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Finding and using online images: Citing

Conform as closely as possible to the guidelines below with the information you have available, unless advised otherwise by your instructor.

As you conduct your research, it is helpful to keep track of information such as:

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

For further information about citation, consult our Writing & Style Guides.

Citing images in MLA [8th ed.]

Rather than providing strict instructions on how to format a citation for specific types of sources, the 8th edition of MLA outlines a universal set of general guidelines that can be applied to any source type.

Within MLA, when the source being documented forms a part of a larger whole, the larger whole can be thought of as a container that holds the source. Sometimes, there may be more than one container (eg. A TV series on Netflix, or an e-book available on Google Books).

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.

Example

  • 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 Three Planets Dance over La Silla (Beletsky), the phenomenon of 'syzygy' is when celestial bodies align in the sky. 

Incorporating images into the text of your paper

  • Place the citation immediately below the figure.
  • All illustrative visual material (e.g., a picture, map, graph or chart) except musical illustrations included in your paper should be labeled "Fig," assigned a number and given a caption.
  • If complete bibliographical information about the source of the table or illustration is provided in the caption, and the source is not mentioned in your paper, you do not need to include an entry for the source in the list of works cited.
  • Refer to the figure in-text and provide an Arabic numeral that corresponds to the figure. Do not capitalize figure or fig. (eg. “See fig. 1”)
  • Below the figure, provide a label name and its corresponding arabic numeral (no bold or italics), followed by a period (e.g. Fig. 1.). Here, Figure and Fig. are capitalized.
  • Cite tables and figures according to regular MLA rules except:
    • Use commas instead of periods when citing tables and figures, except for the period at the end of the citation.
    • If you provide full bibliographic details in a caption, convert the periods normally used after the elements of a works-cited-list entry into semicolons.
    • The medium of publication and materials of composition, if important to your discussion, could be included at the end of the entry as optional elements.
    • Format the author's name with the given name before the family name, (e.g. Jane Smith, not Smith, Jane).
    • A note on title format: A title is placed in quotation marks if the source is part of a larger work. A title is italicized (or underlined if italics are unavailable or undesirable) if the source is self-contained and independent. The title of the container is normally italicized and is followed by a comma, since the information that comes next describes the container. Use your best judgment.
    • A note on date placement: For date posted online, follow the format below. If you also want to cite the date an image (eg. painting) was produced, you can put that date in an “optional element” spot after the title.

Use the following format as a guideline

  • Fig. 1. Author (first, last); "Title"; Container, date, URL; medium (if applicable). 

MLA in-text citation example

The phenomenon of ‘syzygy’ (see fig. 1.) in the night sky over Chile.

Fig. 1. Yuri Beletsky; “Three Planets Dance over La Silla”; European Southern Observatory, 3 June 2013, https://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1322a/; photograph.

Works cited 

Use the following format as a guideline

  • Author (last, first). "Title." Container, date, URL. Accessed date. 

Example

More help with MLA 

For more instructions regarding MLA citation style and its core elements, please see the SFU MLA guide, the MLA Style Center, the Purdue MLA guide, or contact your liaison librarian.

Citing images in APA [6th ed.]

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.

Example

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

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."
  • The figure # is as it would appear, numbered consecutively, in your paper - not the figure # assigned to it in its original resource.
  • Number the figures consecutively, beginning with Figure 1.
  • Each figure must have a full bibliographic entry in your Reference List.
  • Place the figure as close as possible to the part of text referencing it, unless otherwise instructed by your instructor.
  • Centre the image in the paper.
  • Provide a brief description of the image. The caption should serve as both a title and explanation.

Use the following format as a guideline 

  • Figure 1. 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

The phenomenon of ‘syzygy’ (see Figure 1) in the night sky over Chile.

Figure 1. Syzygy (when three or more celestial bodies align in the sky) visible above an observatory in Chile. From Three Planets Dance over La Silla, by Y. Beletsky, 2013, https://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1322a/. Copyright 2013 by Y. Beletsky/ESO.

