Editorial photography is a curious term that seems a little bit harder to define. Unlike commercial photography, which has a clear intent and purpose, editorial photography is often presented to tell an entirely different story.
News organizations use editorials to tell a story or illustrate a written piece. As a result, editorial photography examples pop up in all sorts of publications, both in print and online. They cover the gamut of life, from fashion shots in Vogue to small-town news stories in your local paper.
Let's take a look at this fascinating segment of the photography industry, and look at some ways you can boost your editorial photography portfolio along the way.
What is Editorial Photography?
Some types of photography are pretty cut and dry, with clear definitions. But editorial work is different. This is partly because the word editorial is used to encompass several different things.
Even in writing, editorial is a multifaceted word. On the one hand, the "editorial team" consists of all of the people who get material ready for publication. On the other, as a noun, it refers to articles where editors give their opinions on topical issues.
In a broader sense, "editorial content" is writing in a newspaper or magazine with some purpose other than selling something. In a newspaper, it includes all the news stories, obituaries, sports, or entertainment news. In a magazine, it includes all of the articles that aren't advertisements. Here is an list of photography magazines that you should be reading,
So how does this apply to photography? Like in writing, editorials are meant for publication. To that extent, they're like commercial photographs - taken with the intent to be printed in magazines or newspapers. Here is a guide to commercial photography, if you would like to read more on the subject.
But with photos, it's essential to clearly draw the line of intention with an editorial.
Editorial images add to the story - they are there to communicate something to the viewer. But whatever that something is, it isn't to sell a product.
Editorial work is commonly compared to commercial photography, but there are some significant differences. See the section below for more about these two types of photography.
Understanding Editorial Style Photography
The word editorial is used differently in photography by different companies, so it's important to verify your requirements before proceeding. Are you looking at the term from a legal standpoint or from a creative one?
For example, many stock companies allow for commercial or "editorial" licenses. As a photographer, you must choose which one you are uploading. There are important legal differences between the two in this case, so it's crucial to read the fine print.
In licensing certain photographs, the word editorial is used to note photographs that cannot be used in advertising. Instead, they are for informative purposes only. In a few cases, this sort of image does not require the standard model or property releases to be sold. Read more on how to license your photography works.
On the other hand, you might be referring to an editorial as a style of photography. Some people are interested in taking a specific type of editorial photograph, for example, fashion editorial photography. Read more on fashion photography in our article for those who want to master the craft of creating images of the fashion world.
Another common type of editorial is photojournalism. This goes hand-in-hand with the newspaper and news magazine business. But, of course, this type of photography is used all over the web and social media now, as well.
Editorial Photography Examples
Here are a few examples of where you might find editorial images used.
- Step-by-step recipe photos in a food magazine
- Event photos from a local charity fundraiser or sports game
- Photos used to illustrate articles for education
- Travel photos in a magazine not associated with a resort or brand
- Fashion Editorial Photography
How to Shoot Editorial Style Photography
- Find your story or concept for Editorial Photos
- Create a Mood board for Editorial Photography
- Find your model for Editorial Photos
- Get a Production Team for Editorial Photography
- Scout for Locations for Editorial Photos
- Direct the Shoot for Editorial Photography
- Photography Gear for Editorial Shoots
- Editorial Post Production
There is more process to creating an editorial picture than there is in other areas of photography. Since editorials are all about the story being told, messages implied, and the viewer's emotions, editorials are all about planning and careful execution.
Editorials are also highly dependant on a creative vision. When you're one photographer working on your own, it's easy to keep the vision clear in your head. But when working with a large team, organization and clear communication are key. Here are some expert tips on creating aesthetic pictures.
Most shoots begin with a creative brief written by the company for whom the work is being completed. This brief is basically your job description, and it's going to tell you what the company is looking for. But they hired you not only for your skill in fulfilling the brief but also for your creativity in how you will complete the job.
Creative briefs are a vital part of any shoot for publication since they will clearly outline the goals of the final product. But the creative team, or in some cases the photographer alone, will be responsible for coming up with all the "who, what, when, why, and how" details.
Find your story or concept for Editorial Photos
The first thing you'll want to scope out when you receive the brief is what the concept is that you're editorializing. It might not be included because some briefs layout precise details but don't dive into the creative side at all. More often than not, you'll know what the image is being used for, but then why is up to you to polish.
Spend some time working on your vision and figuring out a compelling story to tell with your images. The more time you spend in these early stages formulating a plan, the easier the rest of the process will be.
Create a Mood Board for Editorial Photography
A mood board is a collection of inspirational ideas that you find online. For example, Pinterest is basically a social media network built on the idea of mood boards. Here are 15 great tips on how to create a great mood board.
