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Blog Home Contributor Submitting Editorial Content, Part 1: Illustrative Editorial

Submitting Editorial Content, Part 1: Illustrative Editorial

In part one of our two-part series on editorial images, we’ll focus on illustrative editorial content. We’ll go over our editorial caption and keyword requirements, image quality requirements, acceptable and unacceptable post processing techniques, and restricted illustrative editorial content. With this knowledge in hand, you’ll be on your way to becoming a successful illustrative editorial contributor.

Shutterstock accepts two types of photographic editorial content: documentary and illustrative. Documentary editorial is content that accurately captures an event, situation, or location at a specific moment in time, such as a protest, parade, red carpet event, landmark, political event, concert, etc.

Illustrative editorial on the other hand, illustrates a subject of human interest through staging. Illustrative editorial content can be creative and/or conceptual, but the content must clearly convey a strong idea or concept that illustrates news, current events, or a subject of human interest. For example, the image below does not document an event, but instead features a product next to an individual on a laptop that can be used to illustrate an article about coffee, Starbucks, or working from home.

SCARSDALE, NY – SEPTEMBER 15, 2013: A tall Starbucks coffee in front of a woman working on a laptop computer by Sean Wandzilak

Another key difference between these two content types is image quality. Documentary editorial content can contain some imperfections, because capturing an event doesn’t always happen in ideal shooting conditions. However, the image quality of illustrative editorial content must be superb since the content is shot in a controlled environment.

Image Quality

Illustrative editorial image quality standards are inline with our commercial quality standards. We expect illustrative editorial concepts to be well-thought-out, and image quality should be superb since this content is shot in a controlled environment.

Composition: The arrangement of the subject and/or other visual elements that make up the image must be well-thought-out and composed. Poorly arranged subjects or images with distracting elements will be rejected.

Lighting: Images must be properly lit. Images with harsh shadows, highlights, and/or unattractive lighting will be rejected.

Noise / Artifacts / Film Grain: Images must be free of excessive noise, compression artifacts or film grain.

Focus: Focus must be sharp and the focal point must be located in the appropriate area if a shallow depth of field is used.

Styling: Products, objects, hands, etc., must be clean and properly stylized.


Only traditional photographic post-processing techniques can be used to enhance illustrative editorial content. For example:

  • Cropping
  • Dodging / Burning
  • Color Toning

LONDON, UK – October 05, 2014: Retro Photo Filter Effect – London Skyline landscape at Sunrise with Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, London Eye, Westminster Bridge, River Thames, London, England, UK

Major editing alterations are unacceptable for illustrative editorial content. For example, we do not allow:

  • Removing elements from a scene, like removing backgrounds or cloning out objects
  • Adding elements to a scene, like incorporating additional photos to form a composite, adding digital text, or adding objects
  • Collages

Illustrative Editorial Caption Requirements

Illustrative editorial captions must contain the following:

  • City, state/country where the image was taken
  • Month, day, and year or circa month/year when the image was taken
  • Factual description of the image content, including what the image portrays

We highly recommend using the following format when creating editorial captions:

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

Here is an example of a good title for an illustrative editorial image:

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 11.06.29 PM

Illustrative Editorial Keyword Requirement

Illustrative editorial content must include “illustrative editorial” or “illustrative” and “editorial” in its keywords.

The following keywords are unacceptable:

  • “Illustrative-Editorial”
  • “Illustrative” used alone
  • “Editorial Illustrative”
  • “Editorial Illustration”
  • “Illustrativeeditorial”

These are the keywords associated with the Coca-Cola image above. Note how it contains “illustrative editorial” in the list of keywords.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 11.48.38 PM

Restricted Illustrative Editorial Content

Since we introduced illustrative editorial content to our collection, we have refined some of the policies and restrictions. Highlighted below are some of the recent changes and restrictions that we have introduced — we will no longer accept the following content as illustrative editorial.

Isolated Brand Names or Logos

We no longer accept photographs that isolate a brand name or logo. (For example: an extremely tight shot of a logo on a product, an isolated logo printed on a paper, etc.)

Photographs of products/objects that include visible brand names or logos can be accepted in certain cases. For example, stickers or printouts of logos or brand names used in a concept, like in the image below, can be accepted. Photographs of brand names or logos on buildings, storefronts, or on cars can be accepted as documentary editorial with a proper editorial caption.

BELCHATOW, POLAND – AUGUST 31, 2014: A social media logotype collection printed and placed on modern computer keyboard by scyther5

Isolated, Unpackaged Toys and Figurines

Photographs that isolate unpackaged toys and figurines are no longer acceptable.

However, we will continue to accept images in which toys are in their original packaging or are staged to illustrate a concept or an idea.

Orvieto, Italy – February 12th 2015: Construction site of Lego, Workers build a house. Lego is a popular line of construction toys manufactured by the Lego Group by simone mescolini

Isolated DVD, Blu-Ray, VHS, CD, Vinyl Record and Book Covers, or Movie Posters:

Isolations or scans of DVD, Blu-Ray, VHS, CD, vinyl record covers, and movie posters are no longer acceptable.

However we will continue accepting posters, books, and DVD covers that are staged to convey an idea.

BARCELONA, SPAIN – APR 18, 2014: A collection of films by Disney Pixar Animation Studios on Blu-ray, including Finding Nemo, Up, Wall-e, Toy Story, Monsters and Ratatouille by Christian Bertrand

Images That Isolate Artwork or Photographs: Images that isolate artwork or photographs are no longer acceptable, for example:

  • Photographs on websites
  • Isolated paintings

But we will continue to accept images in which another photographer’s image is not the focal point.

KIEV, UKRAINE – JUNE 27, 2014: Person reading The New York Times online article of technology news on a brand new Apple iPad Air. This website is one of America’s most popular news sites by Bloomua

Please note that some of the restricted content mentioned above may still be present on our site, but in due time it will be audited and removed by our Compliance department.

We hope you will find these guidelines helpful, and you can always find more useful information in our Contributor Support Center.

Top image: AMELAND, NETHERLANDS – SEPTEMBER 25, 2014: All Star Converse sneakers with red and white stripped lighthouse in background by Emka74

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