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Sports Photography, The Getty Images Internship, 14 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 you sports photographers out there, my objective was to staff at Getty Images. 

The purpose of this is to bring an honest perspective to a company that can often seem confusing, frustrating and difficult to navigate.  I am not writing this on behalf of Getty Images or any of their staff. I’ll always be grateful for my experiences there. I just want to share my experiences (good and bad), my mistakes and what I learned from them.

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LA Getty Images Internship

I started at Getty in Los Angeles as an intern in 2008 at 24 years old. At the time, the sports photography internship was brand new. As any former Getty intern will tell you, it’s an amazing learning experience. After the program ended, the managing editor proposed “extending the relationship” and asked me if I wanted to continue on as a stringer here in Los Angeles. Of course I accepted, sold my old Canon gear, invested in 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)
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ASPEN, CO – JANUARY 24: Seth West in the green bib competes in the Snowboarder X Men’s semi-final and fails to finish in the top three during Winter X Games Day 3 on Buttermilk Mountain on January 24, 2009 in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

Setback

At the time, Getty had six photographers (four staff photographers and two stringers) in Los Angeles who they had been using since well before I started in 2008. At that time, there was no room for a seventh, so the assignments stopped completely after the X-games. For the next few months I did all the spec shooting I could find, but when it came to actual paying assignments, the doors remained closed. Despite my attempts to keep the ball rolling, the assignment editors kept saying they would “keep me in mind” if anything came up. Eventually they stopped responding, so I stopped trying.

I honestly don’t think it was the managing editor’s intent to “extend the relationship” knowing he’d have nothing to offer. That was not the objective of the internship, but to be fair, it was a brand new program so it was still in an experimental phase.

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)
Sports Photography, The Getty Images Internship, 14 years later 19
(Jonathan Moore/USC Athletics)
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(Jonathan Moore/USC Athletics)

As that brand new Nikon kit sat on my shelf, I knew I had to move quickly in order to pay off that debt. 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 cover those costs, so I took the advice of the (former) managing editor at Getty and started a wedding photography business (this website). While becoming a wedding photographer was not part of the original plan, I am thankful that he encouraged me to go this route because I could still apply what I learned in the internship and make enough money to fully pay off my gear. I still shoot weddings today.

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Jonathan Moore Photography
Sports Photography, The Getty Images Internship, 14 years later 22
Jonathan Moore Photography
Sports Photography, The Getty Images Internship, 14 years later 23
Jonathan Moore Photography
Sports Photography, The Getty Images Internship, 14 years later 24
Jonathan Moore Photography

A Second Chance?

In late 2012, something happened. The first sports photography intern was officially hired as a full time staff photographer. Not only was I stocked as it was a friend from 2008 Sports Shooter Academy who got hired, but someone had finally bridged that gap between intern and staffer. He completed the process as intended. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Since the freelance situation in Los Angeles had not improved, I reached out to the managing editors and proposed relocation in late 2013.  After almost 5 years of almost zero communication with them, I was surprised that they were supportive of that idea. They gave me a list of cities where they had the most needs. Since Indianapolis was at the top of that list, I went there for a visit and shot a Colts game. Ultimately, my first choice was Cincinnati, Ohio.

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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)

Understandably, there would be no guarantees for work (they made that exceedingly clear), but they did point out that most of the work I would receive in that region would be as contributor, meaning the money earned on an assignment would be based entirely on sales. There would be neither a day-rate nor reimbursement for expenses on those assignments. For me, this was a potential red flag as the contributor business model places virtually all financial risk on the photographer for every assignment, especially if travel is required. Despite the warning signs, I still very nearly pulled the trigger as everyone at Getty seemed to be on board. My friends and family, however, were very skeptical about me leaving an established business and client base in Los Angeles to be a part time spec shooter for a single client in Ohio. I started covering NASCAR around this time and as I booked more and more races, I realized I didn’t have to leave LA, so I stayed.

