Melbourne in focus: Leigh Henningham

Here at Illuminate Gallery, we are thrilled to house new prints from one of Melbourne’s most iconic street photographers, Leigh Henningham. With striking light illuminations, breathtaking architectural compositions and a gift for catching the perfect moment, Leigh has his lens finely tuned to the imagery of his beloved city. We caught up with the artist to get some insight into his process, his relationship with natural lightscapes and the love he holds for one of the world’s most liveable cities.

What first got you interested in photography?

As a child, I was fascinated by Life Magazine, which ran full-page photos on quality stock from far and exotic places. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, it was a fascinating window to the world beyond my own of suburban Melbourne.

Can you tell us about your process, or a routine work day for you?

My day usually starts with me seeing what the weather is like outside, then judging if it’s worth going “fishing” for photos – just looking and seeing if the light is potentially good – and then jumping on my bike in the hope of catching something. I spend a lot of time around the shores of Port Phillip Bay, either at dawn or dusk, watching the light change the mood and atmosphere of what it illuminates. I also may see a facade, streetscape, architecture, or sculpture, then try and imagine what the scene is like in different light at different times of the day. Then I keep returning to the same spot to see how it looks until I think the light and composition is right for me – for example the ACCA building with its rusty walls is wonderful, but I kept going back until the light was as I wanted and was lucky enough to have just the right person walking by. Some pictures are just lucky and appear in front of me, but that is why I never leave home without my camera.



Do you have a favourite time of the day to shoot?

Either just before the sun rises, late in the day or twilight. The colour in the sky keeps changing from rich crimsons, to orange, yellow or blue. It can make for a wonderful backdrop or canvas to whatever other element I can manage to incorporate in the photo.

Your images really capture the essence of Melbourne. What does this city mean to you?

I love our city. I am lucky enough to have travelled to many great cities in Europe and the US, and when doing so I would always be very excited, with my camera seeing things for the very first time and photographing them. I have tried to bring this mindset to my photography of Melbourne. Even though I have lived here all my life every day, I step out into the streets and I try to approach subjects as though it’s the first time I have ever seen it.

What have been some of your favourite moments shooting in and around the city?

One week, I visited the same statue every morning before sunrise for five days in a row. The sculpture is called Miraggio and sits on the hill at the back of  of the Myer Music Bowl and I was hoping for a perfect dawn as a backdrop to its perfect silhouette. What I didn’t expect were three balloons in perfect symmetry behind it. The Music Bowl is wonderful at dawn right next to the city, but peaceful and you see the sun rise from behind the Dandenong Ranges as the city begins to hum and come to life. Then there is always the St Kilda pier that I often cycle past. Just the other day, it was a perfectly still morning and the reflections in the pools amongst the sand banks were just like a mirror and made for a great photo. As did just a few nights before, when I had a beautiful crescent moon setting behind the pier at dusk. The best moments are always the most unexpected.


You are really prolific on your Instagram account, @leighhenningham, posting incredible images regularly. Has your process changed since the rise of social media?

Yes, I often shoot thinking how will this look on a phone or small screen, as opposed to how I would shoot for the old broadsheet newspapers I have worked for, like The Age. So often I have photos relatively bold and simple. If it seems prolific, that’s just because I like taking photos and being outside, experiencing the elements, good or bad.

How do you think platforms like Instagram and Facebook have impacted photography as a field?

For me, it’s just a good way of self-publishing to, hopefully, an appreciative audience and then hopefully it can earn some money while maintaining my profile as a professional photographer. I also get ideas and inspiration from other photographers work.