In professional creative photography, mood boards are used to collect ideas that may or may not make it into your final project. It's part of your research, and you can think of it as a sort of competitive analysis. Search other publications that are similar to your client's, and look for similar projects. What concepts are they trying to communicate, and how did they do it? Find as many editorial photography examples as you can that might help you later.
But mood boards don't have to be that deep. You often might see an element that you really like--one that sparks an idea or a burst of creativity. Maybe it's the wardrobe or hairstyling choices, or may it's the type of model or the setting. Whatever it is, add it to your mood board.
The goal of the mood board is two-fold. Firstly, you want to collect these ideas to better help you formulate your own concepts. In the end, it will help you pull off your shoot by giving your ideas a place to get organized. Secondly, these boards are also a vital part of the teamwork process on big projects. The mood board is shared, and multiple team members can add to the board and make notes.
Big projects might have many different boards and many different revisions as the ideas and concept gets revised. However, as the project moves forward, the favourite concepts get distilled on the mood board, and they start to appear more prevalent. This is when you know you are narrowing your ideas down to your final concept.
Find Your Model for Editorial Photos
Of the things you work out through planning, picking your models is one of the biggest. Nearly all editorial work involves models, but the models that work for commercial shoots may or may not work well on editorial ones. Here is an article on different types of models in the fashion world.
For this reason, it's essential to focus on the emotional content of your brief and of your plan. The model will be responsible for communicating these concepts to the viewer, and picking a model with the correct skillset will save you a lot of time and frustration in the future.
And then, of course, there are the pure aesthetics of the model and the image you want to produce. But, again, it's not uncommon for your client to lay out many specifics here since the model often represents the publication's target market or story idea.
Get a Production Team for Editorial Photography
Editorial shoots have many moving parts, and you'll want to have an experienced team at your side. You may be responsible for finding your help, or your client may put the team together themselves. At a minimum, most shoots include makeup artists, costume designers, and wardrobe specialists.
Scout for Locations for Editorial Photos
Now you have your models, and your creative team put together, where will you work? Again, the details of this may be laid out for you in the creative brief. But many times, there is a lot of flexibility. Depending on the type of project, you may find yourself flying all over the world on editorial shoots. On the other hand, some photographers might never leave the studio!
Direct the Shoot for Editorial Photography
Once all the planning is done, it's time to take the money shots. As you might have guessed, this is a team endeavour. With so many moving parts, communication is vital. Every team needs a leader, and while there might be a director in your team, the photographer has the final say. The photographer is the only one who can see through the lens and know what the final product will look like. As such, their word goes.
Photography Gear for Editorial Shoots
Editorial images are used for print in high-end publications. As such, they require the best technical abilities coupled with the best equipment.
Most editorial photographers use the best full-frame DSLRs. They usually have at least two requirements for their equipment. First, they need it to be portable enough that they can shoot anywhere. Secondly, they need it to be expandable and settable enough to get any shot they ask for it.
Editorial images are often more demanding than other types of photography to get right technically. Getting the lighting, exposure, focus, and poses right may take many tries. The photography equipment you use needs to expand with your vision. This usually requires having a complete kit of lighting and lens options. Usually, prime normal and portrait lenses with the widest apertures available are used.
This type of photography is also often done in diverse locations, so photographers need to consider what gear gives them the most options when they pack their gear bags. While preference is given to heavy and reliable equipment, that gear also needs to be packable enough to be used anywhere.
The post-production from an editorial shoot depends significantly on the content and the final use. Every project is unique.
In general, editorial images that you see in magazines are highly polished for that perfect look. Much like advertising images, there are few things off-limits in this type of photography. Edits are made to help better communicate the overall goal and story of the image. If the image is for journalistic and newsgathering purposes, different rules apply to how they should be edited after capture.
Fashion Editorial Photography
Fashion editorial photography focuses on the mood instead of selling the clothing item or product. During a fashion editorial shoot, models may be wearing specific clothes or showing off makeup techniques. The purpose is to convey a mood, tell a story, or discuss current events.
For example, if a celebrity or politician makes a particular fashion statement, a magazine may run an article showing readers how to get that specific look. The purpose of this article is to discuss current events and show readers a process, rather than sell them particular brands. In this example, the magazine editorial staff have requested the article and will pay for its production. If this were an ad for clothing, the clothing manufacturer would pay for the photography and then pay advertising fees.
