Survey Finds Career in Freelance Photojournalism is Unsustainable

A person wearing a gray beanie and black jacket takes a photo with a large-lens camera in an urban setting. They have a black backpack, and several people are in the background, some blurred, suggesting a gathering or event.

A survey of photojournalists found an overwhelming majority of them believe that freelancing is unsustainable.

Of the 48 photographers who were surveyed, only four of them said that, in its current state, a career in freelance photojournalism is sustainable.

The study was carried out by Rob Haggart who runs the popular @aphotoeditor on Instagram. The respondents identified “rights-grabbing contracts” and “low assignment rates” as the reasons why photojournalism is difficult.

“I hate being pessimistic because we need quality journalism now more than ever, but you’re cursing yourself to poverty and worse by being a photojournalist,” wrote one respondent who has 25 years of experience and is now living on disability. “I’ve sacrificed financial stability and my health for this life.”

How Much do Freelance Photojournalists Get Paid?

According to the survey, national newspapers like The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal pay day rates that range from $400 and $500. Rates that allegedly have remained stagnant for years.

Those fees don’t account for pre-production work like meetings with the editorial team and post-production work such as editing and captioning.

The New York Times pays $450 for a day rate but 25 percent ($113) goes on taxes and 30 percent ($135) goes on business operating costs, according to @aphotoeditor.

Comparatively, a staff photographer at The New York Times has an annual salary of roughly $120,000 but that comes with perks including retirement benefits, health insurance, a company car, and camera equipment.

With the added benefits, the annual value of a staff job is estimated to be closer to $200,000 which freelancers on a $ 450-day rate would need to work 445 days a year to achieve and a way of manipulating time to achieve that number.

“It’s ironic that we are asked to cover stories of people struggling, of suffering, of victims of abuse of power. Yet, would our newspaper ever run a story on how they exploit and abuse their own contractors? I don’t think so,” wrote one respondent with eight years of experience.


The survey stuck a chord with photographers who left hundreds of comments praising the survey while revealing their own experiences.

One freelance photographer based in New York City said that upgrading to mirrorless is a “far-fetched dream” for her in this economy. Joking that she will be “buried with my [Nikon] D800 at this rate.”

Many pointed out that lots of freelancers survive thanks to supportive partners or parents while also rankling about the rights to their photos being taken by large photo agencies or publications.

The full post can be found here.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.