A Beginner’s Guide to Editorial Photography

When you think about editorial photography, the first thing that comes to mind is the photos printed on the pages of a magazine or book. But, that’s only partially what editorial photography is. It can also be used to describe the look or style of a particular image.

This guide will explain the different types of editorial photography. We’ll give you several tips that will help get you started in the field, and we’ll show examples of current trends in editorial photography.

editorial photography
Photo by Nicole Angelova on Unsplash


What is editorial photography?

Editorial photography can be hard to define. That’s because there are really two different concepts — editorial photography as a style and editorial photography as a usage. Let’s explore these two concepts in greater detail:

Editorial photography as a style

When we say editorial photography is a style, we’re talking about images that tell a story. They don’t sell a product or service. They aren’t simply photographs of an object, like product photography or portraits of people. Instead, they seek to be informative. They usually accompany an article, so they demonstrate what the story is about. 

However, editorial photography can be staged. Unlike photojournalism, in which the photographer is only there to record the event, editorial photographers can manipulate the scene. This allows them to help tell the story. They have creative license to insert their own style and perspective into the image. For example, they might ask someone to pose, smile, hold an object, or demonstrate a task.

editorial style image
This is an example of an editorial-style image. It would accompany a story about this event in India. 

Editorial photography as usage

Sometimes an image is described as editorial use only. That means it has a license that accounts for how the photo can, or cannot, be used. Legally, photos sold with an editorial license cannot be used for commercial or advertising purposes. These kinds of images usually contain recognizable people or products or some other copyrighted material. 

Now, here’s where it can get confusing. Photos that are sold with an editorial license might not have an editorial style. It could’ve saved us all a headache if the two had been given different names, but here we are! 

editorial obama
This is an example of an editorial-only image. It portrays a famous person, there is no model release accompanying the image. It can only be used in educational, non-commercial presentations.

What’s the best camera and lens for editorial photography?

Shooting photos for editorial use requires professional gear. Remember, these images will be printed, so high-quality is an absolute necessity. A full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera with high megapixels will suit you well. 

As far as lenses go, that will depend on what you shoot. Keep a wide range of focal lengths in your camera bag so you’ll always be ready. A wide-angle lens, a good all-around zoom like the 24-70mm, and a telephoto zoom like a 70-200mm will have you covered for most situations. 

However, if you’ve only got the budget for one lens, a 50mm “nifty fifty” is a fantastic, affordable prime lens that will adapt to most situations.


Tips for editorial photography

The following are all qualities of successful editorial photographers:

Always follow the creative brief

Your photo assignment will come with a creative brief. Make sure you understand exactly what the client wants and deliver it. 

Create unique concepts

Your clients will be looking to you to come up with interesting and creative concepts. Remember, the point of editorial photography is to tell a story. If you can do that in a compelling way, they will be more likely to hire you again.

orange
Photo by Alvin Balemesa on Unsplash

Always show up on time & meet your deadlines

Showing up late and missing deadlines is never acceptable, even for creatives. Always be professional by showing up on time and delivering your images on or before your deadline. 

Be diverse in your skillset

The more you know how to do, the more valuable you are to your clients. So, let your clients know if you can record and edit video, capture drone footage, shoot underwater photography, write copy, or provide graphic design services.

Learn post-processing

Never hand over unedited images. Your job isn’t finished until you properly process your RAW files through a photo editing software like Lightroom, Photoshop, or one of the many free options available. You don’t have to spend hours editing every photo, but simple tweaks like cropping, boosting contrast, and sharpening can make a world of difference.


If you want to be an editorial photographer, your images have to be technically perfect, of course. But, you also need to stay on top of the latest trends in photography so you can deliver what editors are looking for. With this in mind, here are some examples of trends we’re seeing today:

Diversity

Diversity has been a trend for many years and continues to be popular. We’re seeing not only diversity of race, but diversity of age, gender, sexuality, body type, and more. They are a reflection of the diversity of the photographers who are shooting the images.

editorial diversity
Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash

Past eras

Whether it’s the sixties, seventies, eighties, or nineties, nods to decades gone by are a really popular trend these days. These images are often reminiscent of a simpler time. They also tend to have unique and interesting color combinations.

editorial retro
Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev on Unsplash

Pops of color

In a sea of photographs, a pop of color grabs the viewer’s attention and stops them from flipping the pages or scrolling on their screens. 

color
Photo by Shubham Bochiwal on Unsplash

Eco-conscience

The concern over the environment is becoming apparent in photography. More brands are turning to eco-friendly, environmentally conscious messaging in their advertising and more editorial content is being written on the topic.

editorial eco
Photo by Vitor Monthay on Unsplash

Unique portrait styles

It can be a challenge to find a new approach to portraiture, which has been done so often and for so long. A rising trend in editorial photography is finding new and interesting ways to photograph people.

editorial people
Photo by Braxton Apana on Unsplash

Final thoughts

Now you know, the term editorial photography means different things to different people. To sum it up, the style of editorial photography is all about telling a story. It has roots in journalism because these images are most often used in magazines and on websites to accommodate an article.

An editorial use photograph, however, is something entirely different. That defines and restricts where and when your photograph can be used. It has nothing at all to do with the content of the photo. 

When you’re ready to get started as an editorial photographer, first, decide which type of editorial photography you want to shoot.

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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