Commercial vs Editorial: why limit yourself?

Street in Marrakech

Stock photography has long been regarded as commercial-oriented content, intended for ads and all sort of advertising related materials. And it’s true, most of the buyers are using stock images in commercial purposes, meaning that, in order to comply with the laws, there are a number of limitations to what you can and what you can’t sell as stock.

However, creativity and limitations don’t go really well together. Yes, you should avoid copyrighted elements and have a model release for each visible person when shooting for commercial stock, but it’s also OK if you don’t: that’s when the editorial section comes into play.

So, just because I see more and more contributors confused about this, let me explain the two main types of images we’re selling on Dreamstime:

Commercial Royalty-Free - these are images that can be used in both commercial and editorial projects. They should not contain copyrighted elements for which you don’t have a Property Release form signed (logos, designs, brand names, web addresses, creations of other authors, certain buildings and so on). Also, for each visible person in an image, you should attach a signed Model Release during the submission process.

Editorial Royalty Free - can only be used in editorial projects such as: news related materials (newspaper and magazine articles, TV news), blogs, educational materials including non-fantasy books, social media posts if they’re news or educational related, documentaries and probably a lot more other uses.

If you think about it, there are much more editorial than commercial types of uses for your images. And still, most contributors are thinking about stock photography as strictly commercial. Probably for this reason, we’ve had in review images of people with their heads cut off in Photoshop, hands with no bodies attached, clothes walking by themselves on the street with no person wearing them and so many other hilarious or even scary situations. So many and so varied that it became clear how creativity actually struggles to overcome all the limitations of commercial imagery.

Why limit your creativity? If you like shooting streets, if you just want to worry about the image itself and not about the rules, why not use and editorial approach to your shootings? Here are a few tips in order to maximize your approval ratio for editorial images, both photos and videos:

Answer the five Ws when submitting. This is required on press agencies, here on Dreamstime we are a bit more relaxed, but if you really want to be serious about it, try to answer all or most of the five questions about your submission: Who, What, Why, When, and Where. If you can, please add How as a bonus. Not all of them are always relevant for your images, you will have to decide that before submitting, yet they may be relevant for certain buyers and could increase your chances to sell.

Buddist monks marching to seek alms in morning with fofoggy environment

Here’s a good caption for an editorial submission, from the photo above:

(Where) Mahasarakham, Thailand- (When) February 22, 2016: (Who) Buddhist monks (What) marching to seek alms in morning with foggy environment. (Why) This is usual every day duty of Buddhist monks.

Or this one, from the photo below: (Who)Tibetan monk woman (What) goes down the stairs (Where) in Thiksey Monastery on(When)August 20, 2016 in(Where)Thiksey village in Ladakh, India. Notice that the Why is missing. As this is just a glimpse of daily life in that area, the Why is not really relevant and would have to be invented by the photographer, which would be definitely wrong when we’re talking about editorial images.

Tibetan monk woman goes down the stairs in Thiksey Monastery

Besides celebrities and red carpet stuff, public general news or sports events, there is a photo opportunity everywhere you look. Just try to answer as many Ws as possible.

HUGE-City of Westminster at Twilight.

The London Eye is copyrighted, so the image above could only be accepted as editorial. Yet, the image could be very useful for London-related books, blogs, news about UK and so on. The description doesn’t answer all the Ws, however it was accepted because not all the Ws were relevant: the What, Where and the automated When (pulled out by the system from the Exif data) seemed to be enough relevant information.

Sounds like a breeze? It’s not always that simple. Just because you don’t have a model release signed or you can’t remove the copyrighted elements from your photos, doesn’t mean they’re good for the editorial section. A model you shot a while ago in your studio and for whatever reason didn’t sign you a model release is not editorial material. A wedding you shot last month but the newlyweds didn’t sign a model release is not editorial material. Try to stay away from submitting editorial photos from private events, your kids’ colleagues at the school party, private shootings and so on. The more public is the event or the scene you’re shooting, the more likely to be suitable for our editorial section. If you shoot a private event of public interest and have permission to submit the photos, that’s fine, but be careful if you don’t have permission, because you could get sued, and the responsibility for your creations is only yours.If anything, make sure you have a clear understanding about the laws regarding privacy in the country you're photographing and don't take unnecessary risks.

And a last tip: don’t miss opportunities. Shoot first, ask questions later. Once you have the photos, you can think about publishing them or not, but if you don’t have them, you only have the last option. I always say that the best rule out there is common sense. Think about that before submitting, think about what possible use could serve the images you’re uploading and if something doesn’t seem right, just take the time to perform a thorough documentation before taking a decision.

OK, who's in the mood for a photo walk? We have a new assignment: Street portraits.

Photo credits: Valentin Armianu, Roland Nagy, Somchai Sanguankotchakorn, Soloway.

Your post must be written in English

February 14, 2018


Good information.

February 04, 2018


Thanks for this Viorel, well written and informative blog. Common sense is a powerful tool.

February 01, 2018


Well said Thanks

January 28, 2018


useful article,thanks for share.

January 27, 2018


Thank you! Very useful advice.

January 27, 2018


Thank you, great job.

January 26, 2018


Your W's will help me describe more accurately my future editorial pictures.

January 25, 2018


My first sales on Dreamstime were editorials - presidential elections in Austria. I agree that you should not limit yourself, editorial pictures are needed constantly.

January 25, 2018


For me editorial is the most fun and i think you should always shoot what you like. This will be reflected on your work.Editorial frees your head. I also have to add that editorial is not always the "smaller brother" of commercial. People that need for example a photo showing Coca Cola will only find it as editorial. One example that editorial images are very important to have in your port. Go visit a city and shoot everything that shows the city without being worried of logos or releases.I also have to add that the kind of "illustrative editorial" are selling well. Meaning images of products and often staged. For example an Heineken beer bottle standing in grass. This kind of photos are giving me regular sales.

January 24, 2018


Thank you for reading!Keremgo, here you go:

January 24, 2018


Good description. Good work!

January 23, 2018


Thank you! Very clear and useful advice.

January 23, 2018


useful blog.

January 23, 2018


Great blog, thanks for sharing. Very clear.

January 23, 2018


Wonderful article... I actually learned to shoot Editorial photography on Dreamstime which lead me to enjoy street photography a lot.

January 23, 2018


very useful

Related image searches
Rules related image searches