11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow

11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow

Unlock the secrets behind these editorial photographers as they share how they capture incredible images of current events.

Now is an exciting time to be an editorial photographer. Whether you’re photographing marches or elections, there’s always a headline-worthy event waiting to be documented. “These days, I almost always have my camera with me,” Shutterstock Contributor Cory Seamer tells us.

11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow — Look for OpportunityLook for opportunity.

Image by Cory Seamer.

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“Some of my best-selling editorial shots were of events or incidents that I stumbled across while going about my daily routine. A couple of examples have been the FDNY response to a fire in a Midtown office building and a protest against Uber and Lyft that happened next to the New York Stock Exchange.”

With so much happening around us, it’s especially important for stock photographers to maintain integrity and follow ethical guidelines set forth for this kind of work. We spoke with five talented editorial photographers about the rules they observe when they’re on the ground covering major events.

On Shutterstock, there are two types of editorial images: documentary and illustrative. Documentary photos cover real-life, newsworthy events like protests, disasters, and parades in a truthful manner. Illustrative images, on the other hand, include staged and conceptual photos—like a still life of a popular brand product or a portrait of a person posing with a car by a well-known manufacturer. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on documentary (unstaged) photos.

11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow — Get Credentials in OrderObtain a press pass.

Image by Sheila Fitzgerald.

1. Get your credentials in order.

You don’t need press credentials in order to document events in public, but some private and ticketed events, like runways shows, concerts, red carpet events, or sports matches, require proper press credentials in order to be accepted by Shutterstock. Before documenting a private event or location, check with the organizers or authorities to see if you need these credentials.

“Obtaining official event credentials creates a resume of sorts for future events being applied for, and it’s usually easy to do,” California-based photographer Sheila Fitzgerald explains. “For example, it was surprising how easy it was to apply for press credentials for the Democratic National Conventions both in San Francisco and in Long Beach. I’d encourage photographers to apply for credentials for local events. Each time you get an affirmation, it builds your confidence to apply and cover the next one.”

2. Never pay your subjects.

This rule is simple: if you want to license your documentary photos, you can’t compensate your subjects with cash or gifts.

11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow — Never Pay Your SubjectsMaintain your financial integrity.

Image by Karl Sonnenberg.

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3. Don’t manipulate your photos.

“My steadfast rule is this: Never manipulate documentary editorial work,” Los Angeles-based Karl Sonnenberg stresses. “Don’t add anything; don’t subtract anything. Do only what you could do in a traditional darkroom, like dodging, burning, etc.”

Generally, cropping and color toning are acceptable, as long as they don’t affect the meaning or veracity of your photo. As Sonneberg explains, you cannot clone or delete elements or composite them together if you’re shooting documentary work. Keep it true to life.

11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow — Keep Edits to a MinimumKeep edits to a minimum.

Image by Alexandros Michailidis.

4. Avoid misleading viewers.

You don’t necessarily have to “doctor” your photos to mislead people. Every photo you submit should accurately reflect the situation at hand, without suggesting anything false or untrue. If you’ve taken a posed portrait, for example, make that crystal clear in your caption information.

“I always make sure people can understand immediately what is going on in my photos without over complicating things and without there being a second reading,” Brussels-based photojournalist Alexandros Michailidis tells us. “I always follow the 5 Ws rule (who, what, where, when, and why), and make sure those details are clear. I always make sure to avoid ‘overstretching’ the truth.”

11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow — Keep Details ClearKeep your details clear.

Image by Sheila Fitzgerald.

5. Watch your background.

Aside from the subject itself, be cognizant of any elements sneaking into the backgrounds of your shots.

“I had no idea there were so many rules about sports logos,” Fitzgerald admits. “And people out here are apparently really into their teams, so they wear their team hats and shirts to a lot of other events. I’ve had to scrap some good editorial political rally shots because people were wearing Giants hats in the front row, and I’ve had to scrap images from parades because there were murals in the background—which is apparently a new rule for San Francisco specifically.

“Had I known those restrictions ahead of time, I would have positioned myself better so I didn’t have anything like that in the background. Always be aware of what else is in your image when you’re shooting. Know your local restrictions, and work around them. If someone with non-licensable attire is in the corner of an image, I’ll crop and see if it still looks good.”

11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow — Keep an Eye on the BackgroundKeep an eye on what’s in the background.

Image by Cory Seamer.

6. Stay safe out there.

“In dangerous situations, I will not put myself or others at risk just to get ‘the shot,’” Seamer adds. “I have seen people lean over ledges and get too close to wild animals just to get the perfect photo. If I don’t have the gear to get the shot I want safely, then I don’t take the shot. It’s never worth it.”

