Commercial Photographer

How to Become an Editorial Photographer?

Editorial photographers provide photographs to illustrate articles published in newspapers, magazines and digital platforms. 

They may work as staff photographers for specific publications or run their own business, supplying freelance photographs to art directors or photo editors. 

Editorial photographers work on location and in studios, sometimes collaborating with a writer or journalist to create a story.

Assess your skills to see whether you have the attributes for the job. You must have an excellent technical knowledge of photography and photo editing techniques to provide the image quality required for publication. 

An ability to compose great photographs will make your work stand out in a very competitive marketplace. Many assignments involve shots of people, so you must have good interpersonal skills and the ability to put your subjects at ease. 

If you take up a freelance career, you will need business skills to market your work and manage a small business.

Develop your technical skills by getting a bachelor’s degree in fine arts or photography, or at least photography courses at a college or art school. 

College courses typically cover equipment, techniques and processing. Although formal education is not essential for a career in editorial photography, the additional qualifications may help your job prospects. 

Take classes in topics such as business and marketing if you plan to be self-employed. Gain experience by working as an assistant with an established professional photographer. 

Approach newspapers or magazines to seek work as an intern while you complete your education. 

Build a portfolio of editorial photos to showcase your work to potential employers. If you have a personal interest in an area such as travel, wildlife, architecture or food, develop a specialist portfolio to create a niche for yourself in the market.

Apply for permanent positions in newspapers or magazines. If you are building a freelance career, contact art directors or photo editors to show your portfolio and pitch for assignments. 

Set up a website to showcase your work and increase your networking opportunities by joining social network sites. Build your freelance career by establishing a reputation for quality original work that always is delivered on time. 

Join an association, such as Professional Photographers of America or Editorial Photographers, that offers members the opportunity to register their details on a “Find a Photographer” directory.

Editorial photography is all about being published. Whether you shoot fashion, portraits or documentaries, having your images featured in a magazine or journal is a big step in your professional career. 

The editorial world comprises multiple photographic genres that feature creatives work in print and online mediums.

The road to becoming an editorial photographer can often be uncertain. As with most photographic career paths, there is no guideline on reaching a certain level of success. 

Instead, you keep shooting and creating in hopes of seeing your work published in glossy print.

To help you understand how to start your career as an editorial photographer, here are four helpful tips to guide you on the path to publication.

Develop A Technique

Test Shoots

A Bachelor of Fine Arts or a Master of Fine Arts in Photography is not always necessary for becoming an Editorial Photographer. 

Many Editorial Photographers come from careers in education, the liberal arts, science, medicine, technology and business.

An aspiring Editorial Photographer should take classes through a local community college or university, master the various techniques they learn and cultivate their ability to tell a story with their camera. 

He should also consider combining photojournalism and creative photography classes with courses in the liberal arts, sciences or another field of interest. 

If he has already worked in another area and wants to turn his photography hobby into a career, he can turn his work experience into a photography niche.

Find Your Niche

Editorial Photographers usually hold different experiences in some other field (culinary arts, wildlife, business, etc.), which they use to create a unique personal brand that consumers and industry professionals will recognize.

The aspiring Editorial Photographer’s brand can be a creative spin on another passion or interest of his, or it can be a visual depiction or story of his former life as a Nurse, Businessman, Construction Worker or Ballet Dancer. A photographer’s niche can also be devoted to different publications he reads.

No matter what his brand maybe, the most important thing for him to understand is that his brand must be specialized, unique, innovative, and recognizable and marketable; it must stand out to the masses, appeal to editors, be sellable enough to survive in a market and be stable enough to capitalize on other photographers’ brands.

Once the aspiring photographer has established his brand, he needs to build a portfolio and Web site around it. 

An aspiring photographer’s portfolio should never be a conventional and generalized arrangement of wedding photos, pictures of animals, children, and other expected pieces. 

His portfolio pieces should be original, showcase his talent, display his mastery of the craft and portray how he can add to the magazine’s content.

