✦ Andy Cheung gave up a successful career in the corporate world to pursue his dream and is now one of the most respected and talented sports photographers in the game. We catch up with him.
Imagine doing a job that you really enjoy. Like REALLY enjoy. As in you truly, genuinely love! Your job is your passion, it drives you from your heart day in, day out as opposed to being something that merely pays the bills. The notion of a dream job often conjures up images of athletes reaching the top of their sport, pop stars, astronauts or actors. However, countless everyday folk also enjoy the privilege of living to work as opposed to vice versa.
Andy Cheung is one such person. Born and raised in Hong Kong, educated in the UK, Andy spent a large portion of his working life in the IT industry, leading IBM’s strategic outsourcing business for Greater China. As his successful career progressed he had stints based in Taiwan, Beijing of China and Australia, before finally relocating to the latter and settling in Sydney. He enjoyed what he did and was well remunerated for his efforts. However, constant travel commitments with the role proved taxing, especially when he and his wife started their family and a yearning to spend more time at home and enjoy the experience of watching his children grow up made him consider whether he needed to change track.
Running simultaneously with this consideration was the distant idea that he felt he could turn a decades old hobby into a sustainable career. If he was to step away from the corporate grind then he would need a vocation or skillset that would serve him sufficiently well to enable him to support his young family. It was a big risk, giving up a respectable, well-paid job in a secure company to start out on his own. But Andy not only had the skills but he also backed himself to succeed.
Andy had gotten into photography in high school via an impassioned interest in astronomy. It became a hobby that he maintained throughout the years until it slowly but surely emerged as a true passion. Andy instinctively knew he had the talent, which, when coupled with a drive that nothing but passion can produce, would allow him to take the leap and set up his own business. He did that around 11 years ago, initially focused on providing family portraits, something Andy himself says he always finds “magical as they depict the most precious people in our lives.” His affable personality allowed him to create the perfect setting where he and the camera were very much secondary, meaning the families he photographed were at ease and thus the portraits captured a natural, warm and genuine dynamic as opposed to being staged or forced.
As the business flourished, Andy turned his hand to other projects, predominantly commercial work, which proved plentiful and successful. However, one day he was approached by a magazine which was running a story on tennis racquets around the Australian Open and needed someone to capture a few accompanying shots. Andy accepted the project and hasn’t looked back since, as sports photography has proved to be his calling, something the litany of prestigious awards over the years proves.
Since then Andy has progressed to become regarded and respected as one of the world’s leading sports photographers, specialising specifically in tennis. He regularly travels the world capturing action shots from Grand Slams, the Laver Cup, Davis Cup and Billy Jean King Cup ties, as well as many other ATP/WTA tournaments. He is staff photographer of the UK Tennis Magazine, British Tennis Coaches Council and a regular contributor to Getty Images and HK SportSoho magazine. In fact, chances are, many of the iconic shots you’ve seen from the courts of Wimbledon, Roland Garros, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Melbourne Park and beyond have been taken through the lens of Andy’s cameras.
He also captures other sports, covering major tournaments in golf, basketball, sailing and football (soccer). Most recently he was pitch-side to capture the thrilling action from the month-long extravaganza of football that was the FIFA Women’s World Cup, both on home soil in Australia and over in New Zealand, an occasion that will live with him long in the memory. “It was an incredible experience,” Andy tells us. “The atmosphere at the games was fantastic, in particular the Colombian fans who were so loud and joyous! The whole thing actually took me by surprise if I’m honest as women’s football has always been in the shadows of the men’s game but this took things to an altogether different level. I firmly believe this tournament will prove to be a game changer for not only women’s football but women’s sport in general, serving as a paradigm shift and driving towards greater equality and equal pay.”
The Matildas' semi-final showdown against arch-rivals England was the most watched event in Australian TV history, proof that the tournament captured the hearts of a nation that was previously openly ambivalent to the sport, something not lost on Andy. “The Matildas were incredible,” he recalls. “The atmosphere at their games was electric and the way their performances united a nation and brought people from different cultural backgrounds together to celebrate was phenomenal. People who were never fans before got to see first hand the magic of football and many people changed their opinion on the sport – I had several friends and colleagues who almost sort of had a derisory attitude of mockery towards football but their attitudes have now changed. Overall it was a great way to promote sport in general and not just women’s sports.”
Naturally, Andy was pitch-side for the final between England and Spain when a goal from Spanish captain Olga Carmona won the game. Carmona’s joy soon turned to despair when she learned her father had passed away during the game at home in Spain, something that was kept from her until she and her team were back in the changing room. Andy had stuck around on the pitch to witness and snap some of the players’ celebrations post-match, with one picture in particular of Carmona kissing her gold medal emerging as an iconic moment – in fact, the player herself Tweeted the image which received close to 14 million views at time of press and we were fortunate enough to be given permission by Andy to feature it as our cover photo in the September 2023 edition of Brilliant Magazine!
The fact Andy had stayed behind well after the game and celebrations had finished maybe gives an insight into what makes his pictures so compelling and unique. His is editorial photography where the pictures tell a story and it isn’t just the action shots. “You have anywhere between 50 to 70 photographers during the game capturing the same thing and therefore there can often be a fair bit of repetition. I like to think capturing more than just the action from the game, as with Carmona, is an example of differentiation. Moments like that can capture true human emotion that often speaks much louder than an action shot.”
Avalanche of awards
It is this approach that has resulted in Andy being bestowed with an avalanche of awards over a relatively short career, the majority in tennis which is what he considers himself best adept at. He was recognised as the AIPP NSW Sports Photographer of the Year in 2016 and 2017, he won the Photojournalism category in the 2021 and 2022 Asia Pacific Photography Awards, was a multiple winner at the WPE International Photography Awards, represented Australia at the World Photographic Cup in 2018 and 2021 and his work was exhibited at the Australian HeadOn Photo Festival from 2016 to 2022. He was awarded the distinction of Master of Photography by the New Zealand Institute of Photography in 2023. Most recently Andy won 2nd prize in the sports category at the 2023 International Photography Awards. Honestly, the list is way too long to mention in this article but a full run down can be found here.
Of course, such a decorated practitioner is not made by luck! A great deal of hard work and meticulous study goes into Andy’s craft to enable him to gain an advantage on others and capture that unique, iconic picture. “You need a thorough understanding of the sport so studying it and all the related variables is key,” Andy explains. “With tennis, for example, you need to decide where to best position yourself as you are at liberty to move around the arena. Preparation is critically important. Taking into account factors like the weather, how shadows can play out, the time of the day and so on are crucial. As are, of course, the technical skills of setting up the camera, almost having a mind map of where the play is going to go.”
One such example of this manifesting itself is a picture Andy took of Serena Williams at the 2017 Australian Open. The silhouette image of the tennis superstar is staggeringly beautiful, haunting almost and it rightfully won him a bounty of accolades. “I produce my own fine art prints and that one took about three years to produce,” he says proudly. Patience is a virtue, they say!
So, for someone who has snapped so many luminaries across so many top level sports, is there anyone Andy hasn’t yet photographed in action that he would like to, I ask him. “Tiger Woods,” he responds immediately. “I am fortunate enough to have photographed so many sports superstars but I have never had the chance to snap Tiger so that is definitely on the bucket list!”
It takes great courage to relinquish a position of security to follow your dreams and it is something few rarely do. Doing something you are so passionate about almost negates it being classified as a job. Coupled with a heavy dose of talent, the heartfelt passion shines through to create an end result of genuine beauty for all to marvel at. Andy Cheung, a master craftsman at the very top of his game, is absolutely in that bracket.
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