Blog Home Design Design Trends Announcing: Shutterstock’s New Editorial Guidelines

Shutterstock offers a variety of Editorial photography choices depending on your organization’s needs and budget.

1. Shutterstock Editorial – for Enterprise buyers
If you are a publisher, broadcaster, photo editor or news editor from a media organization, please visit Shutterstock Editorial, our full-service global editorial offering for media professionals, providing photographs of breaking news and live events from a network of photo agencies around the world.

2. Images marked “For Editorial Use Only” in our standard stock photo library
Shutterstock images marked “for editorial use only” are intended for bloggers and journalists who need single-use editorial images, for use on a single platform or social media, but cannot be used in print covers or on broadcast media. These images can only be used in editorial context, and cannot be used for advertising or promotional purposes.

This information is intended for contributors submitting images marked as “Editorial Use Only” to our standard stock library.

Shutterstock is pleased to announce its new editorial guidelines. We have expanded editorial submissions to include illustrative editorial content, and we now encourage simpler editorial captions. Our hope is that these changes will improve your experience in creating and submitting editorial content to Shutterstock.

What is an Editorial Image?

An image labeled as “Editorial Use Only” on Shutterstock
 (an “editorial image”) is an image that cannot be used 
to advertise or promote a product or service. The people, objects, or places in editorial images are not released.

An editorial image can be used to illustrate newsworthy and current events. It can also be used to illustrate subjects of human interest, including: the arts, business, culture, health and fitness, lifestyle, social events, technology, and travel.

We do not accept images for editorial use simply because they fail to meet the criteria for commercial images. For example, we will not automatically accept an image showing a recognizable person, but which does not have a model release, for editorial use. Rather, an editorial image should depict a specific subject that could be the topic of a news story or piece of commentary.

What Can an Editorial Image Be Used For?

An editorial image’s use is limited to non-commercial uses. Proper use of an editorial image includes using
the image to illustrate news, commentary or opinion in newspaper or magazine articles, blog or website posts, or in non-commercial multimedia presentations (such as film).

Documentary Images vs. Illustrative Images

Shutterstock will accept editorial images that 
fall under two categories:

  1. Documentary images: Images that document an event or subject of human interest
  2. Illustrative images: Images that illustrate an event or subject of human interest through staging

These two subtypes of editorial images illustrate newsworthy and current events, and subjects of human interest, in different ways. However, both types of editorial images must faithfully depict the subject and be accompanied by accurate captions and keywords.


Documentary Images

Documentary images are images that capture a certain event or subject of human interest. These images must accurately and truthfully communicate the event or subject. Although documentary images should be unaltered where possible, technical enhancements to improve the overall quality of the image itself are acceptable.

This is a documentary image of Prince William and Kate Middleton riding in a carriage to Buckingham Palace after their wedding on April 29, 2011 in England. The image captures the event in an accurate or truthful matter. Minor edits, such as cropping the image or adjusting the lighting would be acceptable.

This is a documentary image of a professional surfer catching a wave at Pipeline, Hawaii in February 2009. This image captures the scene in an accurate and truthful matter. The image was cropped to focus on the surfer and the power of the wave, but the cameraman on the lower left was left untouched to honestly and accurately depict the scene.

This is a documentary image of New York firefighters near Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. This image captures the scene at Ground Zero on this date in an accurate and truthful matter, as the image is an unaltered and un-manipulated photograph of the scene.

Ethical Considerations for Documentary Images

Since documentary images are commonly used to illustrate newsworthy and current events, it is important that they be faithful depictions of the subject being illustrated. Although minor edits to enhance documentary images may be acceptable, it is never acceptable to alter them in a way that portrays a subject dishonestly. Additionally, captions for documentary images should always accurately describe the image.

Here are some examples of acceptable and unacceptable practices when it comes to documentary images:


Illustrative Images

Illustrative editorial images are creative and/or conceptual images that can be used to illustrate newsworthy or current events,
as well as subjects of human interest. Illustrative images must clearly and strongly illustrate the idea behind the image. Unlike documentary images, illustrative images may be staged.