11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow — Include Clear and Concise CaptionsFollow Shutterstock’s captioning guidelines.

Image by Karl Sonnenberg.

7. Add concise but thorough captions.

“I think the biggest reason for the rejection of editorial images is not properly formatting and captioning your photo: when, where, and what is it about,” Sonnenberg tells us. As per Shutterstock’s guidelines, all editorial captions should follow this format: “CITY, STATE/COUNTRY – MONTH DAY YEAR: [Factual description of the image content, including who and what the image portrays].”

If you’ve photographed a celebrity, include their name. For people you can’t identify, use the word “unidentified.” Keep verbs in the present tense (e.g. “California Senator Kamala Harris speaking at the Families Belong Together rally and march” is correct, not “California Senator Kamala Harris spoke at the Families Belong Together rally and march.” If you’re unsure of the exact date, don’t guess; instead, say, “CIRCA [year].”

Include all the important information, but keep it brief; Shutterstock has a 200-character limit for captions.

11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow — Understand KeywordingGet a grasp on keywording.

Image by Karl Sonnenberg.

8. Apply accurate keywords.

“When I first got started, I wish I had a better grasp of keywording and the organization of my work,” Sonnenberg says. “Along with a great shot, keywords are absolutely vital for anyone to find your photograph. I use Lightroom now for all my work and I have one giant catalog. I have keywording lists that I can apply over and over appropriately for shots.”

By adding keywords, you increase the likelihood of a buyer discovering your photo and purchasing it. But, don’t apply any keywords if you’re not certain of their accuracy.

“Be honest, and don’t try to play the system,” Sonnenberg adds. “Shutterstock has a good support page about how to properly keyword and the rules that go with it. I would encourage photographers who are just starting out to read those; it will save you the frustration of photos being rejected.”

11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow — Quality over QuanityTry not to flood your buyers.

Image by Sheila Fitzgerald.

9. Value quality over quantity.

Across the board, the photographers we interviewed underscored the importance of being selective. Not only will this make the editor’s job easier, but it’ll also ensure that buyers only see your best work.

“I always curate my photos, especially for protests and marches, because I end up with hundreds of images from said events,” Fitzgerald says. “I can generally sort through 500 images in a few hours and pull out the one or two dozen images that best depict the event and get them uploaded.”

If you have a lot of similar shots, narrow it down to one (or two at the most) to upload.

11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow — Mind the Technical DetailsForget perfection, but still aim for quality.

Image by Diana Vucane.

10. Mind the technical details.

The technical rules for documentary editorial photos are more lenient than they are for commercial or even illustrative editorial photos. That’s because sometimes, when you’re working on the ground, it’s almost impossible to get a “perfect” shot. But that doesn’t mean that the image shouldn’t be well-executed.

“One common reason for rejection is the main subject of the photo not being in focus,” UK-based photographer Diana Vucane tells us. “Lightroom has a feature that can help you with determining whether this is the case.

“Artificial noise is another one—this happens when you’ve applied too many effects on a photograph that make it more grainy and noisy. After editing, I usually blow a photo up to make sure this has not occurred. Some of it may be reduced by boosting the luminance of the picture, but this is not always the salvation.

“Sometimes less is more, especially if you’ve used a camera that is not hyper light sensitive. The picture might have better chances of being accepted with less editing done on it.”

11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow — Respect Your SubjectsShow respect to your subjects.

Image by Karl Sonnenberg.

11. Be respectful.

You can’t be certain about how buyers will use your photos, so remember to consider the privacy of your subjects and rely on your own judgment about what’s right given the situation.

“I am very cognizant of the people I photograph at marches, rallies, or anything public,” Sonnenberg tells us. “Sometimes it’s less about ‘I can legally take this photo’ and more about being respectful of others.

“I’ve only come across this a few times where, for example, a protester did not want their photo taken. I’ll weigh the situation. Is this a critical photo that I absolutely have to get, or can I get an equally good shot by turning my camera in another direction? You as a photographer have to make that decision every time.”

Top Image by Karl Sonnenberg.

Looking for more tips on shooting editorial content? Check these out.

From Washington to Tokyo, Climate Change Protests In 2019Submitting Editorial Content, Part 1: Illustrative EditorialSubmitting Editorial Content, Part 2: Documentary EditorialDocumenting LGBTQ Rights with Kay Tobin Lahusen and Barbara Gittings5 Photographers Share Their Tips for Documenting History in the Making

The post 11 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers Follow appeared first on The Shutterstock Blog.

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