Stock Licenses

Commercial or Editorial Stock Photos? What’s the Difference?

It’s important to know the difference between commercial and editorial stock photos before using them for your project.

Commercial stock photos are taken with the intention of being used for marketing or advertising purposes. Editorial stock photos, on the other hand, are taken to illustrate a news story or article.

In this post, I’ll dive deeper into the differences between commercial and editorial stock photos. I’ll also discuss what stock photographers need to consider before taking and selling either type of photo.

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What Are Commercial Stock Photos?

Commercial stock photos are photos that companies can use for their websites, social media, marketing materials, etc.

They’re like any photos on the internet but you don’t have to worry about copyright infringement because they’re sold with a license.

Also, commercial stock photos that include recognizable people are model released, which means that the people in the photos have given their permission to be used in marketing and advertising.

Commercial stock photos are usually of people doing everyday activities. This can include everything from cooking and cleaning to using technology or participating in sports.

While the people in these photos may be posed, they should look natural and authentic. This helps businesses to connect with their customers and create an emotional connection.

Commercial stock photos are a valuable resource for businesses, as they provide a way to add visual interest to print and digital marketing materials without incurring the cost of hiring a professional photographer.

There are all different kinds of commercial stock photos, from food to lifestyle to landscapes. You can find them on a variety of stock photography websites such as Adobe Stock.

Here’s a great example of a good model-released commercial stock photo from Adobe Stock

What Are Editorial Stock Photos?

Editorial stock photos are photos that depict current events. This can be anything from wars and demonstrations to more peaceful scenes such as travel destinations or company buildings. They can also be illustrations, for example of trademarks or logos.

Editorial stock photos cannot be used commercially because they often include protected property such as logos or recognizable people who have not assigned a model release.

The main thing that sets editorial stock photos apart from other types of photos is that they must not be modified in any way – they must be 100% accurate representations of the scene they depict.

Editorial photos can be of almost anything, but they tend to fall into one of two main categories: current events and illustrative images.

Current Event Images

As the name implies, current event images are pictures that have been taken of recent events. This can include everything from wars and political demonstrations to natural disasters and celebrity appearances.

Because these images are so timely, they can be extremely valuable for news organizations that need to quickly illustrate a breaking story.

Illustrative Editorial Images

In addition to current event photos, editorial stock photos can also include illustrative images. These are pictures that help to illustrate concepts or brands. For example, an image of the Nokia Corporation headquarter building could be used to help illustrate an article about the company. Similarly, a picture of a person using a laptop could be used to help illustrate an article about working from home.

Also, images that feature well-known trademarks or logos—such as the Nike swoosh or the McDonald’s golden arches—are also considered illustrative editorial images. This is because these images can help to visually reinforce the concepts that are being discussed in the accompanying text.

The Difference Between Commercial and Editorial Stock Photos

The main difference between commercial and editorial stock photos is that commercial stock photos can be used for advertising, while editorial stock photos can only be used for newsworthy stories or to illustrate an article.

This means that if you want to use a photo for an advertisement, you want to make sure the image is classified as commercial stock. If the image cannot be used commercially it is usually labeled as “editorial use only”.

Commercial stock photos are more popular because they are very versatile. You can use them for any purpose, which makes them perfect for businesses.

On the other hand, editorial stock photos are only meant for newsworthy stories. This means that they are not as versatile because of their limited use.

Example of an Editorial image which is labeled as “editorial use only” on IStock

Which Is Better for Stock Photographers? Commercial vs. Editorial

If you’re a stock photographer, it’s important to know the difference between commercial and editorial stock photography. This way, you can make sure that your photos are being used in the way that you intended.

Stock photography agencies often urge photographers to submit model-released commercial photos. This is because the market is bigger for commercial photos and it makes sense from a business perspective.

However, editorial photos can be more valuable from the photographer’s point of view. This is because the commercial stock photo market is more saturated, which means there is a lot of competition.

You may find better opportunities and make more money by selling editorial photos. Also, editorial stock photos are often used by major publications, which can give your portfolio a lot of exposure.

Editorial images are often credited and your name may pop up when NY Times uses your stock photo in their article.

If you are an experienced photographer who can make model-released content, you will have no problem making money from commercial stock photos.

However, if you’re just starting out, you may want to focus on editorial stock photography. This is because it can be more valuable and give you the exposure that you need to jump-start your career.

How to Convert Editorial Stock Photos into Commercial Use?

In some cases, you may have an editorial image that you can convert for commercial purposes.

One way to convert an editorial stock photo into a commercial one is to get a model release from the people featured in the image.

A model release is a document that gives you permission to use someone’s likeness for commercial purposes. Once you have this form, the image can be used for any purpose.

If you have a photo of your friend for example that could do great as a stock photo, you can simply ask them to sign a model release form and submit it for commercial use.

Another way to convert a photo into a commercial one is to do some photoshopping. Cloning out the trademarks and logos or other things that would make it an editorial image can help you submit the photo for commercial purposes.

Just remember that you need to be careful when retouching photos. If you’re not experienced, it’s easy to make the mistake of changing too much and making the image look fake.

This image of mine from New York started selling much better after I cloned out all logos and trademarks on the buildings and re-submit it for commercial use.


Commercial and editorial content are both used to communicate a message, but the difference between the two is how that content is permitted to be used.

Commercial content has many more restrictions than editorial content because it’s used for advertising and promotional purposes.

Editorial content does not require permission from property owners, artists, or recognizable people in an image because it’s typically used for the public good via news and articles.

Both types of content have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to know the difference between the two before you create or purchase any stock photos.

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