How to Take the Perfect iPhone 12 Pro Photo, According to a Professional Photographer

Photographer Alice Gao took her new iPhone 12 Pro around NYC to capture scenes from the city.

iphone 12 photography
Photo: Alice Gao

When Apple introduces a new iPhone, people around the world set their alarm clocks to be the first to hear the about the phone's latest, buzzy features — and start to wonder how they can incorporate them into their own lives. This year, with the launch of the iPhone 12, things were no different.

But for photography pros and everyday the everyday folk who live by their phone camera, it was quickly clear that the iPhone 12 Pro isn't your typical camera phone. The iPhone 12 Pro has a wide camera that lets in 27% more light, has expanded night mode capabilities so low-light photos still pop, and even allows for night mode portraits.

To help show off the capabilities of the new iPhone 12 — a phone we know travelers will love — photographer Alice Gao took to the streets of her home in New York City to capture her own images with the phone. From the Guggenheim to the Oculus, Gao took some inspiring photos that not only show off her incredible photography skills, but remind us that maybe the best way to practice our own photography is to be a hometown tourist for a day.

After her photography tour, Travel + Leisure caught up with Gao to get her tips for capturing stunning images on the new iPhone 12, from lighting to framing, plus some serious creative advice on finding inspiration in New York and beyond.

columns in shadows
Alice Gao

T+L: What is your secret to taking an incredible iPhone 12 Pro shot?

"I think the secret to almost any incredible photo is the light! I'm personally a fan of strong directional light with a significant contrast between the light and shadows — the iPhone 12 Pro is great at handling this kind of scene and interpreting it so that you don't have crazy blown out highlights while still giving you details in the shadows.

Related to that is that you really have to think about when your subject is going to receive the light you want to capture. If I have the luxury of time, I will wait around and stalk a building until the light hits it just the way I want. And because NYC is full of shiny tall buildings, sometimes you get unexpected reflected light, which can be exciting."

building with reflection pool
Alice Gao

How can people find inspiration in what's around them the way you found inspiration in New York?

"I think a lot of it is about your intention. It's easy to walk around in NYC, experiencing all the iconic and beautiful buildings, but not really "seeing" them. We New Yorkers are always rushing from one place to another. When I take the time to slow down and view a building that I admire from all angles, revisit it at different times of day and even different seasons, it can be a brand new experience and feeling. And this may sound cheesy, but sometimes reading poems or great essays about New York before I start a photo walk or photo project relating to New York allows me to find new inspiration and puts me in the right mindset to capture the emotions the writing evoked."

Building with shadows
Alice Gao

What specifically do you love about iPhone 12 Pro?

"I know I mentioned this already, but I do love the way it handles a high-contrast scene (honestly better than my professional cameras — which need a lot more post-processing to get to where the iPhone 12 Pro gets me immediately). I also found less grain in photos I took in low-light, especially when compared to my previous generation iPhones.

On a more superficial level, I love the flat edge design of the phone!"

Lights at the Oculus
Alice Gao

Once you've taken some shots, what's your advice for a simple but stunning edit?

"I like to think about how images will pair with one another when I'm creating a whole series. I love a mix of close-up vignettes paired with wider shots, so I first cull the edit thinking about how images will live together. I also think a good crop on an image can elevate the composition. For actual post-processing, it's so subjective and personal. I like a slightly warmer image with good contrast."

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Tanner Saunders is the Associate Digital Editor of Travel + Leisure. His iPhone photography aesthetic is blurry photos of dogs at a distance. Find them on Instagram @Tizanner.

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