Instagram’s hidden portrait mode “Focus” now in testing

Eager to one-up Snapchat, Instagram ais preparing to expand its collection of shutter modes beyond options like Boomerang and Superzoom. Buried within Instagram’s Android Application Package (APK) is an icon for a Portrait shutter for the Stories camera. This could potentially let people shoot stylized portraits with bokeh effect-blurred backgrounds or other lighting effects.

[Update 3/9: Instagram is now testing its portrait feature in the wild under the name “Focus”. It was spotted by Pippa Akram and shared by Matt Navarra. It asks users to “Find a face” to start, and uses the portrait icon we reported. Here’s what it looks like. The result is a portrait with a blurred background and in-focus face, though the resulting images look much lower quality than Portrait mode on newer iPhones.

When asked about the feature after initially declining to comment earlier this week, Instagram tells TechCrunch “We are testing a camera format that lets you easily capture artistic quality photos and video, as another way to improve the experience on Instagram and make it easier to share everyday moments with the people who matter to you.]

TechCrunch reader Ishan Agarwal exclusively shared the images below with TechCrunch after decompiling the APK, which is the file format equivalent of Windows’ .exe but for Android. The icon would show up overlaid on the Instagram Stories camera shutter button when you swipe to the corresponding mode.

The revelation follows our scoop from this research last week that uncovered voice and video calling features hidden within Instagram’s Direct messaging system.

Many smartphones, including newer iPhones, include a portrait option in their default native cameras. People can shoot there and upload to places like Instagram. But users are increasingly recording content with the in-app Stories cameras in Instagram and Snapchat that offer advanced editing and special effects.

Portrait mode could offer extra creative possibilities while one-upping Snapchat, which lacks any similar feature. After testing a basic version on the iPhone 7 plus, Apple gave the new iPhone 8 plus and iPhone X a range of portrait options like contour lighting or studio lighting. But Instagram’s version is available for video as well.

Instagram must constantly evolve to stay interesting. The sepia latte art and over-saturated sunsets that once dominated the feed have become passé. But the Instagram-Snapchat arms race has led to increasingly gaudy and bombastic augmented reality filters, colorful stickers and seething GIFs. “Focus” could push Instagram back to its classier roots, and help people create images worth saving after their Stories turn to ash by the next sunrise.