Behind the Lens with Photographer Nicole Mason

Impeccable photos, minimalist design, and worldly travels... Nicole Mason is a dreamboat creative with an eye for style and clean lines. Catch her if you can, this gal is always on-the-go. We were lucky enough to catch up with her this past summer on her West Coast road trip full of surf, sunshine, and salt. We wanted to know more about the mind behind the magic, this is our official sit-down interview with Miss Neek Mason. 

 

Welcome to Southern California, what do you think of it?

“I think I kind of miss the forest and overcast mornings.  I find a lot of inspiration in that weather.  I love on my drives in the morning I usually go to a coffee shop and there’s these layers of mountains that look different every morning whether it’s sunny or a little bit cloud… it’s just always different and I think that’s what inspires me about it that the weather changes so much and there’s always different lighting to shoot in. I don’t think I can do the sunny thing all the time.”  

How did you get started?

“I went to school for studio art and we touched on studio lighting in school but I mainly just taught myself photography. In college I learned black and white film and a lot of theory and history but came to shoot weddings, which I did for five years. I pretty much shadowed people and started shooting at a studio my first year in and then started my own business at the same time and it all kind of just snowballed together. I really just looked at a lot of peoples work online that I was inspired by and at the time I was still in Buffalo and I was seeing all these weddings on the West Coast and I was really inspired by that.”

What’s your favorite thing to shoot?
“I love documentary style rather than trying to pose people and mess with lighting and everything because I think it can take away for the actual moment. In the studio, I love showing the behind the scenes because it has such a raw feel with the backdrop walls and all the things that we have in there.”

You’re founder of The Portland Studio in Portland, Oregon, how did that all come to be? 

"I had rented a studio in the basement of the building the year before, it was the cheapest studio I could find in Portland. My friend who makes clothes in Portland came in one day and did a shoot of her stuff with a seamless roll. The building got purchased and I was only month to month so I didn’t really know when I would get kicked out or if the rent would go up.  I left that studio in about 2016 and spent a year traveling in my van for Portland to L.A. to Salt Lake City and back. 

I remember being super grateful every day, it was Portland winter overcast and dark and everyone was so depressed and I was feeling so grateful.  The accident I had really changed my perspective and I have a hard time explaining it to people because not many people have a had a near death experience I was so close to death yet I was so alive it was ridiculous.  I had a bruise on my body after I had like fully flipped over off the highway.  So then the studio started almost March of that same year.  A few months later I was just like what am I going to do living in this van, I really had no plan.  I thought of that building and I knew it was being renovated but I was like it’s so expensive what am I going to do with that I’m living out of a van and doing photography for a living.  So I went and checked out the space and I explained to the guy what I wanted to do and I was kind of surprised he was letting me write out what this lease would be to sublet it out to other photographers.  It was a total leap because I couldn’t afford the rent for the year if it didn’t work out.  The studio is in the same building that I had my basement studio in the year before. I knew it was small and wouldn’t be able to offer the same as what a lot of other studios were able to offer.  A couple of friends were there and I was like what should I name it and they were like how about the Portland studio. Word of mouth was so good with it and people were like oh have you been to the Portland studio and I go kind of lucky with not being able to come up with a name and going for the simple one.

I was surprised by the success of it in the first few months because my goal with it was just make the rent and then I’ll be happy.  It was just me in the beginning and a few months in I quickly realized Instagram was the way to get it out there, every photographer in Portland uses Instagram it’s pretty much the main marketing tool or us.  I definitely had a following so other people in Portland new about it pretty quickly.  A couple months in I realized I needed help with it as far as emails and everything because I was still doing my own shoots and traveling for weddings so I sent out a post on Instagram that I was looking for someone to help with the studio and got a bunch of responses from photographers but I knew that wasn’t what I needed I needed someone on the marketing side of things and made my first hire."

"Seeking out who I really want to work with has become very important to me."

Do you have any advice for people getting started in their photography career? 

"It’s going to be a different recipe for everyone starting something. It’s definitely all about balance.  I’m always kind of behind the scenes planning what’s next and that can be overwhelming.  Just focusing on one thing at a time is something that I’ve had to slowly learn.  You have to filter out what you can do and remember you are just one person.  It’s definitely messy there no real way to change that.  You really just have to focus and you’re going to disappoint people along the way and that something I also had to learn." 

What's next for you?

"Geographically I’ll be heading up the west coast.  And with photography I’ve got to take a break because the whole year has been a lot of projects and very time consuming and I’m ready to give myself a break to refresh.  I’ve kind of been looking into an artist residency to finally think about doing that.  I grew up doing art and being creative and photography was just one part of that I picked up my first camera when I was 7 and it was just a 35 mm film camera.  Photography was always a part of my life but I feel that way about a lot of other things.  I’m inspired by color pallet’s and design and I want to leave that door open so I can explore those other things and not get stuck in this photography path. I love it but there’s just so many other things and other ways we can go with creativity.  The studio is kind an extension of that you can do so much more than just photography." 

What inspires you? 

"I’m inspired by everything visually and it’s kind of confining for me to only look at photography for inspiration because there’s so much more than seeing the way someone else captures something.  Scrolling through Instagram is not going to give me any inspiration now because everyone is pretty much shooting whatever is going to get them the most likes.  I get sick of photography in a work environment and it feels refreshing to just pick up my film camera that I don’t associate with work whatsoever and go out to the beach with some friends.  I get burned out on my client work, I love what I’m making for them but at the end of the day it’s not what you crave to make." 

"I think everyone has a craving to make what they feel and you can’t do that with your client work."

Tell us about your tattoo (feather on her forearm)? 

A feather can be so fragile by itself but also so strong as the protection of a bird.  When its all together it can protect but by itself it this fragile thing that’s easily broken. To me it’s been a little metaphor as we’re better together. 

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