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The Getty Images Internship, 15 years later

I am a freelance photographer and editor based in Los Angeles.  For many years, I pursued a career in sports photography and perhaps like many of the sports photographers out there reading this, my objective was to staff at Getty Images. 

The purpose of this is to bring an honest perspective to a company that might often seem confusing, frustrating and difficult to navigate. I am going to share my experiences and observations (the good and the bad) and what I learned from them. I’ll also give some suggestions on what I think you can do to set yourself apart from other Getty freelancers. While I am no longer freelancing for Getty Images, I still think a lot of this will be useful regardless of where you are in your career.

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The Getty Images Sports Photography Internship

I started at Getty in Los Angeles as the first sports photography intern back in June 2008. I was 25 years old and I was absolutely thrilled as this was a unique opportunity to get involved with one of the most exclusive and sought after photo agencies in the world. This all happened at a pre-social media time when Getty operated very much under the radar and hired staff either by promoting internally or very discretely by word of mouth. One of the instructors from Sports Shooter Academy 2008 (a former Getty staffer) very kindly recommended me. As any of the former Getty interns will tell you, it’s an amazing learning experience.

After the program ended in September 2008, the Director of Photography at the time proposed “extending the relationship” and asked me if I wanted to continue on as a stringer (freelancer) here in Los Angeles. Of course I accepted, sold my very old Canon gear, invested in brand new Nikon gear and eagerly awaited my first assignment: the 2009 Winter X-Games in Aspen.

Getty Images Internship
ASPEN, CO – JANUARY 25: Kevin Pearce competes in the Men’s Snowboard Super-pipe on his way to winning the silver during Winter X Games Day 4 on Buttermilk Mountain on January 25, 2009 in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
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ASPEN, CO – JANUARY 22: Kelly Clark participates in the Snowboard SuperPipe Women’s Elimination during Winter X Games 13 on Buttermilk Mountain on January 22, 2009 in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
The Getty Images Internship, 15 years later 17
ASPEN, CO – JANUARY 24: Seth West in the green bib competes in the Snowboarder X Men’s semi-final during Winter X Games Day 3 on Buttermilk Mountain on January 24, 2009 in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

Setback

After the Winter X-Games in 2009, something unexpected happened. The work at Getty stopped completely for the next four years. When my internship ended, Getty had three full-time photographers and a handful of more experienced stringers they’d been using for several years in Los Angeles, so despite that (at the time) there were four professional and two college teams in LA, they simply had no need for any new photographers (or so I was told). For the next couple months I did all the spec shooting and self-assigning I could find, but when it came to actual paying work at Getty, the doors remained closed. The managing editors kept telling me the “west coast is a tough market” and they would “keep me in mind” if anything came up. I even inquired about what regions or cities might have better freelance opportunities, but the person I spoke to seemed put off by the question and insisted he “wasn’t going to be want to be put in that position.” I continued to reach out to the managing editors through the end of 2009. Eventually they stopped responding, so I reluctantly put Getty out of my head to pursue more lucrative opportunities elsewhere.

Of course this was a disappointment after such positive internship and winter x-games experiences, though I don’t think it was Getty’s intent to “extend the relationship” knowing there would be no further opportunities with the company. That wasn’t the objective of the internship and it certainly was not how it was proposed to me during the initial interview. In the end, they simply did not offer the key opportunities (i.e. consistent freelance work) that would have sustained a long-term relationship. Looking back, I think this might be why Getty terminated the internship program in Los Angeles after 2009 and didn’t offer it again until 2018.

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(Jonathan Moore/USA Water Polo)
The Getty Images Internship, 15 years later 19
(Jonathan Moore/USC Athletics)
The Getty Images Internship, 15 years later 20
(Jonathan Moore/USC Athletics)

As that brand new Nikon kit collected dust on my shelf, I knew I had to act quickly in order to pay off that debt. I also knew that covering sports exclusively for my other clients at the time (USC Athletics, USA Water Polo, AP Images) and doing my own spec work would never fully cover those costs plus basic living expenses, so I took the advice of the former Director of Photography, the person who oversaw my internship, and started a wedding photography business (this website). While becoming a wedding photographer was never a part of the original plan, I am thankful that he encouraged me to go this route because as a wedding photographer, I could still at least apply what I learned in the internship, keep myself creatively motivated and earn enough to make ends meet. I still shoot weddings today.

