Nick Leadlay, Photo Editor’s Flourish Brings Extra Edge to Career Image

From car detailer to photo editor in the worlds of fashion and celebrity, Nick Leadlay is one who literally has his career at his fingertips!

 The UK-born, Canada-raised, and now Los Angeles-based image specialist has graduated quickly to work on the hottest briefs and globally renowned festivals in the entertainment world for Getty Images.

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

 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.

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 has begun 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.”

In shooting his work, 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. Down the rabbit hole I went, and with a basic knowledge of Photoshop as I had previous web/graphic design experience, I began to master it again with the guidance of several mentors in the business,” he said.

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 as it was publishing a story about his death the next day. When you retouch, it feels very intimate. So I felt very sad to know he had passed hours earlier. I remember having trouble getting through that one.”

He is presently engaged in 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 usually work at night as the traditional 9-5 never suited me. 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. 

“Once established, you can potentially move to a less entertainment-focused city, but even then, it’s a risk. 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. All stepping stones, but it was worth it.”

Having checked out most of his “dream jobs” throughout his career, 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.”

Away from the business, he devotes a lot of time to his cat Abbie and two dogs, Callie and Monty. “They are insane and funny. But the biggest thanks goes to my girlfriend Saira for putting up with all of us,” he said.