Shooting Illustrative Editorials – Step-by-Step Example

Illustrative editorials are a powerful string to add to your Microstock bow, with most agencies accepting such images. These can be tricky to get your head around but if you’re determined to learn and execute, they can be highly profitable.

Now, straight from the horses’ mouth. Just what are Illustrative Editorials?

“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.

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.”

Thanks Mirco for encouraging me

A good friend of mine, Mirco Vacca, based in Poland is a serial illustrative editorial shooter – you can see his Shutterstock portfolio here. He earns a tidy sum on shooting illustrative editorials of Polish products.

An example of Mirco’s work
Mirco kindly sent me a screenshots of his illustrative editorial sales from just today!

Micro’s Brutally Honest Workflow

“I really don’t think much about which product. I really photograph all of them. I really have no clue which customer need. I basically go to the store buy what I need in life and photograph all of it.”

He continued.

“I needed clean shoes…but not without first photographing the product.”

WhatsApp Image 2018-01-04 at 08.25.15
Mirco’s shoes and illustrative editorial – effective!

This got me thinking…

Capturing Local Products

I’m in my home country of Brazil at the moment and looked through my hosts’ cupboards (how rude!) for some popular products to shoot. Also, I popped into the local supermarket to purchase some stuff.

In total, I settled for 8 popular products – here they are in a slideshow:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Most popular of all is the chocolates in the yellow box, called Bombom Garoto. These are extremely popular in Brazil and usually given as a gift when visiting a friend’s / relative’s house. On a side note, the chocolate is of poor quality when compared to European chocolate…

My Workflow

I’m by no means a still life photographer but doesn’t mean I won’t give it a try! Using natural light, naturally, I went to a quiet area in the playground of the building where I’m staying and took advantage of the pattern in the ground. This is known as Pedras Portuguesas, quite common in ex-Portuguese colonies and in Portugal itself. This adds more of a Brazilian feel to the images, as well as making the images look clean.


I opted for shooting in RAW, ISO 50 (as low as it can go) and F10. As you can see below, I used the live viewer and zoomed in to ensure sharpness. Quite handy.

Notice how I used the curvature of the pattern on the ground to logically place the object.

Aren’t you bored of doing this?

Yeah, it’s pretty boring to be honest and not something that I would normally get too excited about doing unless I had nothing else going on (which isn’t the case as I have 500 images to post-process).

I rather be out travelling, obviously! However, following Mirco’s advice, I think I could make some money off these, especially since after some keyword research for these products, I couldn’t find many competitors’ images! I’ll try anything once and if I get lots of sales on this small sample I’ll expand to more products. I may even add a person or two enjoying such products, perhaps at the beach or a party.

The good news is that I got a nice shot of the patterns which I’ve submitted as a commercial shot and may use in the future as a background for composites, perhaps even the Brazilian passport – see the series I did a few months ago.

Pedras Portuguesas winding pattern
On this version I shot at F14 ensuring sharpness throughout

Some feedback from the pros

I wanted to keep the products looking as simple as possible without a distracting background. From chatting with two friends and fellow contributors who are much more experienced in still-life, they gave me the following advice:

“flat lay is the best sellers – I do some artsy fartsy as well just in case the buyer wants one. Get out of the studio and back on travel lol! ”

“Who would use that one with the mold in the corner of the wall?”

Good points – what are friends for right?! The least I can do is clone out the mold on the wall of this image (not very appetizing), although I need to stay in line with ‘editorial ethics’.

Illustrative editorial of biscoito Globo
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – January 2nd, 2018: Illustrative editorial of a typical Brazilian either savoury or salty snack called biscoito Globo made from corn starch and sold on the beaches of Rio

As for “flat lay”, here’s an article that describes what it is. It is like it sounds like!

Submitting Illustrative Editorials

Over at Shutterstock, these work just like normal editorials in that you must include the following caption:

  • 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

However, you must include “illustrative editorial” or “illustrative” and “editorial” in its keywords or will be rejected.

Keep in mind that you can place the City/Country/Date at the end of the sentence too, such as the following example: “Illustrative editorial of a typical Brazilian either savoury or salty snack called biscoito Globo made from corn starch and sold on the beaches of Rio – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – January 2nd, 2018”

Do you ever shoot illustrative editorials and if so how has been your experience so far?

Now back to those 500 images. Here’s one from yesterday where I’ve submitted to reinforce my Stocksy pending application!

Keepy Upply on Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.