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Jonathan Moore Photography
The Getty Images Internship, 15 years later 22
Jonathan Moore Photography
The Getty Images Internship, 15 years later 23
Jonathan Moore Photography
The Getty Images Internship, 15 years later 24
Jonathan Moore Photography

A Second Chance

In late 2012, Getty Images officially hired the first sports photo intern (New York 2009) as a full-time staff photographer. Not only was I stoked as it was a friend from 2008 Sports Shooter Academy who got hired, but someone had finally bridged that gap between intern and staffer. To me, this was the objective of the internship. I was so excited that someone had finally completed the process. Now that I knew this was even a possibility, I wanted to pursue that same path. Suddenly, Getty was back on my radar.

The one thing I knew my friend had that I lacked was consistent freelance work history with the company. Getty had been giving him regular freelance work in his hometown since his internship and he was able to build a name for himself because of those opportunities. I think that’s why he was able to make a case for transitioning to staff. I lacked that necessary work history and since those doors were still closed in Los Angeles, five years after the internship, I reached out to the Director of Photography and proposed relocation (again) in August 2013.  This time he was receptive of the idea, which surprised me given this was the same person who refused to help when I proposed the same exact thing back in late 2008. He got the assignment (managing) editors on board and they all compiled a list of cities where they had the most needs. Indianapolis was at the top, so in October 2013, I travelled there for a visit and shot a Colts game. I also visited Cincinnati nearby and that November, I decided I would move to Cincinnati.

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN – OCTOBER 06: Robert Mathis #98 of the Indianapolis Colts runs onto the field before a game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 6, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

During a conference call with all three managing editors, they told me there would be no guarantees for work (understandably) and that most of the work I would receive in that region would be as contributor (or spec shooter), which meant there would be neither a day-rate nor reimbursement for expenses on those assignments, many of which would have required travel. The money earned would be based entirely on sales. I might come out ahead on some assignments, but I could also potentially loose money on others, especially when factoring in out-of-pocket travel expenses. They also told me the only paid (stringer) work would come from a handful of regular season football games, a single tennis tournament and some nearby NASCAR races. I started to realize that moving to Ohio was going to be a much bigger financial gamble than I’d anticipated, but I ignored my instincts, focused on the objective and continued to insist to the staff that yes, I was 100% going to go. Everyone I knew at Getty seemed to support the move. My friends and family on the other hand, thought I was absolutely crazy for even considering it. After all, I was leaving an established photography business and client base in sunny Southern California to be a part time “spec shooter” for a single client in the freezing midwest.

I very nearly pulled the trigger. In the end, however, I dragged my feet and ultimately stayed in Los Angeles. Aside from the obvious financial risks and the concerns of my family, one of the managing editors very kindly connected me with the manager of motorsport and the NASCAR team, which ultimately led to the booking of 23 race weekends in 2014. Now, for the first (and only) time since the internship, the work was very consistent. Given the entire purpose of moving to Ohio was to do more work for Getty Images, I no longer had a reason to leave home. It was an ideal situation. I could stay at home, keep my local clients, learn all about a new sport from some very talented photographers and maintain the relationship with the company. Had I not brought up relocation four months earlier, I’m not sure any of this would have happened.

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SONOMA, CA – JUNE 28: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
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HAMPTON, GA – FEBRUARY 28: Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Fisher Nuts/Menards Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Hyundai Construction Equipment 200 on February 28, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

I will always be grateful to the managing editor who made that connection for me because it led to such consistent work with NASCAR for the next three seasons. In late 2016, NASCAR’s allocated photography budget decreased, as did the scope of their agreement with Getty Images, so most of the team, including myself, were cut from the regular crew after the 2016 season. Luckily, I still got to shoot few standalone races in 2017 and an IndyCar race in 2018. After that, I was never able to get back to shooting NASCAR in any capacity and they are now working with mostly new photographers.

