iStockphoto’s editorial collection launched in early 2011. Since then we’ve learned a lot about the needs of the people using these images, and the talents of the photographers creating them. iStock photographers have shown tremendous skill in observing and recording the world around them for our editorial collection.

Now it’s time to more clearly define what Editorial means here at iStockphoto. Our goal is to provide a better picture of our content needs, adjust and clarify our acceptance standards, and encourage you to submit more images.


What is the Editorial Collection at iStockphoto?

Editorial Photography Standards and Requirements

What is the Editorial Collection at iStockphoto?

Editorial images illustrate and reflect the issues, themes, and events (both big and small) of our world today.

The people and things in these images are not released.

Editorial imagery is for non-commercial, non-promotional use only. These unreleased images cannot be used to sell anything.

Properly executed editorial images help to tell the viewer a story.

Real-life situations that illustrate and document relevant topics or events can be great editorial subjects.

These photographs should be composed and thoughtful. Your craft and skill as a photographer is just as important to the success of an editorial image as a creative one.

Each editorial image should have a clear and relevant intention behind it. Editorial is not a dumping ground for mediocre or unreleased images that didn’t make it into the creative collection.

Editorial images can touch on a vast range of subjects – current events, business, health and wellness, technology, lifestyle, culture, the arts, travel. They show us facts and stories about people’s lives, illustrate ideas, and create a record of our world.

Editorial images at iStockphoto fall into two broad categories, based loosely on how the image tells its story: documentary editorial and illustrative editorial.

Documentary Editorial

These are real-life, un-manipulated situations that tell a story.

These images inform an audience and give meaning to the situations being captured.

Your image must communicate accurately about the world you inhabit, and show people, places and things as they are.

The best documentary imagery combines the craft of photography with an unbiased and accurate representation of a situation.

The image stands alone and tells a story that interests a viewer.

The image should be strong enough to be used exactly as-is. Successful images get to the heart of the story without the benefit of explanation or embellishment.

Here are some examples that show the wide breadth of topics Editorial images cover. What’s important in each is example is that the photographer has created an interesting and truthful image that tells a story.

Here’s an example of an unreleased travel image that we can’t take into creative. The building is protected and can’t be used for any commercial photography. There are all kinds of potential editorial usages though where it will fill a need.

The shot is simple but well executed.

The lighting, exposure and composition are all excellent, making it really useful.

This image tells a clear story that is impactful to the viewer. People familiar with the location will instantly recognize the scene.

There is great scale and drama to the shot.

The image was well thought through – the photographer put in the work to get into the right place at the right time.

The composition is distilled to the essence, in a graphic, colorful way.

Here’s a great example of a photographer being situationally aware. Pay attention and be observant, and you will be rewarded.

The photographer found a unique look at an unfolding event the whole world was paying attention to.

This image shows how a small detail relates to a larger event in order to tell a story.

When you strip away all extraneous detail, the least amount of information can be the best way to clearly tell a story.

People are always interested in extraordinary events and things they don’t see every day.

Editorial images can be fun, surprising and humorous.

The photography should always be sound – this is a great shot executed in tricky circumstances.

Slice-of-life imagery is always in demand.

Portraiture can be contextual, un-staged and in-the-moment.

The image is beautiful with good color, light and composition.

The photographer really connects with the subject.

Here is another example of a strong portrait.

The subject’s strength of character really comes through, and gives the image a clear message.

Black and white suits the image really well. Sometimes color can be distracting.

Again, the image is very well shot: great lighting and a good clean background.

This example shows the breadth of subject matter that can be relevant. A shot that explores an unfamiliar work process creates interest.

The subject makes for a great picture, and the photographer has done well making the most of it. They probably had to get wet in order to get the ideal framing here.

There’s nice kinetic energy here that makes the image very active.

Again, a slice of life like this makes for a great editorial subject.

Here’s a great example of a photographer noticing not only an extraordinary moment but also a compelling visual juxtaposition.

The shot is successful because it makes you stop and pay attention. The viewer wants to figure out what’s happening.

