Finding and Using Online Images

This guide has been designed as a starting point for locating and using online images in your research. For further assistance ask us!



Image search engines & metasites

Online image searching relies on words to locate results. This means that images that are not named to reflect their content are sometimes difficult to find. Brainstorm different keywords as you search. If you still get poor results, consider using one of the more specialized databases or websites listed in this guide.

Google Image Search
Google's “advanced image search” allows you to limit by size, color, and other parameters. A little-known feature is the power to search only for certain content types: news content, faces, photo content, clip art, and line drawings.

Yahoo Images Search
Offers image searching capabilities similar to Google's, but across a different collection of images. Note that Yahoo emphasizes results from Flickr more than other search engines.

Exalead Image Search
Exalead's advanced image search provides a number of limits similar to those in Google, including face recognition.

From Behold website, "Behold's goal is to provide search access to high quality images that are openly available online. Some of these images may be used free of charge subject to varying restrictions (see website for more information)."

Image metasites

BUBL Link Catalogue of Internet Resources - Image Collections
A directory of image collections. To search the list of collections by keyword, press "Ctrl F" on your keyboard.

The Commons on Flickr
Photograph collections with "no known copyright restrictions" made available by various cultural institutions (Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, many others) and hosted by Flickr. The Commons is particularly useful for searching several collections of historical photography simultaneously.

Search this academic web portal and then filter the results by resource type for a list of relevant image resources.

On the search page, choose "image" from the list below "Limit by resource type."

Databases available through SFU Library

Academic Search Premier (EBSCO) Images
Emphasizes world news and events. To search EBSCO images, connect to the database, then mouse over "More" on the blue menu bar and choose "Images."

Art Images
SFU Library's Art Images is a growing collection of online images documenting a broad range of art, with an emphasis on the history of Western Art.

Documents artistic traditions from many times and cultures. Includes architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts, and design as well as other forms of visual culture.

Biology Image Library
Published by BioMed Central, the Biology Image Library is a collection of images, illustrations, movies and animations that are useful for research and education.

Credo Reference
Use the "Image Search" tab from the main search page to search for over 200,000 images in over 100 searchable and browsable reference books.

Early Encounters in North America
Prints, drawings, paintings, maps, bibliographies, letters, and photographs documenting the relationships among peoples in North America from 1534-1850. The image search page is available via the "Images" link under "Find."

Grove Art Online [Part of Oxford Art Online]
The most comprehensive online reference resource for all aspects of the visual arts worldwide from prehistory to the present day. Note: In addition to images stored in Grove Art Online, Oxford Art Online provides links to external images. Permission from the copyright holder may be required to use these external images.

In JSTOR, you can search the captions of images within items in the database, as well as the ARTstor database. To find images, do a search and then limit to images by clicking on the “Images in JSTOR” or “Images in ARTstor” tab at the top of the result list. Note: ARTstor results are limited to the first 300 hits; for a more complete set of results from ARTstor, or to see ranked results in order, perform your search inside the ARTstor database.

North American Indian Thought and Culture
Full text and images dating from the 17th century to present day, providing biographies of Native North Americans. A link to images can be found under "Table of Contents." Browse different types of images (Architectural drawings, etc) by clicking on the links at the top of the page.

Simon Fraser University Library Electronic Document Centre (EDC)
Provides access to the growing number of digital collections and resources created or hosted at SFU. The Doukhobor, Editorial Cartoons, Harrison Brown, Lake District, and Multicultural Canada Collections all contain a significant number of images.

Image collections on the web

Note: Most images you find on the Internet, in books, etc are copyrighted. See the "I want to use images in my assignment. What am I able to do under copyright?" FAQ from the Copyright Office for up-to-date guidelines for using them.

Provides "images and database information for over 7,000 advertisements printed in U.S. and Canadian newspapers and magazines between 1911 and 1955." (Duke University Library)

American Memory – Library of Congress
A large collection relating to American culture and history, organized into more than 100 thematic collections.

Art Images for College Teaching
Art images organised into categories, with an emphasis on ancient, medieval, and Renaissance European art and architecture. Thumbnails link to more detailed information including text references.

Casselman Archive of Islamic and Mudejar Architecture in Spain
A searchable collection of approximately 4,000 color and black/white images.

Large collection of images with a wide range of search options. Note, however, that image rights must be purchased for use other than viewing.

Discovering American Women
Primary sources (photos, letters, diaries, artifacts, etc.) that document the history of women in the United States. To find specific kinds of images (e.g. book covers, photographs), click the "Primary Source Types" link.

Earth Science World Image Bank
Geoscience images made available by the American Geological Institute. Some images are available at a high-resolution free of charge for non-commercial purposes.