References list 

Use the following format as a guideline

  • Creator's Last Name, First Initial. (Year of creation). Title of image or description of image. [Type of work]. Retrieved from URL/database.

Examples

More help with APA

For more instructions regarding APA citation style and its core elements, please see the SFU APA guide, the APA Style Blog the Purdue APA guide, or contact your liaison librarian.

Citing images in Chicago/Turabian [17th ed.]

Note that Chicago style outlines two distinct citation styles—Notes/bibliography style and Author/date style—and that this guide covers only Notes/Bibliography style.

Footnotes and endnotes 

  • Information about paintings, photographs, sculptures, or other works of art can usually be presented in the text rather than in a note or bibliography. [14.235]
  • If note or bibliography entry is needed, follow the guidelines below. 

Format

1. First Name Last Name of creator, Title of Work, date of creation or completion, medium, Name of Institution, location (if applicable), URL.

Example

As illustrated in Three Planets Dance over La Silla[1]the phenomenon of 'syzygy' is when celestial bodies align in the sky. 

1. Yuri Beletsky, Three Planets Dance over La Silla, June 3, 2013, photograph, European Southern Observatory, https://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1322a/.

Incorporating images into the text of your paper

  • If you chose to incorporate images into the text of your paper, the image should appear as soon as possible after the first text reference to it. [3.8]
  • Images should bear numbers, and all text references to them should be by the numbers (eg. “as figure 1 shows…”) The word “figure” should be lowercased and fully spelled out, unless in parenthetical references (where “fig” may be used). [3.9]
  • Below the image, the caption will begin with “Figure” or “Fig.” followed by a number and period. (Eg. Figure 1.) [3.23]
  • A caption may consist of a word or two, an incomplete or a complete sentence, several sentences, or a combination. [3.21]
  • Within a caption, most titles (including those for paintings, drawings, photographs, statues, and books) will be capitalized and italicized. [3.22]
  • A brief statement of the source of an illustration, known as a credit line, is usually appropriate and sometimes required by the owner of the illustration.[3.29]
  • A credit line usually appears at the end of a caption, sometimes in parentheses. [3.30]
  • In addition to author, title, publication details, and (occasionally) copyright date, the credit line should include any page or figure number. If the work being credited is listed in the bibliography or reference list, only a shortened form need appear in the credit line [3.32]
  • Illustrations from works in the public domain may be reproduced without permission. For readers’ information, however, a credit line is appropriate. [3.35]

Chicago in-text citation example

When celestial bodies are in alignment (see fig. 1) it is called syzygy.


Figure 1. An example of syzygy (celestial alignment) above the La Silla observatory, Chile. (Photograph by Yuri Beletsky, Three Planets Dance over La Silla, June 3, 2013, European Southern Observatory, https://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1322a/).

*Note: The above formatting is meant as a guideline only. There is no definitive format for a figure caption. For example, see some examples of captions from the Chicago manual:                        

  • Figure 1. Frontispiece of Christian Prayers and Meditations (London: John Daye, 1569), showing Queen Elizabeth at prayer in her private chapel. Reproduced by permission of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Trustees of the Lambeth Palace Library.
  • Figure 2. Francis Bedford, Stratford on Avon Church from the Avon, 1860s. Albumen print of collodion negative, 18.8 × 28.0 cm. Rochester, International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House.
  • Figure 3. The myth that all children love dinosaurs is contradicted by this nineteenth-century scene of a visit to the monsters at Crystal Palace. (Cartoon by John Leech. “Punch’s Almanack for 1855,” Punch 28 [1855]: 8. Photo courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago.)

Bibliography 

Use the following format as a guideline

  • Last name First name. Title of Work. Date of creation or completion. Medium. Name of Institution. Location (if applicable). URL.

Example

More help with Chicago style

For more instructions regarding Chicago citation style and its core elements, please see the SFU Chicago guide, the online Chicago manual, the Purdue Chicago guide, or contact your liaison librarian.