The Beginner’s Guide to Editorial Photography


Editorial necessity is usually understood as the publication of a picture in the media (newspapers, Internet, TV). When uploading such a picture to stocks, you must specifically indicate that the picture was taken for purposes. Check the box or choose from the Editorial submenu. Photos purchased under the license cannot be used as a commercial one. When uploading editorial photos to photo stocks, you should understand that the picture must have some kind of plot. Editorial pictures can be taken in popular tourist places where there are a lot of people.

Pictures that appear in content almost always help illustrate the topic of an article. For example, articles about celebrities often use stock photos of their faces to help the reader understand who the text is about. But editorial use is not limited to journals. Popular science books, documentaries, and other noteworthy publications all meet the use guidelines. In addition, pictures can also be used for educational purposes such as textbooks or presentations

How is commercial and editorial photography different?

What are Editorial Licenses for images

Determining what type of image, video clip, or illustration belongs to is a little more difficult, but it is very important to understand how to do this because this is the only way to determine how your project can be licensed.

Commercial content is much more restrictive than editorial photography because the content is used for promotional purposes. Content requires the permissions of the property owners, picture contributors, and recognizable people in the image. Still, the content is not required because it is used in public sources such as news releases.

How can commercial materials be used? As the name suggests, materials can be used commercially to monetize, sell, advertise goods, companies, and services. They can be featured on billboards, websites, blogs, brochures, Facebook ads, and even TV ads. Does your company have a blog that you use to promote your products and services? This is commercial use. Are you creating a photo for your company’s Facebook page? And this is also commercial. These rules apply to everyone, whether your organization is for-profit or non-profit.

Consider an example: Let's say a travel agency has decided to advertise day trips from Rio de Janeiro and wants to post a relevant image on its website. He will need an image that can be used commercially because this is an advertisement to attract clients who want to purchase a tour.

An image is suitable for this, accompanied by a model resolution, in which the woman depicted allows the photographer to license the image on the stock exchanges. There are no logos or trademarks on her clothes, and the shooting location is not subject to restrictions, which means this image can be used for trading purposes.


  • Every recognizable person in an image must give the photographer, filmmaker, or illustrator permission from the model to use the material commercially.
  • Recognizable property, artwork, graffiti, and tattoos must be accompanied by the property owner's permission to use the material commercially (read carefully about the types of property authorizations, when required, and what information should be included in them).
  • The materials should not contain trademarks, names, and company logos.
  • The image must not violate intellectual property rights.
  • The place, facility, or activity must not be subject to restrictions.

Editorial photography

  • The material should depict an event.
  • Models in the image should not pose, the characters in the video should not act according to a predetermined scenario. For example, a posed family portrait without model releases cannot be considered material.
  • Content should not be edited (only cropping, exposure adjustments, and conversion to black and white are allowed).
  • The title of the material must comply with editorial rules, i.e., include location, date, and actual description of the event, preferably in the following format city - Date: description of the scene.

Shutterstock adheres to the stylistic requirements of the AP Style Guidelines; therefore, individual cities (well-known, for example, London, New York, Moscow) can be specified without region and country.

Editorial photography documentaries generally do not require model and property releases and may contain company names and logos. However, many places and activities have certain restrictions. Here are some examples of places and activities that are subject to restrictions:

  • Annual US Contemporary Art Festival
  • Sculpture Atomium in Belgium
  • All national parks of Brazil
  • Property of the UK National Monuments Trust.

Although depictions of events such as concerts, horse races, football matches, and fashion shows do not require model release and may contain logos, they may require a press ID. The certificate must be obtained at the venue of the event. It gives the artist permission to image and film the event.

Finding the perfect photo to print or use on a website involves many details. However, one fundamental question needs to be resolved before starting to evaluate which image has the best light and more beautiful model. Perhaps the main principle by which the materials can be divided is to highlight editorial photography and promotional materials.

But while these categories seem obvious, it's not always so obvious which category your image belongs to and how that category affects its use. Licensing errors in images have led to many lawsuits in situations where an unsuspecting person suddenly finds himself in an advertisement for a company or stock that he does not like. 

  • The fundamental difference of commercial pictures is that the people represented in the picture have signed a permission form, which legally permits their portraits in a commercial context.

But even within such narrow standards for the use of content, there is some creative freedom in the choice of image.

Once you've decided what kind of editorial or commercial content you need, you can easily find images that match your needs.

What are Editorial Licenses for images?

