightness

This is the final image.

bokeh effect iphone


Tadaa SLR works great but it does have some limitations. I have found that certain shapes are better than others when it comes to masking. For example, anything with straight edges and a stark background makes it easier for the app to detect the edges and add proper masking.

People are probably the hardest subjects to use with Tadaa because the shape of our bodies just isn’t a straight line. It gets even worse when you have long hair that gets in the picture. This being said, as you can see on my examples here, if you do take some time to correct the masking on the edges, you can get some really nice results.

Another downside of Tadaa is how it reduces the picture size. Typically, those processed pictures look nice on an iPhone or iPad screen, but they don’t look all that great when printed out. But who prints out photos nowadays anyway?