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

  • Dan C

    Anyone who decides to freelance for these sadists is a masochist. Seriously, this is beyond insulting.

  • 写真家

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

    That is misleading. Newspaper pay per assignment not images, and when they pay per image, it is per image published, not taken. Under above statement, if you submit 20 images, cost is well below $10, if submit one image, then rate is $65 per image.

  • MattSteeleLA

    This is just disgusting.

  • MattSteeleLA

    Unfortunately, this is the trend. I was approached by a major ad agency who wanted to license one of my images for a national ad campaign. The shot was a very complex studio piece from a fine art shoot that took several hours to accomplish. They wanted to use my work as the main element for a stand-up display in several hundred retailers, in addition to some printed promotional materials.

    They asked me for a quote and after a lot of research, including asking some of my agency contacts and fellow photographers who actively license images, I was left with a range between $700 and $1,500.

    Since it was a big agency and would be my first commercially-licensed work, I arrived at $800 for what I thought would be a fair price for a non-exclusive license considering the use and duration of their campaign.

    They replied saying: “We were thinking more along the lines of $50.”

  • facepalm

    I’d rather pick bottles and cans at that rate…

  • disgusted

    Effectively you’d be paying the Sun-Times for using your work, after you’ve deducted your own costs including transport, equipment use, depreciation plus any incidentals. They are counting on an endless supply of suckers, since there is no possibility of becoming a staff photographer.

  • Victor


  • Jared Monkman

    that’s a little bit nit picky.. the fact remains the photographers will only be paid $65 for an assignment. Somehow I feel like it would be in the freenlancers best interests if he were to avoid working for the paper in any incarnation.

  • thunander

    I work as a freelance photographer in sweden and i would say i have a pretty cheap price for my work. I could easily take more. I get 148 us dollars per hour (at events etc) and i get 148 as a starting fee when taking portraits, after the starting fee i get 74 dollar per person/picture. In sweden we pay minimum 50% tax when you have your own company though… camera gear etc are tax free and 20% cheaper though.

    65 dollar is just crazy.

  • incendiary

    I think I’ll keep my day job…. that’s awful.

  • Stiv

    Economics 101 (actually this precedes Econ 101): Scarcity = Price+ (i.e. no scarcity = low or no price).

    These days, photos and “coverage” is not as scarce, in fact it is increasingly more common and very easy to acquire. What we are witnessing is technological saturation and the market responding in kind. Higher frequency of photos increase odds of larger pools of acceptable shots (not art, not treasured photos, just shots). Top “brands” are scarce. I do not find it disgusting. I find it revealing.

    Respectfully submitted

  • Stefan Nilsson

    Remember that the newspaper have the same problem. They’ve got to pay a writer, photographer, electric bills, computers, rent, designer, software, papers, staff, etc. There’s only so much you can get for the money.

  • Alex Minkin

    they’re breaking down the average, not stating a definitive price per image.

    thats the entire point of the line “freelance photographers are earning an average of around $10 per photograph.”


  • Joe Harrington

    I shot concerts or the Boston Phoenix (freelance), then we got a memo saying that they could not pay us to shoot shows anymore. It was $75.00 a show, free ticket in. These rates above seem a bit horrible.

  • Kenneth

    I don’t think even $800 is fair enough!

  • Andres Madrigal

    $65 is ridiculous. Here in Costa Rica I would charge at least $100 for an hour’s worth of shooting.

  • bennetthall

    I still recall a time, a good 20 years ago however, when being a photographer was respectable and the compensation was reasonable and on occasion good. Reading this confirms that I made the right decision to hang this up. The disrespect for talent that is evolving today, illustrated by this post, is like a cancer, ruled by corporate bean-counters, rendering artists with no incentive to create. It shocks me.

  • Kurt B

    What the hell? Photographers bring great feature photographs that get readership and they are only getting paid $10 per photo? That is revolting!

  • Kurt B

    Yes, and all of those other positions get better pay.

  • pvbella

    They want the whiny little kids who are suffering under student loan debt and desperate for any job.

  • pvbella

    The Sun Times does not have writers, or editors for that matter. The paper is poorly written. A fourth grader writes better than a Sun Times “writer”.

