Published: 27th Jan 2024 Images: Scottish Cycling

A picture speaks a thousand words

He may only have been taking professional photographs for two years, but 19 year old Andrew Leinster is already making waves in the sports photography world, having made the shortlist for the prestigious Mark Gunter Photography Awards.

Now a regular for Scottish Cycling at National Championships across the full range of cycling disciplines, Andrew’s style and storytelling has come on leaps and bounds over the last few years, having started out just three years ago by borrowing his Dad’s camera and uploading pictures of his mates messing about on bikes to Instagram.

A passion for cycling, a creative flair and a drive to improve all shine through when you look at his photos, a welcome face at events as he helps to tell the stories of riders and racing alike.

To be nominated for the Mark Gunter Awards can be a career highlight for some photographers,  but such is his rapid rise, and youthfulness, Andrew admitted he wasn’t even aware of their status.

“I didn’t know about the awards until, whilst working at the Scottish Track Champs I was chatting to Jude Bytheway (who is also a finalist) and she suggested I should enter, so I went home and looked it up, put an entry in and ended up getting selected!”

Leinster is well aware of his ‘competition’ though, as he said with a smile:

“I’ve got most of their work up on my walls! When I started taking pictures, these were the people I looked up to. I’d go on Instagram and scroll all the way to the bottom of their page to see where they started and their path from hobbyist to top flight professional. I’d print out my favourites and I’ve got them all over my walls, especially the ones from Grand Tour races, big road scenes, and a lot of mountain bike stuff.

“Seeing how they’ve done and trying to do that myself has been what I’ve been trying to work out, so to be listed alongside them for this award is really cool! There are some people who I hadn’t heard of, but I now follow them and can take inspiration from them too.”

It was a photo of honorary Scot, Ryan Lateward, who is also the Scottish Cycling Sprint Coach, that really captivated the judges attention, as Andrew explains:

“There are a few from the day that I really like, and a few that I actually preferred, so the curious part of me would love to know why that one specifically got chosen. It was off the cuff and an unplanned shot. Ryan had done his kilo effort, and I was focussing on getting other pictures of Ryan, as I knew he’d place quite highly in the event, so I was focussing on getting usable action images. But then he came off his effort and was just burst, so sat down against the glass and other people took his bike away, but I managed to run along and grab the reflection of him in the panels.

“I’d been taking photos using the panels all weekend, as a bit of a new angle when shooting at the track, and it just happened to line up perfectly!”

Track is a new discipline for Andrew, having never ridden the velodrome, but something he has grown to love pretty quickly.

“I grew up racing and riding mountain bikes, from pretty much when I could walk, so that was the environment I’m most familiar with and it was where I first worked for Scottish Cycling. I was initially a bit unsure about branching out into track or road and going into those environments, as it’s somewhere I’ve never been before. But I’ve quickly found they’re all interesting, colourful, thriving genres of cycling, and the track particularly has been so interesting and fun to shoot year on year.

“Track has actually been a real touchstone of how I’m doing as a photographer – the first year I did it I really enjoyed it but was still quite new to event photography, and learned so much from that. The next year I came back and just wanted to improve on everything, take better pictures, and it was helped by having slightly better gear at that point. This year I had three whole days to experiment, get more creative imagery and spend more time getting to know the people and tell their stories. For example, there were two sisters (the Johnsons) racing together in the Team Sprint for the first time, so just interacting and absorbing the community more has been fun.”

Going right back to the start, it’s quite inspiring to hear Andrew tell the tale of where it all began:

“Around 2019/2020, which is now a pretty historic year (!), coincided with me being injured and I couldn’t ride for a while. I was also falling a bit out of love with racing, having done it for so many years, and I just needed something new. I’d also done a bit of a whistle stop of all the creative disciplines, as I’d worked out I needed something creative in my life, but had never found the right one.

“So I borrowed my Dad’s camera and went out with a group of friends on the bike, and just captured what we were doing and put it on Instagram. I couldn’t ride much, so I just took pictures of them doing jumps and digging trails. My Grandad is a professional cycling photographer as well, so he’s a bit of an inspiration to me, and sort of made it visible as a route I could go down.

“For a year or two I just posted on Instagram, and you can see all the iPhone pictures I put up there for the first year, just edited on my phone and posted instantly. I then started going to events, starting with Dunkeld Enduro, and I loved it so much that the very next weekend I went along to the Glencoe round of the SDA (Scottish Downhill Association) where I actually forgot my laptop charger.

“That evening I was editing pictures and my laptop was about to die, so I just put a note out asking if anyone had a charger I could use. Grant Murdoch from the SDA invited me into the SDA cabin where they were having a bit of a doo, and I just sat in the corner, age 17 and quite intimidated, just editing pictures. Over the course of the evening a few people came over and were like ‘oh that’s really cool’ or ‘that’s well sick’ and it just made me feel really welcome.

“The next weekend after that was the Scottish Champs at Fort William and after a recommendation from Grant I believe, you guys [Scottish Cycling] asked me to shoot the Champs for you, and that was my very first mountain bike work. I was super excited and spent all week researching what I needed to do, packing my bags etc. I remember not having a camera bag at the time, so I just emptied all my maths homework out of my rucksack, wrapped my cameras in hats and chucked them in!

“Since then I’ve shot every single SDA race I’ve been able to get to, plus a heap of events for Scottish Cycling, and I guess it was all off the back of starting that Instagram page!”

From that comes a pretty simple message – life is all about giving things ago – it might take 100 different activities before you find your passion or talent, but you’ll never know until you give it a try.

Now he’s establishing himself as a cycling photographer with bags of talent, how far does he want to take it?

“I’m loving it at the minute, and really liking where it’s going, but I’m still in my second year at the University of Dundee studying Product Design, so that limits what I can do at the moment, but after Uni it’s definitely something I’d like to consider doing, either full-time or alongside another role. But it’s definitely something I want to pursue, put it that way!”

And what’s his dream event? Well that was an easy one, answered without even a moment’s hesitation.

“I’ve already done it with the World Champs!”

Asked to pick a particular highlight, Andrew added:

“I loved shooting the Freestyle BMX! There’s not much of it in Scotland, and I had to make time between other events to get there. There was one day in the Tweed Valley where I was working in the morning, but then I drove up to Glasgow and caught the last hour of the Men’s Finals, but it was so much fun.

“In the future I’d love to shoot some free ride stuff like Red Bull Rampage or Hardline, things like that, but overall I’m just loving shooting all cycling events, especially the big ones where you get the stories, the atmosphere, the crowds and all those details.”

You can follow Andrew via that very Instagram page here: @andrewleinsterphoto