There are two perspectives when it comes to explaining editorial photography. One is stylistic and the other is the legal perspective.
The goal of editorial photographers is to tell a story through the photographs they take. Some use words to go with the photos. These photos usually come with articles that are newsworthy, educational, or informative. Others use photos only. Editorial photography is usually seen in magazines, blogs, and news articles.
This perspective accounts for the licensing and publishing of photographs. Others cannot use photos with an editorial license for commercial or advertising purposes. These usually contain recognizable people and/or some sort of copyrighted material. Sometimes a photograph sold with an editorial license is not an editorially-styled image.
Professional photographers usually get their images licensed for either commercial or editorial use. The publishing of images depends on the two types of licenses.
As mentioned above, news articles, magazines, and blogs can use editorial licensed photos. Even textbooks, websites, and other publications use these, too. These photographs illustrate a story but should not sell a product.
Photos of private properties, people, or products often sell under an editorial license. Photographers may sell with a commercial license if there is an appropriate model or property release for the photos. It is possible for a person to sell t-shirts, mugs, or other items with someone else’s photos. That is if he or she buys a commercial license.
Stock photo agencies have disclaimers attached to editorial images. The reason is that they cannot control the end-use of photos they sell. The disclaimer states that publishing the photo is the responsibility of the buyer. These agencies separate their company from liability for use of the photos.
Most countries allow people to take photos of anything from a public space. There is a general exception though. You cannot abuse the right of others to privacy or infringe on their rights. Some countries forbid taking photos of power plants, military facilities, and other infrastructure.
Stock agencies and publications have various sets of rules. These include the post-production of editorial photos. Most of them allow minor color and tone balancing. What is unacceptable is cloning or other manipulation that changes the photo’s meaning.
Anything that is commercially-owned usually has copyright. Photos with copyrighted materials are not allowed to have a commercial license. Copyright laws even apply to product designs. This means that people cannot sell photos of cars for commercial use. That applies even if the logo of the car is unseen.
Model and property releases
Model or property releases are not needed for photos used for editorial purposes. It makes it easier for photographers to produce photos for this licensing.