Facebook Pixel What is Royalty-Free Editorial Stock Photography and Can You Earn Money From It?

What is Royalty-Free Editorial Stock Photography and Can You Earn Money From It?

Photographs of just about anything can be sold as royalty-free editorial stock photography. How they are licensed is defined as either editorial or commercial. An image sold with an editorial license can only be used in news or general interest publications like;

  • Blogs
  • Textbooks
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? Poi Sang Long Festival in Thailand

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

An editorial stock photo cannot be used to directly promote anything for profit.

Photos sold by a stock agency with an editorial license are more limited in how they can be published. Commercially licensed photos can be more broadly used, but there are more restrictions on what they contain.

What’s the difference between editorial and commercial stock photo licensing?

Editorial stock photos do not require model or property releases.

You can submit photos of individuals or whole crowds for editorial licensing and no model release would be requested. If you submit any photos of people for commercial use, signed model releases are required. Whenever a person can identify themselves in a photo, a release is required if the photo is to be sold with a commercial license.

Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? Crowds During Song Khran Festival in Chiang Mai

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Commercial licensing prohibits the inclusion of any copyrighted elements in your photos. Any branding or products must be removed from the photos. This also goes for people and private property. These things must be accompanied by an appropriate release form. If they’re not stock agencies will not accept the images into their collections.

Editorial licensing allows visible branding, products, people and property. However, no manipulation of the content is permitted.

Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? Market Tattoos

I would not be able to submit this for sale under an editorial license because I have removed a logo from the man’s shirt. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

If you have a photo of something containing a logo or company name, you can remove it and still license the photo with a commercial license. When uploading editorial photos, you will be asked to state that you have not manipulated the photo in any way. Editorial stock photos must depict things as they really were when you took the photo.

Most stock agencies have disclaimers attached to editorial licensing of photos. The buyer is in control of how the photos will be used and must be made aware of the restrictions and their responsibilities. Stock photo agencies make it clear they are not liable for how the purchaser uses editorial photos.

Are there restrictions on the types of photos you can upload?

Most royalty-free stock agencies don’t have many restrictions. So long as you are uploading photos within the bounds of common decency, you won’t have any problems. Check with each stock agency where you wish to submit photos. They will be able to provide you with their company policy on what they want you to upload.

The law in most countries allows you to photograph anything you like from a public space. However, in doing so, you must not infringe on the rights of others or abuse their privacy. Photographing military facilities, power plants and other important infrastructure can sometimes get you into trouble. Check with local laws before you do.

Don’t just upload any old pictures. Make sure to only submit your best images. The market has become so saturated with photos that it’s increasingly difficult to make sales. Make sure your pictures stand out from the crowd.

Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? Woman with a SLR Film Camera

I do have a signed model release for the woman in this photo, but because of the branding on the camera I could only sell it with an editorial license. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

How do you know what photos will sell?

You really don’t.

Predicting how well editorial stock may sell is very difficult.

If you have a good photo of a spectacular event or happening of international significance, it will likely sell well. If you were the only photographer to capture this amazing occurrence, then it will certainly sell better. However, these type of situations are extremely rare.

Carrying your camera with you wherever you go will increase your chances. It will also sharpen your awareness of what a good editorial image can be as you learn to focus your attention. If you leave your camera at home, it won’t happen.

Upload a variety of images and build up a large number of your photos in a stock agency website. Doing this gives you practical experience of what will and will not sell. There are many variable factors involved.

If you can build up a solid base of your own photos, you will be able to analyze which ones sell more consistently. You can then use this information to plan what you will photograph.

Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? Checking Their Messages

Annual events can make good subjects for editorial because the can be used year after year. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Once you have this information to work with you can decide on a niche or two to concentrate on. Look at which of your editorial stock photos sell the best and which of them you enjoyed making the most. This is what you will be best to focus your efforts on.

Royalty-free stock agencies boast collections of millions of photos. They contain photos already of pretty much every subject you can think of. You need to take better images than the ones they are already selling.

Browse these collections for ideas. See what others have done and come up with a new angle. If you see that there is a number of similar images that sell well, and you can produce photos of the same subject, do so. Don’t just copy. Improve on what’s already been done.

Update images you find that might be out of date. Has your city’s skyline changed recently? There may not be many new photos of it online yet.

Has there been some big news recently that you can illustrate with a stock photo? This will have to be ongoing news, or you’ll need to produce and upload your photos quickly so as not to miss the moment.

Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? Flower Parade Float

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

How many agencies can I upload my editorial stock photos to?

You can choose to upload exclusively to just one agency or to as many as you have time to service.

Signing an exclusive contract to supply just one agency has certain benefits. However, you are restricted to only their customers buying your photos.

Supplying to many agencies takes time. Each stock library has its own requirements and contracts, and you must understand these and follow their terms closely. If you don’t, you may find you’ll have many of your photos rejected for one reason or another.

Royalty Free Editorial Stock Photography - What is it? China Girls at New Year

© Kevin Landwer-Johan


Do your research and understand what’s required before you start uploading photos to sell as editorial stock. You will probably find you have a huge number of images on your hard drive you can upload.

If they’re only stuck on your computer, you’ll never make any money from them. Uploaded to a stock agency, you won’t get rich overnight, but you will earn something over time.

Taking a business-like approach to stock photography is best if you are serious about it. Treating it too casually, not paying attention to what’s working and what’s not, will not bring you success. You’ll need to stick with it and consistently upload to make a really good go of it.

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Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

Kevin Landwer-Johan is a photographer, photography teacher, and author with over 30 years of experience that he loves to share with others.

Check out his website and his Buy Me a Coffee page.

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