Determining the difference between commercial photography and editorial photography can be difficult. While there are differences between the two styles, there is the potential for overlap. Let’s look at each type, where they are similar, and where they diverge.


What is Commercial Photography?


commercial vs editorial photography


To break this definition to its finest points, commercial photography takes photos for commercial use. Commercial, in this case, means a business taking these photos to generate sales and Money.

Examples are advertisements, brochures, sales pitches, leaflets, business cards, menus, etc. If you take a picture and the purpose of that picture is to drive sales, that is a commercial picture.

The saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” That is beyond true in commercial photography. Commercial or advertising photography is crucial in the world of commerce.

When looking at a brochure for a hotel, the pictures are terrible. Are you going to want to stay at that property? Consider restaurant collateral.

If you read a dish’s ingredients and think it sounds delicious, but the picture is terrible, do you want to try that dish? That is the power of good commercial photographs. They can get you to order that dish or purchase that dress. That is the point and the power of that category of photography.


Examples of Commercial Photo Shoots


Brands organize commercial shoots because they need new imagery to market their service/product. The most common uses for these images are as advertising or for their social media accounts.

How much Money?

A commercial shoot always involves a budget. By doing so, the brand has set aside Money to pay for the images and the team involved in their photoshoot. Sometimes the budget is small; sometimes, it is big! It all depends on the brand.

Images with a goal

These images are created with a purpose. They are made so the brand can sell its product or service. They will convey a clear message and the look they desire.

For these shoots, commercial photographers are chosen by the agency or the client if their portfolio makes a click with the client and the message the brand wants to send.


What is editorial photography?


commercial vs editorial photography


Editorial photography refers to pictures that are not used for selling purposes. An example of an editorial photograph is a picture accompanying a newspaper article. These photos help tell the story of the newspaper article, book, blog post, etc. For some stories, the images are the setup for the story.

In other cases, they further what the words are telling you. While this may sound like photojournalism, the two are different and shouldn’t be confused.

This style of photography also has its place and purpose. If a journalist is telling a human interest story, pictures help convey the story’s emotion. If one had written a piece about living conditions for animals at an animal shelter, a photo of animals from that shelter in poor conditions would help drive that message home.

Those photos took the emotion from the article, amplified them, and helped make the point even more vital. That is the essence of editorial photography.


Examples of Editorial Photo Shoots

Story is king

Editorial images are images you see in magazines, Rolling Stones, and Food Network. The stories are those that a creative team has come up with and executed. These images often go on blogs or physical magazines if anyone is left.

Freedom of ideas

For the team, Editorials don’t have a lot of rules. This is a chance for photographers, make-up artists, hair stylists, and clothing stylists to let loose, have fun, and get creative. Often, these images have what you’ll find most daring or different.

Who said Money?

Creatives love editorial shoots because they have so much creative freedom over them, but there is often minimal budget. There’s little or no budget available to photographers for their shoots; many are assignments directed by a one-man band, the photographer.

There are many reasons why commercial photographers still do this kind of shoot. Editorial photography is the door to get into commercial photography, where the budget is much more significant.

Another reason is we love what we do; since editorial photography offers more freedom, this is an excellent piece for our portfolios.


Commercial vs. Editorial Photography

The main difference between commercial and editorial photography is the purpose of their use. Commercial photography is used mainly to advertise a product or brand, while editorial photography can communicate stories in magazines or newspapers. The use of models might also be different; in commercial photography, they are usually hired with a model release agreement. In editorial photography, that is unnecessary as long as there is no intention of using them in ads. Finally, most commercial photography requires permission from clients and the legal team before releasing any images, whereas editorial photographs do not need such permissions.

Understanding the difference between commercial and editorial photography can help photographers determine which type of work they should try. Moreover, knowing how to


Can an image be both editorial and commercial?

You would think the answer would be no. However, it can still get a bit more complicated than that. It all comes down to the licensing agreements. While images begin with the purpose of editorial or commercial, some pictures can serve as both.

Let’s take a look at an example. Let’s say a photographer took pictures of a beach, and people spending time on that beach were visible in the photo. If the photographer secured a signed release, that photo could be used commercially. The release is how one image can serve two different purposes.

It can be possible that some photographers and people seen in a picture only want those photos to be used for certain things. It is then possible that an image is licensed only for editorial or commercial purposes. Always check the fine print for usage details when using a stock photo website. These details are clearly outlined in any agreements the parties sign regarding using the photo. You don’t want to run afoul of any contracts and must pull down your post to remove or replace the images.


To summarize

This topic looks pretty straightforward at first until you get into the minutia. Hopefully, this makes things a bit more clear. When in doubt, always check the fine print on photos before you use them. This way, you don’t open yourself up to liability for using an image for a purpose not intended.