Cover Hong Kong photographer Brian Ching discusses his love for his hometown and inspirations behind his project with Hong Kong athletes (Photo: Gymnast Shek Wai-hung, courtesy of Brian Ching)

In Brian Ching’s latest photoshoot with Olympic athletes from team Hong Kong, the photographer captured the unique moments of them adopting creative training methods at home to stay in shape ahead of the Games amidst the pandemic. Here, Ching discusses the inspiration behind the shoot, his love for Hong Kong and how he has been telling powerful stories through his work.

A veteran talent in the photography world, Hong Kong photographer Brian Ching is known for his creativity, professionalism and attention to detail. He has a solid portfolio spanning across a wide range of genres, with over 20 years of experience of covering breaking news, major sports and political events around the world, including the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from Britain, the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, Football Association Challenge Cup (FA Cup), as well as Olympic Games.

On Ching’s own website and Instagram feed, you’ll find a collection of jaw-dropping shots featuring everything from architecture, people to Hong Kong scenery and the world’s most picturesque destinations. Among his many beautiful photographs are some perfectly timed time sports moments that capture the most exciting plays and raw emotions and energy of the athletes.

While the photographer has no shortage of exceptional works that have made the pages of renowned publications, one that caught our attention is his photoshoot with Olympic athletes from team Hong Kong. Ground-breaking in both composition and subject matter, the candid photos of Hong Kong athletes training at home during the pandemic were shared widely on social media and had received love and positive feedback from the local community.

With the Tokyo Olympics 2020 in full swing, we caught up with Ching to find out more about his background, his inspiration behind the photoshoot and how he has been expressing his love for Hong Kong through his art.  

See also: 20 Hong Kong Photographers On Instagram Who Capture The Soul Of The City

Tells us a little bit about yourself. How was your passion for photography born?

I was originally a theatre actor with a background in graphic design before pursuing a career in photography. It didn't take long for me to discover my passion for photography, as I always prefer using imageries over drawings to tell stories and create an emotional connection with the audience. After a year of studying design, I began seriously studying photography, and that was how my love for image-making started. Time flies—and I have been working as a full-time photographer for 26 years already.  
You are working in almost all genres such as people, travel, landscape and architecture. What’s your favourite genre and why?

I specialise in a wide range of genres not only because I'm a photojournalist who’s responsible for documenting major events around the world, but also my strong passion for photography. I’m happy shooting everything and I really can’t decide my favourite genre. Any place, person or thing can be a good subject and there are so many places to find inspiration for, as long as you’re passionate about photography.

I'm obsessed with photography that I seldom take time off and have always been dedicated my free time to taking photos in different places. Between 1999 to 2010, I worked tirelessly as a volunteer photographer for the Sports Federation & Olympic Committee of Hong Kong and took pictures for the organisation across all categories of sports. Before the pandemic, I have also been travelling around the world taking landscapes and architectures, including off-the-beaten-path destinations such as Patagonia, Bali and Ethiopia.  

How would you describe your photography style? What kind of feel or message do you want to convey in your work?

There’s a story to tell behind every picture, you just have to be willing to look and interpret. I’m always keen to tell inspirational stories and explore meaningful messages through my own work—I want to create photographs that are both personal yet relatable to a wide audience.

One of my favourite assignments that I’ve ever worked on, is the photoshoot dedicated to the hidden Hong Kong Paralympic heroes. As I started out as a theatre actor and had been surrounded by all design elements of stage production, including theatre direction and props for quite a long time, I tend to style my shoots with spotlight effect to make my subject stand out. It’s one of the most common aesthetics you would find in a theatre performance.

When it comes to sports photography, I often do assignments for fun rather than doing them for money or praise because of my pure passion for creating and sports. A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was never afraid to experiment with different angles and lighting.  

We loved your shoot with Hong Kong athletes about their creative training methods used at home during the pandemic. What stories are you telling through this shoot? Can you share your experience of photographing the athletes?

The idea of organising a photoshoot with Olympic athletes came to mind while I was watching live videos of Lee Ka-man, Hong Kong’s most successful rower, working out at a hotel while in quarantine after participating in overseas training and matches to qualify for the Games. I thought it would be a really cool idea if I can visit the athletes’ homes, and shoot them using innovative training methods to keep their athletic goals on track for the postponed Games. The photoshoot happened in March of last year. 

It was a bit challenging to arrange the setups and find the perfect angle to capture the athletes—as you know, Hong Kong is notorious for small living spaces. For example, when I was shooting gymnast Stone Shek Wai-hung doing weight training with rice bags, I even had to set up the camera at the ceiling to frame the shot.

Very few people are willing to make their homes presentable to strangers, so I’m truly grateful to the athletes who gave me their time and trust for this project. Throughout the whole process, I asked the athletes for opinions and learnt every detail of their training method to get the best out of the tight spaces. I wanted to have my photos look less documentary and more personal, genuine, making the project more of a love letter to Hong Kong.  

See also: Tokyo Olympics 2020: Hong Kong Athletes You Should Know

Your love for your home city Hong Kong shines through in your sports photography as seen on your portfolio. Can you talk us through your choices of subject matter and what draws you to the sports scene of Hong Kong?

I love Hong Kong. I love my city so much. Our city is small in size but this somehow allows photographers to understand each sport better, track the action better to create great pictures. One of the most common misconceptions people might have about sports photographers is that, they are good at covering all types of sports. But that’s not the case, a lot of foreigners might only be good at capturing a few sports their countries specialise in.

I enjoy taking sports photographs a lot because it gives me the opportunity to collaborate and build relationships with inspiring individuals. The process is totally different from the way how I interact with other subjects such as political figures and socialites, since not many of them would be willing to open up due to their backgrounds. To me, Hong Kong athletes’ willingness to be honest and vulnerable is inspiring for all. I’m eager to continue working on more projects with local athletes in the future... they do deserve more attention and support from us.  

Of all the sporting events that you have featured, have any stood out for you?

Real Madrid Football Club’s 2003 match in Hong Kong was remarkable as it’s rare to see so many outstanding football players on that one pitch. It was arguably the most star-studded team of the club in history, featuring big names including David Beckham, Raúl, Robert Carlos and Zinedine Zidane. I’m glad I had the opportunity to attend and photograph the event.

Formula One is one of my recent favourite subjects for sports photography. From its futuristic cars to unique race locations, there’s a lot to learn from top photographers from this photogenic sport. Everything needs to be carefully framed when photographing sports, and those racing events are no exception. Great pictures are a matter of luck sometimes—I can be intentional about creating work, but also very organised and spend a lot of time looking at references and plotting before the shoots.  

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers in Hong Kong?

Don’t ever try to copy what’s already out there—you need to work hard and be creative. Use your camera as a medium for self-expression and don’t be afraid of breaking the norms or being judged by others. That’s the only way to create high-quality work, and if you imitate someone else’s style, your audience will never get to see and know who you are.  

What’s your next project?

I’m currently working on a new exhibition for Food Angel at Hysan Place in Causeway Bay. I’m also going to start a photoshoot for the Equal Opportunities Commission to shed light on sexual and racial discrimination issues in Hong Kong. A new photoshoot with Hong Kong is also on my radar, but I’m still finding a story angle and deciding on the project timeline, hopefully it will be completed before the 2022 Asian Games. 

See also: Hong Kong Through The Lens Of The City's Street Photographers