  • Isaac Zapata

    As a person who does freelance photography I’d suggest considering that it is freelance work so the rest of your day is free.. Im not on the publications side but, on average a decent salary job pays anywhere from $85 to $120 per day (or less, then subtract health insurance, dental, gas, lunch clothes, taxes etc.) Considering my average shoot usually takes me 45 minutes to an hour within a 30 mile radius a 25 to 35 shoots per month (between publications) is a pretty good base for me. The rest of my day is free to schedule any higher paying clients or creative projects that many times are created from the people I meat while out shooting for the magazines… Not to mention the added credibility shooting for a publication gives you. It’s not a long term thing and it can be a bad thing if you are not getting too many shoots per month, but it is a great way to get your 10 thousand hours in…

  • Rob S

    hmmm…when I started selling microstock I heard about how low the rates were an I was going to get ripped off. I routinely get more than $10 a picture and I still own them. Not only are they getting less they dont own any the images. Those freelancers would be better off shooting micro.

  • Stacy Walsh Rosenstock

    And what happens to the rights to those photos? Is this one time non exclusive or does the Sun Times expect to use them in perpetuity?

  • BDWT

    Soooo… can anyone say boycott?

  • Charles Payet

    How pathetic.

  • HRTV

    I think everyone has missed the boat here. The prices quted by the Sun are not for “photo shoots” 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. Hourly rates do not apply. They are not looking for 5th AVE or Rodeo Drive studio photogs.

  • Jackie Curry


  • Rob S

    LOL. I got a request for use of one of my images in a TV show. It was going to be an intro image for a segment of the show – 2-3 times a week with an audience in the millions. I quoted them $250 because it was not that great an image – it had been rejected by my microstock company – so it was free money to me. They offered me $50. I told them no thanks.

  • PentaxShooter

    I am not sure if the event you cover for them is 100% exclusive to the paper, if you were really keen on making $$ – Use your credentials for the big stuff – give a few snaps to the Sun, and upload to the Wires..

  • David

    Seriously, that is an idiotic statement that demeans the entire profession of photojournalism. You think our work is somehow not on the same level as “5 Ave. or Rodeo Drive studio shots???” You think THAT work is more important?! Do you think it is more difficult to do? Do you understand photojournalism at all???

  • upzmtn

    You just need to do the math. Even if you’re a newb, “working’ for the sun-times is going to drain your bank accounts because time is money and so is wear and tear on gear. Event the foolish eventually figure this out and they will eventually run out of fools. Moreover, there is a rising tide of agencies that recognize the power of imagery to attract, and ultimately that’s the goal with any publication. The rest will whither by the wayside of mediocrity, and become ad hoc outlets with few customers, little profitability and failures worthy of their creators greedy folly.

  • David

    The serious answer is that NO ONE should work for the Sun-Times at this point. I suppose it is easy to say because i don’t live in Chicago, but if i did i would simply find my clients elsewhere. I realize that’s difficult, but these guys will just continue to take advantage if we let them get away with this crap.

  • mike

    a–h—-s I got paid more in 1967. And the top crust of these organizations is making big dollars… Face it! They do not give a rat’s ass about journalism. It’s another money grab just like goldman sachs…. Crooks!

  • DesertandSeas

    Disgusting and off topic. What’s the matter Victor, don’t you know how to phrase a clarification question in English?

  • bennetthall

    What a joke they would be so ignorant. it is not worth generating an invoice for less than $100, if that, as it involves determining licensing rights granted when issuing the docs; remember copyright law (1976) gives the creator ownership unless specifically granted to the assignee. The less than reputable try to assume possession of the file means that they own the content, which is not the case by law, although actions are seldom worth undertaking unless the infringement is egregious and involves major deployment, eg billboards national.

  • Garrett

    Yea? Think that kind of compensation is appalling? Try being a musician…

  • MattSteeleLA

    They weren’t ignorant. It was Saatchi & Saatchi. I’m sure they’ve paid for a photo or two. ;)

  • Eric

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

    Just because you (or I) wouldn’t do it, doesn’t mean someone else won’t. Same goes for people who work at Walmart, or who pick produce in the fields.

