Wax Heaven Interview – Jerry Hale

There was once a time when photography and baseball cards needed each other. As sad as it may seem, with game-used relics, SuperFractors, and other new innovations in baseball cards, that is no longer the case. Think back to your childhood for a moment. If you were a collector, there are certain cards that you will never forget, not even years after looking at them. There’s Ken Griffey Jr.’s innocent smile on the front of Upper Deck’s 1989 release, or how about the arrogant look captured on a 21-year old Jose Canseco in his 1986 Topps Traded card? Photography was once the essence of what baseball cards stood for. Today, thanks to one gimmick after another, card companies are getting away with releasing cards like this with a gimmick taking up 95% of the card and a tiny photo portrait at the bottom.Of course, there is nothing wrong with gimmicks, most of us actually love them and if you’re lucky you will get one that will pay for the price of the box or pack but because of the emphasis placed on these new cards, great photography has been put on the back burner and replaced with the biggest patch and/or chopped-up bat.

That is why Wax Heaven is taking a stand. We want card companies to hear our cry for better photography. Do you miss the days of iconic photos from sets like 1991 Topps? If you do, support releases like Upper Deck Masterpieces & Topps Turkey Red, which may not carry the hype of a Bowman Chrome but still clearly cares about photography and how it is used.

Today, Wax Heaven brings you an interview with a professional photographer that has had the fortune of having newspapers and even card companies use his sports photography. His name is Jerry Hale and he will be attending Spring Training in a few weeks. Who knows where you might see his work in 2009.

Wax Heaven – First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I know your schedule is about to become incredibly busy very soon so I will keep them to a minimum.

Question # 1How did you get your foot in the door of Sports Photography?

I love the game of baseball and photography has been a hobby of mine since I was a child. My wife and I moved to Florida near Daytona Beach a few years ago and we went to some Daytona Cubs home games where I took photos for autographs from the stands. By 2003 I had become a regular at the ballpark so I bought myself a season ticket, joined the booster club and the club used my photos on their website. Before the season was over, the Daytona Cubs were using some of my images on their website too. During the next off-season their GM asked me if I would be the team photographer and I shot for
them in 2004 and 2005. I shot some for the Florida State League in 2005 also and the league president asked me to be league photographer before the season ended. Felix Pie was on the 2004 Daytona Cubs roster and Baseball America wanted some photos of him in his Daytona Cubs uniform for an article and the GM referred their photo editor to me. BA published one of my images of Felix Pie in that article and I’ve been shooting for them ever since.

Question # 2How many days/years did it take from the day you recieved your media credentials till the day one of your photos became an actual baseball card?

If the 2004 Grandstand Daytona Cubs team set counts, then my images were used for baseball cards the first year I had credentials. When TriStar got the minor league card contract in 2006, I inquired if I could be of photographic service to them and they used some of my images in their inaugural Prospect Plus product. So, it was two and a half years years from when I got started in the business until my images were used for cards other than the 2004 and 2005 Daytona Cubs team sets.

Question # 3On average, how many shots does it take to get a good, clear action shot of a pitcher/hitter?

I don’t have actual statistics so I might be off by a few clicks. Pitchers are easier than batters to shoot and I can usually get an excellent action photo of most pitchers in six shots or less. Batters are more difficult because some throw their hands/arms up in front of their face when they swing, some blink and it looks like their eyes are closed in the photo, they swing and miss some too and most shots like those aren’t good action photos. If my subject plays all 9 innings I should see him bat at least three times in the game. I probably take between 3 and 10 shots of a batter when he’s in the box thus I’ll get somewhere between 9 and 30 plus shots of my subject during most game. More often than not at least one if not more of those shots will be excellent action photos.

Question #4The days of incredibly expensive digital cameras have come and gone. Is it possible to be a successful sports photographer without a top of the line SLR camera?

Yes. Also with skill, hard work, determination and a bit of luck a photographer should be able to earn enough to upgrade from entry level to pro equipment while he/she is building a portfolio and networking. I started with a point and shoot 10X zoom digital camera. Images I shot with it were used on both the Daytona Cubs Booster Club and Daytona Cubs websites and the Cubs hired me based on images I shot with that P&S. While those images were OK for website use I wanted higher resolution images for baseball cards so I used an entry level digital SLR camera and low end telephoto lens for the first Daytona Cubs team set images. I know a full time sports photographer who shoots with a five year old digital camera and one like it can be purchased used for about the same price as a high end point and shoot camera. He shoots MiLB, MLB and NFL football with that camera and he’s among the best sports photographers I know. A part time photographer friend of mine shot film for nearly 30 years until last season when he got his first digital SLR. It’s an entry level SLR and his images are used by Baseball America and for baseball cards.