This was all a great learning experience that sadly ended far too soon. As it seemed I was once again back at square one on the Los Angeles Getty freelance sports front (ten years after the internship and even after the addition of two NFL teams to the LA sports market), I went back to wedding and corporate photography after 2018.

Relationship Status: It’s… complicated

Two years later, in late 2020 at the height of the pandemic, Getty offered four full-time Junior staff sports photography positions, which were intended for photographers with 3 years or less experience. I did consider that being 12 years out of the internship would be far too much time, but I also considered that I took on little or no sports photography assignments at Getty for about 9 of those years. The Director of Photography knew this and suggested I apply, so I did with no expectations. They rejected the application, which was definitely fair given it had been just over two years since my last assignment. I still reached out to see if there was any additional feedback. In the email, I simply said that I respected the decision and asked if was there any additional feedback. Bear in mind, this was the first time since the internship that I asked anyone at Getty Images for feedback. I received two very different responses.

The first person said the team went “back and forth” on their decision and gave my application “strong consideration” but ultimately they concluded that I had “too much experience” for the position. Wait, too much experience? I thought experience was the one thing I thought my application lacked. Aside from three years covering NASCAR, they really only used me for a handful of assignments since interning back in 2008. It didn’t make sense to me or to anyone else I spoke to, so I asked him for additional feedback since he offered and yes, I asked him to reconsider the application given how he had just implied that I was overqualified for the job. I was trying to understand what had just happened because none of it made sense. He never responded, so a few days later I followed up with someone else on the team.

The second person agreed that I had “too much experience,” but then stated, “you haven’t freelanced for us in over two years, so you lack the dedication, determination and history of showing us you wanted to work here.” He then made it clear this was his “honest opinion.” This definitely struck a nerve because as a freelancer, I have zero control over my assignment load. The fact that he questioned my “dedication” to the company after they sidelined me for four years after the internship, cut me from the NASCAR team for budgetary reasons, then sidelined me again for two more years, was totally out of line. Even as they added new photographers to the LA freelance market and the NASCAR team, or as former interns transitioned to full-time staff, I never once complained to anyone. I told him it was an unfair assessment. We spoke the next day. He apologized, but I just as I was about to ask him why he made those remarks, he tells me they were not “his option” as he’d indicated a day before, but they were based on “feedback” from “other people on the team.” This seemed really shady. Obviously I didn’t ask who he spoke to, but considering the first person never mentioned anything to me about lack of dedication or determination… well let’s just say I don’t think they were being completely honest with me. I wasn’t about to go down that rabbit hole.

To be clear, this drama has absolutely nothing to do with not getting the job, but rather Getty’s inability to effectively communicate. I would have accepted any constructive criticism or negative feedback about me or my work with an open mind as long as there is an honest discussion. Isn’t this why we ask for feedback in the first place? Was it really so naive of me to think my relationship with the company was strong enough to warrant such a conversation after fifteen years?

So things ended on a sour note, but I didn’t share all this with you to make Getty Images look bad. I said in the beginning I would share my experiences and observations with you all and that’s exactly what I did. There are two sides to every story and despite that things didn’t pan out as I’d hoped, I will always acknowledge and appreciate what this company did for my photography career. The fact is, had it not been for that 2008 internship, I would not be a photographer today. I think that is the silver lining in all this.

I also think it’s important for you all to remember that everyone is going to have a different path. If you’re interested in doing work for Getty Images, you should absolutely give it a go because you never know where that experience will take you. Perhaps you’ll get lucky. Just know if you want to work with a company that is “trustworthy, transparent and honest” (as Getty proudly states on every single job application) and you’re someone who values honest communication, Getty may not be right for you.

I’d love to share some of what I learned with you all. Wherever you are in your career, I hope it will be helpful to you.

