How to cite an image

To cite an image, you need an in-text citation and a corresponding reference. The reference should list the creator of the image, the year it was published, its title and format, and its location or container (e.g. a website, book, or museum).

The format varies depending on where you accessed the image and which citation style you’re using: APA, MLA, or Chicago.

If you include the image directly in your text as a figure, you’ll usually have to include an appropriate copyright/permissions statement.

Citing an image in APA Style

In an APA Style reference entry for an image found on a website, write the image title in italics, followed by a description of its format in square brackets. Include the name of the site and the URL.

APA format Author last name, Initials. (Year). Image title [Format]. Site Name. URL
Reference entry Reis, L. (2021). Northern cardinal female at Lake Meyer Park IA 653A2079 [Photograph]. Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/2kNpoXB
In-text citation (Reis, 2021)

The information included after the title and format varies for images from other containers (e.g. books, articles).

When you include the image itself in your text, you’ll also have to format it as a figure and include appropriate copyright/permissions information.

Images viewed in person

For an artwork viewed at a museum, gallery, or other physical archive, include information about the institution and location. If there’s a page on the institution’s website for the specific work, its URL can also be included.

APA format Author last name, Initials. (Year). Image title [Format]. Institution Name, Location. URL
Reference entry Kahlo, F. (1940). Self-portrait with cropped hair [Painting]. Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, United States. https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78333
In-text citation (Kahlo, 1940)

Citing an image in MLA Style

In an MLA Works Cited entry for an image found online, the title of the image appears in quotation marks, the name of the site in italics. Include the full publication date if available, not just the year.

The in-text citation normally just consists of the author’s last name.

MLA format Author last name, First name. “Image Title.” Website Name, Day Month Year, URL.
Works Cited entry Reis, Larry. “Northern Cardinal Female at Lake Meyer Park IA 653A2079.” Flickr, 22 Mar. 2021, https://flic.kr/p/2kNpoXB.
In-text citation (Reis)

The information included after the title and format differs for images contained within other source types, such as books and articles.

If you include the image itself as a figure, make sure to format it correctly.

Images viewed in person

A citation for an image viewed in a museum (or other physical archive, e.g. a gallery) includes the name and location of the institution instead of website information.

MLA format Author last name, First name. “Image Title.” Year, Institution Name, City.
Works Cited entry Kahlo, Frida. “Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair.” 1940, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In-text citation (Kahlo)

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Citing an image in Chicago Style

In Chicago style, images may just be referred to in the text without need for a citation or bibliography entry.

If you have to include a full Chicago style image citation, however, list the title in italics, add relevant information about the image format, and add a URL at the end of the bibliography entry for images consulted online.

Chicago format Author last name, First name. Image Title. Month Day, Year. Format. Website Name. URL.
Bibliography entry Reis, Larry. Northern Cardinal Female at Lake Meyer Park IA 653A2079. March 22, 2021. Photograph. Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/2kNpoXB.
Footnote 1. Larry Reis, Northern Cardinal Female at Lake Meyer Park IA 653A2079, March 22, 2021, photograph, Flickr, https://flic.kr/p/2kNpoXB.

2. Reis, Northern Cardinal Female.

Chicago also offers an alternative author-date citation style. Examples of image citations in this style can be found here.

Images viewed in person

For an image viewed in a museum, gallery, or other physical archive, you can again just refer to it in the text without a formal citation. If a citation is required, list the institution and the city it is located in at the end of the bibliography entry.

Chicago format Author last name, First name. Image Title. Year. Format. Institution Name, City.
Bibliography entry Kahlo, Frida. Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair. 1940. Oil on canvas, 40 x 27.9 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Footnote 1. Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940, oil on canvas, 40 x 27.9 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

2. Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair.

Frequently asked questions about citations

What are the main elements of an image citation?

The main elements included in image citations across APA, MLA, and Chicago style are the name of the image’s creator, the image title, the year (or more precise date) of publication, and details of the container in which the image was found (e.g. a museum, book, website).

In APA and Chicago style, it’s standard to also include a description of the image’s format (e.g. “Photograph” or “Oil on canvas”). This sort of information may be included in MLA too, but is not mandatory.

How do I cite a source with no title?

Untitled sources (e.g. some images) are usually cited using a short descriptive text in place of the title. In APA Style, this description appears in brackets: [Chair of stained oak]. In MLA and Chicago styles, no brackets are used: Chair of stained oak.

For social media posts, which are usually untitled, quote the initial words of the post in place of the title: the first 160 characters in Chicago, or the first 20 words in APA. E.g. Biden, J. [@JoeBiden]. “The American Rescue Plan means a $7,000 check for a single mom of four. It means more support to safely.”

MLA recommends quoting the full post for something short like a tweet, and just describing the post if it’s longer.

How do I cite a source with no author?

In APA, MLA, and Chicago style citations for sources that don’t list a specific author (e.g. many websites), you can usually list the organization responsible for the source as the author.

If the organization is the same as the website or publisher, you shouldn’t repeat it twice in your reference:

  • In APA and Chicago, omit the website or publisher name later in the reference.
  • In MLA, omit the author element at the start of the reference, and cite the source title instead.

If there’s no appropriate organization to list as author, you will usually have to begin the citation and reference entry with the title of the source instead.

Which citation style should I use?

Check if your university or course guidelines specify which citation style to use. If the choice is left up to you, consider which style is most commonly used in your field.

Other more specialized styles exist for certain fields, such as Bluebook and OSCOLA for law.

The most important thing is to choose one style and use it consistently throughout your text.

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

1 comment

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
March 25, 2021 at 4:18 PM

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