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How to use iOS 16 photo cutout to cut and paste images

There are a lot of clever smaller features hidden in iOS 16. Perhaps the most impressive of these is the ability to extract the subject of a photo from background elements, digitally cutting out the main part of the photo so that you can share it on its own or paste it into another image with an entirely different background.

This new feature is an expansion of Apple's Visual Look Up introduced in iOS 15 last year. In its original form, Visual Look Up used machine learning to recognize certain objects in your photos — such as popular landmarks, flowers, plants, breeds of certain pets, and even birds, insects, and spiders. Selecting a recognized object in the Photos app would provide more information with links to Wikipedia articles and similar images from the web.

Difficulty

Easy

Duration

5 minutes

What You Need

So, it wasn't a stretch for Apple to improve these machine-learning capabilities to let you lift these detected objects right out of your photos. Even better, this new feature doesn't just work with things that Visual Look Up recognizes; iOS 16 can lift nearly anything that it can identify as a distinct subject of a photo, whether that's a person, pet, street sign, household appliance, or random object laying on a table.

What's more, just like the original Visual Look Up feature, you don't need the latest and greatest iPhone 14 to take advantage of it. This works on any iPhone model back to the 2018 iPhone XS and iPhone XR. While it will naturally work better with high-resolution Portrait Mode shots taken on an iPhone, it can be used with any image in your photo library — even those you've scanned in from old printed photos.

Three iPhones showing steps to lift a subject from an image and paste it into a messaging app.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

How to copy a subject from a photo background

The most straightforward way to use this feature is to copy the subject of a photo onto your system clipboard. You can paste that into any other app that supports images, such as Messages, Mail, Notes, or your favorite photo editor.

Step 1: Open a suitable image in the Photos app on your iPhone.

Step 2: Touch and briefly hold the subject of the photo until a glowing outline appears around it.

iPhone showing a photo of a bird with a context menu to copy or share the subject.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

Step 3: Release your finger. A context menu should appear.

Step 4: Select Copy. The outlined subject is copied to your clipboard.

Step 5: Open another app and paste your clipboard content as you would for any other image. Only the subject of the photo will be pasted.

Three iPhones showing steps to share the subject of an image to Messages.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

How to share a subject directly to another app

If you merely want to share the subject of a photo via a messaging or social media app, you can skip the clipboard and do this directly via the iOS 16 share sheet.

Step 1: Open a suitable image in the Photos app on your iPhone.

Step 2: Touch and briefly hold the subject of the photo until a glowing outline appears around it.

Step 3: Release your finger. A context menu should appear.

Step 4: Select Share. The iOS sharing dialog appears.

Step 5: Select where you want to share the selected subject. The selected app opens as it would for sharing any other photo, but only the subject of the image appears.

Three iPhones showing steps to drag and drop the subject of an image to a photo editing app.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

How to copy a subject using drag and drop

It's also possible to copy the subject of an image by dragging it from the Photos app into a third-party app that supports drag-and-drop. This works with most built-in apps like Mail, Messages, Notes, and Reminders. It's also convenient when working with third-party photo editors.

Step 1: Open a suitable image in the Photos app on your iPhone.

Step 2: Touch and briefly hold the subject of the photo until a glowing outline appears.

Step 3: Begin moving your finger without lifting it. You should see a copy of the subject being dragged out of the photo with your finger.

Step 4: Continue holding your finger on the image while using another finger to swipe up from the bottom of the iPhone screen to return to the home screen.

Step 5: Continue to hold your finger on the image, and use another finger to open the app you would like to drop the image into.

Step 6: In the target app, drag the image to where you would like to paste it and remove your finger to drop it in place.

What happens next will depend on the app. Photo editors will usually add the subject image as a new layer that you can move, resize, and edit in the same manner as any other image. Dropping the image into a messaging or social media app will paste it into a new post. If the target app doesn't support pasting images, nothing will happen, and the subject will be discarded.

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