Among all of the different practices of photography that exist, which provides the most creative freedom? Which practice gives photographers freedom to explore any story or concept that they envision? The answer, most would argue, is editorial photography.

Editorial photography is nor restrained by brand image like commercial photography. Nor does it depend on the unpredictable nature of street photography. Editorial photography allows photographers to use every tool at their disposal to create an image that tells a story. In this article, we’ll take a look at the steps you can take to creating your own editorial photography.

What is editorial photography?

Editorial photography definition    

Before we dive into the steps to creating editorial photography we must first answer “What is editorial photography?” After the definition, we'll look at the differences between various types of photography as well as examples and styles of editorial photography.


What is editorial photography?

Editorial photography is a type of photography that aims to tell a story or portray a concept. Editorial photography is commonly found in magazines, newspapers, editorial features, and journalism. Unlike commercial photography, editorial photography relies much more on story than it does on a brand. The motive, therefore, is not to sell but rather express and engage.

What is editorial photography used in?

  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Editorial features

Difference between commercial and editorial photography             

Editorial vs. commercial photography

Before diving into the fundamental components of shooting editorial style photography, let’s take a look at how it differs from commercial photography.

Both editorial style photography and commercial photography are designed to be printed or posted online. Both are also designed to engage viewers. Where they differ is in their goals.

Check out this video by Tin House Studio that lays down the differences in pay, creative freedom, and goals of editorial style photography and those of commercial photography.

Difference between commercial and editorial photography

To recap, commercial photography aims to persuade consumers into buying into a brand, product, or service. Commercial photography is commonly seen in ad campaigns, entertainment promotions, packaging, and general branding. The result of commercial photography greatly depends on the brand being sold. Consider this example from Nike.

What is editorial photography vs commercial photography

What is editorial photography vs commercial photography?

Editorial style photography, on the other hand, aims to tell a story or portray a concept. The motive is not to sell, but rather express and engage. Editorial photography is commonly found in magazines, newspapers, editorial features, and journalism. Editorial style photography relies much more on story than it does on a brand.

Among the many Vanity Fair editorial photography examples, this one by Art Streiber aims to tell the story of a pivotal moment in Hollywood. Streiber’s editorial aims to capture a moment in which Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig both receive adoration for their films Get Out and Lady Bird introducing much needed diversity to the best directors conversation.

Editorial photography examples — Vanity Fair

Editorial photography examples  •  Vanity Fair

The crisp editorial photo is set dressed beautifully to tell a story. It also helps to have two powerhouse directors be the subject of the photograph. Now that you understand the difference between commercial and editorial photography, let’s dive into how to create it.

What is editorial style photography?

Begin with the story

The very first step in creating editorial photography is to determine the story that you want to tell. Editorial photography is almost always composed of a series of photos that tell a story. Therefore, the story will become the blueprint of the rest of your shoot.

There are no limits to the stories told through editorial photography. They can be based on current events, lifestyles, a concept, or even pre-existing stories.

Annie Leibovitz Editorial photography examples

Annie Leibovitz Editorial photography examples

If you are having trouble finding a story to tell, it often helps to start simple. What emotion or concept are you curious enough to explore. Maybe it’s paranoia, anxiety, freedom, or angst? Build a story from these curiosities.

What are editorial photos made of?

Create a mood board

Once you’ve determined your story, it’s time to start putting together your vision of how to tell it. Creating a mood board will help you find inspiration for what you want to capture. They help you develop an overall aesthetic for your shoot.

What is editorial photography created from

What is editorial photography created from?

Mood boards not only help you as the photographer, but everyone you will be working with. It will serve as a reference point for other creatives or models on the shoot. This video by Mango Street lays out how they created the mood board you see above and why creating a mood board is integral to conceptualizing your photoshoot.

What is editorial photography: Conceptualizing

As you can see from the mood board created in the video, visual elements like location, wardrobe, and mood are important to explore. However, mood boards have no rules. They are designed to best serve you and your project’s needs. 

Take a look at the mood board we created for an example editorial shoot using the free StudioBinder storyboarding app. Simply upload images and create your own mood board for your editorial photoshoot. 

If there are other elements that you specifically envision and are important to the shoot, explore them in your mood board. This could be things like make up, color schemes, lighting styles, or set dressing. Compile photos and visuals into software like StudioBinder to create your own mood boards for your project.

Editorial fashion photography     

Cast your model   

Creating your mood board will also inform you on the type of model to cast in your shoot. This does not necessarily mean you will have an idea of what your model will look like per se, but rather how they will perform.

When casting a model for an editorial shoot there are a few things to consider. First is obviously their appearance and how that fits into your vision. Professional photographers have the luxury of working with high profile models, actors, and celebrities.

