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iPhone 13: What are Photographic Styles and how do they work?

iphone 13 pro back in hand with wood background
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple spent a lot of time during its iPhone 13 announcement talking up the new phone's camera capabilities. Not only did the camera hardware get an upgrade, but the software saw a boost thanks to the enhanced AI capabilities in the A15 Bionic chip. One of those improvements is called Photographic Styles, which, on the surface, appear to be fancy filters.

But they are much more than that. Whereas a filter is after the fact or a particular shooting mode, Photographic Styles can apply post-processing style edits in real-time before you hit the shutter button. And the best part is, you can customize the presets to your liking to match your own style.

But Apple didn't really talk too much about how Photographic Styles work, so we're here to bridge the gap with a closer look at this iPhone 13 feature.

How do Photographic Styles work?

Photographic Styles tap into the iPhone 13's image processing pipeline, meaning that they're not an after-the-fact filter. In practice, they look like a filter, but the technology behind Photographic Styles makes them so much more than this. Each Style is meant to bring out certain characteristics in a scene, such as richer contrast or more vibrant colors.

The benefit to having Photographic Styles is that the adjustments are made in real-time, making them more intelligent if you will. Instead of adjusting these elements individually in post-processing, the iPhone 13 tweaks them based on various other aspects like lighting, angle and others — Photographic Styles can adjust lighting while preserving skin tones, for example.

Image 1 of 15

picture showing mural and car in the standard photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Standard

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photo of mural and car in the rich contrast photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Rich Contrast

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photo of a mural and car in the vibrant photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Vibrant

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photo of a mural and car in the warm photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Warm

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photo of a mural and car in the cool photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Cool

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photo of a red brick building in the standard photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Standard

Image 7 of 15

photo of a brick building in rich contrast photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Rich Contrast

Image 8 of 15

photo of a brick building in the vibrant photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Vibrant

Image 9 of 15

photo of a brick building in the warm photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Warm

Image 10 of 15

photo of a brick building in the cool photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Cool

Image 11 of 15

photo of a horse sculpture in the standard photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Standard

Image 12 of 15

photo of a horse sculpture in the rich contrast photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Rich Contrast

Image 13 of 15

photo of a horse sculpture in the warm photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Vibrant

Image 14 of 15

photo of a horse sculpture in the warm photographic style

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Warm

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photo of a horse sculpture in the cool photographic styles

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Cool

Above, you can see a sample gallery of the different Photographic Styles from our iPhone 13 Pro review. In all, there are four styles beyond the standard view — Rich Contrast, Vibrant, Warms and Cool. The different styles pretty much do what they say on the label.

Apple also lets you tweak each of the Photographic Styles to your own liking. You can't radically change them, but you do get some options for things like warmth, tone, and so on. As of right now, Apple doesn't let you create your own Photographic Style, but that would certainly be a neat feature to see someday.

iPhone 13 camera outlook

iphone 13 mini face down on candy bars

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone 13 lineup includes some of the best camera phones, especially if you're talking about the Pro models. While some credit goes to larger sensors, better image stabilization, and improved autofocus, a lot of the wonder comes down to software. Apple has stepped pretty far ahead of most Android phone makers when it comes to computational photography and it shows.

Admittedly, Photographic Styles feel a bit like a gimmick, something you may not use more than a handful times. They're cool nonetheless and a great example of what the upgraded Neural Engine in the A15 Bionic can do.

So if you just got your hands on a new iPhone 13, why not give Photographic Styles a try? You might end up with some really cool pictures.

Jordan Palmer

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. It's hard to nail down one thing that Jordan is passionate about, since his attention span for a single given topic or activity doesn't last long. Jordan tends to lurk on social media, but you can best reach him on Twitter.