Gain Experience by Assisting a Professional Photographer

The best way for an aspiring Editorial Photographer to gain experience, contacts, and industry exposure is through a one-year assistantship with an established, connected, and reputable photographer. 

Suppose the photographer is willing to add an assistant photographer to his team. In that case, the assistant’s pay will be low or nonexistent, his tasks will be menial, and his desire to become an Editorial Photographer will be tested.

An incumbent’s success in obtaining a photography assistantship is rooted in his reliability, talent, persistence, and drive. 

The aspiring Editorial Photographer must show all of these qualities when he is prospecting for an assistantship.  

Assistantships are easy to get if the candidate calls or emails the photographer, sends her his photographs and follows up with her regularly about the position. 

Once he has begun working as an Assistant Photographer, he needs to build a stable reputation in the industry.

Build a Reputation and Know the Market

An Editorial Photographer’s success is defined by his talent, originality, and reputation in the industry. 

His employability revolves around whether he can work ahead of a deadline, negotiate well, follow through with promises and deliver strong content in a short amount of time. 

Since relationships and credentials drive the publishing industry, the connections and portfolio he built through his assistantship will be vital to his independent success.

Build a Professional Portfolio

The first step to becoming an editorial photographer is to build a professional portfolio. 

This all depends on which type of editorial you want to work within. You can shoot fashion, portraits, lifestyle, and even documentary focused content.

For example, creating editorial portraits can encompass an extensive network of individuals. 

You can be hired to photograph artists, musicians and celebrities for publication, press content and interviews for a magazine. 

This will usually be a creative production developed in unison with the marketing team at the publication.

As an editorial photographer, remember to create images that are indicative of your style. This is usually the best way to be considered by a publication. 

Editors that can recognize your work will be more inclined to hire you for a project.

You can build a professional portfolio in multiple ways. Start by creating personal projects that express your vision and style. 

So, think of concepts that are intriguing yet match the aesthetic of publications you admire. Add styling, grooming and set design to create images with a cohesive and professional look.

You should start with photographing models and work your way toward reaching out to local artists or musicians for a dynamic and differentiating body of work. 

The best advice for growing in editorial photography is always to keep shooting. Consistently producing new work means a greater possibility of being considered for an upcoming project.

Use Targeted Networking

The next step to becoming an editorial photographer is to use targeted networking. This means creating and building relationships with key players in the industry. 

Networking should be a top priority for growing your photography career.

To network, you can attend industry events, connect with mutual acquaintances and reach out individually to people whose work influences you to admire. 

There are not always creative industry events to attend. But, there are meet-ups, gallery openings and publication launches that you can go to. 

You will have to be creative with your networking efforts and do your research on finding the right people.

You can also utilize your existing network to build new relationships. If you know another photographer who has worked with a publication you admire, ask them about it. 

Pick their brain on their process and express your interest in reaching the level they have obtained. 

Flattery and a genuine interest in another creative’s work can allow them to open up to you and offer their advice.

Finally, you can network by individually reaching out to people in the industry and proposing a “networking date.” 

This can be as simple as buying them a cup of coffee in exchange for a small amount of their time and feedback. 

Bring your work and come prepared with concrete topics you want to discuss. Remember always to be professional and personable.

With this, connect with people who are within your reach. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can land a meeting with the editor in chief of a mainstream publication. 

Instead, find an assistant or intern who also is keen to network and connect with industry professionals. Start small and work your way up to a sit down with the decision-makers.

Submit Your Images to Publications

Another method to growing as an editorial photographer is to submit your images to magazines. 

This often applies to fashion photographers who will develop creative editorials for submission. This process can be beneficial if you have never been published.

To do this, you will need to find magazines that accept submissions. Employ a general search of publications that you like and whose style aligns with your own. 

You can then check to see if they offer a submission process for new content. If they do, you will need to follow their specific guidelines for your images to be considered.

Another way you can find publications that use submissions is through the platform Kavya. 