Popular online site for organizing and sharing personal photograph collections as well as some institutional collections. On the advanced search page, you can limit your search to Creative Commons-licensed content, or limit further to content that can be used commercially or that can be modified, adapted, or built-upon.

Getty Images
Getty Images is a commercial image company providing photography, illustration, and film images. Collections within Getty Images include 425,000 Time & Life images as well as Lonely Planet, and National Geographic images. Note that image rights must be purchased for uses other than viewing.

IAN Free Science Symbols and Icons

Created by the Integration and Application Network, this downloadable and royalty-free collection of over 2500 vector symbols and icons is specifically designed to enhance science communications with diagrammatic representations of complex processes.  

LIFE Photo Archive (Hosted by Google)
Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today.

New York Public Library (NYPL) Digital Gallery
A wide-ranging collection that is useful for virtually all academic disciplines. Formats include photographs, drawings, posters, rare illustrated books and others. Low resolution images can be viewed and used in research projects and presentations. Permission must be obtained for use of high resolution images.

NOAA Photo Library
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's collection includes weather and space images, images of shores and coastal seas, and marine species images.
Documents the history of photography and the place of photography in the world by providing access to collections of George Eastman House and the International Center of Photography. Includes a chronology of photography with cross-referenced timelines of politics and culture.

Created and maintained by the National Library of Australia. Provides access to the collections of a range of Australian cultural institutions.(Previously known as Picture Australia)

Multi-media web-book designed as a dynamic enhancement (or even substitute) for the traditional art history textbook using images from The Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

UNESCO Photobank
Contemporary and historical photographs classified into themes: education, science, social science, culture, and communication. Photographs taken at UNESCO headquarters and in field offices worldwide dating back to 1945. Note that all images require copyright permission for use.

VADS (Visual Arts Data Service)
Art images from various UK collections.

Visual Collections
Includes digital images of maps, fine art, and photographs from over 50 museum, university, and private collections worldwide. Some copyright restrictions may apply.

Wikimedia Commons
Searches the images available in the Wikipedia encyclopedia. Click on an image to view copyright restrictions.

Provides access to the California State University IMAGE Project. WorldImages is global in coverage and includes all areas of visual imagery. The images may be freely used for non-profit educational purposes.


Canadian image collections

British Columbia Archival Information Network
Links to city and municipal collections of historical photographs and archives.  Permission to use the images on these sites must be granted by the individual owning institution.

British Columbia Archives - Visual Records
Photographs, paintings, drawings, and prints relating to the history and culture of British Columbia. Copyright and permissions guidelines accompany each image.

Canadian Landscapes Photo Collection
Photographs of Canadian landscapes and landforms presented by the Geological Survey of Canada to illustrate the great diversity of Canadian scenery.

Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art (CCCA) - Canadian Art Database
Images of Canadian art including paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture, digital / computer based work, conceptual art, and performance art. Permission to use images must be obtained from artist.

Government of Canada - Images Canada
Photographs, lithographs, and reproductions of subjects relating to Canadian culture and history. Copyright permission varies among participating institutions.

Heritage Burnaby Photographs
Contains thousands of images depicting the growth and development of Burnaby from the late-1800s to the present. Interactive site allows you to read and contribute descriptions of photographs.

Library and Archives Canada
Includes many digitized image collections by topic (aboriginal peoples, politics and government, sports, war and military, art and photography, literature music etc.) Permission requirements vary by collection. Click "What We Have On Our Website."

National Gallery of Canada – CyberMuse
Images of artistic works in the National Gallery's permanent collection.

Vancouver Public Library Digitized Historical Photographs
Images related to the history of Vancouver and British Columbia. Not all images are available online at this time. Image rights must be purchased for uses other than viewing.

Virtual Museum Canada - Image Gallery
Images of museum artefacts, photos, paintings, etc. Copyright information accompanies each image.

Gallery and museum Image Collections

The websites of museums and galleries are particularly good for providing images of the artworks in their holdings. To identify museums and galleries, try the following web directories:



Some major museums and galleries include:

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

National Gallery of Canada / Musee des beaux arts du Canada

National Gallery, London

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Subject-specific guides to finding images

Anthropology - Digital image collections

Archaeology - Maps and images

Communication - Advertising and Cartoons [Scroll to bottom of the page if using Internet Explorer]


Images and copyright


See the "I want to use images in my assignment. What am I able to do under copyright?" FAQ from the Copyright Office for up-to-date guidelines.


Citing images

Though you may obtain permission to use an image, you must still credit the copyright holder. In statements of usage rights on websites, this practice is often called "attribution." In some cases, you will be instructed to attribute the image to an institution that owns the copyright.

