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Interview: Photographer Leigh Righton on Influences, Environment & Music

Leigh Righton | Photographer | Stated Magazine Interview


Leigh Righton is a photographer based in Vancouver, BC who has shot a diverse variety of subjects, from celebrities such as director David Lynch (a shot that won her an Applied Arts award) to the Canadian outdoors. Her work has been seen in high-profile publications including SPIN, Playboy, The LA Times, London Times, and The Georgia Straight. After connecting with her on Twitter, she was kind enough to give us some insight into her process, background and a recent eye-opening health scare.

stated: Thanks for joining us. Would you mind giving us some insight into your creative process?

LEIGH RIGHTON: Because the elements involved in each shoot vary, my creative process and my approach will depend on what is involved. I will initially work with my client to discover the specific outcome they wish to achieve. Sometimes they already have a clear vision, sometimes there is a collaboration, and sometimes I am hired with free creative range. They all need different approaches.

Whenever I am photographing people, I take into consideration the talent I am working with and brainstorm ideas based on their unique personalities/traits. Often, after I have collected the basic requirements of a shoot, it will take days of bouncing ideas (either with others or internally) before the right concept for that specific photo shoot will come to me. I do make sure to leave room to experiment or play on the energies or ideas that may start flowing once the session begins. Some of my favorite shots were those I hadn’t planned.

A large part of my creative stylizing occurs in post. I see this aspect of photo creation as a whole other means with which to take the image even further creatively. I will play with the images in Adobe Lightroom initially to experiment with color tones and overall adjustments before I import them into Photoshop. If I am working on a high concept where lofty post-production work will be required, I will map out my vision in advance and plan out the rough composition, shot list, and execution that will assist in a smooth session and simplify how things will come together in post. Sometimes I get inspired to modify the images greatly from the original idea, taking it in an entirely new and an unexpected direction. I get excited as I move along from prep, to shoot, to post, where the tools available will motivate me to make changes and experiment with directions I wouldn’t have thought to go until I’m in there working on the image or with that specific individual or group. The dynamics of a session can really make or break the results.

stated: How did you get started?

LEIGH RIGHTON: My interest in photography was sparked in high school. I was very interested in the arts in general and photography was just one of those mediums. While I was working in the music industry, I had a friend who was becoming more and more involved with photography and would forward me links and share info and I suddenly found myself getting really excited about photography. I ended up getting a number of images into a group show at a cafe that were all shot with my little point-and-shoot camera, and to my surprise, all my images sold out. I was really surprised that even strangers liked my photographs enough to pay for them it wasn’t just my family! After that show, I decided to take a more serious approach to my hobby and eventually got a job with an incredibly talented advertising photographer in town where I was lucky enough to be thrown into the fire of a busy and successful photography studio. I was the studio manager and in-house photo shoot producer, which came with long hours and a big learning curve, but one I am so grateful for to this day. There is nothing like learning in a hands-on environment.

stated: Sink or swim, I suppose. Who are some of your influences?

LEIGH RIGHTON: My influences first came from my family. I grew up in a creative atmosphere with a very artistic family. They have always been encouraging and supportive of me to pursue a career in whatever field I’m most excited about at first it was music, and now it’s photography.

My visual influences include a vast range that may not seem to have a common thread, but they do to me! My brother, Dave Righton, is a talented visual artist (though he’s too humble to admit he deserves such a title); my father, Colin Righton, a painter; Tim Burton, David Lynch, Annie Leibovitz, Hugh Kretschmer, Matt Barnes, etc., and as flaky as it may sound…all the people in the world who I come across have a huge influence there’s no better place to draw from really! People are fascinating.

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stated: Indeed, they are. It’s great your family was so supportive of your work. Growing up in a family of fellow artists, did you ever feel any pressure or competition? Even if only of a friendly nature?

LEIGH RIGHTON: My family is pretty small and we’re all quite close. I’ve never really felt a sense of competition between us. In fact, I have always been encouraged and have had the mindset that celebrating each other s talents and accomplishments is far more beneficial then being competitive. I feel this way toward the industry in general. Not to say that competition is negative I just love that there is an open forum available in groups and online where we are free to share information and encourage one another to learn and progress. It feels good to know that your work has inspired someone; it feels good to learn from someone and to utilize that knowledge and create something of your own. Exchanging ideas and methods helps to drive each other and I think it’s an important community to establish and foster. If you are secure about what you do, you aren’t worried about creating competition by sharing information.

stated: That’s a great outlook. You’ve photographed a wide variety of subjects, from celebrities to the Canadian outdoors. Environment clearly plays a large role in your work. How do you find it changes your approach from shoot to shoot?