They are essentially a magazine database that allows you to upload and send your suggestions to magazines seeking new editorials. 

Some of the submissions require a payment, but I suggest starting with publications you can submit to for free.

Finally, you could also pitch ideas to magazines for editorial pictures. This requires you to create a mood board and have a team to share with the editors. 

You will need to give them your idea, and if they accept it, they can give you a pull letter for clothing. 

This doesn’t always mean they will use your editorial once it is finished, but it’s an excellent step to creating a project with an editorial focus to add to your portfolio.

Connect and Develop Relationships With Magazines

Fashion Designing

The final step to growing your career as an editorial photographer is connecting and developing relationships with magazines. 

Besides fashion publications, there are a handful of great magazines that hire editorial photographers for projects such as Kinfolk, Cereal, Refinery29, ManRepeller and more.

Try taking a look at publications you like and identifying the style of projects they create. Then, develop an idea of your own that you believe they would be interested in. 

Use this personal project as a starting point and reach out to the publications to introduce yourself. This can be as simple as an introductory email letting them know you are interested in working with them on future projects.

Developing relationships with any new client can be complex. The most important thing to remember is to remain persistent and determined. 

You may not hear back right away, but this doesn’t mean you should be discouraged. So, keep creating work you are proud of and passionate about. Eventually, an opportunity will arise from your dedication.

As you can see, the path of an editorial photographer requires a series of different steps. 

By building a professional portfolio, networking, submitting your images to publications and developing relationships with magazines – you will be one step closer to seeing your photographs in print.

What is an Editorial Image?

An editorial photograph tells a story, usually accompanied by text, although not always. 

Based on what I told you before about the commercial images rules, you might be thinking that everything is fair game as long as it’s used as editorial. But it’s not.

The first limit for editorial use is the right to privacy. So, you can’t use a photo that infringes on the rights of people.

There was a time when photographing people in public spaces wasn’t a problem. As Diane Arbus once said: “One of the risks of appearing in public is the likelihood of being photographed”.

But this is not the case anymore in some places. 

A crowd is generally not a problem, but when one person is the apparent subject of the picture, you need to check the local laws even if they are in a public space.

To be on the safe side, I’d recommend always getting a release.

Another case where you can’t photograph and much less publish images of people without their consent is in the privacy of their home.

If you’re on the street and turn to the window of a building to photograph it, make sure that no one from the inside is visible. Otherwise, you will need a release.

Children are also off the table in most situations unless you have the parent’s or legal guardian’s consent.

It’s not just people who represent a liability when doing photography for editorial use, also private events or locations.

Let’s say that there’s a parade on the main street of your town, that’s OK. However, if it happened in a private venue that was open to the public, this doesn’t mean you have free reign as a photographer.

In this case, you can either get the property release or register as press and use the pass as legal permission for you photographing and publishing the event as editorial.

It’s not all prohibitions though, for this type of photography, it’s not a problem if any logos are showing.

Some other common examples where you can publish photography for editorial use:

  • A recipe with step by step photos in a cooking magazine editorial.
  • A local newspaper with stories talking about an annual community event with pictures from each year.
  • The contact page of a website is illustrated with a photo of a keyboard or a phone.
  • The photographs that show these articles for educational purposes.

Final Words

We hope this post made things more straightforward for you regarding what is editorial photography. 

Please consider that this is in no way a substitution for legal advice regarding licenses, release forms, or usage rights.

This is not a straightforward cut matter – it’s more of a case by case situation. Sometimes it needs to be solved in court, so I strongly advise you to always be on the safe side. 

Get the releases even if you’re not planning to use your images for commercial purposes. 

If you’re unsure about editorial and commercial licenses, check stock websites because they usually have excellent explanations on what you can or can’t use. 

Also, remember to be respectful of people. If someone on the street or an event you’re covering asks you not to photograph them, don’t do it. 

There are many rules, and it can sound not very clear, but to sum up, it comes down to deciding if you are informing or advertising. Is your photo used to illustrate or to sell?

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