Portrait Lighting Pixel 4a 5gSource: Google

What you need to know

  • Google debuted an excellent Portrait Light feature with the Pixel 5 and 4a 5G.
  • It allowed users to retrospectively edit the direction of light sources in their portrait shots from the Photos app.
  • Portrait Light is now available for older Pixels.

With each new Pixel release, Google often trickles down software features to older models either via Play Store updates or Feature Drops. This time, it's a photo editing feature — Portrait Light — that's making the leap. Introduced with the Pixel 5 and 4a 5G, you no longer need to buy one of those to try it out as older phones have now gotten the Portrait Light feature by way of an update to the Photos app.

Reviewing the Pixel 5, Android Central's Daniel Bader found the portrait lighting feature compelling, saying:

Taking a photo in Portrait Mode automatically enables Portrait Light and optimizes it to the extent Google thinks is necessary for the scene (Google says it also applies Portrait Light to faces taken in regular mode, but to a lesser extent). The effect can be jarring, largely because lighting faces artificially is tricky (if you've ever had studio photos taken, or watched the behind-the-scenes of a YouTube video, you know how much equipment is involved) and phone sensors are typically too small to capture enough data to make adding light a fool's errand.

But as Google successfully showed with HDR+ in landscapes, and Night Sight in dark scenes, it can use machine learning to figure out just the right amount of light to add to a face without it seeming artificial. Most of the time, it just works. And if you're not happy with it, you can head into the Google Photos app and change the severity of the lighting or where the shadows in the scene sit.

Announced alongside this update, Google has also rolled out a new Google Photos app that's proving divisive. It comes with AI suggestions for enhancements and a new photo editor, but the new design has left some cold with the inability to manage multiple controls on a single screen. At least something like Portrait Light should prove to be a fun feature no matter where you stand on that.

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