Column: He mastered the craft of sports photography

For more than two decades, Garret Meade has been a fixture on the sidelines of high school sporting events on the North Fork, capturing remarkable action shots of athletes in nearly every sport imaginable. Longtime readers of this paper could likely identify a Gary photo without even straining to read the small credit at the bottom right corner.

His images stood out in a way that defined him as a photographer. The incredible detail, the perfect timing, the composition. No matter the challenges a certain game presented, Gary never came up empty.

It’s safe to say his images, many cut from articles in this paper, have decorated fridges and walls of countless homes from Riverhead to Orient. In my office, his photo from a 2008 edition of the Riverhead News-Review of the undefeated Long Island champion Blue Waves football team hangs framed.

You could never miss Gary on the sidelines. He often shot photos with a lens that looks like it could capture up-close details of Mars.

Over the past year, Gary, who’s now 76, opted to take a step back from photography, and recently decided it was time to retire for good. Of course, I was disappointed to hear we wouldn’t be seeing any more Gary photos in the paper, but I was also delighted to think about how lucky we were for so many years to have a talented photographer in our backyard who was committed to shooting for his hometown paper.

“Somebody once asked me, what do you attribute your good photography to?” Gary said in a recent interview. “I kind of think it’s like 40/40/20. 40% equipment, 40% your experience that you’ve accumulated over the years and 20% just plain luck.”

Other photographers may disagree on the luck part, he added.

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His start in photography came like it does for many, as a hobby, when his son Jed ran cross country and track in high school in the early ’90s. Photography back then, before the digital revolution, was an entirely different ballgame and Gary said he started out with a Nikon system. Around when his son was an underclassman, Mattituck featured a great runner who Gary began photographing along with other runners on the team.

He caught the attention of editors at The Suffolk Times. One of his first assignments, he recalled, was photographing a runner from Shelter Island.

His photography picked up in earnest once he retired as lieutenant with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Police. Gary had also served in the Marines, enlisting from 1964-70 and again from 1975-92, before retiring from the Marine Reserves. He was born in Washington, D.C., and spent his younger years in Chicago. His father worked in the rubber business and they moved frequently. He’d spend summers on Long Island, at Oak Beach near Captree State Park. His family owned a house there that his grandfather had built in the early 1900s.

In the old days there were many ways it was different because you didn’t have high speed shutter shooting at 10 or 12 frames a second.

Garret Meade

He eventually settled in Mattituck in 1982 with his wife, Mary, and their three children.

“I kid around with people when we talk about local people, and I’ll say I’m brand-new to the North Fork, I’ve only been here 40 years.”

As he began in photography, Gary learned by trial and error. He had no formal training in the craft, but simply went out time and time again and worked at getting better. 

There are teams and athletes that stand out over the years. One in particular was Greenport legend Ryan Creighton, whom Gary often photographed at games during his remarkable career, which saw the Porters come within one win of a state title. Gary captured a memorable photo that ran on the cover of The Suffolk Times following the Porters’ state championship loss, showing an emotional Creighton in tears moments after his high school career ended.

Gary said his favorite sports to shoot were those with constant motion, like basketball, soccer and lacrosse. While he loves baseball as a fan, shooting those games never particularly drew him in. Too much waiting.

“You tend to overthink yourself, especially baseball,” he said. “Trying to get that play at second, and waiting and waiting and waiting.”

In recent years, photography began to feel more like a job than something he looked forward to doing, he said. Last winter, after a trip to Florida, he told Bob Liepa, our sports editor, that he would take some time away from shooting. As the fall season started up with soccer, football and volleyball, he never felt the urge to get back out there.

He called Daniel De Mato, who has taken a similar path in sports photography and is now a frequent contributor to our papers and Newsday, and offered to sell him some equipment.

The time had come.

From this point on, he’ll be taking photos like the rest of us: with an iPhone.