Explained: Editorial use in photography

First published:
May 22, 2023
January 31, 2024

Explained: Editorial use in photography

First published:
May 22, 2023
January 31, 2024

Cover photo by Kelly

Heard the words "editorial" or "editorial use" in a photography context but not quite sure what it all means? This guide gives you everything you need to know

In photography, there is a concept known as "editorial use", where images are incorporated into news, commentary, or educational content across various media platforms. It is one of the most common ways photography is seen and used.

In this guide, we explore the different types of editorial image use and discuss the significance of this medium, along with reasons why photographers should consider shooting editorial images and tips on how photographers can create exceptional editorial imagery.

Editor's note:

Picfair offers an editorial image licence for images in Picfair Stores, you can read what the editorial licence includes. Also for a general overview on image licensing, see our beginner's guide.

Exploring the different types of editorial use

The term “editorial use” and what it means can be wide-ranging and confusing to those just getting started.

Here are some of the most common ways images are used for editorial purposes:

News articles

Editorial images accompany news articles to provide visual context and enhance readers' understanding of current events. They capture political rallies, natural disasters, and sporting events, among other newsworthy moments.

Feature stories

Editorial images play a significant role in feature stories that delve deeper into a particular topic or issue. They provide visual storytelling elements and depict individuals, communities, or environments relevant to the story.

Images used in news features such as those seen in newspapers, journals, and magazines are the most traditional types of editorial use in photography. Image by Gül Işık

Opinion pieces

Opinion articles often use editorial images to strengthen the author's viewpoint or help readers grasp the subject. These images set the mood and visually represent the discussed topic.

Educational content

In textbooks, online courses, and informational articles, editorial images serve as visual examples, historical references, or scientific illustrations to support the educational content.

The scope of editorial use for imagery can become significantly broad when it comes to educational use. Images can be used to illustrate literally every type of topic you could think of. For example, the image above from Newfoundland by Erik Mcklean might be used to discuss shipping, oil, freight, Atlantic trade, or Canadian industry, for example.

Online articles and publications

Websites enhance their content and captivate readers by incorporating editorial images across various topics, such as fashion, health, technology, and entertainment.

Travel and lifestyle blogs

Bloggers incorporate editorial images to showcase destinations, cultural experiences, and product reviews. These images engage readers and provide visual inspiration for their travel or lifestyle interests.

Perhaps the most compelling feature of any type of lifestyle and travel story are its images, so these types of images are highly sought after. Photo by Mehmet Ali Kaya


Editorial images are frequently used in news broadcasts, documentaries, and other programs. They serve as visual aids that support news stories, feature segments, and historical or educational content, adding depth and visual appeal.


Editorial images are integrated into almost every type of book genre you can think of. They enrich the reading experience by visualising people, places, and events discussed in the text. Biographies, travel guides, encyclopaedias, and historical books utilise editorial images to contribute to the narrative and enhance the reader's understanding.

Millions and millions images are used each year for books, whether that's inside pages, or covers, in the publishing industry, and can be a particularly lucrative revenue stream for editorial photographers. Photo by Gül Işık

The importance of editorial photography as a medium

The essence of editorial photography is to capture candid and authentic moments that tell stories, evoke emotions, and provide factual visual information.

Editorial photography, importantly, also helps uphold journalistic integrity by providing accurate and unbiased portrayals of the world around us (And, with this in mind photographers should avoid over-processing or heavily retouching images to maintain authenticity and credibility).

In the digital age, editorial photography has extended from traditional spaces such as books and newspapers to online platforms and social media. Which has allowed a much wider scope for the distribution of editorial photographs, and helped newsworthy content get seen by a much bigger audience. Many have had their story heard and seen for first time, through editorial photography.

For photographers, having images used for editorial purposes offers rewarding opportunities; from getting an increasing number of image sales, right through to potentially becoming an internationally recognised photographer. There's also ample opportunity to collaborate with journalists, publications, or news agencies to help gain visibility and become established as a skilled visual storyteller.

Pursuing photography from an editorial perspective can help you become a fantastic visual storyteller, where even the simplest subjects can convey a strong message or feeling with the viewer. Photo by Irina Berdzenishvili
10 excellent reasons why photographers should pursue editorial photography:

- Gain visibility and reach a wide audience

- Showcase talent & storytelling abilities

- Have work published in newspapers, magazines, blogs, & online articles

- Capture moments, evoke emotions, & enhance written material

- Cover newsworthy events, human interest stories, & cultural experiences

- Contribute to the dissemination of accurate information

- Work with journalists, publications, & news agencies

- Establish oneself as a skilled visual storyteller

- Open doors to new opportunities & recognition

- Make a meaningful impact in visual storytelling

Editorial photography and the law

When using photographs for editorial purposes, the laws can vary depending on where you are, where the image was taken, and how the customer plans to use the images. Below is some general information to help you get started, but it's always a good idea to consult a legal professional or do some research to find the specific laws in your area.

