What Is Editorial License or Editorial Usage of Stock Images?

Are you unsure of editorial images meaning? Do you wonder what's the difference between a Commercial and an Editorial stock photo license?

Knowing that difference is key to use assure you're buying the right license for the use you want to make of the photos, and that you're using the photo according to the licensing terms. In short: to make sure you spend your money right and you don't get in trouble when using the image.

Here you will find a guide to understand Editorial stock photography, and the usage you can make of images bought under this license.

Commercial vs. Editorial: Understanding the Basics

Most of the microstock agencies sell images with Commercial license, that allows usage with commercial or for-profit intention. In microstock, these licenses are commonly Royalty Free, which means you pay a flat fee, only once, to use the images in a number of accepted ways, forever.

With a commercial license you can use the photos you buy in advertising, graphic designs for you or for clients, and other marketing purposes. You may also want to use stock photos in a product that you will then distribute for sale, but you cannot. The Standard Commercial license limits the number of copies -print or digital- that you can make and prohibits the use of the images in products for resale.

However, you can buy an Extended license, which removes those restrictions, for a higher price. Extended license allows you to print or embed the images on products that you will then distribute for sale (t-shirts, packacking, templates, etc.).

But at many of these microstock agencies you can also find Editorial licenses. Photos sold under Editorial license allow usage in different publications like magazines and newspapers (print or digital), blogs, books and ebooks, etc. But images are to be used in the body of the articles or texts, accompanying and/or illustrating them. You cannot use Editorial photos in templates nor as part of the graphic design of the publication, nor in the cover.

You must also know there's certain usage restrictions that apply to both Commercial and Editorial licenses: this is what is called the “sensitive use”. Basically, you cannot use stock photos in any defamatory or morally questionable way. This include use in pornography (or related uses), in hate or offensive content of any kind, and in any use that might depict the subjects of the photo in a negative connotation.

Another point to keep in mind is that almost all images labeled as Commercial can be also sold under an Editorial license, but this doesn't work the other way round.

Buy Images for Editorial Use in Top Stock Agencies

Most of the biggest microstock and stock agencies have great collections of Editorial images in addition to their libraries of images for commercial use. Here's some of the best:


Shutterstock: Also one of the top microstock agencies and the pioneer of stock photo subscriptions. Although at first, it was more focused in Commercial Royalty Free licenses, in past years Shutterstock developed a huge expansion into Editorial stock, and now has a very wide offer in this kind of photo. Read more about this agency in our Shutterstock review.  Are you ready to buy Shutterstock images? Make sure to use our Shutterstock coupon code here.

With this exclusive coupon you will save 15% on any image subscription and image pack!

Getty Images: It's one of the most renowned traditional stock agencies, and has dominated the market for Editorial stock photography for years. They have a huge collection of Editorial photos covering any style and topic imaginable, from News, to Celebrity and Sports, to very artsy Studio portraits. To learn more about GettyImages' Editorial offer, read this article on Celebrity content.And if you want to save money in your Getty Images purchases, grab this great Getty Images Coupon Code Alternative!

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iStock: Owned by Getty Images since 2006, this is the pioneer microstock agency and has been at top of the industry ever since. They have a great selection of Editorial images at affordable prices. Learn more in our iStock review.  If you want to save in your iStock photos, get this special iStock Coupon Code!


Depositphotos: A microstock agency among the ten most recommended, Depositphotos has a very good collection of photos for Editorial use, and it's a great alternative to buy cheap stock photos quickly and simple. Find out more about them in our Depositphotos review. And to save in your purchases, seize the offer with our Depositphotos Coupon Code!

Can I Buy a Commercial License for a Photo labeled as Editorial?

Likely, not. The main reason microstock (and traditional stock) agencies have separated licenses for commercial and editorial images is that the latter don't meet the requirements to be sold for commercial use. These are images intended to any “not for selling nor promoting” uses. As said, they're commonly used to accompany and illustrate text pieces.

For photos to be used commercially, the author of the image has to provide legal documents that secure that no conflicts will arise if said image is used for commercial or for-profit manners. Basically, the author must certify he/she owns the photo (i.e is the copyright owner), and that all private property and people depicted in the photo have agreed to have their likeness photographed and sold.