LEIGH RIGHTON: Environment is a very major element. My approach to lighting changes significantly from when I’m shooting outdoors using mainly natural light to when I am in studio in a more controlled lighting situation. I enjoy them both equally but for different reasons, and they each have their own set of benefits and challenges.

The focus of the image will somewhat rely upon the backdrop or environment to some degree. If I am working with a model, their poses and interactions will vary depending on the environment we are working with.

Kdon shot by Leigh Righton Esthero shot by Leigh Righton
LL Cool J by Leigh Righton Dandiwind by Leigh Righton

stated: I suppose we can’t help but be affected by our surroundings, as would your subjects, many of whom are musicians. Are you a musician yourself or involved in music?

LEIGH RIGHTON: I initially got into shooting musicians and music because I was highly involved in the music industry for years before I moved more seriously into photography. I went to school for audio engineering and music recording and did a lot of live sound, some studio recording and mixing. I also did promotion work at a music distribution company for four years for bands and labels mainly based overseas.

Photographing music was a natural marriage for me given my passion for both. There were always new press kits coming in from bands that I had to sort through at the music distro company I worked for, and the running joke in the office was always the promo shots. A band’s image (whether it’s wrong or right) plays a large role in whether someone will pick up their demo and give it a listen. I wanted to work with musicians who were seeking a unique style and something that would stand out against the rest. General rule of thumb…no brick walls.

stated: Ahh, but they’re so dramatic! What have you been working on lately?

LEIGH RIGHTON: At the moment, I am planning out a really fun personal series that I hope to have shot and ready to exhibit by the end of the year. I also just received notification that my image of David Lynch was an Applied Arts award winner for this years’ annual photography contest in their ‘Young Blood’ category. I’m very excited and honored to be included amongst the names on the winners list.

A little while back, I coordinated an event with local fashion designer Kim Cathers. I exhibited my new fine art collection and Kdon released her fall collection which included a fashion show. It was a pretty big night for us, we had renovated the space significantly, had Natureland Hefeweizen organic beer sponsor us, and included a charity raffle through The Red Cross in support of the Pakistan Flood Relief with prizes donated by local businesses. We had an incredible turnout and it was an amazing collaboration.

Image Credit: Victoria Canning

stated: That’s great. You’ve already had quite a start to the year. I know you recently shot musician Esthero and had your appendix out rather unexpectedly. Can you share a bit about that experience? Do you feel having gone through something like that has affected your perspective?

LEIGH RIGHTON: It has been a busy start to the year! Despite the unexpected hospital visit, things haven’t slowed down. I recently went live with a new company name, website design, and identity, which was a large shift. I put to rest my halo name Mad Mannequin Photography, and decided for the sake of simplicity that I would go by my real name, Leigh Righton.

The experiences related to the appendicitis absolutely triggered a shift in perspective. The complications I faced in recovery really served as a reminder that I don’t have all the time in the world, and gave me more sense of urgency to get moving on the goals I have set out. And wow, what a huge appreciation I have for the Canadian health care system now. What a blessing! I had planned to be in the United States at the time.

stated: Well, we’re certainly glad you’re with us safe and sound. Thanks so much for joining us, Leigh.



Sara Holbert, stated artist and illustrator, was drawn to Leigh’s surreal photography and asked…

SARA HOLBERT: I see that you have a great combination of classic portraiture and surrealistic photography that incorporates some editing. What is your favorite vein of photography, and why?

LEIGH RIGHTON: Photographing people is what I’m naturally drawn to. Both styles of portraiture mentioned are appealing to me for distinctive reasons, I wouldn’t say that I prefer one style over the other, they just require different approaches. I love that each individual I work with inspires a unique way of shooting. My subject controls how much of themselves they reveal to me and the camera, I capture my interpretation of that moment, and together we create a collection of visual exchanges.


Visit Leigh at:
Leigh on Facebook

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