What’s In Your Kit? with Alice Gao

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Alice Gao is a photographer from New York whose work I’ve been following for many years. I first discovered Alice on flickr and was so pleased to see her launch a blog a couple of years back. Her photography is filled with gorgeous light, warm tones and textures, and she has the ability to make you want to live in the world she shoots. Alice shoots lifestyle, weddings, portraits and food. Her food images are shot in a way that makes you feel like you’re right there at the table with her and they’re constantly making me drool. You can find her work in the gorgeous Kinfolk Magazine and on Serious Eats.

Her instagram feed is one of the most popular ones around and she’s one of my faves. If the photographer can shoot images with an iphone that are just as beautiful as those shot with a DSLR, then they are serious talent. Check her out!

Take her away, Alice…


MB: What are your cameras of choice and why?

Alice: iPhone 4S – This has become my go-to carry around camera. It is always on me and perfect for my everyday snapshot (not to mention the addiction and draw of Instagram!). I’ve actually been kinda curious about doing a client shoot entirely on the iPhone, but I don’t think the client would appreciate that. :P
Canon 5D MKii – I’ve got two of these babies and use them on almost every shoot. I still remember that “ahhhhhh moment” (angels singing) when I switched to full-frame after years of using a Canon Rebel. 
Contax 645 – Medium format bliss. Enough said. 

MB: What are your favourite lenses to work with and why?

Alice: I am married to my Canon 50mm f1.2 lens and likewise the 80mm for the Contax system. That focal length is just perfect for me, because it’s how I see the world and how I compose things in my head anyway. The 80mm Zeiss lens on the Contax produces some seriously beautiful bokeh. Sometimes to travel more lightly, I’ll swap my 50mm f1.2 for the 50mm f1.4. It’s like 1/5 the cost of the 1.2 and still a wonderful lens.

MB: What equipment do you prefer to use to shoot portraits?

Alice: I like both the 85mm f1.8 and 50mm f1.2 for portraits. And if I’m shooting film, then definitely the Contax and the 80mm.

MB: Name a camera that you just love to have fun with and why.

Alice: I do love my Polaroid SLR680. It’s so fragile so I don’t take her out much, but I am seriously gleeful when I do use it. Sadly I have quickly gone through my packs of original Polaroid film and not quite willing to shell out the current eBay prices for them.

MB: What do you carry your equipment in?

Alice: It depends. For simple shoots, I just use a camera insert like this one and stuff it in one of my normal day bags. I like big bags, so this insert fits nicely in just about all of them. That way I’m not walking around screaming, “I am carrying a camera bag with lots of expensive equipment inside!”
Otherwise I use a Think Tank Retrospective 10. Not exactly glamorous but man can you pack a lot in there. For weddings and bigger shoots, I tote around my equipment in a pretty serious looking Pelican case.

MB: Is there one piece of equipment that you would recommend to a newbie shooter?

Alice: I’m totally biased, but I almost always recommend a 50mm lens to newbie shooters. Skip the kit lens and opt for the 50mm. Also, I’m a firm believer that the best camera is the one you have with you. For instance, think of the iPhone as more than a device for texting and checking twitter. Even if you just practice with your phone’s camera, you’ll still be practicing finding good light, composition, etc.

MB: Name one place you would love to travel to with your favourite camera and why.

Alice: Paris with my Contax! Mostly I am dreaming of the light hitting the buildings and small alley ways, the Eiffel Tower in black and white film, the bread… Lucky for me, I’m going this week. (Alice has actually already been to Paris and returned- check out her blog for Frenchie photographs-Amanda)

Thanks so much for sharing your kit with us, Alice. I think I may need to come around and steal all of it!

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  • Magali

    I really really enjoy this series. Thanks for another great post! I totally agree about the 50mm lens. When I was completely new in photography someone gave me that advise – BEST ADVISE EVER! :D

  • rachel

    what a great feature. I’m a big admirer of alice’s photography!

  • Luisa Brimble

    I love to take home all of Alice’s film cameras right now. ha ha ha I love this series Amanda. Hope you’ve been well.

  • Oli

    Lovely stuff, and those tones are out of this world. Envious of the Contax gear! The 50 1.2 is boss, regretfully swapping out for an 85L, the colours seem a little more in line with my 35L.

  • A. Jarrett

    I’ve been following Alice’s work for years as well! Always great to see her work and her kit!

    Love this series, Amanda!

  • antonella

    What a coincidence! I visited her blog just few hours ago, following a link I had found on a blog of an Italian writer. She’s on a roll!

  • Katarina

    Great post, Amanda. Thanks for introducing me to Alice’s beautiful work. I’m in love with the first photo especially, and the light in her pictures is incredible!

  • Shanon

    I agree about enjoying this series! Love it, so valuable and wonderful. And whoa, her instagram feed. Really good instagram like that can make me almost say “Polaroid? What, who?”. I know it’s a different animal, but it’s one worth falling in love with when I see it done so well.

  • Ashley

    I completely agree with Alice about the 50mm! Since I got one I almost never take it off my camera.

    This is one of my favorite interviews so far. I love Alice’s work and her blog is so wonderful. I love how she is so honest about how she set things up and how she shoots. So many photographers now try and keep it a secret.

  • Dottie

    I’m so happy you posted this profile, so I could discover Alice’s work. I spent probably an hour looking through her blog. Beautiful!

  • Amanda

    Thanks for all the comments everyone!

  • Kristin

    Very nice. I always love to see what other photographers are carrying around and using. Thanks for sharing!

  • twiggs

    i love alice’s work and blog! she’s amazing! and i also agree with alice on that advice of the 50mm! when i changed from my compact camera to a dslr a photographer friend gave me that advice and it was the best advice ever! i had no clues about lenses and what the numbers meant, so i was clueless about what lens to buy. and on another thread… i might join you on going over to alice’s and take some of that equipment with me! ;)

  • janneke

    the 50mm is the most amazing lens ever. i’m dying to get a 1.4 or even a 1.2, but for now my 1.8 does its job perfectly. great stuff.

    i absolutely adore this series! keep it up!

  • Deirdre (Superdewa)

    I really love the photos here and appreciate the introduction to Alice’s work. Thank you.

  • Eliz

    Wow! After seeing these photos, I immediately began following Alice’s lovely work on instagram and flickr :3

  • Rhianna

    I love this so so much! I’ve been reading Alice’s blog for a while now, so it’s fun reading this interview. It’s so great to hear her say the best camera is the one you have, because even shooting with an iPhone is learning about different things! As a newbie who has a 50mm old Pentax – so awesome – and an iPhone, it’s nice to know just because I don’t have my Pentax on me doesn’t mean the day has to be devoid of photos :D

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