Behind the Lens: Joe Hale
“I’m just a guy with a camera who likes meeting people and running.”
When asked to describe himself to people who don’t know him, Joe Hale’s simple, one-sentence response came back across the Zoom connection in less than four seconds.
Hale, according to his website, is “a freelance commercial photographer.” 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.
So, can a New York photographer with ties to Colorado and professional running be summed up in a single sentence? Hale’s pared-down answer is, at its core, correct. However, there is clearly more to the man behind the lens.
Hale was born and raised in Schenectady, New York, and attended Niskayuna High School. For those unfamiliar with the competitive running regions of New York State, Niskayuna is in the famed Section 2, known for its running powerhouses and cold winters on the eastern side of the state.
Hale ran just about every possible running season he could from seventh grade until graduation, competing in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track for the Silver Warriors.
While Hale ran his way through his middle and older childhood years, it wasn’t until his junior year of high school that his current passion and life began to take shape.
“A friend of mine who went to Siena [College] was running his regional meet at Van Cortlandt Park, and I went to watch him race,” Hale explained. “I borrowed a friend’s really nice camera to take photos of the meet, just playing around with it.”
Hale loved the experience, and he eventually got his own camera, traveling to high school meets and taking photos. His credibility began with his networking skills, as Hale met and befriended heaps of runners across the state through running and photography.
“I was really good friends with people in my league and section, and through that people started to use my photos. I really got into it after that.”
By the time his senior year rolled around, Hale made his collegiate running and academic decision to run at Manhattan College in New York City. That decision, however, was also influenced by his desire to further his photography.
“I picked Manhattan in the back of my head as New York being a good place to take photos with a good running culture,” Hale explained.
Flash forward to the fall of 2019 — Hale is a sophomore at Manhattan College, running for the Jaspers and taking more and more photos. He had been working for The Armory, chronicling the running scene at the famed indoor track while going to university, and was given the opportunity to photograph the 2019 5th Ave Mile.
While Hale was working the race, he met one of Tinman Elite’s runners, Sam Parsons.
“I had on one of the OG Tinman Elite shirts, and I went up and introduced myself, and took a picture with him,” Hale said of his first encounter with Parsons.
The Joe Hale-to-Tinman Elite connection didn’t happen immediately, but that was the start of it. Hale and Parsons kept in touch, and after a scammer on Craigslist robbed Hale and his friend [the infamous @trackgenes on Twitter] out of $1,200 and a rental place in Boulder, Hale was scrambling his way out West in the summer of 2020.
He luckily found a new place and shot Parsons a message, letting him know he was going to be in town and was willing to help, even if it meant just taking photos or folding t-shirts.
Parsons replied, and Hale began helping out Tinman Elite in his free time.
“Honestly, folding hundreds of t-shirts is really fun,” Hale said through a chuckle.
Hale helped with apparel, photographed Tinman’s workouts, and found himself feeling very fulfilled over the pandemic summer. When Manhattan kept its entire 2020-2021 academic year online, Hale remained out in Boulder, only returning to Manhattan in the fall of 2021.
Hale’s stock rose greatly with Tinman, as the group’s 83,000 followers now recognized him as the official photographer of the group. When asked about what has changed in his life since beginning with Tinman, Hale had another one-liner waiting.
“Not too much differs… but high school boys think I’m cool, which is something I’m not used to.”
Hale is back on the east coast this winter, shooting photos at prestigious meets like The Millrose Games, the David Hemery Valentine Invitational, the New Balance Grand Prix, and most recently, the Ivy League Heptagonal Indoor Track & Field Championships.
Aside from his photography, Hale has also helped his friends Ben Crawford and Matt Wisner with the bringing about of New Generation Track & Field. The three helped host a running camp for younger creative-minded high schoolers who were similar to them when they were in high school, and that seems to really fuel Hale to continue going and fostering a greater photography and videography community.
“There is a photographer named Justin Britton, I’d always go to Britton and ask him for advice, ask him pricing questions… I want to be like that for these kids,” Hale explained, with the most visible passion since the beginning of the interview.
Helped by their mutual friends — and now Nike athletes — Cooper Teare and Cole Hocker, New Generation’s Summer Camp brings together the fun of running and creating along with the starpower.
When asked about what Hale looks for in getting a photo, to get a glimpse into his head, Hale explained that emotion and interesting people are the two biggest factors for him. And, contrary to the group he has taken so many photos of in Tinman, Hale loves taking photos of sprinters.
“I look for photographic sprinters, they just always have so much energy. It’s my new favorite thing.”
Hale was only stumped once with a question, as the Manhattan man’s brain that was fine-tuned to firing off quick and apt responses was stalled.
The question in mention?
“How many words do you think a picture is really worth?”
Hale, after many moments of thought, gave yet another one-liner:
“A picture is worth as many words as you need to describe it.”
Hale admitted this was not his final answer nor his best, but rather all he could come up with at the time. Maybe there is more to the answer, or maybe that is what he will stick to.
Hale now has his own website, over 11,000 followers on Instagram, and a notoriety for taking fantastic photos. However, this does not mean that there aren’t doubters of his future with photography full-time, including from his own family.
“My mom doesn’t think I have a real job,” Hale said with a wide grin. And while he is determined to prove her wrong, Hale’s version of success looks different than most.
“Success for me is doing cool shit and having fun while doing it… I’d much rather take the less amount [of money] and love what I’m doing every day instead of hating my life.”
It’s hard to argue with that.
Who is your favorite member of Tinman Elite and why is it Max?
Max definitely, because there is no one who can handle the rambunctiousness of Sam and every other person of the group. Max and I relate on so many levels but we’ve experienced it all, it was really nice having someone we can turn to and relate to and have each other.
Which runner do you enjoy photographing the most?
Sid [Gidabuday]. The most photogenic runner I’ve ever met in my life and such a great human.
Best running Twitter account?
What would you like to be known for?
Being a person that brings a community together, and being a good photographer.
What makes you happy?
Taking good photos, meeting new people, and my girlfriend.