Aim high, but be open to other opportunities

I was very fortunate to have worked the 2009 Winter X-Games with the one and only Doug Pensinger. During our first dinner, he told me something that still sticks with me to this day. After telling him I wanted to ultimately staff at Getty Images, he said achieving that goal will always be a difficult uphill battle and the odds of success will never be in your favor, but by going through the process of pursuing that goal, you’re setting sky high standards for yourself, so you’ll always be at an advantage. Honestly I don’t think anyone has encapsulated the Getty Images freelance photographer to staff experience quite so accurately. While I do set very high standards for myself on all of my assignments, my mistake was that I had put Getty Images on such a high pedestal that it made every other opportunity seem like a compromise that I didn’t want to make.

During the four year “pause” after the X-Games in 2009, it literally felt like the world was ending. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, lack of sleep… I put myself through all of it. I know some of you are probably thinking, dude it’s just one company, get over it… but at that time I was young and very narrow-minded. Of course I could have handled it better. For years, staffing at Getty Images was the only career path I was willing to take. I put so much pressure on myself to succeed there that the second things went off track, I panicked because I knew if too much time passed, I would get left behind. This is precisely what happened in 2020.

For the sake of your own mental health and well being, wherever you are in your career, do not put so much value in Getty Images like I did for so many years. You will save yourself a great deal of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Speaking from experience, it’s just not worth it. There are plenty of other good organizations out there. Be open to those opportunities. Be open to exploring other genres. If you really want to work for Getty, I encourage all of you to try, but be the best photographer you can be for all of your clients, regardless of who they are or what the genre is.

Assess the finances

If you want really want to be a sports photographer at Getty Images, the first thing you should do is assess the finances. Do the jobs in your region pay enough to justify the equipment investment? Will you earn enough to make ends meet? If you want to start a family, will you earn enough to support that family? Is there any chance for upward mobility? These days, it seems like there are more exceptionally talented and ambitious young photographers out there than ever. When I say talented, that’s not an understatement. Like, they’re all really good shooters, but as with all young individuals with sky high ambitions, typically they’re willing to do a lot more for less. I was there too. As an intern, Getty paid me a laughable $12 per hour, but at the time, I was so happy to be there that I didn’t care. One guy even thanked me “for the cheap labor” just after my internship ended as I walked out the NY office. At the time I thought nothing of it.

My point is, never take an assignment for less than you think you’re worth just because it’s Getty Images. Same rule applies for any high profile client. If you think the quality of your portfolio justifies a $500+ day rate, then ask for it! If you want travel expenses covered (yes, absolutely every expense should be covered for every assignment, including miles), ask for it! If you’re not earning what you want at Getty, then you might be better off working with different clients. Also, despite what other freelancers may tell you, taking a bad stringer rate or accepting terms of some contributor hybrid nonsense agreement for the sake of keeping your foot in the door is not an investment for your future. I know some will strongly disagree with this, but agreeing to unreasonable terms sets a bad precedent for everyone else and it guarantees nothing for your career. As soon as you start asking for more, there is a good chance they’ll see you as ungrateful or entitled and they’ll just move on to the next photographer who is willing to do the same work for less. I’ve seen it happen.

You have to really hustle to maintain the relationship

Getty has “relationships” with freelancers all over the world and you’re competing with every single one of them. They are all trying to “maintain the relationship,” so how will you set yourself apart?

First, I think the best thing you can do is to bring ideas to the table. Find your own events and do your own spec shooting so you can show to the editors that you’re consistently improving your portfolio. Instead of taking on spec assignments from Getty (you should never do this), cover events that do not require a credential to ensure you have no editorial obligations.  This will allow you to take more risks and focus more on making a strong, aesthetically pleasing images.  Consider events like Spartan Race (formerly Tough Mudder), triathlons for the early morning light swim action, surfing competitions if you live on a coast, downhill skiing/snowboarding if you’re in the mountains, X-games (this one does require a credential but shouldn’t be hard to obtain) or any other unique sport.  Check out the events that Red Bull puts on, as they often offer some potentially unique photo opportunities. To be clear, I’m not suggesting you go out and cover the Olympics or World Cup on your own dime because that’s just nuts, but people do this.

