Transforming images from Editorial to Commercial to increase their worth!

From the perspective of buyers, the success of Microstock can be attributed to the stress-free Royalty-Free model, where relatively few restrictions are placed on the (re)usage of images. This is in contrast with the traditional Rights-Managed model where usage is strictly controlled, at least in theory. I wrote an article about this a few weeks ago – available here.

Another crucial distinction, independent of RF v RM, is between commercial and editorial images. Basically, editorial images cannot be used for commercial purposes due to identifiable people and/or property (unless a proper released is signed). In other words, they tend to be more ‘newsworthy’ types images, but each agency has their own definition of editorial which is beyond the scope of this article.

Licensing can be complicated, with even some Agencies not permitting the editorial licensing of certain locations, see the list compiled by Shutterstock, which may save you some time/expense.

Main differences between ‘Editorial’ and ‘Commercial’ Licensing

Commercial usage examples:

  • Advertising in print and digital media campaigns
  • Marketing and promotional materials
  • Corporate presentations and brochures (both in-house and for outside public)
  • Commercial websites
  • Product packaging
  • Commercial Film and television
  • Commercial Books and book covers

Editorial usage examples:

  • Newspaper and magazine articles
  • Editorial features
  • Blog or website (for descriptive purposes only)
  • News broadcasts
  • Documentaries
  • Academic textbooks
  • Academic: essays and journals

Remove editorial restrictions to increase your profits

Buyers generally find images with restrictions confusing and some tend to avoid such images. Therefore, to increase your chances of making sales, it makes sense that you should try to make all your images commercially available, whenever possible. I’ll give you some examples shortly.

Of course, some scenes are next to IMPOSSIBLE to be licensed commercially due to the abundance of identifiable people and/or property. Some images lend themselves naturally to be licensed editorially and they should be, as long as they tell a nice story (i.e. a protest, new landmark, a famous person in public, etc.)

Here’s an example of an image that cannot be licensed commercially due to the trademarks circled in red. Fortunately, they were in the background so much smaller and easier to remove than on the foreground.

Rotterdam harbour
Rotterdam, Netherlands

Which types of images make for the best Editorial to Commercial conversions

I find that general travel images where the main subjects are not the people themselves or a major event make for the best candidates.

I wrote about this in my previous post, where I successfully cloned out a 2016 Olympics sign overlooking Rio de Janeiro’s cityscape. The editorial image remains in my portfolio but now a buyer has the option to purchase a license for the commercial image. I think that the image on the right has more value since it’s been a year since the Olympics which is now old news. This was a 20 minute job on 4 variations of this image.

Improve your Photoshop skills

I use Lightroom for 90% of my workflow, including keywording. For tricky work where I need to get in close for detailed work, I’ll open up Photoshop and get to work. As my Photoshop skills have improved, I have learned how to better use the following tools:

To avoid re-inventing the wheel, I’ve included links above with YouTube videos on each technique.

Save time by just blurring

To ensure images are accepted commercially, the best option is simply to remove people entirely from images. However, this is easier said than done to look natural. The second best option is to simply use the blur tool. Microstock Agencies usually have no issues with this approach.

Here are three examples which have been accepted. I particularly like the second one where I made a tilt-shift effect using the foreground/background:


As a last resort, chop their heads off

I shoot with a full-frame NIkon D800, which produces a whopping 36.6 megapixels. This is overkill for shooting stock but can come in handy when it comes to cropping. When I’m shooting subjects up close I cannot remove people or blur them as it would probably just look too weird. Instead, I chop their heads off, LITERALLY.

In this case, I unfortunately missed on the beautiful tulips above but still makes for an interesting image of her putting them on in a row. Keep in mind that some agencies like Alamy, the image on the right would still be considered as an editorial since if a part of a person is showing which could technically be identifiable.

If the above tips don’t produce the desired result, there’s other methods which I’ve outlined in this article. They include turning your subjects into silhouettes, such as this one recently accepted:


My workflow

For reasons I won’t get into here I place the vast majority of my best editorial images on Alamy (some as RM but that’s beyond the point). What I’m painstakingly doing which should last me some more days, is sorting out which such editorial images can be transformed into commercial, to be submitted to both Shutterstock and Fotolia. Oh and also back into Alamy, this time as commercial.

Here’s my workflow.

1. Apply the correct filters, in this case images which are technically editorial – unreleased property and/or people, under ‘Attributes’ – I’ve found 356 such images:


2. Select such images that may be able to be converted into commercial…ideally they have relatively few people or they’re in the background and few identifiable trademarks. Obviously I’m eliminating images of protests / major events and close up of identifiable buildings where they’re strictly editorial. Here’s two such examples:

What did I do with the above? Well, Shutterstock have a weird no-graffiti policy and I did my civic duty and cleaned that up. Then, I blurred the people in the background and painted/cloned out the restaurant sign. In total, a 10 minute job. Much more valuable as a commercial image!

Here’s another example, this time in Trieste, Italy. Easier job than the above and only took me 5 minutes to clone out/blur people and signs. I particularly like the symmetry and colours:

I got 300+ images to sort out to go through this exercise and it’s going to take me many more hours but I think it’s well worth the effort.

Here’s one which I’ll be working on tonight taken in Trentino, Italy.


These people on the left-side foreground proved particularly tricky, but managed to remove them. See the before and after.

3. Make sure that if you’re going to submit the same image on Microstock that it’s RF on Alamy otherwise that may create all sorts of problems for you.

I’ll be tracking these images, both commercial and editorial to see which ones make me more money. My bet is on commercial.

Until next time!






  1. Hi Alex,

    Nice article and details on the workflow. I mostly shoot cityscapes and I find it really difficult to sell them commercially because of the logos and known properties in Dubai and elsewhere. Also, not all sites provide the option to sell editorial images, such as Adobe Stock, which makes it even more difficult to get some earnings.

    Some sites deem footage to be editorial, while others accept them for commercial purposes since they consider them general cityscape scenes. So, who bears the responsibility for the commercial usage in this case, the buyer or the seller?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Mohammed,

    Thanks 🙂

    ‘I mostly shoot cityscapes and I find it really difficult to sell them commercially because of the logos and known properties in Dubai and elsewhere.’

    Dubai is one of the places where it’s quite difficult to shoot commercially, unless you’re out in the desert, so I’m glad that the advice above proves useful!

    Most agencies take quite a liberal view on cityscapes which can be used commercially. I take SS as an example:

    From SS – “Modern Buildings

    Images of isolated buildings with modern or recognizable architecture are unacceptable for commercial use.
    Acceptable if they are a part of a skyline. Cityscapes will be considered, as long as it is not the primary subject of the image. These images will be evaluated on a case by case basis.”

    I would recommend to submit all your editorial images to Alamy since that’s what most clients on there are purchasing. If the image is truly unique than make it Rights-Managed. I do think that Adobe Stock will soon be offering editorial.

    ‘Some sites deem footage to be editorial, ‘

    In Alamy, for example, the contributor bears the responsibility to notify them that the image should be restricted editorially. Other sites such as SS, they do this job for you so if they accept an image commercially but let’s say a reviewer made a mistake, then they would bear the responsibility. SS commercial licenses are legally indemnified for such occasions up to $10k/image for regular licenses and $100k/image for extended licenses.



  3. I wonder if shutterstock is taking a harder line on blurry people, I just had a series of photos of hiker that were slightly blurred rejected.

    Liked by 1 person

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