Trends in Editorial Photography

By Jenny Carless

“I think photos are arguably the most important element of any magazine,” says Jessica Adler, photo director for Hemispheres and The National magazines. “They’re what often grabs attention—more than headlines, more than illustrations.”

Learn more about the qualities that photo editors want—in “Tips for Editorial Photographers.”

Hey, no pressure! Of course, if you’re hoping to break into editorial photography, your photos have to be technically good. That’s a given. But it’s also important to stay on top of trends, so you can deliver what photo editors are looking for now.

We asked industry insiders to share their perspectives on what they’re seeing (and looking for) right now, and they identified seven  trends to keep your keen photographers’ eyes out for. 

DIVERSITY

“I'm seeing a real push to diversify the voices on both sides of the camera,” says Amy Silverman, former photo editor for Wired and Outside. “Publications are digging much deeper to find people who come from the communities they’re photographing: photographers of color, female photographers, queer photographers. The viewing public expects it.”

In 2017, Outside devoted an entire issue to women: all of the contributing photographers and subjects were women. Annabel Mehran shot the cover with 10 female athletes—including runner Mira Rai.

This spread (above) is from a 2017 issue of Outside that was devoted to  women—all the contributing photographers and subjects in the issue were women. “Photographer Natalie Keyssar shot a beautiful piece about the Girl Scouts and the ways they’re updating their mission to create stronger girls who can take care of themselves outdoors,” says former Outside photo editor Amy Silverman. 

Runner Mira Rai was photographed (left) by Annabel Mehran for this issue of Outside.

 

NODS TO OTHER ERAS

“I’m seeing loads of nods to the seventies, eighties, and nineties,” says agent and mentor Christina Force, “in fashion, food, and so forth—and even in some lighting approaches.”

An example is a street fashion series in the United Kingdom’s Client magazine that referenced the 1980s and 1990s, with a modern twist.

“Photographer Walter Maurice got together with a stylist and created a series inspired by the rise of street fashion,” Force explains. “The clothing, lighting, and photography approach are strongly influenced by those eras.”

These images, shot by Walter Maurice for the British photography magazine Client, hark back to an earlier era.

BRIGHT, POPPING COLORS

Adler sees a trend toward “bright, bold, Insta-friendly imagery”—a style well suited to Hemispheres.

“The style works well to grab the attention of a reader who’s quickly flipping through the pages of the magazine or scrolling our website or Instagram feed,” says Adler. “It also offers a bit of attainable fantasy in travel, showing what you could experience by traveling to a particular place that would also make for a hit on social media.” 

These covers for Hemispheres magazine—featuring a Bogotá photo shot by Chris Sorensen, and a Charleston photo shot by Peter Frank Edwards—exemplify how eye-catching colors can work to grab the attention and imagination of readers, whether they are flipping through a magazine or scrolling through Instagram.

DEEPER CAUSES

The growing concern over the environment is showing itself in photographic trends, too.

“This is popping up at every opportunity, as more and more brands develop an eco-conscious approach to their products and services—and it’s appearing in editorial content, too,” Force says.

New Zealander Jenny Hope’s On the Verge series shows the beauty of plants deemed “common weeds” that local councils attempt to eradicate, when in fact the plants are crucial to the health of bees and insects, are often edible, and often have medicinal uses.

Shots of “common weeds” by Jenny Hope not only show the beauty of these plants but also bring attention to their importance to local ecosystems (above).

“Jenny’s series appealed to Good magazine not just because of the gorgeous imagery but also because of her strong drive to demonstrate the value that wildflowers and weeds bring to our ecosystem,” Force explains.

CLEAN AND SIMPLE

“I’m seeing much less highly produced photography in editorial these days,” says Susan White, executive photography editor with the website Culture Trip. “Pictures seem simpler; I might even say they’re quieter.”

This photo by Sara Nicomedi, from a Culture Trip photo essay called Passing, is one of Caroline Tomkins’s examples of the type of simple, self-contained images that are popular now.

“To me, Sarah Nicomedi’s disco ball image (shown above) is about the end of the night—or perhaps a dance party,” White says. “I don’t know; I’m interpreting. There’s no explanation; it’s simply a riveting, enigmatic image with beautiful color.”

Leah Woodruff, who just left her position as senior photo editor at Outside to travel the world, sees the same trend.

“What’s working now is a very clean style—not too busy and with a soft tone,” she says. “You can see it in the overall design of magazines, too.”

Matt Eich’s stark photo of a boat at sea graces this Outside magazine spread.

NEW PORTRAIT STYLES

Wired magazine has created its own trend in response to the challenge of finding new and interesting ways to photograph entrepreneurs and scientists, who are often shot in offices and labs.

“It’s challenging to find a new approach to those locations,” Silverman says. “Now there seems to be more space for breaking rules and bringing some irreverence to the subjects.”

“Ray Ozzie has been photographed many times,” Silverman says. “We’d seen some super tight portraits on Cole Wilson’s website and thought this would be a great approach to Ozzie's intensity and larger-than-life stature.” 

For the photo portrait of Ray Ozzie, Cole Wilson took a different approach than one usually sees in technology and science magazines. About the photo of Fei Fei Li (right), photo editor Amy Silverman says, “Christie Hemm Klok shot this dramatic image of Fei Fei Li, a leader in artificial intelligence. Again, we wanted to speak more to the conceptual leanings of the story, which focused on Li’s personality and what she brings to her field.”

PHOTOGRAPHERS EXPANDING THEIR SKILL SETS

Another trend—less artistic, more mundane—is that many photographers are expanding their skill set in order to make a living.

“Editors have less money to pay photographers properly,” says Force. “It’s not easy to make a living solely on editorial photography now. Initiative and extra effort can make a difference.”

Food photographer Manja Wachsmuth pitched a story about salt to Nord magazine—she both wrote the story and took the photographs (above). Advertising photographer Finn O’Hara’s photographs (below) accompanied a story he wrote, about a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, for Sportsnet.

For instance, food photographer Manja Wachsmuth leveraged her obsession with salt and successfully pitched a story to Nord magazine, which ran a story including her recipes and photography (shown above).

Likewise, advertising photographer Finn O’Hara saw the opportunity to write and shoot photographs for a story at a local baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. Sportsnet featured both the story and the photos.

STAY FOCUSED

It is hard to make a living as a photographer. Expanding your skills is one way to push the odds in your direction. Keeping an eye out for trends, and sending photo editors work that addresses the trends they’re featuring, is another.


March 5, 2019

Marquee image: Walter Maurice

(All images' copyrights are held by their creators; photographs printed courtesy of their creators and the original publications as noted.)