Capturing Speed: Nike Photographer Cortney White
Even if you’ve never heard of Cortney White, you’ve probably seen her pictures. Cortney is one of the few female professional photographers snapping shots of elite runners at sporting events. What’s even more impressive is she is 100% self-taught. How good is she? Her photography is all over the internet and she works with Nike’s elite training group in Portland, Oregon, the Bowerman Track Club.
Cortney also lives in a van full time, previously used running as a means of staying fit for all her other athletic endeavors, and has had to combat a serious medical condition affecting her legs called compartment syndrome.
Cortney shares her interesting story with Coach Claire starting with her enjoyment of trail running in college while she studied business and IT, and how surgery on her legs resulted in a move to Portland and a “regular” job at a large accounting firm with running pushed to the back burner.
Cortney quickly realized she wanted to switch careers and seized an opportunity to work at a startup where she fell into the role of photographer for the brand.
Without any career aspirations or professional knowledge, Cortney photographed some friends and others in the Portland running community and fell in love with photography. Within a few months, she was able to quit her job and combine both passions by doing full-time sports photography, including work with the Bowerman Track Club. She quickly fell back into the running community, but this time from behind a lens.
Along with her personal story, Cortney talks about which athletes love to get their picture taken, who doesn’t, and how to get that perfect running picture, which makes for a fun and fascinating episode!
Questions Cortney is asked:
2:31 I first learned about your work on Instagram. I follow a lot of professional athletes and I noticed that your name kept coming up in t photo credits. How did you start photographing runners at the elite level?
3:30 Are you completely self-taught? You just sort of accidentally became a pro photographer?
4:15 When you knew this was going to be more than just a hobby, did you just like fall down the rabbit hole, just obsessed and learned everything you could? Is that how it happened?
5:16 Why running? You were a runner yourself, right?
6:31 I read that you had an injury that forced you to stop running. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
8:34 You film the best athletes in the world and yet you can’t participate in this sport itself. You seem to have a good attitude about it but didn’t that just crush you?
9:42 How’s your injured hand now?
10:23 What is it like shooting the Bowerman Track Club? Can you talk about what the logistics are like shooting athletes on the track?
13:16 Who on the Bowerman Track Club loves getting their picture taken and who doesn’t? Can you name some names?
14:06 Every runner knows this. It’s really tough to look great when you’re running really, really hard and you’re working hard. So I would love to hear your tips, both as a photographer and as a runner, how do you look good in running photographs? How?
16:16 I recall a lot of pictures that I’ve seen you take where you must be somewhere at like the 300m line, like the inside of the curve or something, and you have the trees in the background, and all the Bowerman babes are like all in flight at the same time. Their trailing leg is just back at… like they’re floating in air. And I’m just like, how does she do that?
16:55 How staged are some of your shots outside of the track? You do photo shoots with the athletes too, right? Walk me through some of those. What are those like?
18:39 I’m sure it’s interesting to see the athletes kind of out of their element when you’re doing photo shoots.
19:41 Let’s talk about how things have changed. Obviously 2020 with COVID and the race scene was extremely different last year. The Bowerman Track Club along with other professional groups put on races that were very secretive, very last minute. Can you talk about this scene there with some of those races that they put on? What was it like and how was it different from the previous year?
22:16 You’re the one that’s documenting this craziness that we’re going through. Pictures of their coach Shalane Flanagan wearing a mask, hugging the women at the end. These are pictures that are only going to be during this special, crazy period of time. They’re going to be iconic. Have you thought about that?
24:11 What is your favorite part of the job? What do you look forward to the most when you wake up every day?
25:06 One interesting thing about you is that you live in your van full time. How did that happen and what do you love about van life?
28:12 You’re doing all your editing and everything in the back of the van? Is that how you do it?
29:50 What's next for you?
Questions I ask everyone:
31:17 If you could go back and talk to yourself when you started running, what advice would you give?
32:40 What is the greatest gift running has given you?
33:01 Where can listeners connect with you?
Quotes by Cortney:
“I absolutely love shooting runners. I love the stories and how it is such like an individual sport but then you apply it to this team aspect. I didn’t mean to end up in this but I’m so glad I did.”
“I actually prefer more of like the documentary event style photos because I love capturing real things that are happening, but of course, you’re going to have to, especially when it comes to product, or if an athlete just want some portraits for something, or if it’s for a different brand, you will have those staged photos.”
“I pretty much only shoot with natural light. I don’t do lighting setups or any of that. I really like it to feel as natural as possible.”
“It’s interesting to be living through this and thinking that in several years, we’re going to look back on this and these moments and realize that this was all a part of history.”
Take a Listen on Your Next Run
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Want more awesome interviews and advice? Subscribe to our iTunes channel Mentioned in this podcast:
Portfolio - Cortney White
Bowerman Track Club (bowermantc.com)
PWURE: Data-based Sports Nutrition
Runners Connect Winner's Circle Facebook Community
RunnersConnect Facebook page
RunnersConnect Focus Classes
email Coach Claire
Follow Cortney on:
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