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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 do not regret my decision to stay in LA because for the next two years I very fortunate to work with the NASCAR team fairly consistently, covering races all around the country with a great group of people. Much like the internship, it was one of the higher points in my time at Getty. They took a chance on someone who knew nothing of the sport and it ended up being a great experience. I’m grateful for that. I didn’t want it to end, but unfortunately in late 2016, NASCAR’s budget for photography decreased as did the scope of their agreement with Getty. Many of us, including me, were cut from the team. I still got to shoot few races by myself in 2017 and one in 2018. I reached out a few more times to cover sport in LA, but I still could not make it happen, so I went back to wedding and corporate photography full time, which is what I’m still doing today.

Relationship Status: It’s complicated

In late 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Getty offered four Junior staff sports photography positions. I applied per the managing editor’s recommendation. While I was just happy to be considered, I did not get the job. After all it had been two years since my last assignment, so the decision made sense. I did ask if there was any feedback or anything specific I should know.

I reached out to two people.

The first person said the team gave my application strong consideration but ultimately they decided I had “too much experience” for the position. I was a little surprised as I had anticipated the exact opposite response given my sporadic work history, but “too much experience” does have several different implications. I honestly thought he was implying that I was somehow overqualified for the job, which is the only reason why I asked him to reconsider the application. Looking back it probably wasn’t the most tactful move, but it felt like I had nothing to loose by asking.

The second person agreed that I had “too much experience,” but then he pointed out that I “haven’t freelanced for them in a long time, so I didn’t have the dedication and history of showing them I wanted to work there.” This definitely struck a nerve. He was right about the work history, but to suggest that this showed a lack of dedication seemed unreasonable given that I never had control over my work history with the company. For years I tried to keep my foot in the door and came up short every time. The following morning, I sent him a email and said some things that I probably should have just kept to myself. The following day, he calls me, I could tell he was upset but we came to an understanding, I apologized, he retracted the statement and told me those words were in fact not his option, but rather they were based on “feedback” from “other people” on the team. I was not about to go down that rabbit hole. At that point it felt better to walk away with more questions then answers.

I really hope none of what they said was meant to be offensive. I certainly didn’t mean to rock the boat. All I wanted was some honest feedback. I have to respect their opinions even if I don’t fully understand the rationale. Sometimes it’s best to just let things go.

Then and now

The Los Angeles internship was reintroduced in 2018 and a lot has changed since it was last offered in 2009.

Today’s internship in its current form under the current management offers the best possible opportunity for its participants. The 2018 LA intern (first one since 2009) is now a staff editor and the most recent LA 2020/2021 intern is working regularly as a freelancer. Unlike 2008, the program is now followed with real freelance opportunity. The most recent intern even has access to company gear to ensure the learning process can continue. I think Getty is on a much better path than they were in the beginning with regards to the internship program and I hope they continue in this direction.

With that said, I want to talk about some of the things I’ve learned over the years.

Manage your expectations

When Getty offered me the internship in 2008, I felt like I was on top of the world. At 24 years old, it was a very unique opportunity to get my foot in the door 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 only promoting internally or very discretely by word of mouth. One of the instructors at Sports Shooter Academy very kindly recommended me for the position.

I enjoyed every second of that internship, but I couldn’t stop thinking as the end date approached, what is going to happen next? I honestly thought that if I did well as an intern, it would lead to freelance work, and if I did well as a freelancer, it might eventually lead to a full time job. I never had the foresight to fully understand that six photographers in one city meant zero freelance work, which abruptly stopped the entire process. When that reality came crashing down (without warning) following my one and only assignment, it felt like my world was ending. Every other opportunity or path seemed like a compromise that I didn’t want to make. I put so much pressure on myself to succeed that the second things went off track, I started to panic. It didn’t help that I freaking worshiped the company.

