Usually the first option in your camera’s scene mode menu, Portrait mode is built for one of the most common photos you’ll take: the head-and-shoulders shot. In most Portrait modes, the camera recognizes the presence of faces in your scene, focuses on them, and adjusts the color in the image to enhance skin tones. In many recent cameras, Auto mode even defaults to Portrait mode settings if it detects a face (or faces) in the shot.
Unless you’re shooting in broad daylight or a bright indoor setting, Portrait mode usually fires the flash. It does this to bring out detail in the subject’s face, but it often reduces the intensity of the flash to avoid overexposing the foreground.
In our three test portraits, the flash was too intense in Auto mode, making the subjects’ faces a bit too bright. The high ISO that the camera selected in Auto mode also failed to create much depth in the image. Portrait mode was much better at properly exposing the image and enhancing our subjects’ skin tone. The subjects were also nicely separated from the background.
In our manually composed shot, we turned off the flash and tried to harness the power of natural light by using a wide aperture with a slow shutter speed. The result is a portrait that’s a little more subtle and natural-looking. Nevertheless, Portrait mode is generally a smart choice for this kind of photo.