By Katie Heneghan, Senior Writer
Joe Hale’s fascination with track and field photography started on the opposite side of the camera. Hale has always been passionate about track and field and even competed at the Division 1 level at Manhattan College, but his true talents can be seen through his photography.
It’s difficult to convey Hale’s accomplishments, but in an article with Opal House Magazine, writer Ethan Hermann summed it up perfectly.
“Hale, according to his website, is ‘a freelance commercial photographer,’” Hermann wrote. “According to social media, he is @jkh_photo, based in New York City. If you ask most runners out there, he is the photographer for the professional running group Tinman Elite out in Boulder, Colorado.”
Similar to his collegiate track and field career, Hale’s photography career began at Van Cortlandt Park during his junior year of high school. When a fellow athlete lent him a DSLR camera, something instantly clicked—literally.
“I really enjoyed shooting that day, and after that, I took my high school’s photo class. Eventually, I saved up from my summer job and bought my own camera. In my senior year, I was on the cross-country and track and field team, and brought my camera to all of my races, taking photos of my friends on our team and in our league,” said Hale.
Hale’s journey as an athlete brought him to the Bronx, but the connections he would make within the track community allowed him to progress his freelance photography career beyond what he ever could have imagined. While he specializes in commercial photography with a heavy focus on track and field athletes, his work has grown in scope and range significantly.
“I specialize in shooting commercial images for sports brands,” Hale said. “This means images are being put towards marketing efforts and campaigns that these brands use. A lot of my work happens in the track and field sphere, so that means lots in the “performance run” industry. I’ve been lucky enough to work with brands like Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Diadora, and On Running.”
Hale’s work has brought him around the country and to some of the biggest sporting events the track and field sphere has to offer.
“I also do enjoy shooting more editorial, coverage-based assignments as well. Still, in the running space, I’ll work with publications to cover various track and field events across the country. Some of my favorites have been the Olympic Trials, Millrose Games, NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, and NYC Marathon,” Hale told The Quadrangle.
Hale continues to grow his business and focus beyond Track and Field.
“I recently shot my first MLS game at Yankee Stadium and I’d love to shoot an NBA or MLB game sometime soon,” Hale said. “Even outside of sports, working with fashion brands and working in studios has become increasingly interesting to me. I have a small studio set-up that I keep in my dorm that I like to break out every once in a while when it fits for a job.”
Hale stepped away from his role as a student-athlete to focus on his business and studies. As a communications major, Hale has put his creativity to work in the classroom, while simultaneously managing a rather extensive business operation. Managing a photography business, traveling the country and balancing schoolwork is no small undertaking. Nonetheless, prioritizing his art and his business has paid off in a big way.
“I’ve spent countless weekends on the road and working when lots of my friends are out on Friday and Saturday nights,” Hale said. “Even if I’m not on the road, chances are on the weekend I’m grinding even harder on my photography work than during the week at school. I’ll probably be sitting at my desk sending emails or reaching out to anyone and everyone I can about upcoming opportunities and shoots. I don’t see it as a negative, but rather an investment. I figure it will be worth it down the line, and with the events I’ve gotten to go to and the people I’ve gotten to meet, I think it already has been.”
In terms of the highlights of his career, Hale points to his work with professional athletes and world-renowned brands as some of his most favorable art.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really cool people on a variety of projects over the past few years,” Hale told The Quadrangle. “When I first got to college, I was the photographer for a Hoka-sponsored track and field team, New Jersey New York Track Club. Also during this time, I was working as a photographer at The Armory, which is branded as ‘the fastest track in the world’. It hosts multiple competitions a year with fields full of Olympians and World Champions, and the events are always streamed on primetime NBC. It’s been super cool to get a behind-the-scenes look at the productions and see how they operate.”
When COVID hit the US in 2020 and classes went online, Hale took advantage of the flexibility of online classes to move to Colorado to further pursue his photography career.
In his podcast, “The Running Effect,” Dominic Schlueter describes Hale saying, “Joe is a man of many talents… He took a big step and had big ambitions. He didn’t expect to be Tinman Elite’s intern, but he ended up becoming their ‘Tintern,’ as they call him,”.
“I moved to Boulder, Colorado for a year and a half to work as a photographer and social media manager for an Adidas-sponsored professional team called Tinman Elite,” Hale said. “I photographed elite athletes at essentially every moment of their lives as they trained for the Tokyo Olympics. While I was focusing on their performances, the team was working on a collaboration for a sneaker with Adidas. I got to be a part of designing the shoe and discussing the marketing, to photographing the shoe for release. It was super interesting seeing the project from conception to release. Maybe the coolest part was seeing my photos used by Adidas globally on print, website, and social media platforms.”
Hale recalled seeing his work displayed at the Adidas flagship store in New York City, and the feelings of accomplishment that come with that kind of exposure.
“One day I was in the Adidas store on 5th Ave and happened to turn the corner and see my photo hung up on the wall. That was pretty special to see,” he said.
Despite working with Olympians, World Champion athletes and household name brands, Hale is still humbly inspired by athletes and photographers around the world, but also right here in the Bronx.
“Through my work, I’ve been able to meet and befriend a lot of my heroes as a high school and middle schooler,” said Hale. “From 9th to 12th grade, the lock screen on my phone was Matt Centrowitz, an Olympic Gold Medalist. When I got to Manhattan College, his dad was one of my coaches. He’d come and visit, and I’d get to photograph his training sessions. Even today, we always get to catch up when we’re at various events at the same time and stay in touch over social media.”
Oftentimes Hale turns to the sports photography community for inspiration and support.
Since creatives as a whole are quite underpaid and taken advantage of frequently, everyone is looking out for one another. There are plenty of super talented photographers, and I feel like we all draw inspiration from one another. We all basically go to the same competitions, so it’s fun seeing familiar friends and faces on the circuit throughout the year.”
Looking to the future, following his graduation from Manhattan College in May, Hale will continue his photography career in a grand way. Hale will be the team photographer for Portugal’s National Team at this year’s World Championships this coming summer.
You can find Hale’s extensive portfolio at http://www.josephkhale.com, or on Instagram @jkh_photo.