It’s April 2021, the last two miles of a 24k race put on by Bridge Runners, and Tina Bearden is on a bike despite the fact that she’s an uneasy rider. She got the bike because she wanted to photograph races and biking was the easiest way to chase down runners and get in front of them.
She turns a corner and sees a fire hydrant blasting water across her path. Tim Rossi is close behind her, ready to charge past, so she speeds up, comes to a sudden halt, steps off her bike, throws her camera up, and begins to shoot, unsure if her camera is even in focus.
Later, when Bearden looks at the photos, she’s ecstatic. The spray of the water, Rossi in mid-stride, his figure against an austere red brick wall—it’s just so nuts, she thinks.
And the reaction people give her when it’s posted later mirrors her own. This photo is insane, people tell her, and she’s glowing inside because she knows, yes, it really is that good.
“Oh my god, I love that I’m doing this,” she tells herself.
Bearden, 28, grew up in a family full of runners in Morris County, New Jersey. Her mom, Tanya, has run five marathons, and her dad, Chip, has run more than 40 of them. They put her in swimming, gymnastics, basketball, and soccer, but Bearden, guided by her genetics, eventually found her way to running cross country and track and field.
Her high school coach convinced her to run the 800 meters and 400-meter hurdles because she was tall and had a long stride. One of her closest friends on the team was Parker Caton, who she would later reconnect with when she moved to New York City and joined Brooklyn Track Club.
In addition to running, Chip Bearden had a knack for photography and would often go to Tina’s track meets with a camera and monopod in hand to shoot her races. Naturally, Tina found herself gravitating towards photography, too.
“I was on the phone with my dad recently and he was like, ‘I was just looking through some old hard drive and found photos where you had set up some kind of shoot in your bedroom with your friend,’” Bearden says. “This is embarrassing, but when Myspace was big, I would set up a professional camera and do photoshoots for my Myspace.”
Bearden’s photography wasn’t really meaningful until the pandemic hit and she asked Chip if she could play around with one of his old 35mm cameras. He convinced her to pick up one of his old DSLRs instead—a Pentax—rather than waste her money going through rolls of film.
She decided she’d start shooting her friends during track workouts with Brooklyn Track Club in McCarren Park, which often had seasoned photographers showing up to take shots of runners.
“At first, nothing came out well,” Bearden says. “It was terrible. The camera kept having autofocus issues and breaking. But it established that I wanted to invest in an actual camera and learn the basics of how to use it, how to expose an image, and editing, which can take hours.”
From there, it was trial and error. Bearden had this mantra: If you want to be really good at something, you have to accept that you’re going to be really bad at first.
In those early days, a good running photo was a clear shot of a person in mid-stride and a bad photo meant something came out too blurry. But now, Bearden understands it’s all about vision and intent.
“It’s funny,” she says. “Now, I’ll intentionally shoot photos that are very blurry with a super slow shutter because that’s a look I want to achieve.”
The first time Bearden felt like she was shooting photos that perfectly produced the vision she had in mind was last July, at the Trials of Miles “Night at the Track” event at Icahn Stadium.
“There were these huge lights,” she says. “And if you could go low enough, you could get the runners completely passing through it. Once I got to editing my photos, I thought, ‘this is amazing!’ I even called my dad to tell him.”
Off the Track
Bearden attributes much of her growth and success as a photographer to the connections she’s made in the running community. Christina Ciglar, who runs with Brooklyn Track Club, messaged Bearden last fall and asked her if she was interested in doing a shoot for Steve Madden, where Ciglar is a creative director and designer.
It was the first time Bearden got to try her hand at shooting products and she had no idea what to expect. She met up with the Madden team at the Museum of Ice Cream in SoHo who gave her two bags of shoes and essentially told her to do whatever she wanted.
“I didn’t expect anything to get used,” Bearden says. “But they ended up using some shots. And almost every month since, we’ve shot product. I’m getting more experienced and becoming more confident with it. Today I woke up and learned they had taken one of my photos and put it on their homepage and it’s wild to me.”
Women in Running Photography
One day, Bearden will make photography her full-time job, but in the meantime she’s happy to make it a side hustle while she works a day job as a project manager at a major fashion retailer.
She’s always looking for ways to hone her work and takes inspiration from other photographers: Victor Llorente and his exceptional editing style, Brendan Carroll’s light streaks, and Kristina Williamson, who, along with Aisha McAdams, is one of the few established women photographing the running scene.
“It’s worth mentioning that when I started doing this, I would be at a finish line on a track and it would be me and then a swarm of dudes going for a shot,” Bearden says. “I’ve seen more women start to do it now, which is amazing.”