Editorial use of a photograph is usually considered fair use under copyright law. This means that images containing people or subjects may be used for editorial purposes without getting permission from the people, or for any other type of content in the photo. In editorial photography, capturing newsworthy events or public figures often means you don't need explicit releases to preserve the spontaneous nature of the images too.

While you may not necessarily need releases for a broad scope of editorial use, always make sure that you've been as ethical as possible when it comes to portraying people and subjects. Photo by Markus Spiske

Fair use includes criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, and research, however, there are also limits to fair use. Factors like the purpose of the use, the nature of the work, how much of the image is used, and the effect on the market are considered.

Even though releases may not be required, it's important always to represent people and subjects respectfully and ethically. While not mandatory, getting model and property releases can provide legal protection, clarify rights, and make it easier to use the images for commercial purposes in the future.

Keep in mind that there may be specific laws that apply to particular subjects or situations, such as photographing minors or sensitive locations. It's crucial to follow the relevant rules and regulations. Understanding copyright, privacy, and defamation laws will help you use editorial images responsibly and ethically. If you're unsure about anything, it's best to consult a legal professional who can give you advice tailored to your location and specific circumstances.

Tips for photographers pursuing editorial photography

Develop a strong storytelling approach

Editorial photography is about telling stories through visuals. Focus on capturing compelling images that evoke emotions and convey the essence of the subject matter. Develop a keen eye for details and seek out moments that have narrative potential.

Master the art of photo editing

While editorial photography allows for basic editing, it's essential to maintain the authenticity and integrity of the images. Enhance your skills in colour correction, exposure adjustments, and cropping to ensure your images look their best without compromising their factual representation.

To be a strong editorial photographer, you should first and foremost be a storyteller, and aim to succinctly visualise the story of a person, subject or place through your work. Photo by Lewis R

Stay informed & be proactive

Stay updated on current events, trends, and topics of interest in the editorial world. Proactively pitch your work to publications, news agencies, and online platforms (see our guide on how to pitch for more tips). Research and familiarise yourself with the target audience and content preferences of different outlets to increase your chances of success.

Understand the publication's style & requirements

Each publication may have its own visual style, guidelines, and editorial requirements. If you're looking to work with a particular publisher familiarise yourself with the publication and tailor your work accordingly. Study their past articles and images to understand their preferred aesthetic and storytelling approach.

Build relationships and network

Connect with journalists, editors, and other professionals in the industry. Attend industry events, workshops, and conferences to meet like-minded individuals and build relationships. Collaborating with writers and journalists can open doors to new opportunities and help you establish your reputation as a trusted visual storyteller.

Gain diverse experiences and perspectives

Expand your portfolio by capturing a wide range of subjects and exploring different genres within editorial photography. This will showcase your versatility and ability to adapt to various editorial contexts. Embrace opportunities to work on assignments that challenge you and provide new perspectives.

Editorial photography is incredibly broad when it comes to subject matter, so you should aim to try out as many different subjects as possible - until you find those that resonate with you the most. Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric

Understand legal and ethical considerations

Familiarise yourself with the legal requirements regarding permissions, releases, and usage rights in editorial photography (see above). Ensure you have the appropriate consent from subjects if needed and understand the specific legal and ethical considerations within your jurisdiction. Adhering to these guidelines will protect both you and the subjects you photograph.

Continuously refine your skills

Invest in your photography skills through continuous learning and practice (we have guides across Focus on pretty much any genre or technique you could think of!).

Make sure you keep updated with new techniques, equipment, and industry trends. Regularly critique and review your own work (see our guide on how to self-critique your photography), and seek feedback from peers and mentors to identify areas for improvement and growth.

Be persistent and patient

Editorial photography is a competitive field, and success may not come overnight. Be persistent, keep refining your craft, and persevere through rejections. Build a portfolio that showcases your unique vision and strengths, and stay committed to your passion for visual storytelling.

Stay inspired and curious

Explore and seek inspiration from other photographers, artists, and creative works. You should embrace curiosity and push the boundaries of your creativity when it comes to your photography.

Be open to experimenting with new ideas, subjects, techniques and visiting new places - all of this can lead to incredible editorial imagery.

Always keep an open mind and be curious - it'll help you become a fantastic editorial photographer. Photo by Şahin Sezer Dinçer

Final thoughts

Editorial use in photography is a powerful way to tell stories through images used in news, education, and more. By exploring this medium as a photographer, you can gain visibility, reach a broad audience, and have your work published. You can capture important moments, evoke emotions, and contribute to spreading accurate information about world events.

With persistence and continuous learning, you can become a skilled editorial photographer and make a meaningful impact with your visual storytelling abilities.

Editor's note:

Picfair offers an editorial image licence for images in Picfair Stores, you can read what the editorial licence includes. Also for a general overview on image licensing, see our beginner's guide.
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