Question # 5 – Let’s say you work a full-time schedule, own the best camera, and give 100% of your effort—can you make a good living doing what you do?

I don’t personally know anyone who’s making big money in sports photography but there probably are a few togs who do. I do know some photographers who make a living at it but I doubt if their income is much if anything above minimum wages. Most of the baseball photographers I know have a primary job that puts food on the table and sports photography is their second job. We could all make more money if MLB allowed us to sell images to the public; however, MLB rules prohibit credentialed photographers from selling their photos to anyone other than the media, card producing companies and clients who have bonafide requirements for photos of baseball players.

Thank you, Jerry. Here are a few questions that were submitted by readers of Wax Heaven in this post;

J.T asks: With the Internet taking over so many newspapers, is it more difficult to sell your shots? Also, Is baseball card photography freelance or do you have a set salary that you receive from the company/companies?

I don’t think the Internet has had a negative impact on the sale of images. To the contrary, I think the Internet has helped image sales. After all, newspapers still publish printed editions along with their Internet publications and they need images for both media outlets now.

As for your second question, the major card companies have a pool of photographers who work on assignment and are compensated accordingly. I’m not sure if theirs is a full time salary or they’re paid by assignment — probably some
of both. If their pool of photographers is unable to get any required images then card companies query freelancers. I’m a freelancer and this past season two of the major card producers
bought a few images from me because their photographers didn’t get some images they needed for products that were going to press.

Dylan wants to know if you collect baseball cards and if you do, what is your favorite card photograph?

I don’t classify myself as a card collector. I have some cards but I’m mostly interested in collecting cards that were made from my images.

My favorite card is a Just Minors card — 2006 Just Rookies #16 Jake Fox. Among the most enjoyable aspects of baseball photography is getting to know some of the players as friends. Jake is a fine, young man and good friend who I hope makes it to the show. It was an incredibly hot Florida day when I got that shot of Jake and it’s among my favorite of several thousand baseball player photos. I was thrilled when Just Minors made a card from that image.

Joe is a photographer with a LOT of questions. Which baseline is best to set up on for photographs? How does stadium lighting come into play? Who do you contact with clubs or stadiums to get field level for photo taking?

I prefer to shoot southpaws and left handed batters from the first base line and righties, both pitchers and batters, from the third base line. So I usually move back and forth from first base line to third base line between innings at most games. When the umpires allow it, and they usually do in minor league games, I try and get a few shots of pitchers during their warm ups between innings while shooting from a position near the catcher. Some of these head on shots make excellent baseball card images.

As far as stadium lighting, it’s a huge factor — when the sun goes down and the lights come on image quality heads south. As a freelancer shooting on speculation, I can choose when and where I shoot so I try to shoot as many day games as possible. The harsh Florida sunlight can be difficult to deal with but I prefer that challenge as opposed to shooting under lights.

For your final question, photographers at all levels and venues must be affiliated with the media, card companies or someone who has a bona fide need for photos before on-field credentials are granted. Professional clubs at A level and above have a Director of Media Relations and they are the point of contact for credential requests. Coaches, staff and umpires provide security at most Rookie and Instructional League games and they often grant photo credentials based on verbal requests at the game. Most colleges have a Sports Information Director (SID) and they are the point of contact for credentials. I’ve never shot below college level but my guess is that the team coach would either grant credentials or know who the point of contact is.

Jerry Hale’s personal website can be found here. If you have any questions/concerns you may contact him through his site but please do not ask to buy any of his photography.

Photograph by Chris Proctor

7 thoughts on “Wax Heaven Interview – Jerry Hale

  1. Awesome interview. I have been wanting an excuse to get a good camera to take better pictures at ball games. Guess what my wife asked me to get her for our 10th anniversary? Yep, I digital slr camera. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had been wanting one. I guess I will e the good husband and get her a camera. Oh yeah, might just have to borrow it for a ball game or two.

  2. Fascinating post. I love the 1987 Topps Tony Gwynn. It’s shot over his shoulder and I always felt like I was looking through Gwynn’s eyes, watching the ball to my bat in slow motion. Of course, I was 10 then. Still…it’s a great card of a great player.

  3. I’m always somewhat annoyed when the card companies use the same shots in several different cards over a few years. At least when it’s a current player that they can still photograph. Get some different shots and support these ‘tog guys!

  4. I have always admired Jerry’s work…he’s right down in the heart of the Florida State League, Gulf Coast League, Spring Training & extended Spring Training and does a super job catching all the young prospects in the greatest light. When I generally lose out on an image for cards, it generally Jerry’s more current shot and I really don’t mind with the great job he does…how can you dislike a guy who looks like Ernest Hemingway! He is the Bill Mitchell of the Southeast! Hats off to you Photographer Hale!!!

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