How to remove the background and extract the main subject of a photo on iPhone in iOS 16

iOS 16 adds an exciting new Visual Look Up feature that lets you lift the main subject of a photo away from its background and copy it. Later you can paste this extracted main subject into any messaging app, email, or photo editing app to create a beautiful final image. Let’s show you how to do that from start to finish.

Two iPhone mockups showing how to use Visual Look Up to extract subject from a photo in iOS 16

Potential uses

When you apply for a US passport, they ask you to have a photograph with a plain white background. The requirement is almost the same for government, college, and office paperwork, where your photo must have a solid white or light color background. Earlier, you had to rely on complicated apps and software to remove the photo background and substitute a color there. But with iOS 16, the entire process is child’s play.

Use iPhone Visual Look Up to create passport photo
Composition: Ankur for iDB | Image: Meital Anlen for Unsplash

This Visual Look Up feature to isolate the main subject from the background isn’t limited to humans in a picture. It works for almost anything, be it your pet, birds, flowers, statues, or any other object.

For example, if you have some products to sell on your Shopify store or Craigslist, you can take a picture of that thing, remove the background and add a solid color to make the object pop out as well as eliminate the unpleasant background. Plus, a plain colored background will force the viewer’s attention on the actual product and hide the mess that may be in the photo background.

Use iPhone Visual Look Up to remove subject from a photo and change the background color
Composition: Ankur for iDB | Image: Polygon Group for Unsplash

Finally, don’t forget that it can be used to make memes, cards, stickers, school projects, and so much more!

Supported devices

Though iOS 16 is compatible with iPhone 8 and later, the Visual Look Up feature to lift the background from a photo is only available on iPhones with an A12 Bionic chip or later. This means you can extract the subject from an image on iPhone Xs, iPhone XR, and newer. Unfortunately, you’re out of luck if you have an iPhone X, 8 Plus, or 8. See, if needed: How to know your iPhone name and model number

How to lift the subject from the background in a photo on iPhone

You can extract the main subject in the Photos app, Safari, Screenshot editing screen, and more. Here’s how:

In Photos app:

  1. Launch the iPhone Photos app and open an image in full screen.
  2. Press and hold over the main subject of the photo until you see a white light run through the edges of the main subject.
  3. Tap Copy.
Extract and Copy the main subject from Photos app on iPhone

You have successfully extracted the main subject of the image away from the background. This is copied to your clipboard and ready to be used.

In Screenshot:

  1. Take a screenshot on your iPhone and tap its thumbnail that appears in the bottom left.
  2. Press and hold over the main subject you wish to extract until you see a white light run through the subject.
  3. Tap Copy.
Extract subject from screenshot on iPhone

You’re now ready to use the extracted part of the image.

In Safari:

  1. Launch Safari and go to a webpage with an image.
  2. Press (not tap) the image, and it will lift up, showing you a few options.
  3. Tap Copy Subject.
Copy Subject from image in Safari on iPhone

That’s it. The main subject of that image is copied to your clipboard. You can now paste it into Messages, WhatsApp, email, any photo editing app, etc.

How to use the extracted subject of the image

As mentioned, once you have copied the main subject, you can simply open Messages, WhatsApp, Telegram, Twitter, or a similar app and paste it there. Depending on the app, the final image will keep a transparent background (like in Messages) or add a white background (in apps like WhatsApp that automatically convert images to JPG).

Use extracted subject of image in Messages and Twitter

But we’re here to spice things up (and make them suitable for passport pictures and elsewhere). To do that, make sure you download a photo creation app on your iPhone, like Canva or Studio. I use both, but for the sake of this tutorial, let’s stick to Studio.

Here’s how to use the extracted subject and create a nice final image:

1) Open Studio and tap the plus button.

2) Choose the Transparent option.

3) Pick a size and tap the check button.

4) Tap anywhere on the empty canvas and choose Paste to add the subject you extracted earlier.

Create a transparent project in Studio app

5) Now, to add a background color, tap anywhere on the transparent area and choose Edit.

6) Tap Color and choose the desired background.

Change background of an image in Studio app on iPhone

7) With everything done, tap the check button > export button > Save.

Save final image with main subject and background color on iPhone

You have created an image with the main subject of another photo placed on a colored background. Of course, you can use Studio or other apps to add text, stickers, and more. You get the idea.

What are your thoughts on this handy iOS 16 feature?

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All original images in this post are from Unsplash.