The image stands on its own because it’s visually compelling.

These images all show examples of photographers capturing compelling moments unfolding in front of them. Some of them were planned ahead of time, and some of them were probably quick reflexes. They all deal with subjects that are interesting and relevant to global discourse, across a wide range of topics. All of them are accurate, truthful and honest.

Illustrative Editorial

There is another way to approach editorial imagery, where photographers use unreleased subjects in creative ways to express ideas. We’ll call these illustrative editorial images.

Illustrative editorial images are creative or conceptual visual representations or interpretations of current events, topics, or themes.

There must be a strong idea behind the image.

These images can be imaginative, fun, adventurous, and creative — as long as the idea comes through.

This is hard to do well. The message must be strong but the idea should be original.

Here an iconic, familiar subject is used to creatively illustrate an otherwise dry news topic.

The strong idea is supported by a really graphic composition.

It looks simple but the care in the details – the choice of the gold car, the arrangement of all the elements – really make the image.

The image makes immediate sense – you instantly get it.

This image uses familiar subjects to illustrate some classic concepts; diversity, community, people at work.

An approach like this provides a different option for people working with common themes.

This image can work for a huge variety of different uses.

Here is another clear depiction of an important current topic.

The photographer has filled the frame with information that tells a complete story.

The execution is spot-on.

This composition works big or small – it could be a larger header image or a small spacer image inside a column.

Here the photographer has depicted an iconic global brand in an open-ended way that can be used to illustrate many ideas.

They have elevated the ‘product shot’ through excellent execution. This image shows how to put care into styling in order to tell a story. (See below for more about styling.)

The impact comes from the strong, simple, graphic quality of the image.

Another example of a well-executed studio that that depicts an iconic global brand in a way that can be used many different ways. This image could easily appear in stories about health issues, globalization, the homogenization of culture, or the power of advertising.

The image succeeds because of the care and craft of the photographer. This is well styled and well shot.

Here is a clean studio execution of a simple idea.

The image is easy to read and effectively says what it needs to say.

This image shows how paying attention to context and all the elements of your composition help support a message.

This iconic image could be used to illustrate many current topics – personal finance, banking, the credit crisis. Dry topics like these always require visually interesting approaches.

A simple, graphic image works because of a strong execution.

These images are all examples of photographers using unreleased objects in their studios in order to create commentary about issues and ideas beyond the objects themselves. These aren’t simply photographs of Monopoly boards, Lego figures and McDonald’s sandwiches — they are images that can help tell stories about personal finance, community and nutrition. They are different from the documentary editorial images we showed earlier in that the photographers have created, arranged and styled the compositions.


Editorial in general all revolves around privacy. Are you invading someone’s privacy, personal space, private property, a minor’s personal space, a right to commercial photography or someone’s right to copyright?

If the answer is slightly yes, then it’s always safer to acquire the relevant consent in order to make sure you are within your rights to take images for editorial. Consent does not mean a model release or a property release, verbal consent is appropriate but we need to know that you talked to someone and gained permission to to capture photographs for editorial purposes. The iStock consent form is a document that shows who gave you this consent. e.g. the manager of a shop or cafe or the owner of a property or the parent of a child.

Editorial Photography Standards and Requirements

Acceptable Subject Matter

We want to see all kinds of well-made editorial images that tell truthful, interesting stories about relevant topics.

This includes news events of global significance happening on your doorstep, or something of local interest that can serve to illustrate a wider topic.

Unacceptable Subject Matter

Certain situations will require that you have professional accreditation in order to shoot. Pro sports venues, Pro Events where photographic rights are limited for example will not allow commercial photography without prior accreditation. iStock will not accept images taken without the proper professional accreditation. This includes red carpet celebrity events and pro sport events. If accreditation was obtained, it needs to accompany the image in the upload process.

We will also not accept images captured in overtly paparazzi style. We don't want images that were made in a harassing fashion, that invade an individual's privacy, or that work around accreditation requirements.

