If there’s one thing that marks out Nicholas Mastoras’s approach to portraiture, it’s control. But, control doesn’t need to be limiting. In fact, it encourages artistry and welcomes the unexpected, so whether shooting in the studio or on location, he can produce his best and most surprising work.
Working professionally as a photographer since 2013, shooting editorial, campaigns, and commercial imagery, Nicholas hails from an advertising background, but was “always fascinated by portraiture, initially because it took me out of my comfort zone,” he says. “Like most people, I enjoyed taking snapshots of friends and family but soon, I was left asking for more control. This evolved to a point where I now cast models to fit the style of image I want to create, and with my amazing team of makeup artists, hair and fashion stylists, I am able to create a vision that’s true to me: crisp, bold and stylised!”
A big part of that vision is lighting. “I love using strobes because they give a very distinct look,” Nicholas confirms, and his sophisticated approach can be seen in the variety of styles he creates with varying angle, power, modifiers, and colour to suit his intentions.
“The look I make always depends on the project. For instance, in this shot I wanted some definition on the subject, showing the texture of the makeup,” he explains. “I used a beauty dish to camera left, fitted with a grid and a diffuser. It’s a modifier that gives a lovely, sculpted look, not too hard and not too soft. Knowing the modifier that suits your idea you pick up through experience,” he continues, “so experiment as much as possible. That’s the best way to learn.”
Working on location “you need to be a problem solver, choosing the environment to suit the subject and controlling the natural light, so you can apply your own creative influence. Shooting with the Sony Alpha 7 IV, the light was really special. I turned the model away from the light and had a large reflector next to me to balance out the shadows.”
Beyond control of lighting, Nicholas makes sure his portrait sessions are fun and relaxed, so that creativity can thrive. “I think every portrait photographer will agree that you need to build a connection with your subject,” he says, “especially when the subject feels uncomfortable. You need to control the situation in a way that makes them feel relaxed and confident. My trick is usually to try and make them laugh. So far, it has worked wonders!”
But for photographers, comfort comes in the kit they use. “I started using Sony cameras and lenses in 2018 and I was totally blown away,” he says. The quality of the sensors on both the Alpha 7 IV and Alpha 1 are amazing, while the dynamic range and the latitude in the RAWs mean I can bring out the best in even the harshest lighting situations. During this specific shoot with the Alpha 1, I had to fill the shadows, then underexpose slightly and lift the image a little in editing, for it to retain all the quality it needs to. These cameras have such great dynamic range, that it’s so easy.”
Working with the Alpha 1, “it’s incredible how effortless everything felt,” he beams, “and I loved how it twins the high resolution of Sony’s Alpha R series, like its 30fps burst mode. Another real plus is the Alpha 1’s higher 1/400sec flash sync speed. This makes it so much easier to add flash to ambient light flashes when you’re working in a bright setting, inside or out,” he comments. “It also means I can continue to use lights at full power and not go into the High Speed Sync where energy is lost. The Alpha 1 is just an amazing tool for wherever you shoot,” he adds.
“All of this control means I can interact with my subject and their expressions, knowing that for instance my focus will be spot on, thanks to Sony’s eye-detection AF. I mean, the AF alone would be a good enough reason to switch to Sony and never look back!”
Whether working in the studio or on location, “my go-to lens is the 24-70mm f2.8 G Master,” he adds, as it’s “an amazing tool that’s as good wide open as it is stopped down. So, while I’ll typically shoot at around f/11, I can open up to f/2.8 with the lights on low power and get the same amazing sharpness. The performance of the Sony lenses is almost impossible to beat.”
And so, the rest is up to Nicholas, “to make the expected happen in my images. That’s really the magic of working in portraiture,” he concludes.
"In the end, it’s not about how you see things, but where you let them take you."