How do I cite an image?

When you quote someone in a paper and cite a source for the quotation, you don’t normally write to the people you’re quoting to ask for permission; it’s enough simply to give them credit in a note.

For images that you borrow (photos, paintings, drawings), the rules are different. There are laws that require users to get permission from the copyright holder in addition to giving credit.

Good news for students

Luckily for students and teachers and librarians, the laws requiring permission don’t apply to “educational use.” So it’s fine to borrow images for a class paper or presentation without contacting the copyright holder—although you are not off the hook for giving credit.

Give the name of the artist, the title of the artwork (in italics), the year it was made, and where it lives (museum, gallery, etc.). It’s fine to add other information if you know it, such as the size and medium. If you found it online, give the date you found it and the URL. If you found it in a book, cite the book and page number. You can put the information in a caption near the image or in an endnote or footnote. (Images are not usually listed in a bibliography.)

Examples of endnotes or footnotes

  1. Georgia O’Keeffe, The Cliff Chimneys, 1938, oil on canvas, 36 × 30 in., Milwaukee Art Museum, accessed December 10, 2015,
  2. Georgia O’Keeffe, The Cliff Chimneys, 1938, Milwaukee Art Museum, in Barbara Buhler Lynes, Lesley Poling-Kempes, and Frederick W. Turner, Georgia O’Keeffe and New Mexico: A Sense of Place (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 25.

Example for citing within the text of a paper

There are many paintings of the American West. Georgia O’Keeffe’s The Cliff Chimneys (1938, Milwaukee Art Museum) is a famous one.

Example for citing in a blog post

Photo: Jack MorehTaking a photo with smartphone—Happy boy jumping into river, © Free Range Stock.

If you are using author-date citations

Author-date citations are not normally used to cite images. Instead, put the information about the image into a caption or in parentheses in the text of your paper.

Important for nonstudents

If your project is not for school—if you use an image on your blog or a greeting card or something you’re planning to sell—you must get permission from the copyright holder of the image, even if you found it on the Internet, in addition to giving credit. Sometimes the permissions are expensive and difficult to obtain; sometimes the permission letter requires the user to print certain information about the image, and it supplies the exact wording. Sometimes the permission letter says the image may not be cropped or edited in any way.

Many of the images posted at websites like Flickr are “rights-cleared,” meaning that you can use them for free, and no permission is required (check the information for each photo carefully). Again, giving credit and a link to the image online is the right thing to do, even if it isn’t technically required.

Very old images are often in the public domain, which means that they’re no longer under copyright. Institutions like the National Archives and the New York Public Library have huge collections of digitized photos you can browse, download, and even buy prints of. Take the time to give a citation and include a link when you use one.

For more information, please see chapter 4 of The Chicago Manual of Style (“Rights, Permissions, and Copyright Administration”). An attorney specializing in intellectual property rights can also advise you.


Photo: Jack MorehTaking a photo with smartphone—Happy boy jumping into river, © Free Range Stock.

~ ~ ~

Many libraries provide free access to The Chicago Manual of Style Online. If you aren’t sure whether your school subscribes, ask your librarian. In the meantime, click here for a free trial.

Order the hardcover here.

#ChicagoStyle for Students
Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, written specifically for students, covers every aspect of research paper writing, from thinking up a topic to submitting the paper in official Chicago format. Turabian’s guidelines are compatible with The Chicago Manual of Style.

More advice for students

Please see our commenting policy.