Next, learn the Getty aesthetic (good composition, good light, clean background) and study the weekly sports photos of the week galleries. This is what the managing editors what to see in your portfolio. Plan ahead. Show up at the venue early and put in the time to find the best possible angels. Go through the process of coming up with a vision and then executing it. Getty wants to see that you are capable of thinking outside the box. Remember, it’s not what event you’re covering, but how you cover it. A beautifully composed action frame captured from a unique angle with good light at a high random school football game will always stand out more than a generic action shot from the Super Bowl or the Masters.

Next, check in regularly with the managing editors at Getty regularly just to let them know you’re there.  Obviously I did not have a ton of luck with this, but you might do better. They will normally respond even if they don’t have anything for you. Remember, these guys are responsible for assigning photographers to literally hundreds of events every single day, so they’re always busy. Even it doesn’t work the first few times, be persistent as you never know what their needs will be in the future.

Finally, establish relationships with the local staffers in your area. Get feedback from them.  Ask them what you can do to improve. Show them your work. They’re all good people who will (hopefully) help you if you ask nicely. Having the support of the staff is absolutely essential if case a full-time position ever opens up in your area or if they need an extra freelancer for a larger event. They take internal recommendations very seriously, so keep building those relationships.

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Jonathan Moore Photography
The Getty Images Internship, 15 years later 29
Jonathan Moore Photography/Tough Mudder
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Jonathan Moore Photography/Tough Mudder

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Be a good human

Always remember a positive relationship with Getty is going to be based largely on your ability to work well with others.  The sports photography staff is very much a family and they are extremely particular about who they allow into their inner circle. Having worked on the NASCAR team for two and a half years, I can say there was very much an inner circle to that group as well.

If you’re fortunate enough to work on a team (i.e. NASCAR, Super Bowl, Olympics, US Open etc) as a freelancer and you’re new, just keep your head down, follow instructions, try to work as efficiently as possible without making any mistakes. You may not always be shooting from your preferred angle, but always be a team player and do the best you can from your assigned position. Also, you might not like the images the editors are selecting from your take, but never under any circumstances tell an editor how they should edit your work. I think if the consensus is that the team enjoyed working with you and you don’t bring unnecessary drama or complication to a situation, chances are they will ask you to come back.

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Do not rock the boat

Remember these guys all operate under a lot of pressure as they all have very strict editorial deadlines.  They have neither the time nor the patience for ego, attitude or unnecessary drama.  Whether it’s by email, in person working solo, with a client or with a large team, your attitude and the way you present yourself will always be more important than quality of your work. Don’t give anyone a reason to talk shit behind your back because frankly, there are no secrets at Getty Images.  If you are known to be difficult, dramatic or confrontational, everyone will know and as a result, they will not work with you regardless of how amazing your work may be.  Like it or not, people talk, words often get misinterpreted, feelings get hurt and rumors spread. Everyone I know at Getty has dealt with some sort of “Getty drama” at one point or another in their careers. Just be prepared for it and act professionally.

Also, while I think it is always okay to ask for feedback, resist the temptation to talk about “your career” with your superiors unless they bring it up first. Having been through several ups and downs with this company, all I can say is no matter how frustrated you may feel about your situation (lack of work, not enough feedback or receiving feedback that makes absolutely no sense etc.), I urge you always to be professional and to keep your emotions to yourself. I have broken this rule. Remember, even if you think the relationship is strong enough, you must always respect the chain of command. Never forget these guys are your superiors before your friends and they will always put the company before you.

Conclusion

On paper, Getty will tell you in order to be successful you’ll need to have superior technical abilities, impeccable communication skills, a good knowledge all sports and players in your area, the ability to think outside the box and strong physical capabilities. What they don’t tell you is that support from the staff and shear luck also play massive roles in all this. None of the former interns who transitioned to full time staffers would be where they are without that support. Whether it’s being first in line for freelance work, getting a spot on one of the more coveted assignments where you can really set yourself apart or having access to some of the worlds best photographers for feedback and advice, that support is absolutely essential.

Thank you for reading and best of luck to you. I am more always than happy to answer any questions or review your work. Feel free to reach out anytime!

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