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  • Writer's picture Tony Brown Photography

What is the Difference Between Editorial and Commercial Photography

When trying to determine the difference between commercial photography or editorial photography, it can be difficult.

If a man is pictured cycling up a hill and the shot of him is accompanied by a piece of writing about cycling, that could/would be considered as editorial photography. However, if a similar shot was used to sell cycles or cycling gear that would be considered commercial photography.

While there are differences between the two styles, there is the potential for them to overlap as well. Let’s take a look at what each style of photography is, where they are similar, and also where they diverge.

What Is Editorial Photography?

Editorial photography refers to pictures that are not used for selling purposes. An example of an editorial photograph would be a picture taken that accompanies a newspaper or magazine article.

These photos help illustrate the story further, good editorial photography can almost stand alone without any text. In some cases the image is the set up for the story or in other cases they simply further what the words are telling you.

A good example of how editorial photography can help sell a story would be animal cruelty. A heartbreaking story of how animals are mistreated in a shelter is so much more affective when paired with a sad shot of said abuse. The photo took the emotion from the article, amplified it and helped make the point even stronger. That is the essence of editorial photography.

Fashion editorial photography is sub-genre that can tell a story without text. For example, fashion editorials in magazines can be multi-page spreads that depict a theme without words or simply have a title. In these images, photography is less about selling products and more about representing a mood or lifestyle.

How is Editorial Photography Used?

Editorial images can be candid shots of a sports game, or magazine cover shoots of celebrities - anything really that needs illustrating more than words can.

Editorial photography can be found in:

- Newspapers or magazines

- Textbooks

- Editorial features

- Essays

- Documentaries

What is Commercial Photography?

To break this definition down to its finest points, commercial photography is the taking of photos for commercial use. Meaning a business taking is commissioning photos to generate sales and money for themselves. This style of photography is seen in advertisements, brochures, sales pitches, leaflets, business cards, menus, etc. If you take a picture and the purpose of that picture is to sell a product, idea or brand - that is commercial photography.

Commercial photography is crucial in the world of business and commerce. 'A picture is worth a thousand words', that is the essence of commercial photography. If you are looking at a brochure for a hotel and the pictures are terrible, are you really going to want to stay there? That is the power of good commercial photography. They can get you to stay at that hotel, order that dish or purchase that dress. That is the point and the power of commercial photography.

How is Commercial Photography used?

Commercial photography might be used as an advertisement for a major fashion brand, or perhaps as a promo poster for an upcoming film. Here are some more examples of commercial use of photographs:

- Entertainment promotion

- Advertising campaigns

- Marketing materials

- Product packaging

- Book covers

Is there an Overlap Between Editorial and Commercial Photography?

Most people would say the answer is no. However, it can get a bit more complicated than that and the real answer is a bit more fluid. While images begin with the purpose of either editorial or commercial, some shots can serve as both. It all comes down to the licensing agreements.

For example, if a photographer took pictures of a beach and people spending time on that beach were visible in the photo. Unless the photographer went to those people and got a signed release for their image to be used, that photo can only be used for editorial purposes. If the photographer did secure a signed release, then that photo could be used for commercial purposes. The release is how one photo can serve two different purposes. All of these details are clearly outlined in any agreements the parties sign regarding the use of the photo. When using a stock photo website, always check the fine print for usage details. You don’t want to run break any agreements and find yourself in the position of having to pull down your post to remove or replace the photos. Or worse still pay unexpected royalties.


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