Fast Lane In Focus
Joe Hale is always on the move, whether running for fun, or chasing around a stadium to photograph the world’s leading athletes in his own unique way
Photography by Joe Hale
New York-based photographer Joe Hale is immersed in his local running community, he describes himself as a ‘running nerd,’ so he is living his dream, photographing some of the world’s leading track and field athletes at major events. At just 22-years-old, Joe’s energy and sense of fun shines through in his reportage style images, which often feature female athletes, as he believes they are the biggest stars. Joe is also a co-founder of Footstep Creative, an agency that brings together other young talent to work on projects who might otherwise have been overlooked. Joe tells us about his photographic journey, the female sprinter that he would most like to photograph and why he hopes to work in Europe in 2023.
Glorious: When did you discover that you wanted to pursue a career in photography, and how did it begin?
Joe Hale: My photography career started in high school. I always liked cameras, I got a GoPro when I was about 13. I picked up a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera) for the first time at my friend’s cross country meet at Van Cortlandt Park junior year. (Little did I know I’d be living there only a few short years later). After taking photos at that meet, I really enjoyed it and kept borrowing my friend’s camera when he had it on loan for his photography class. Eventually, I got to save up enough money to buy my own – and the rest is history.
Glorious: Do you work on your own or do you work with a team?
Joe Hale: I predominantly work on my own, but I recently started a creative agency, Footstep Creative, with some friends to tackle bigger projects. We’ve all worked together informally, but just finished our first official project together gathering content for TCS for the Chicago, Toronto, and New York City Marathon. I’m really proud of all the work we made.
Glorious: Did you grow up ’sporty?’ What sports do you play/ follow?
Joe Hale: Definitely. I played just about every sport until it got to the level where kids would get cut. Baseball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, swimming, you name it, I did them. I realised pretty quickly that I wasn’t too coordinated though, and that’s when I turned to running. I always won the gym class mile, so realised I was pretty good at putting one foot in front of another
Glorious: You often feature female athletes in your work, why is that? Do you follow women’s sports and if so, which sports and why?
Joe Hale: For sure! The work I predominantly do is in running and track and field, and I have always enjoyed how there is far less gender separation than in other sports. In high school and college, we always practised with the girl’s team and I enjoyed that. Now as a photographer, it is really cool to photograph men’s and women’s races at the same competition. You don’t see that in other professsional sports. You either have a men’s competition or tournament, or women’s, never both. I often get more excited about shooting the women’s events, as I think that the biggest stars of the sport are women, such as Athing Mu, Faith Kipyegon, Sydney McLaughlin.
Glorious: You photograph a lot of professional events, especially track and field. What is your favourite event to shoot?
Joe Hale: As you’ve probably figured out by now – I’m a huge running nerd. That started in high school, and over time I have just become so ingrained in the community that all my friends are runners, most of my work is based around running, it’s a big part of me. As for my favourite event to shoot, any of the NCAA Championships. You don’t get a team competition on the elite professional stage that much, so when it is on display on the college scene, it’s such a good time. I also love the schedule that is set up for it, as there is so much high quality racing packed into only a few hours each day.
Glorious: We love your reportage style imagery which is often quite different to many other photographers capturing an event for instance. What are some of your favourite recent images?
Joe Hale: I’ve never really been a fan of the stock photo look that comes across most of the time in sports photography – it’s boring, and a lot of people could photograph it. I try to take photos that include a lot of intangibles – intimate access, a great relationship with the athlete or subject, or just a photo that only I could make. A lot of the photographers on the scene are older and prefer to sit in one spot and shoot away. I’m much more mobile, running all over the stadium or race course trying to hit as many vantage points as I possibly can.
Glorious: As a photographer, you have to travel – is travelling another passion, or just part of the job?
Joe Hale: It’s just a part of the job. I’m not anti-travel, but it can get a bit old when you’re on the road for the fourth or fifth week in a row. But I’m always grateful for the trips. I’ve been able to spend so much time in parts of the country, and now around the world where I wouldn’t have been able to visit before. Plus, I do love seeing my Delta status get closer and closer to levelling up.
Glorious: Where are your favourite destinations to shoot and why?
Joe Hale: Any race in New York – the energy is always unmatched. As for on the track, Hayward Field at the University of Oregon in Eugene. There’s so much history at the facility, and even though it’s technically a new track, there’s still almost always ‘Hayward Magic’ in the air. Plus, every event I attend there is almost some sort of championship, so as a fan it is super exciting to watch. But I still have to hit the Europe track circuit and I hear that some of those meets are electric. I’m hoping to get to a few of those next summer. Hit me back in eight or nine months and I’ll let you know how they stack up to the domestic competition.