Everyone is going to have a different experience. Achieving that staff position (or even just being able to make a living as a sports photography freelancer) is a respectable goal and I encourage all of you to pursue it, but be realistic. EVERYONE is clamoring to get their foot in the door with this company, now more than ever it seems. Do your very best, but do not put Getty Images such a high pedestal like I did for so many years. Be willing to have a plan B in case things don’t pan out.

Be proactive and maintain the relationship

Getty has relationships with freelancers all over the world and you’re competing directly with all of them. They are all trying to “maintain the relationship.” How do you set yourself apart?

First, check in with the managing editors at Getty regularly just to let them know you’re there.  They will (usually) respond even if they don’t have anything for you. Remember, these guys are are responsible for assigning photographers to literally hundreds of events, so even it doesn’t work the first few times, keep trying as you never know what their needs will be in the future.

Second, establish a relationship 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 an awesome group of people and they will likely help you if you ask nicely.  If a staff position ever opens up in your area or if they need an extra freelancer for a larger shoot, any support you can get from local staff will help. 

Third, bring ideas to the table. Do your own spec shooting so you can show to the editors that you’re consistently improving your portfolio.  Learn the Getty aesthetic (good composition, good light, clean background) and study the weekly sports photos of the week galleries. If you have a cool shot in mind for a particular event coming up in your area that might impress the editors, go out and get it.  Choose events that don’t require a credential to ensure you have no editorial obligations.  This will allow you to take risks and focus more on making a strong, unique 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 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 very cool opportunities. Now, I’m not suggesting you go shoot high-profile like the Summer Olympics on spec, as that could be a huge financial risk, though I do know of a few people who have done this. The point is, show the team that you are working to improve your aesthetic on your own time.

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Jonathan Moore Photography
Sports Photography, The Getty Images Internship, 14 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 really a family more than anything and they are extremely particular about who the 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 as a freelancer (i.e. NASCAR, Super Bowl, Olympics, US Open etc), don’t rock the boat (see next section), keep your head down, follow instructions and just try to work as efficiently as possible. Do the very best you can in the position you are assigned. You may not always be shooting where you want, but be a team player and do the best you can from your assigned position. If the consensus is that the team enjoyed working with you and you don’t bring drama or complication to a situation, chances are they’ll ask you to come back. You’re all in this together, so work hard, be a good human, make nice pictures and enjoy a beer with your colleagues when the day is done.

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Don’t rock the boat

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.  If you are known to be difficult 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 and rumors spread.

You should always assume that there are no secrets at Getty Images, so don’t give anyone a reason to talk shit behind your back.  These guys all operate under a lot of pressure as they all have strict editorial deadlines.  They have neither the time nor the patience for ego, attitude or unnecessary drama.  Especially when you’re new, just keep your head down, shoot well and don’t mess up.

Also, resist the temptation to talk about “your career” with the managing editors unless they bring it up first. I’ve broken this one a couple times – most recently in 2020 (though they did offer feedback)… All I can say is no matter how frustrated you may feel about your situation (lack of work, negative feedback etc.), I urge you always to be professional and to keep your emotions to yourself.  Even if you think the relationship is good enough, you must always respect the chain of command. Never forget these guys are your superiors before your friends. They will always put the company before you.

Conclusion:

There is no doubt that pursuing a staff position at Getty Images is a constant uphill battle. Unlike law or medicine, there is no single path to success in this business. As a freelancer, you’re pursuing everything blindly, you’re always at the will of the assignment editors and perhaps most importantly, you are always expendable. These guys can (and will) turn their back on you at any moment so they can focus on the developing the next set of young talent. It happens. It’s just the way it goes.  If they don’t use you, the ball stops rolling and you’re stuck. Go do something else. On the other hand, if you are able to slip through the cracks and you are working consistently, keep doing what you’re doing and always be grateful for the opportunity. A lot of people want to be in your shoes, so nurture that relationship, don’t rock the boat and keep improving.

Always remember that everyone will have a different path. I am more than happy to answer any questions.  Please feel free to reach out anytime. 🙂  

Best of luck to you and thank you for reading.

Getty Images Internship

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