How Much Does Sun-Times Media Pay Its Freelance Photographers?


Want a peek into how much freelance photographers get paid by Sun-Times Media? The issue is one that may be on many a photographers mind after the Chicago Sun-Times decided to fire its entire staff of photographers. Thanks to a “leaked” memo, we now have some idea.

Media blogger Jim Romenesko has published a memo he received from a reader. The note, which has the subject line “Rates, expectations, etc.,” was written by Geoff Scheerer, the photo editor of Pioneer Press Newspapers.

Pioneer Press Newspapers is one of the newspaper businesses owned by Sun-Times Media Group, the parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times.


In the the memo, Scheerer writes that he has been responsible for booking all of the freelance photography assignments for Sun-Times Media’s suburban newspapers (a responsibility that started four weeks ago), and that he hopes to clarify the rates that will be paid to photographers from here on out.

If you’re given a news or feature assignment, you’ll be paid $65 for your photography. If video is requested as well, you’ll earn $85. (“Cell phone video is fine,” the memo reads. But only if it’s “horizontal, lens in the top left corner as you shoot.”)

Want to shoot sports? You can earn $90 for your coverage, or $110 if the publication asks for some footage.

Shoot a news story for one of Sun-Time Media's suburban newspapers, and you'll get paid $65

Shoot a news story for one of Sun-Time Media’s suburban newspapers, and you’ll get paid $65

Scheerer says that photographers should aim to provide at least 5-7 publishable photographs from each assignment. “This gives the editors the option of running something on the cover and inside with the story, and creates a nice web gallery,” he writes.

If you’re a sports shooter, you should produce “more than just the minimum number of photos.”

Assuming $65 is the total compensation for a news/feature assignment, then the freelance photographers are earning an average of around $10 per photograph.

Freelance photographers for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper may earn a higher rate than the figures in the memo, as they pay their own freelancers. Scheerer carefully notes that, “if [Sun-Times photo editor] Rich Hein calls you for a Sun-Times photo assignment he might offer to pay a higher rate, he has his own photo budget for the year.”

(via Jim Romenesko via The Click)

Image credit: money! by nerdcoregirl, 7 by marco monetti

  • Marcus Sudjojo

    Classic case of demands vs supplies. Supplies (including new and wannabe photographers) are increasing in quantity, so the boat tilt to the demands side.

    ‘This is our rate. Don’t like it? We’ll find others (who like it)…’

    Difference in quality, of course. But they’re also lowering their quality standard, from ‘good pictures’ to ‘okay, usable pictures’

    It’s a cycle. When the rates get to the point where one can’t even buy decent meals from the rate, and hangs his/her camera, photographers would be scarce again, and the boat would tilt to the supplies side once again.

  • Don Tusk

    To me photography as a profession is dead.

  • Isaac Zapata

    You kinda missed my point compleatly… Freelancing is about getting your foot in the door and working your way up. Like I said, I’m not on the publications side, but just like in any kind of art, you have to put in the work and really sacrifice at the begining to actually become good. (You dont just wake up and become IT manager one day..?) Sitting in a cushy high paying job while daydreaming about becoming a photographer won’t lead to anything more than more work at that same place. My point, even the worst day behind a lens is better than the best day behind a desk.

  • John

    So why would ANYONE contribute to the Sun Times is beyond me. This is outrageous! They are saving on all kinds of benefits (insurance, 401K, Soc Sec) by not having this person as a full time employee. Taking advantage of the true photographers by picking photos from people with cell phones who will GIVE their work away.

  • Bill Binns

    That’s exactly what I was thinking. Why would anyone spend money and time earning a degree in photojournalism these days ( or sadly, any type of journalism)?

  • Bill Binns

    I am far more impressed by the really good photojournalists than I am the really good studio fashion people. Studio photogs control their environment and have plenty of time to work their stuff over in post. Journalists often have fractions of a second to get the shot and every single frame they publish is straight out of camera. Tell a fashion photog that he has 5 minutes for the shoot before he has to hand you the card from his camera and he will run screaming from the room.

  • MikeT

    The new world of i-reporting. Long gone are the days of Life Magazine.

  • Scott

    The problem is that mpst people don’t care about and don’t notice the quality of photographs. Therefore poor quality rubbish cheap photographs are perfectly ok for many newspapers.

  • Donald Giannatti

    So we can be angry about what ‘they’ will pay.

    How about a little toward the enablers who allow that to happen? If a photographer will work for that rate, who is the bad guy again?

    No one here would turn down a D4 for $50, so why would the Sun be obligated to pay more… IF they can find PHOTOGRAPHERS willing to work for $65?

    Photographers as a group long ago gave away the store for the “opportunity” to shoot ‘cool stuff’ and now we see the logical end game.

    What a damn shame, but we must look in the mirror and ask – “exactly WHO is the problem here?”

    As Pogo said sagely… “I have met the enemy, and he is us.”

  • MattB

    Society as a whole is already doing a fine job boycotting newspapers. That’s why we’re seeing these cuts in the first place.

