I’ve been working on a new web site and today someone posted about how to distinguish the difference between editorial photography and other genres of photography, so I replied and liked it so much that I thought I’d share it here, though cleaned up from my original forum post.

First, editorial photography normally has a photojournalistic feel to it as it tells a story, often used to illustrate a concept or idea designed around the contents of a specific publication.  Photojournalism is sometimes considered a form of editorial photography, though the distinction is that photojournalism often involves a news story.

As an example, for magazine editorial photography for a publication like Zink, the photos would normally include models to illustrate their fashion, glamour and beauty theme while Better Homes and Garden would have images of someone working in their outdoor green house.

Both are technically telling a story editorially, but in their own proper context for an editorial feature piece.

Often publications, like Zink, Nylon, and others have what’s called an Editorial Calendar that is divulged confidentially to their A-list photographers well in advance so these photographers can submit their editorial photos for that calendar topic to meet production deadlines, often three months in advance. Then the editorial decision process begins.

The photo editor/creative director chooses “the shoot” from all the editorial photographers who submitted and it’s that chosen photographer that get published, usually paid nothing but the glorification of a tearsheet.

The photographers are not chosen or rejected based on who the photographer is, more often on what the photographer shot and how well the photos match the editorial content requirement for that magazine, that month. These photographers, chosen or not, hope their editorial tearsheets will lead to commissioned (paid) assignments with magazines like Vogue, Baazar, Elle, W, Vanity Fair, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, etc., and often have thousands of dollars invested in their shoots, not to mention their time and any models, assistants, stylists, etc., that volunteered their work for the same tearsheets; it’s a gamble for future notoriety.

This is how dues are paid as an editorial photographer, on the hopes to become someone like Bruce Weber shooting for Vanity Fair.

Vanity Fair is considered the launching pad for many editorial photographers including, Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Bruce Weber, Helmut Newton, Mario Testino, and Annie Leibovitz to name a few. Remember, major magazines are putting together either their May or June issues right now, not their February issue (March and April are done and at the printer and/or pre-press) as most publications are three months out, working off their editorial calendar–that’s why swimwear fashion catalogs have photographers photographing models in South Beach and other areas of warm Florida during the winter months.

Most publications are done months in advance. One could argue that a Playmate layout in Playboy is editorial glamour photography, as another example, while just a sole image of a model at the beginning of a story (text) is just another glamour photo in the same magazine. Take this image directly below, it has commercial use, say to sell a skin product, stock use, to illustrate a story about self-esteem as an example, editorial use, to illustrate a story on, “Beauty in the 21st Century.”

Without the context of a publication, some would argue it’s glamour, some beauty, some nude, some will even say it’s a picture, not a photograph. But it’s the photographer who was there (me in this case) that truly knows and the editor who utilizes the image in their publication that sometimes determines what category it will eventually fall under for the record, this image, recently shot, is going to be published full-page in Sept., more on that when it happens.

Another example how editorial photography can shift is a series of images of a bride for Bride magazine illustrating her glorious wedding day to tell her story would be editorial, perhaps even mixed with fashion editorial if the story revolved around the bride’s dress and her bride’s maids’ dresses.

In the same magazine you could have a bridal shot, originally shot as that and not as an editorial shot by a wedding photographer, but then the photographer submits that image to Bride and it makes the cover, now it’s an editorial (cover-shot), not a bridal shot.

Editorial photography is often considered a form of commercial photography, especially if the photo and accompanying story are trying to sell you something.   As an example, if the shoot was a model for a liquor ad, the shoot is considered commercial (to sell liquor), but if the same images from the shoot were used to illustrate the model and her tastes for top-shelf liquors plus to illustrate a specific story, say, “Best Bourbons,” then it’s editorial.

Take the same images and use them to illustrate the same model with a drinking problem, or young girls with drinking problems, then it’s a “features article” and the images are considered photojournalism in an editorial context. Similarly, if a photographer photographs a romantic couple sitting on a park bench in love and places it in a stock portfolio for royalty-free stock, then it’s a stock shot.

If the stock agency sells it for the use of advertising to a condoms manufacturer to sell condoms, then it now becomes advertising photography.   If it was commissioned originally as a commercial request through an ad agency, it’s commercial.

Take that same stock image, sold to Newsweek to illustrate a story titled, “Love in America,” then it’s back to editorial (sold as commercial stock for an editorial and used in an editorial context).

There are fine-lines in photography genres, often crossed by the actual final use of the image itself.   The thing to ask when trying to determine the specific genre of an image is it for commercial value or editorial value, or perhaps both?   If the subject matter is say a fashion model shot for Victoria Secrets catalogue, then it’s commercial fashion, take the same series of photos for a story in W magazine, then it’s fashion editorial.

Don’t you love it? It’s all up to the content, context, and usage that normally will distinguish the specific genre of an image. Ultimately if a photographer shot it as an un-commissioned image, then it’s up to that photographer to determine if the photograph has any commercial value, or if it is stock or fits any other genre of photography. Often images fit several genres, not just one.

Now this blog post is so long, many would consider it an editorial in a newspaper. God bless and thanks, rg sends