This last thing is done providing legal documents known as Model Release and Property Release. The photographer must have these documents signed by the people that appear in their photos, and the owners of any private or legally protected property that is part of the image. When submitting the photo to a microstock agency, they must submit these documents too, as legal proof that images can be sold with Commercial license.

We must also note that “private property” designs to much more than just someone's house or car. Most buildings are private properties, and if they are central part or clearly recognisable in the photos, a release is needed. Plus, most of brands, logos and specific and well known designs of products are also trademarked and so, are private property. The Coca-cola bottle, a Ferrari car or the Starbucks logo are examples of private property. If the photographer doesn't have a valid release document from Coca.cola, Ferrari or Starbucks companies, then he/she can only sell the photos including those subjects as Editorial. Lately, pets are also falling under “private property” label, so without legal consent from the owner, you can't use a photo of a dog commercially either.

Without the appropriate releases, microstock agencies label the photos under Editorial usage.

For this reason, Editorial images are those that have celebrities, athletes, renowned personalities, brands, designs and buildings, or large crowds. The kind of photos where getting the necessary releases is almost imposible.

The most common case is that images labeled as commercial can be bought with an Editorial license, but that it doesn't work the other way round. To use an Editorial photo commercially, you would need to get the required releases from the subjects yourself.

So Commercial Photos Must Have Releases for Everything they Show?

Not exactly. Commercial photos must have signed releases for every recognisable person and object they depict. If the person (or people) are not fully recognisable, and if the objects are common (or non-unique), they don't need a release.

For example, the darkened silhouette of a man from the back, a photo of an apple or a tree do not need a release. Because no man could prove it's them in the image, as much as they cannot prove it's their apple or their tree. This applies to all kind of common, generic objects: pens, cups, books, some phones, books, etc.

Besides its versatility in usage, this is the other main reason for stock photography to have generic style overall.

These are general terms, each microstock agency have their own particular rules regarding releases and suitability of commercial-use label. But that's not your problem, but the photographers.

As long as you understand the nature and need for release documents, you will clearly understand why you can't use Editorial photos commercially.

What Kind of Editorial Usage Photos Can I Find?

For images to be sold in microstock agencies, they need to have commercial value. This means, they need to hold any interest for potential buyers.

A photo of a crowd in anywhere in particular and for no given reason, or of an unknown person doing nothing in particular, won't be accepted by microstock agencies.

The core topics in photos under Editorial license are on events, situations and subjects that are interesting to the customers: News from around the world, celebrities and entertainment, sports competitions, concerts, important politics or social meetings, etc.

How Do I Know if a Photo is Commercial or Editorial?

Every microstock and stock agency commonly marks their Editorial photos as “Editorial Use Only” or “Editorial License Only” on the image page. And they do it in a way that is certainly noticeable for the customer.

If you don't see such mark anywhere on the page of the photo you want, it means it comes with a Commercial license (and you should also find this disclosed in the image's details, but much less remarked).

In some agencies, the number of Editorial photos in their library is very small compared to that of Commercial images. Some smaller agencies don't even sell Editorial photos at all.

But in many of the bigger and top of the market agencies you will find very rich and high quality Editorial stock photos. As we said before, Getty Images, iStock, Shutterstock and Depositphotos are all great sources for Editorial imagery.

How Do I Search for Editorial Photos?

Beside being marked as Editorial, in most microstock and stock agencies these photos are categorized and organized separately.

In some agencies you will find a label, section or category just for Editorial images. At others, you have filter options or advanced search functions to see only Editorial photos displayed after conducting a search for the kind of photo you need.

In all cases, Editorial photos are simple to find and to identify.

Can I Use Commercial Photos in Publications?

Yes, you can. As said above, commercial photos can be used for editorial purposes. It's the other way round that is not permitted.

As long as you buy a license, you can use commercial photos for both editorial and commercial intents. So you are certainly allowed to use them in newspapers, magazines (print or digital), blogs, books, ebooks and more.

Just remember that to use them in book or ebook covers or as part of your publication's graphic design, you will need an Extended license.

Now that you comprehend the difference between Editorial and Commercial licenses, go ahead and buy the best stock photos that fit your needs!

Photo Credits

“F1 VALENCIA STREET CIRCUIT 2010” by Digitalsport at Dreamstime.com.


I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus on providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography like WordPress plugins. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.

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