In another example, a fashion magazine may have noticed that their readers are interested in reef-safe sunblock. The magazine may then do a compare and contrast article to help readers understand the different types of sunblock available. The photographer may be given a brief asking for photos of models showing the sunblock. The photos may be similar to advertising photos. However, their purpose is different.
Understanding the Difference Between Editorial and Commercial Photography
Commercial photos are pretty easy to understand. The entire purpose of commercial photography is to convince the viewer to use or buy products or services from a particular brand. Most tellingly, the photographers are usually hired by that brand.
You can think about commercial work as a form of advertising for the company. Many creative aspects go into posing and composing this image. And there is a story to be told--but that story is that you should buy the product.
Editorial images sometimes look very similar, but the story and the message are different. Editorials are not about buying something--they are simply about telling a story. Instead of a product or brand, the editorial tries to sell the viewer on a concept. The goal is to express the writer's point of view or story in a visual way.
It doesn't help the confusion that many commercial images try to make themselves look like editorials. If you think about it, it makes sense that a good commercial ad wouldn't just sell you on the beverage and the brand. Instead, it would communicate other ideas, like thirst, satisfaction, or how much you deserve a treat.
Editorial Photography Jobs
Editorial images cover a wide range of topics and specializations. As such, the first step to working in the field is to decide precisely what sort of photographs you'd like to be taking.
A good starting point is to familiarize yourself with the magazines that most closely align with your interests. For example, if you're interested in fashion, study the images used in Vogue or Harper's Bizzare. If you'd like to do travel photography, pick up the latest Conde Nast or National Geographic Explorer.
Editorial photography is not for everyone. It often involves working with a large team to put a shoot together. This contrasts with other types of photography, which can be a solo profession.
Shoots are also often quick-changing as creative ideas ebb and flow. Photographers must adapt quickly and think on their feet. Like a wedding photographer, you might be capturing candids in between posed shots.
How Can You Get Work as an Editorial Photographer?
Breaking into the field of editorial photography is not unlike any other type of photography. You start by researching to learn everything you can about the type of photography, how it's shot, and who is best at it.
Once you start to learn about it, start to shoot it! Set up your own editorial shoots. Your goal is to start building a quality portfolio, so do your own projects and hone your own skills. Put together as many editorial photography examples as you can to fill your portfolio. Show that you can communicate different types of concepts and ideas to suit the needs of many different types of clients.
Once you've got a solid online portfolio built of your projects, start looking for projects that you can do for money. You can search online job boards, or you can look in your local community. It's usually easier to start out with small regional publications--don't hit up Vogue as your first job.
It takes years to build a portfolio of work that will land you those top-tier jobs. But the path is fun and rewarding, especially for photographers who enjoy the creative aspect of it.
Building Your Personal Brand in the Editorial World
A career as an editorial photographer is a little different than other areas. As we touched on previously, there is a lot of teamwork in the editorial process. You'll be communicating and sharing ideas and bouncing ideas off other team members to get their feedback and input.
Your clients are also different. For example, you aren't necessarily working for a portrait client or shooting a wedding. Instead, you're working business to business, and a publication hires you.
To have a successful future in this type of work, you'll want to practice the best business and professional skills you can muster. Always be punctual and professional. Treat your coworkers, team members, and clients with respect. In other words, make them want to work with you again.
There's a thin line out there for artists who are hired for their creative vision. You may very well consistently produce the most beautiful images in the business. But if no one wants to work with you more than once, you will find yourself struggling to get repeat business.
How Much Does an Editorial Photographer Make?
According to PayScale, the average editorial photographer in the US makes around $47,000 per year. Of course, this is the average. When you just start out, you will make much less, and those that have mastered the field and work for the best publications make much more.
But when compared to commercial photography, the pay for editorials is much lower. It makes some sense--most of the money in these publications is coming from the ads. Traditionally, news organizations are strapped for cash.
Another vital factor to take into account is the amount of competition in the field. For example, in the field of editorial images as photojournalism, the landscape is much different than it was a decade ago. With everyone carrying smartphones everywhere, the news is often captured as it is happening by the people it's happening to.
So not only is editorial style photography a competitive field, but it's also one that has been diminished to some extent by crowdsourcing.
Most editorial shutterbugs rely on other means to make their big bucks. Many moonlight as commercial photographers to supplement their income. Others work for as many publications are they possibly can, and they also sell their images to stock companies.
Editorial style photography is a rewarding career and a fascinating type of the artform. There are few better ways to exercise your creative vision and create transformational and impactful images.
Editorial photography examples are all around you once you start looking. It's a kind of photograph that isn't on many photographers' radars, but it really should be. There are tons of opportunities and lots of growth potential, both in print and on the web.