Usage, Releases and Permission

Because editorial images can only be used for illustrative or descriptive purposes, we are able to accept many unreleased images of recognizable people, as well as unreleased images of products, buildings and landmarks that would otherwise be protected.

Not every unreleased image is acceptable for editorial however. Here are examples where we still need a release or some other proof of permission to accept an editorial image.


We will not accept isolated portraits containing children or underage minors without consent form the parent or guardian. Images of groups that include minors are acceptable. Schools and school grounds are property that have restricted photographic rights and consent needs to be obtained from the proper institution.

Images of groups that include minors are acceptable.

Private Property

Photographic rights are restricted or protected at many locations and events. Examples include performance venues, museums and galleries, and private residences.

These rights are also protected on identifiable private or commercial property. For instance, the rights to shoot inside an identifiable restaurant are protected.

To submit editorial images from any of these protected or restricted locations, you must provide written proof that you obtained permission.

Approach the owner or manager of the premises, explain what you are doing, and have them provide you with consent to shoot at the location.

We provide an Editorial Property Consent form that you can download and print for these purposes. The form includes the relevant information that proves you obtained consent. You can use a different document from this exact form, as long as it provides the same information.

Download the Editorial Property Consent form here.

Editorial Property Consent form (All languages).

Protected Artwork and Designs

There are many works of art that are rights protected for editorial as well as commercial photography. Sometimes they cannot be photographed as the main subject matter of an image, but are acceptable in context of a larger composition where they are not the main focus. Some artworks and designs cannot be photographed at all. For example, we cannot accept any images which contain buildings or furniture designed by Le Corbusier.

It is important that you do research on the relevant rights protection of any work of art you photograph. Bear in mind that we err on the side of caution.

Logos and Corporate Branding

We will not accept images of protected logos and corporate branding where the logo is the sole content of the image.

Images where the logo is included in a larger context are acceptable.

In these images the logo is the main focus and takes up most of the picture plane but it still exists in a larger context. Both of these are acceptable shots.

Truth, Staging and Editing

You cannot modify your image in any ways that mislead the viewer or provide false information about the scene.

This has different implications for our two categories of editorial images.

A documentary editorial image needs to be unaltered. You are capturing an event that happened, and your portrayal of that event must provide the true facts to the viewer.

An illustrative editorial image of a product or concept offers you more leeway to compose and construct your scene. You are creating an idea that includes unreleased products, but you are not documenting an event. Your image must provide accurate information about those unreleased products, but you are less restricted in how you compose and edit this scene.


In many of the illustrative editorial examples we used, the photographers 'staged' compositions. Staging and directing a photograph is allowable for illustrative editorial images, but is absolutely not acceptable in documentary editorial images.

Arranging Monopoly pieces to create an interesting composition about income tax season does not mislead or misinform people about the Monopoly board game in general. The image on the left is not about an event; it's about an idea. This is perfectly acceptable staging.

The image on the right is entirely about the event, so it is important that the event is real. When we look at this picture, we assume that the photographer has captured a moment that actually happened. It would not be acceptable to spot the pile of boxes, ask the security guard to wade into them, and then upload that as an editorial image. Editorial depends on the honesty of the photographer.


  • Arranging unreleased objects in your studio into a composition that tells a story or illustrates a concept.


  • Interfering with an event as it unfolds. When you’re shooting an event for the purpose of informing viewers about it, you cannot direct people, rearrange objects, or otherwise stage or dress the scene.

Sometimes you will want to include people in an illustrative composition.

This is an acceptable example. The person is an unobtrusive part of a real scene, and what we the viewer may or may not know about them is relatively unimportant to the image.

We will not accept full-on shots of models that are clearly being directed using products. Basically these images become too much about the models, and as viewers we start to ask questions about the reality of the scene. They become advertorial rather than editorial.


You cannot crop, edit or otherwise manipulate your image in such a way that it changes facts or misleads the viewer about what happened.

This doesn't mean that you must submit everything straight out of the camera. You can still process your images. That processing should be about delivering a clean, good-looking picture, and not about changing the scene.

