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Editorial photography for beginners

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Editorial photography are images commissioned by a client to fit a certain brand or article. Compared to photography meant for exhibitions, editorial images have a clear purpose set by the client. However, most editorial photographers still have a great deal of creative freedom and the styles can vary vastly, from a fashion shoot to a newspaper. Getting editorial photography right is about more than taking the images and all the preparation can feel intimidating. I will take you through each of the steps and provide helpful links to learn more. Let's dive in!


  • The concept

  • Planning

  • Shooting

  • Editing

The concept

The first step is to get to know the client and their goals for this project. Ask for a clearly written brief including any items to shoot, the theme or article and information about the brand. If the brand has a certain style, look in to the past photos they have used and ask who they want to appeal to.

Make sure you know how the end product will be used. Is it for a cover or should it be shot horizontally? Also make sure to check if the publication is online of if it will be printed. Printed colours will appear less vibrant and the type of paper can have a big effect on the final result. If you are shooting a cover, you might need to consider text placements.

Finally, create a concept for the shoot and run it by the client. If you have a certain style in mind, show examples of similar work and you can use drawings to explain the end result. Once the client is happy, ask them to sign off the concept and move on to the planning phase.


You know what the end result should be, now it is time to take out your notebook and create a checklist. Consider the following before scheduling the shooting date and make sure you have everything you need before getting started.

What is the client responsible for?

Should they bring a model, stylist, clothes or should the shoot take place in their office?

The location

Consider if you will be shooting inside or outside. Inside has the benefit of constant lightning and less risk of adverse weather affecting the shoot, but you might have to pay to gain access. If you are looking for options, many historic buildings and Universities with creative programs offer space for rent. Many photographers like Kunal Daswani use a coloured background to help add contrast and bring colour.


If you are shooting an item that requires a model, make sure to give them clear instructions on what they need to wear and any items they need to bring. Make sure you feel that the model’s look fits with the story you are trying to tell.


Having a crew on the set means you can focus on taking photos, but you might also have logistical reasons for needing help. If you plan on using multiple light sources or need to assemble backgrounds, consider hiring an assistant. If the makeup is crucial or if you can expect weather to affect the styling, hire a stylist to edit throughout the day. If you have a large set and a lot of moving parts, an art director can help keep things on track.


Lighting can be a way to highlight interesting features, create moods and make sure important items look the part. If you shoot outside, choose the time of day that will provide the right light and if needed, bring additional light to soften or highlight part of your image.

Pro tip: Clay Cook describes how lighting the face at a 45 degree angle from direct sunlight creates the most flattering features. Go to your intended site a few days before shooting at the planned time of day and try placing a person at different angles to see the effect and the backgrounds.

Photo treatments

Fore more creative photos, photographers sometimes use filters to affect the end result. A common one is gel filters which gives the image a colour glow that can not be achieved in the same way in post. If you plan on using a treatment, make sure to try it out beforehand and bring everything you need on the day.

Don’t forget to provide directions to anyone involved well in advance.


Everyone has arrived and it is time for shooting. Make sure everyone feels comfortable and if the shoot is longer, it can be a great idea to provide refreshments or lunch.

Directing the model

If you have a very specific end result in mind, describe this to the model and try a range of different angles, facial expressions and postures. Even if the differences are small, it can affect the mood. If the concept is a little more open or based on an emotion, be inspired by the model and let them have more freedom to try different scenarios.

Look at your photos

In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to forget to look at the pictures you have already taken. It is ok to take a break to look over the images so far or you can have a look as you go.

This allows you to spot things that have worked and reshoot things that haven’t.


Even if you are shooting details, always take the photo further away than you intend for the end result to appear. This means you have more freedom editing the photo and small flaws in the background can be fixed in post.

Depth of field

Depth of field determines at what distance something appears clear or blurry. Play around with different options to see how this affects the subject and the story.


Your work after the photo is taken can make a big difference to the end result, but don’t rely on editing to fix problems you could fix by making a small adjustment during shooting. Depending on the tone of the photo, you can stop at small retouches and colour adjustments, or you can go more experimental with your editing.

Selecting the right photo

Take some time to look through your options side by side. You can do this on your computer or you can print the options you like. Look for photos that convey the right message and have minimal need for edits.


Retouching lets you remove or edit any aspects of your photo that is distracting from your goal. This can be anything from cars in the background to spots on the models clothes. Don’t assume you have to remove any unique features of your model, instead, let their personality bring character to your photos.

Colour editing

Colours might be one of the most powerful ways to change an image. Depending on the mood you want to create, you can play around with saturation levels, colour hue and levels.

Combining photos

If you don’t have the option to shoot at your perfect location or if you are going for a more creative look, you can try combining photos. For wonderful inspiration, check out @hey.luisa on Instagram.

Do you have any tips for ambitious photographers? Join the discussion on our Facebook group!


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