  • snapshot1

    A lot of people are forgetting overhead as well. Photographers can’t go around saying they don’t need a degree (which costs money and offers a “legit discipline” stamp to the business mind who hires/pays looking for a “pro”) and also going around crying wanting Photoshop to be cheaper and cheaper and equipment costing less and less. While all this that photographers want IS also now providing far higher rates of “usable” images in massively greater quantity to the ones that buy. Also now that the ones paying the bill see how much goes into the manipulation post-wise it’s just simply the mystery is out of the bag. You can exclaim all you want that we are all pros and that our amazing “eye” is what we get paid for. Maybe in 10% of all high-end work this is the reason but people are forgetting your “eye” is what gets you in the door – your “pro” gear and what used to be rare pro skill-set that cost a lot of money to develop that not many people (or computers) could do is what got you paid. Now that this overhead is going down while success rate for useable images is going up – what probably used to cost $20-$100 per image in overhead to make now costs $2-$10 and can really be done by just about anyone with Photoshop – why would any business person pay the same for that?

  • Alfredo

    I bet J. Johan Jameson paid Peter Parker more than that

  • Courtney Navey


  • lidocaineus

    Well yes, that’s how the market’s moving. If there’s a demand for quality, there will be a commensurate raise in compensation for photographs. While I do consider this to be an insultingly low rate, they’ll also be getting photos worth that rate. If that’s what they’re ok with, so be it.

  • Zos Xavius

    and people will line up to do it!

  • Diana204

    That fee structure makes me want to vomit. How pathetic! I say all photogs in the area boycott working for them and see what crap they get as submissions. When will the world wake up and realize that without images, no newspapers or commercial products will sell. Let’s all go out on strike!!!

  • Diana204

    Yeah, and it’s their responsibility to bring in advertisers to pay their whole nut. Doesn’t give them the right to under pay their writers and photogs, without whom they wouldn’t even have a paper to publish. Seriously dude, you taking their side? WAKE UP!

  • harumph

    Working your way up to a major newspaper means making $65 on an assignment. I think that’s the essential point you’re missing. Also, you’re idea of a decent salary job isn’t very decent. $85-$120 a day is what you get if you work hourly retail or food service. I work in a bookstore and I’m scraping by at the top end of that scale. A decent salary job would be twice that.

  • jake

    im working as photographer in austria. i heard from a colleague that he was asked to do interview-shots for a newspaper in vienna. his payment would be 20 or 40€ (not sure bout that) per picture in the paper BUT it wasnt guaranteed that even one pic gets published!!! that was two years ago

  • JP Zajackowski

    This is horrible! When I freelanced for my DC suburban local daily I got $75 for stills and $100 for video, and it was my first photo gig ever. This is in comparison to a large city’s paper, not a county paper! And to top it off, the pay I got was on my paper’s downhill spiral right before it discontinued its print version and stopped using freelancers and dumped ALL the assignments on the two staffers and the writer’s smartphones.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    true point… look at how popular instagram is, because 90% of the public likes those sh*tty filters on photos of their breakfast

  • Antonio Carrasco

    Unfortunately you are pretty much right. I think ten years from now, photography isn’t really going to be thought of as a career anymore.

  • bennetthall

    actually that is what I said [ten years from now] ten years ago when I largely exited. The first time I heard a client say “I just need a f****ing” I knew it was over. Today, we make exhibits with historical photography for large buildings mostly – can not shoot those with iPhone.

  • Eric Leslie

    Just yesterday I was approached by a phonebook company trying to offer me a “great marking opportunity”. They wanted me to GIVE them a photo to use for their cover. I would get my name published! How exciting.

    I countered asking for $395 and they told me they didn’t have a budget. So they’ll move along and find someone else who would be tickled pink to get their photo published. Pretty sad.

  • Nik.C

    As a designer, I’m glad I’m not a pro photographer, and even I work my ass off, well into the wee small hours, often well over the 8 hrs a day I bill for!

    But this trend of paying peanuts is disgraceful,

    I watched a docu on Vivian Maier last night, she died losing all her photo’s that she’d left in storage, these are now worth $millions, art dealer are fighting over her work, selling single prints for $ thousands.

    I only photograph for myself, and for family, to leave something behind for my son, and possibly to remind me when I get old and senile!

    Considering we live in a world where we consume images at an increased rate, this is baffling, dumbing down a newspaper with crap iphone photography is hardly a way of standing out in a sea of crap iphone photography we see littering the web every day.

  • David

    This is a false impression Isaac. Not all freelance photographers are looking to land a staff position. Many like the freedom of being able to take the jobs they want and work for multiple news outlets. There are advantages and disadvantages to both scenarios.

  • David

    I suggest you re-read what HRTV wrote. If he is speaking from someone else’s perspective he ddi not make that clear. Sounds like disrespect of the entire genre of photojournalism to me.

    “These prices are for newspaper photos. These are not studio sessions with high profile LA and NY fashion models. These are car crash and local stories like opening day at the pool etc. Again these are not profesional photo shoot prices.”

  • Susan

    I hope you said, “Bite Me”.