Moderate level and color correction are fine. Black and white conversion is fine. Basically, anything that you could have done in a dark room is acceptable, so long as it isn't pushed to the point where it begins to change facts about the image.

Unacceptable editing would include:

  • Any cloning, copying or pasting which removes elements from or alters elements in the image.
  • Retouching skin, cloning out blemishes, or altering the appearance of a person.
  • Removing logos or otherwise altering any trademarked or copyright items in the image.
  • Cropping an image in such a way that changes the context. For example you may not crop out some element of the action which serves to explain what is happening.
  • Aggressive level or color adjustments that fundamentally alter a scene.
  • Removing or modifying EXIF data in any way. The information in the EXIF must match the information you give us in the caption. We will reject all images with stripped or modified EXIF data.

Use the description field to mention any notable processing or editing that you may have done.

Please see here for more examples of acceptable and unacceptable editing.

Editing Illustrative Images

Once again, you have slightly more leeway with product shots created in your studio. You cannot edit the image to change facts about a recognizable product, but you can expose and process your image in certain ways for certain effects.

The best example would be white screens on computers and devices. It is possible to produce a white screen using different applications of the devices themselves and exposing them in a certain way.

This technique hasn't changed anything about the product and is acceptable. Unacceptable edits would include:

  • Cloning out recognizable features like the power button.
  • Modifying the navigation or other digital design features.

Use the description field to describe how certain effects or changes were produced. For example, if you use an application to produce a white screen on the device, indicate that in the description.


Editorial captions provide information and context about the image to the customer.

Captions answer the five W questions: where, when, what, who and why. People seeing your image will ask all of these questions. In a few sentences, provide the background information necessary to describe and explain your image. Captions short be short, concise, and accurate. Stick to the facts and quickly explain what it is you've shot.

Here are some examples of good captions. They don't need to be overly long, just specific and to the point.

Istanbul, Turkey - May 7, 2010: Street car makes its way alongside shoppers crowding İstiklal Avenue. Known in English as Independence Avenue, the most famous shopping street in the country sees as many as three million pedestrians on a busy weekend day.

Dublin, Ireland - November 17, 2008: The Temple Bar pub located in district with the same name. With many tourist-focused nightclubs, restaurants and bars, the Temple bar area is the center of Dublin nightlife.

Christchurch, New Zealand - September 4, 2010: Firefighters battle a blaze along Worchester Street after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck 30km west of the city at 4:35 am this morning September 4, 2010 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Civil Defence have declared a state of emergency and there has been considerable damage across the city and surrounding areas.

You must follow the same format given above: Location - Date: Description of content.

Important: During the upload process you will also be asked to enter the country and date information in another separate place. This information will not automatically populate the caption field; you must enter it again, and in the correct format. Make sure that you have the hyphen and colon in the right spots.

Image Credits

Men celebrating Mubarak’s step down in Tahrir sq. by ramihalim
Circular Quay And Sydney Opera House by simonbradfield
Noisiest beach by Chalabala
tired man sleeping on tank wheels..Egypt 2011 revolution by ramihalim
Reindeer Skiing by CaroleGomez
Tram 28 in Lisbon, Portugal by deimagine
Pa-O Minority Woman, Birma by hanoded
cranberry harvest by laughingmango
Stuck by kokkai
Income Tax by DNY59
Lego figures men and women by juniorbeep
Past Due by DNY59
Coca Cola bottle cap on red and wet surface by gbrundin
McDonalds Fillet of Fish Meal by LauriPatterson
KIndle eBook standing out in row of real books by clu
Piggy floating in dollar banknotes by dem10
Google Analytics webpage on the browser by gmutlu
NBC Tower Sign in Chicago by nazdravie
eBay on iPad by hocus-focus
Tire Seller by MickyWiswedel
nowhere to sleep other than a comfy tank tread wheel by ramihalim
Apple iPad 2 by hanibaram
Earthquake Rocks New Zealand's South Island by EdStock
The Temple Bar by kulicki
Tram Drives Along Shoppers Crowding İstiklal Avenue Istanbul by PeskyMonkey

Not a member?Join