Editorial photoshoot example

Editorial photoshoot example

Without this luxury, it’s important to interview and be thorough with your casting. Utilize resources like casting templates and audition forms to stay organized and comprehensive. Be aware that you will be collaborating with this model and directing them. Because of this, communication skills, competence, and experience should factor into your decision.

A great way to start casting is to contact model agencies and send them your mood board. The agency will then provide model comp cards that will give you an idea of what you have to cast from.

It is also important to note that some editorials that lean more towards journalism may not involve casting a model at all. Some editorials aim to capture real people for authenticity. Whether you shoot this way or with a model will depend entirely on the story you are telling as well as your vision.

What are editorial photos?

Assemble a team

The next step in preparing to shoot editorial photography is to assemble a team. This step is completely dependent on the story you are telling and the scale of your production.

When it comes to professional, big budget productions, teams can be massive. Just take a look at this behind the scenes video of a Vogue editorial shoot.

Behind the Scenes of Vogue Editorial fashion photography

Of course, we aren’t all shooting for Vogue and we may have smaller budgets to work with. So it’s important to determine what roles you need.

Whether it be make up stylists, camera assistants to hold up reflectors, or a wardrobe stylist for multiple wardrobe changes, your team may differ from shoot to shoot. 

Great editorial photography can still be achieved with minimal team members or none at all. It’s just important to know your restraints prior to planning your shoot so that you can work within your means.

What is editorial style photography?

Determine a location

Depending on what story you are capturing, location can be everything. The first decision you must make is if you will be shooting in a studio or on location. Some shoots will require the controlled setting of a studio with solid backdrops. It’s essential to understand how to manage your shooting locations if your shoot entails multiple locations.

What is editorial photography — Studios

What is editorial photography?  •  Studios

If you do opt for a studio, find a reasonably priced one that best serves your needs. This may come down to space, affordability, or studio location.

Other editorial shoots will rely on specific locations with complex sets. Refer to your mood board to hone in on the location you will need. These on location shoots will be determined by the story you are telling.

What is editorial photography on location by Oscar Munar

What is editorial photography on location by Oscar Munar

If you shoot on location, utilize online resources to find rentable spaces or locations of other photoshoots you admire. Learn how to scout a location and plan to visit these locations prior to shooting to really understand the environment in which you will be shooting.

On location, consider how it works with natural light and what problems may unfold such as weather, permits, or travel.

How to take editorial photos?


An integral part of expressing your story in editorial photography is styling. Styling is an opportunity to manipulate visual elements of your photograph to better tell your story or portray a concept.

Hair styling and wardrobe can be extremely important for specific editorials. If your story is set during a specific time period or meant to reflect a specific culture, wardrobe styling becomes all the more important. Consider enlisting the help of professional stylists if you can afford to do so.

Types of editorial photography - photo by Oscar Munar

Types of editorial photography  •  photo by Oscar Munar

While wardrobe, hair, and make up are important, it is only a part of styling a photograph. Set dressing and props can be an incredibly important part of capturing a story or concept.

Even in more abstract shoots where stories are not as straightforward, styling the set can create a deeper meaning in an image that can capture a viewer's attention.

Types of editorial photography — Photo by Sahar Rana

Types of editorial photography  •  Photo by Sahar Rana

Again, referring to your moodboard will be critical when styling your editorial photo shoot. Experiment with different styling tools at your disposal like wardrobe and set dressing to really capture the story you are trying to tell.

Your styling, location, and model will all be information to include in your editorial portrait shot list. This will keep you organized and remind you of what your gameplan is when the shoot days finally arrive.

How to shoot editorial photography         

Direct the shoot

Most of these tips on shooting editorial photography have more to do with preparation than actual shooting. That’s because in editorial photography, preparation is everything.

Once the actual shoot arrives, the main thing to remember is to trust your instincts and direct the shoot. As the photographer, you conceptualized this idea and put it together. Be the leader on the shoot that can direct the ship in the right direction.

Take a look at how Annie Leibovitz, renowned photographer, directs her editorial shoot for Vogue. Note how she directs her team and the model confidently, but still collaborates creatively to produce the best images.

Annie Leibovitz BTS  •  What is editorial photography

Direct your model and team appropriately so that all hands work toward the same vision. Be open to using tools like music, your moodboard, and your communication skills to set the mood on set.

Editorial photography is one of the best places for a photographer to most freely express their artistic visions. Hopefully some of these tips have inspired you to create your own editorial and explore your artistic curiosities as a photographer.


Portrait photography tips

Editorial photography aims to tell a story through a series of still images. Oftentimes, these images will be portraits within an editorial If these are the type of editorial images you are shooting, check out our next article. We dive into tips and techniques on how to shoot great portrait photography.

Up Next: Portrait Photography Tips →
Solution Icon - Shot List and Storyboard

Showcase your vision with elegant shot lists and storyboards.

Create robust and customizable shot lists. Upload images to make storyboards and slideshows.

Learn More ➜

  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copy link