We review these images on a case-by-case basis. We only accept illustrative images that meet our quality standards, and that we believe would be useful in illustrating news or subjects of human interest.

Please note that our needs for illustrative images change according to current events and trends, and it is important to keep this in mind when submitting illustrative editorial images.

General quality guidelines to keep in mind:

  • The concept of your image must be clear and the image should easily convey the message.
  • The focus of the image should be sharp, and the focal point should be appropriate for the concept.
  • The image should be free of excessive noise.
  • Image must be properly lit without harsh shadows
and/or highlights.
  • Products in product shots should be clean and properly stylized.
  • If the image contains a hand and/or model holding an object, the hand and/or model should be stylized as well (hands and nails must be clean).
  • The background of illustrative images should not be
distracting. They should not contain elements that visually compete with the concept.

This is an example of an illustrative image that may be used for editorial purposes. Although the image is not a documentation of an event, it could be used to illustrate news or commentary.

For example, it is easy to see this image being used in an article about Apple, Steve Jobs, or technology.

Additionally, this image meets Shutterstock’s quality standards. The concept of the image is strong, and the focus of the image is sharp, without any excessive noise, shadows, or highlights.

This is an example of an illustrative editorial image that effectively combines several different elements to create a coherent, clear idea. This image does not document an event, but features a product
(a Starbucks beverage) next to an individual on a laptop.

This image could have many editorial uses, for example, in an article about coffee, Starbucks, or working from home.

This image also meets Shutterstock’s quality standards as the concept is strong, the focus of the image is clear, and there are no other quality issues (excessive noise, shadows, or highlights) with the image.

How to Create a “Strong” Concept for Illustrative Editorial Images

The key to submitting illustrative editorial images is that each image must be useful in illustrating news, current events, or subjects of human interest. Shooting images of signs or labels is simply not enough to convey a strong idea or concept.

Rather, focus on a relevant theme or idea, and stage elements in a way that will strongly and clearly illustrate that theme or idea.

For example, the idea behind this illustrative editorial image is “using Visa online.” This image stages two elements—a Visa credit card and a laptop computer—in a manner that coherently and clearly conveys the idea of using a Visa credit card online.

The idea is strong enough to see its use in an article or story about Visa, online shopping, or online banking. Note that this image could not be submitted for commercial use due to the Visa logo in the image, but it would be acceptable for editorial use.

Additionally, this image meets Shutterstock’s quality standards as the focus of the image is clear, and there are no other quality issues (excessive noise, shadows, or highlights) with the image.

Creating a Caption

An editorial image should have an appropriate caption, which describes the specific subject of the image. The caption should include basic identifiers, such as: Who, What, Why, Where, and When. Always pay special attention to spelling, formatting, phrasing, capital letters, and punctuation.

We no longer require a reiteration of the date and location of the image in the description portion of the caption.

Here is how a caption should generally be structured:

CITY, STATE/COUNTRY – MONTH DAY YEAR: [Factual description 
of the image content, including who and what the image portrays].

Caption Example: Documentary Editorial Image

LONDON, UK – APRIL 29, 2011: Prince William and Kate Middleton ride in a carriage on their way to Buckingham Palace after their wedding.

Caption Example: Illustrative Editorial Image

KIEV, UKRAINE – OCTOBER 06, 2011: Photo of a Apple iPad device, showing the homepage featuring the image of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, who died at age 56. Processed in B&W.

Creating Keywords

Since editorial images are used to illustrate newsworthy events and subjects of human interest, it is important that keywords for these images be accurate and truthful. Never add keywords that could be misleading. For example, if an editorial image features a product manufactured by Magnavox, do not use pair the keyword “Sony” with the image.

Also, unlike captions for commercial images, keywords for editorial images may include brand names and products, as long as they accurately describe the image.

Finally, illustrative editorial images should include the keyword “illustrative editorial.” This will help customers locate these types of images.

As always, we encourage you to contact us at if you have any questions.