Conform as closely as possible to the structure and examples below with the information you have available. Consult a style guide for more detailed explanations and for exceptions (such as images without a listed date or creator). Make sure to also track your research by recording the following information:

  • Image creator's name (artist, photographer, etc.)
  • Title of the image
  • Date the image (or work represented by the image) was created
  • Institution (gallery, museum) where the image is located / owned (if applicable)
  • Date of access (the date you accessed the online image)
  • Website and/or Database name

Citing images using MLA style:

In-text citation

To cite an image you found online, use the italicized image title or general description in your text, and then cite it using the first element in the works cited entry.


The Dream (Rousseau) baffled art critics when it debuted in 1910, mere months before the artist’s death in September of that year.

As illustrated in Up Close and Personal with the Very Large Telescope (Salgado), the fish eye camera lens creates uniquely distorted images, which often evokes the curvature of the earth.

Incorporating images into the text of your paper:

  • All images that are not tables or examples of musical scores are referred to as “figure” or “fig.”, and are referred to by their number (i.e., figure 1 or fig. 2). Do not capitalize figure or fig, or refer to figures as "the figure below" or "the figure above."
  • Place the figure close as possible to the part of text referencing it, unless otherwise instructed by your professor.
  • Number the figures consecutively, beginning with figure 1.
  • Below the figure, provide a capitalized label name and corresponding number, without bolding or italicization (e.g. Fig. 1.) 
  • If the figure’s caption provides complete information about the source, and the source is not cited in the body of the text, it is not necessary to list the source in the works-cited. 
  • On the same line as the label and number, provide a descriptive title/caption, as well as source information in the following format:

Fig. #. Descriptive title or caption, from Image Creator’s First Name Last Name; Description or Title of Image; Title of the website where the image is located; Publisher or sponsor of the site; Date of Creation; Medium of publication (“Web”); Date of access. 


MLA in-text citation example:

Works Cited list citation

When citing images found online, your MLA citation format will depend on whether the image represents a work originally held in a museum or collection, or whether the image only exists on the web.

Structure for a work of art or photograph that exists in a museum or collection:

Creator's last name, first name. Title of Image or Description of image. Year of creation. Gallery or museum where the image is physically located. Title of the Website or Database. Medium of publication ("Web"). Date of access (Day Month (abbreviated) Year).


Bonsu, Osei. Female figure (akua ba). [c.1960]. National Museum of African Art. African Mosaic/Womanhood. Web. 9 Apr. 2011.Rousseau, Henri. The Dream. 1910. The Museum of Modern Art. ARTstor. Web. 29 Mar. 2011.

Structure for a work or photograph that exists only on the web:

Creator's last name, first name. Title of Image or Description of image. Date of creation. Title of the Website where the image is located. Publisher or sponsor of the site (if available). Medium of publication ("Web"). Date of access (Day Month (abbreviated) Year).


Salgado, José. Up Close and Personal with the Very Large Telescope. 6 Dec. 2010. ESO Picture of the Week. European Southern Observatory. Web. 9 Apr. 2011.Sayer, Larissa. Nurse Log. 27 Jan. 2007. Flickr. Yahoo! Web. 7 Apr. 2011.

Citing images using APA style:

In-text citation

To cite an image you found online, use the image title or a general description in your text, and then cite it using the first element in the works cited entry and date.

The Dream (Rousseau, 1910) baffled art critics when it debuted, mere months before the artist’s death in September of that year.

As demonstrated in Up Close and Personal with the Very Large Telescope (Salgado, 2010), the fish eye camera lens creates uniquely distorted images, which often evokes the curvature of the earth.

Incorporating images into the text of your paper:

  • In the text, refer to figures by their number (i.e., Figure 1 or Figure 2). Do not refer to figures as "the figure below" or "the figure above."
  • Place the figure close as possible to the part of text referencing it, unless otherwise instructed by your professor.
  • Centre the image in the paper.
  • Number the figures consecutively, beginning with Figure 1.
  • Provide a brief description of the image. The caption should serve as both a title and explanation.
  • On the same line as the figure number and caption, provide the source and copyright information for the image in the following format:

Figure X.  Descriptive caption of image. From Image title, by Creator’s Name, Year of creation, Database/URL.  Copyright Date by Name of Copyright Holder. Reprinted with permission (if applicable).

APA in-text citation example:

Reference list citation


Creator's last name, first initial. (Role of creator). (Year of creation). Title of image or description of image. [Type of work]. Retrieved from URL/database


Bonsu, O. (Sculptor). [ca. 1960]. Female figure (akua ba). [Wood and glass sculpture]. Retrieved from, J.F. (Photographer). (2010). Up close and personal with the very large telescope. [Digital image]. Retrieved from, L. (Photographer). (2007). Nurse log. [Digital image]. Retrieved from

Rousseau, H. (Painter). (1910). The dream. [Image of painting]. Retrieved from ARTstor.