Editorial photography guide for beginners

Editorial license implies using the photo, not for advertising, marketing, or product promotion purposes but solely to illustrate a news story. Photos sold by editorially licensed microstocks are more limited in how and where they can be published, while commercial pictures can be used more widely, but there are more restrictions on their content.

A picture sold under a license may only be used in news or general publications such as:

  • textbooks
  • magazines
  • newspapers
  • blogs.

Each microstock has rules that you should read before starting to work with a stock. There, without fail, you will see information about which images the stock accepts and which you can not even try to upload.

How do I know which editorial photography will be on sale? It is very difficult to predict how well editorial images can be sold.

  • It will be most likely sold well if you have a good shot of an interesting or international event. If you were the only photographer to capture this amazing event, then it will be certainly sold better. However, such situations are extremely rare. Carrying your camera with you wherever you go will increase your chances of getting an interesting shot.
  • If you are in a foreign country, you neede to research local holidays. Such images will be sold annually because journals need to cover such events in advance.
  • If a global event is taking place in your home country, it is also worth filming this event, showing fans, tourists, and a general holiday. In this case, it is better not to hesitate to send images to the stock because they are important here and now while the event is still relevant. But there is a possibility that these pictures will be bought before the next similar event.

You need to collect a small portfolio, analyze which editorial pictures are sold more often, and be ready for the next event, already knowing what the buyer needs.

How many stocks can be downloaded for editorial photography? You can upload images only to one stock, but exclusively, or upload several stocks at once, but you may spend a little more time. You will need to study or remember the rules for all stocks for uploading editorial materials.

What else is important? You must follow the generally accepted format City, region/country month day year description when describing materials. If the exact date is not known, you can specify an indicative month and year or an indicative year.

For large and well-known cities, it is not necessary to indicate the country in the name.

When creating your description, ask the following questions:

  • Where and when was this image taken?
  • Who is in the picture?
  • What's going on in the image?
  • How or why did this event happen?
  • Add names if necessary.
  • Describe your actions in the present tense.

Editorial photography guide for beginners

If you are just starting to image and create editorial photography, many things can seem quite confusing. Here are some tips for aspiring photographers.

  • Choice of settings. Even if you have an expensive SLR camera, it's better to start taking pictures in automatic mode. Let your camera choose all the settings, for example, shutter speed or sensitivity. This avoids the sometimes annoying search for the correct settings. But nevertheless, after a while, you should switch to the manual mode of camera settings purely subjectively; this will make the process of taking pictures much more attractive for you.
  • Pay attention to perspective. A typical mistake of those just starting to engage in image is when the photographer stands in one place, not approaching the subject, but only uses the zoom. While this is handy, it is unlikely to help you create great shots.

Zoom, that is, changing the lens’s focal length, often leads to the fact that you are shooting a subject with a boring perspective. Try to kneel; the results will speak for themselves.

  • Correct frame division. Use the golden ratio or take the beginner photography course. To make your images interesting, you should stick to the rule of thirds. In a simplified version, it says that the most interesting points of the frame should always be on the border of its thirds. The most important areas of the image are best located at the intersection of the lines of the invisible grid, as in the picture on the right.

Of course, the rules are broken, but following this advice, many successful images have been created.

  • How to create good images even at night? It is essential to be able to hold the camera still at night. For best results, it is best to use a tripod. If you are shooting in manual mode, set the ISO to a low ISO stop. Noise will appear in the picture due to high ISO levels.

In the dark, be it in automatic or manual mode, you are unlikely to capture fast-moving objects; there simply is not enough light for this. In this case, a flash will be a good helper. To masterfully use the settings of your camera, you can take a beginner photography course.

  • How do I bring an image to life? There are many techniques for creating interesting pictures; one of them is the so-called bokeh, a blurred background as in the above image. You can achieve this using a long focal length or a dedicated lens. Zoom in or use a long focal length lens and set the focus points on the subject. You can easily achieve beautiful bokeh. However, when shooting with a smartphone, unfortunately, this trick cannot be applied.

Changing the aperture value or exposure can bring life to your images. Fast shutter speeds freeze motion and are therefore ideal for sports images and other moving subjects. By opening and closing the iris, you can increase or decrease the light entering the sensor. And don't forget that the lower the f-number, the shallower the depth of field.

Be creative and open to new ideas. In the worst case, the pictures won't quite work out, and you just have to delete them. Experiment with your camera. You will be amazed at what kind of images you can create.

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