Nick Leoni turns his camera on the world of men
We caught up with Nick Leoni go behind-the-scenes of his work in the adult entertainment industry.
When did you start to explore your passion for photography?
When I was in high school. We had a darkroom, and I took 35mm black and white photography from 9th–11th grade. In 2005, my senior year, digital photography was offered, and I was able to learn Photoshop. I had several free periods, and found myself teaching other students photography whenever my art teacher wanted a break. I’ve kept at it since then, initially as a hobby and now for a living.
How would you describe your style of photography?
It’s a mix of a lot of things. For starters, I love colour - bright pops of colour in every photo. Looking at some of my photos might give you a sweet tooth, especially my event photography. Neons and bold colours make me happy. I like the balance of mixing fun colour with a little dark and a little sexy.
I love a lot of depth and several points of interest in a shot, to keep your eye wandering and wondering. I like mixing elements of fashion and art into my work. Capturing the moment is everything, whether that moment is dark and sexy, or exuding happiness and sunshine. I try to make every shot special in its own way.
In an Instagram world, it seems like everyone thinks they’re a photographer. What are some of the challenges in capturing a photographic portrait?
I think that there are a lot of great photo enthusiasts in an Instagram world. Some take it more seriously than others, and more power to them. I find Instagram to be a wonderful resource for inspiration, whether it comes from a seasoned pro or a new kid on the block.
The main thing for me that makes a good portrait is a good connection with the model. I pride myself on having an awesome vibe on my set, making my models comfortable, happy, and having fun during their shoots. They are in front of the camera for a reason, I make sure they feel special and that translates on film. It’s also much more comfortable for me as a photographer when my subjects are having a blast. I find out what music they like and crank it, and talk the entire time we shoot. Its like a super-fun hang-out session with strobes!
For what I like to call my ‘dudoir’ photography, it’s all about having the viewer look at one of my photos and feel a little rush of adrenaline and excitement. I want the model looking at the lens so intently that the viewer can feel it. I want their heart to skip a beat. Getting a guy to exude that sexual confidence is an incredible feeling, and capturing that moment is everything to me.
Portrait photography does come with its fair share of challenges though. Sometimes the stars don’t align, and it’s difficult to find the inspiration and magic. Sometimes the subject is unwilling to open up, sometimes your equipment fails, or there’s a power outage. You have to put on your thinking cap and have a ‘make it work’ moment.
You specialise in photographing men - why is that the subject that draws your eye?
I started working in the adult film industry when I was 21, and that’s all I knew. Being a gay man myself, I like to capture what I’m attracted to.
I worked for studios that have a certain look for their guy – usually younger, muscles, nice assets. Although it’s super-fun lighting a man to enhance and showcase his muscular features, I really enjoy shooting more mature, bearish guys. Now that I’ve taken a porn-hiatus, I’m focusing on expanding to shoot all shapes, sizes, ages, and genders.
The world of fashion and beauty photography focuses mostly on women, it’s nice to find a unique point of view photographing men in a less saturated field.
Your work features a lot of gay porn stars — who have been some of your favourite performers to photograph?
I love my boys. Some of my absolute favorites are Austin Wolf, Micah Brandt, Skyy Knox, Johnny V, Ryan Rose, Derek Bolt, Gabriel Cross, Arad Winwin, Roman Todd, Sergeant Miles, Josh Conners, Tyler Roberts, Seth Santoro, and Sean Maygers. Those names were immediately off the top of my head. Those are my go-to guys when directing and photographing. They all bring it and make my job so enjoyable and fun. I know its going to be a great day whenever any one of those guys are in front of my lens.
Who are some of your photography heroes or inspirations?
I adore the work of Gabriel Goldberg, Nick Knight, and of course Annie Leibowitz. They all have such brilliant and exciting points of view. But my absolute favourite photography inspiration, and idol, is Steven Klein. He’s such a visionary. I aspire to be as cool and to grow my talents anywhere near his.
I also pull from the fashion world for inspiration. Whether it’s a powerhouse like Alexander McQueen, or a smaller fetish fashion label, such as Rough Trade Gear or Slick It Up. They all inspire me to incorporate their apparel into my work, or they give me an exciting idea for a shoot.
What took you from New York to San Francisco?
I finished college for Special FX make-up and moved back home to Long Island to get on my feet. Any creative from Long Island will tell you that they want off that island as soon as humanly possible. I met a man and had a long-distance for a bit, as he lived in Los Angeles. I wound up moving there for him, and a better prospect for a more liberated life. I started working for an adult company very quickly after I moved to LA.
The relationship didn’t work, but I stayed on the west coast. I made weekend trips to San Francisco and made the best group of friends I ever had. Something about the city of San Francisco just has magic to it. I put it out on social media that I wanted to move to San Fran, and very quickly a major adult label out there got in contact to hire me. That made the transition very easy.