Sports Photographer Makes the Big League 

Gerald Leong is a freelance photographer for some of the biggest sports organizations in America: National Basketball Association (NBA), ESPN, and the College Football Playoffs. Ironically, he knew little about sports when he moved to America from Malaysia in 2016. 

A recruiter from the University of Central Oklahoma had visited Gerald’s school and intrigued him with the idea of a photography degree. Gerald moved to America with the dream of becoming an architectural photographer. Sports was not even on Gerald’s radar until he started taking athletic photos for the student newspaper, The Vista. 

“Malaysia doesn’t have high-level professional athletics, so except for playing some badminton, I knew little about American sports. My friends and clients think it’s funny that I’m not into sports. I don’t have a favorite team or players. Before a game, I usually ask which jersey number to be on the lookout for,” Gerald said. “To me, it’s not about being a fan, it’s about taking good photos.” 

On the Field 

With a college portfolio filled with sports images, Gerald interned in Florida photographing high school competitions and golf. His next assignment brought him to Oklahoma, assisting a photographer covering athletics at the University of Oklahoma. 

“Being on the field, watching the game in real time, is exciting,” Gerald said. “It’s pretty chaotic. I can hear the players breathing and smack talking, and sometimes I feel the wind go past me when a ball comes too close.” 

While sports photography has an elevated degree of danger compared to photographing buildings, Gerald believes that his initial focus on architecture gave him a good “eye” for framing. “Architectural photography is slow; sports is fast. You have just one moment to capture the action,” Gerald said, “but I use the same philosophy with both, by finding the leading line that draws attention to the main thing you want people to see.” 

Teamwork for the Team 

Gerald’s ability to photograph in a variety of situations has earned him a full-time career as a photographer for UCO, where he captures important moments on campus, from marketing images to the activities of President Todd Lamb. “Making UCO look good is my main commitment,” Gerald said. “Luckily, I have a flexible schedule that allows me to freelance on the side.” 

Gerald has had an array of after-hours jobs, such as taking headshots for the San Antonio Spurs team roster and making photo edits for ESPN during College Softball World Series. He even did an hour-long photo session with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who co-owns the United Football League. 

During National Championship games, Gerald works with a team of up to 15 other photographers. The stadium is set up with Ethernet cords at each end, so if Gerald captures a key moment or a “headliner shot,” he rushes to edit and submit it. 

“I immediately get tingly goosebumps when I know I got a winning shot!” Gerald said. “I say, ‘Yeah!’ to the camera in front of my face. And about five minutes later, it hits social media.” 

For Gerald, photography is a dream job that provides him with a high level of action and a chance to travel. “I’m grateful for this career, which I couldn’t have had in Malaysia. I’m happy to do my part for the team,” Gerald said, “and hopefully, someday I might earn a role as a photographer for a World Cup or even the Olympics.” 

To see more, follow Gerald on Instagram at @Geraldtheleong or on his website 

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