Glorious: You photographed the recent New York Marathon, tell us about this experience.
Joe Hale: This year’s NYC Marathon was different from the past, as I was working to gather content for the title sponsor, TCS. They had a team of over 700 runners including employees, teachers, and clients, so there was a wide variety of runners to choose from. Luckily they knew we were there, so if I saw a person I’d scream ‘Team TCS’ and most of the time they’d look up for a photo. This year I was at the finish line, and it was a crazy experience with so many people shattering their goals and so many people falling short. Plus the weather this year did not really cooperate with marathon running so it created a whole new element of chaos. People were dropping left and right once they had crossed the finish line due to heat stroke, dehydration, and exhaustion, only for medics to come sprinting in with a wheelchair and cart them away. It’s truly one of the most special places I ever shoot from, but also for sure the most chaotic.
Glorious: You’ve shot for some pretty impressive clients, what are your favourite commercial images/ shoots etc?
Joe Hale: Some of my favourite commercial shoots are when I’m working with my friends on set. We have the most fun making stuff together, and I think that really comes through in the work. Plus, it’s enjoyable when you get to travel together and explore a little outside of the project. Right now, some of my favourites have been for the good people at Bandit, as well as a recent edition of New Generation Track and Field magazine. I shot all but eight photos in that issue, so it was really rewarding to see in person. My favourite shoot for that issue had to be the cover – American sprinter Twanisha “TeeTee” Terry was great to work with and brought the best attitude to the set. We also captured some fun images with the studio owner’s dog, who happened to be around that day and ready to make his modelling debut.
Glorious: Who is your favourite female athlete you’ve ever shot and why?
Joe Hale: Athing Mu – I used to work at the Armory which is an indoor track facility in New York City. I got to watch her beat up on girls in her local high school races, and now to watch her win NCAA, USA, Olympic, and world titles is incredible. It’s not every day that you get to see that. Shoutout Athing, such a homie.
Glorious: Which female athlete do you admire and want to photograph?
Joe Hale: I would love to do a fashion campaign with Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce. I know I keep bringing up track and field athletes, but SAFP deserves to be a mainstream superstar. Check out her hair on any race day, and more impressively the variation from days before and after, and you’ll see why I made her my pick. I must get in contact with her stylist. She’s crushing the game, Shelly would bring some great energy to a studio, and some crazy drip to go with it.
Glorious: When you take photographs, what do you want people to see and feel?
Joe Hale: Much of what I like about photos is the fun I have with the process – being able to experience cool events and meeting incredible people. That probably sounds quite self-centred, but if I’m having fun making the photos, I hope that process and energy comes across in the final product. I’ve never been the type of photographer to be absolutely obsessed with the technical side of taking photos. I try my best to follow the rules, but if the composition isn’t perfect at the end of the day – oh well. I think if people look and think a photo is cool, or makes them want to find out more about an event, brand, or person, that’s a job well done.
Glorious: What photographers inspire you?
Joe Hale: So many – I spend probably too much of my day on IG finding new people to follow and going through their work. There are so many talented people in the running space, but I have also started looking into the music and fashion space of late. Here are some that you should definitely check out: Pim Rinkes, Brenden Clarke, Ben Weingart, Cortney White, Nick Carnera, Jason Suarez, Emily Maye, Connor Surdi, Chris Vill, Henry Kornaros… the list could go on and on. I stay lurking on IG stalking people for the inspo boards.
Glorious: Can you tell us what you’re working on next and what we can expect from your future projects?
Joe Hale: Hopefully more interesting and unique work, as well as more travel. The track and field World Championships is in Budapest next year and I’d love to get there. On the more immediate radar, local NYC running work between various brands and races. I’m also working really hard to photograph an NBA/WNBA game this year – that would be really cool. In terms of Footstep Creative, we’re at the point of trying to bring in as many talented young people our age onto projects, a bunch of 20 somethings that bigger brands or corporations would never even have on their radar. Hopefully we can keep landing projects that allow us to push the needle on work that younger people in the industry can produce. You might not need a rep, or 20 years of shooting to tackle projects with well known companies. If you are a grinder like we are and share the same attitude and are crushing in your niche, we want to work with you.