    There’s always a choice. If it’s below your pay grade, don’t take the job. Once they have no one to fill the position, they’ll offer more. But what incentive do they have to offer more money, when they’re getting work done at the price they’re offering?

  • Photographer

    Is this a joke? Seriously I am disgusted!!

  • Michael D

    You’d make more AND get more respect.

  • Vin Weathermon

    Had a guy email me raving about how good one of my landscapes is. He asked if he could buy the image file. I said sure, tell me what you want to use it for. He says for his advertising. I say well that would be $200. He says that is ridiculous, he can get them anywhere on the web for free. Naturally I sent him copyright law information, and told him he was stealing if he did this, but it didn’t matter to him. And he would likely do exactly what he said, and nobody would much care.

    The parallel to this story is that photography is worth less and less each day, diluted by billions upon billions of images (good or bad). Its remarkable that anyone can make a living now, doing what is essentially “something anyone can do for free”. Why would journalistic photographers be any different? Nobody is getting what they used to anymore. It’s almost like you have to be your own on-air talent, writer, producer, videographer and sound guy on your own channel to get good money. Then they could fire the talking heads too.

  • Michael D

    Scarcity is one issue in pricing, but quality is another that is equally important. As they say, oats directly from the field are one price; oats directly from the horse are another. The Sun-Times pricing assures they’ll be buying from the horse.

  • Vin Weathermon

    So sad… have commercial photographer friends who got out six years ago, seeing the trend then. They went into stock photography, and even that tanked (we’re talking Getty images.) Maybe this trend will pare off tons of people who can’t keep in the game, and things will turn around for those who remain…?

  • Paul Alexander

    I wonder how much this site pays to use images?

  • benny

    Look, saying that the job’s good because it leaves you time to do stuff that actually makes money… that doesn’t really make sense.

    I’m not sure where you’re getting that figure for income for a decent salary job, it sounds very low (what country are you in?). Doing a quick back of the envelope calculation, you’d need to do 5 assignments per day, every day to approach what you’d earn in a mid-level IT job. And that’s before you take into account equipment & travel expenses. This stuff becomes important once you’re no longer just providing for yourself.

  • rtorblephoto

    HRTV has a point. Some of the guys that got laid off (I don’t know all of them, obviously) are AMAZING photographers, producing work to an incredibly high standard, producing timeless ART. They will still do that, they will just do it elsewhere. The Sun-Times no longer values that, they are happy with cell phone shots from moms taking their kids to school on the way to the mall. That’s ok, if it suits their needs. It doesn’t devalue or disrespect photography, it devalues the Sun-Times and disrespects their readers because they are saying that “ok is good enough, we don’t need high quality anymore” There is only one loser here and it ain’t photography.

  • Heie

    This site doesn’t pay to use images. I have been featured on three occasions here (Alex Jansen –> for a handheld stabilization article I wrote, a weather sealing video that unexpectedly went viral, and my deployment photography from Afghanistan, and I never received a penny. I don’t mean that in a negative way, just being succinct about it. This is a photographic-centric news feed with posts from all over the web that have value to the industry of photography. With that said, PetaPixel is, in my opinion, the *BEST* website/publication I have *EVER* come across with regard to ensuring attributions to the author/creator/photographer/etc are given. The first two features here (the article and video) were without my knowing so – I was informed by friends that they were here! And still, PP went above and beyond to research who I was and entirely attribute credit to me.

    I agree that the article posted above is downright insulting to photographers whom have invested equally large amounts of time and money. It cheapens the craft and the industry and aspirations of someone like me that one day aspires to be a photographer by trade and not just by hobby. To insinuate, even very subtly, that PetaPixel has the same standards of character and integrity as Sun-Times Media is not just disheartening, but simply deplorable.

    Very Respectfully,

    Alex Jansen

  • Heie

    Apparently the link above included the parenthesis in the URL path, deeming the link invalid. I posted as a guest and thus cannot edit the post, so here is the corrected link to the three occasions as a reference:

    My apologies for any inconvenience.

  • aaa

    5000 for the camera + 7000 for the lens is 12000$ for just the essantial gear for a sport photographer. Divide this by 95, let say 100. So you would need like 120 assignments just to cover the cost of the gear.