  • Fastball Photography

    Problem is they have people lining up to take the money being offered with cell phones in hand ready to grab the shot.
    I saw something not too long ago where these same numbers were being used by other national press outlets for local freelance jobs, Travel jobs paid a little mileage on top.
    And do not forget the common practice of NOT PAYING AT ALL citing Fair Use.

  • hexclimber

    What a joke…!

  • Isaac Zapata

    (Has anyone actually read what I wrote?) My point is that freelance work is a good base to then build off of, not maintain a family or aim to become a staffer. It is a stepping stone.. (David, I agree with you) The more constant work and editors critique allows faster development, as opposed to working anywhere else not related to photography and having friends and family click “like” on a post. It’s grunt work and no one likes it, but it does help photographers learn what works and what doesnt work, as well as gain exposure with some added credibility that otherwise would take years. Again, I agree that it sucks and they do pray on new photographers, but there is a positive trade off a person looking to move up can take advantage of..

  • Beagle

    Exactly so. The same trend affecting photographers also is affecting writers. When I first started in journalism, most professional freelancers considered anything less than 59 cents per published word too little to make a living on; today, there are many, many freelance gigs that offer $10 to $15 for 300-500 word stories–and that’s considered the norm. Writers and reporters are not at all immune to the same trend that is victimizing photographers.

  • jknotzke

    The exact same situation as above.. They wanted a photo of mine for a TV ad to run for a month. I quoted $800, they were shocked and they were thinking along the lines of $50.

    I have several of these examples too. It’s a little insane. Not worth my time either.

  • Stephanie Will-Shipp

    Any decent photographer would never freelance for them. I hope every photographer in the area will boycott. It’s certainly not worth the effort. What would they be without images?

  • Richard Lurie

    I feel your pain. Client wanted me to do a full-day clothing shoot with 9 models and offered me $150. I asked if they expected the models to work for free. They said yes. I politely declined the offer.

  • Alex Evers

    You can stand on a freeway off ramp all day begging and make more money than that, yet, as many other stated people will line up to shoot for these nominal rates.

  • Ellan

    Ridiculous and insulting.

  • UmmNope

    There is nothing decent about 120 a day before taxes. But you’re right, I think it is pretty presumptuous of PJs to think taking a few pictures for an hour is wroth a days salary.

  • EvilDaystar

    “Freelancing is about getting your foot in the door and working your way up.”
    Not sure if you missed it in the news but the Sun-Times has FIRED ALL IT’s PHOTOGRAPHERS! There is NO MOVING UP OR FOOT IN THE DOOR. Hell! There’s no door at all.

  • EvilDaystar

    “You know who thinks its fair? The people who say “sure, I’ll cover that for $65″”

    That’s because they don;t understand that they will be LOSING money … I’ve had to explain to people that shooting a 10 hour wedding for 300$ means you are paying yourself 0.50$ an hour AT MOST. They don’t understand that as a freelance you are a BUSINESS, a CONTRACTOR and as such you have business costs!

    “There’s always a choice. If it’s below your pay grade, don’t take the job.”

    True but now they are taking advantage of peoples stupidity and lowering the entire industry’s worth.

  • Jess Merrill

    Sadly, photography is no longer a viable profession because
    excellence in photography is no longer required or valued. Anyone and his
    sister can capture a usable photo, and then a high-school kid with a little
    Photoshop experience can turn it into an outstanding image.

    The newspaper publisher, advertising agency, design studio,
    etc. can find a satisfactory photo on the Internet for little or no cost, and
    then pay the high-school kid $7.25 per hour to create an excellent image.

    As a publisher, you must ask yourself, “Will an $80,000+ per
    year staff photographer help me sell more newspapers than the minimum wage
    high-school kid?” Unfortunately, for photo journalists, publishers are opting
    for the low-cost option.

    The question for the short term is (board driven CEOs rarely
    think long term), “Will the low-cost option prove viable?”

  • Reporter at Sun-Times Media

    Since firing its staff photographers in the spring, photographic duties have mostly fallen upon the reporters. Sun-Times Media uses free-lancers much less (rather than more) than it did while it had full time photographers

  • Reporter at Sun-Times Media

    Sun-Times Media ownership/upper management claimed photographers were being laid off so they could emphasize video. Some of the photographers that were laid off, however, were knowledgeable in video. The real reason for the layoff is that the latest management/ownership began a war on its employees who are members of the Chicago Newspaper Guild (union). The staff photographers were mostly members of the union. (Ownership/management has also created new (non-union) divisions that handle some editorial duties).

    Meanwhile, photos are mostly taken by reporters. I’m a reporter for Sun-Times Media. I’ve learned a bit about photography over the years but I am nowhere near as good as the photographers that were laid off. Nor are most/all of the other reporters. So photo quality suffers. Plus reporters are spending more time taking photos, which gives them less time to research and write articles. So article quality suffers.

  • Watchfuleye

    And then there is the cellphone where people submit photos for free.

  • RIVietnameravet

    how much should some be paid is they are putting together a picture package and a story for a small newspaper?

  • Jordan Cabot

    This was my thinking regarding the cost of switching to digital ten years ago. Didn’t exactly work out that way did it?! As long as photography is considered a livelihood by some, and a fun hobby by others with high paying jobs, we will be fighting against low pay.