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Photo Editor’s Art of the Golden Touch

Credits: Photographer: Joey L, Nate Hoffman, and Nikki Ormerod.

LA’s Nick Leadlay has, by his standards, a wonderful career in the worlds of fashion, celebrity and cars!. The UK-born and Canada-raised image specialist has graduated quickly to work on the hottest briefs and globally renowned festivals in the entertainment world for Getty Images.

The celebrity-focused whirl of LA is a world away from his humble beginnings as a car mechanic apprentice, car detailer and professional touring musician before getting into the photography business at the age of 30.

Yet, the modest Leadlay admits that in working at the top of his game, he is mainly self-taught in retouching images. He gained excellent experience with Joe Pugliese, the well-known entertainment and advertising photographer he still works with today.

Reflecting on his career, Nick said: “I started as a fashion photographer’s assistant in Toronto. Fashion isn’t that much different from entertainment as the model/clothing is the focus of the shoot.

“Through assisting, I began to retouch fashion shoots. At that time, fashion magazines began using celebrities in shoots, so I naturally started to retouch celebrities. A few years later, I retouched at the Toronto Film Festival for Getty Images and moved to LA as award season began.” He worked all the award shows for Getty Images and then worked at Sundance. “It was a whirlwind introduction to LA, but I loved it. Then I started working with Joe, which opened many other doors.”

Nick began assisting and learning photography in the fashion industry and quickly realized the work others were getting published had a specific look. “I wanted to figure out how people achieved that look. So I began to master it under the guidance of several mentors in the business.”

Nick admitted that as much as he has handled many images of celebrities and fashion stars, the one time that got him was retouching an image of Robin Williams. He explained: “I had to rush retouch an image of Robin the day he passed away for a magazine. When you retouch, it feels very intimate. So I felt very sad to know he had passed hours earlier.”

He is presently engaged on several projects. He said: “I still retouch a little bit of fashion and celebrity. I do a lot of advertising work for major brands, TV and film studios, and car campaigns. I’m a big car nerd, so that’s an area that interests me too.” He also co-owns a retouching business named Zone Five with his friend Nate, focusing on car and advertising work. He reflected: “The best part of the job is being my own boss. I also love being independent and controlling my destiny.”

For those seeking to pursue a similar photography career, he said: “Move to where the action is. I know it seems less necessary now post-Covid, but when you are starting, you get so much more done, especially networking-wise in the local field. Many prefer to work with local people. They seem to forget about you once you move away. I moved four times to get to LA.”

The animal lover, he has a cat and two dogs that he shares with his girlfriend Saira, admits to one more ‘dream job’ to tick off his bucket list. He said: “Being on set retoucher for a sitting President in the White House would be the ultimate. I have friends who have been on a shoot like that, so it’s not entirely out of the realms of possibility.”

Interview by Lea Carlsen Artist representation: SpLAshPR Agency


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