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).
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)|
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.|
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.|
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. Reis, Northern Cardinal Female.|
If you’re not including a bibliography, the full details of the source can be given in a footnote instead.
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. 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.
- 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.
- APA Style is the most popular citation style, widely used in the social and behavioral sciences.
- MLA style is the second most popular, used mainly in the humanities.
- Chicago notes and bibliography style is also popular in the humanities, especially history.
- Chicago author-date style tends to be used in the sciences.
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.