Specific rules for citing visual media (paintings, infographics, maps, etc.) in papers and formal presentations are often not included in the basic how-to guides, but they do exist and vary depending on the style guide you have to follow. Here we explain what information you need to cite and how—see below for examples in APA, MLA, Chicago, and Vancouver style.
As for every piece of information you take from somewhere else, you need an in-text citation as well as a full reference entry when you want to refer to an image, whether you include the image itself in your paper or whether the reader needs to look it up/go somewhere (e.g., because it is showcased at a museum).
The reference entry needs to include the following details:
- name of the creator (e.g., the artist or the person who took the photo)
- title of the image
- year it was created or published
- format of the image (e.g., painting, photograph)
- location (e.g., museum, website, or book) where the image is located/can be viewed
- URL if accessed online
The exact format of your reference entry then depends on the style guide you are using as well as on whether the image was taken from an online/offline source or can be seen somewhere in person. Also note that images that are included in a paper (not just referred to) need a caption that includes a copyright statement or permission from the creator/publisher.
Citing an Image in APA Style
To create an APA image citation, list the creator’s name, the year of publication, the image title, its format, and the location where you accessed or viewed it, in this order:
Last name, Initials. (Year). Image title [Format]. Website Name or Museum, Location. URL (if applicable)
To refer to the Mona Lisa on your essay on masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance, for example, you would have to create an APA reference entry that looks like this:
Da Vinci, L. (1506). Mona Lisa [Painting]. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.
You can include the URL if the image can be seen on the listed institution’s website:
Da Vinci, L. (1506). Mona Lisa [Painting]. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France. https://focus.louvre.fr/en/mona-lisa
Your in-text citation in the body of your essay then simply lists the author and the year the painting was first presented to the world:
(Da Vinci, 1506)
Citing artwork that is missing important details
Media that you found somewhere online might be missing some of the information you need for a complete reference entry. Google’s reverse image search or image sites like Flickr or other web sources might be helpful in such cases. Alternatively, you can try to replace the image you originally chose with another one that allows you to explain the same phenomenon or make the same argument.
If all else fails, however, you can still cite an image that has no author, date or title:
Missing author: Start with the title of the artwork instead:
The Flu Pandemic of 1918 [Online image]. (1919). National Archives. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/45499341
Missing publication date: Replace the date with “n.d.”
Missing author, title, and date: Start with a description of the image in square brackets and simply provide the web source:
[Untitled illustration of a hedgehog and a puppy dog staring at each other]. Amazing Creatures. https://rb.gy/25zeiy
Citing an image: APA 6 vs. APA 7 differences
There are no differences between APA 6 and 7 that apply to image citations specifically. Just make sure that you include URLs whenever available if you follow APA 7 style guide rules, and hyperlink them in your reference list. Additionally, “retrieved from” or “accessed at” can generally be omitted in APA 7 reference entries.
Citing an Image in MLA Style
To create a reference list entry for an image found in a museum or online in MLA style, the first name of the creator is spelled out, the title appears in quotation marks, and the name of the site is written in italics. MLA references also list the full publication date (if available), not just the year:
Creator’s Last Name, First Name. “Image Title”. Date/Year Created, Museum/Institution, Location.
The famous painting the “Mona Lisa” would be referred to like this:
Da Vinci, Leonardo. “Mona Lisa”. 1506, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.
As for APA references, you can add the URL if the image is displayed on the museum website.
In the text of your paper, you can simply cite the creator’s last name:
An image that was found online would be listed like this:
Image Creator’s Last Name, First Name. “Image Title.” Website Name, Day Month Year Published, URL.
A reference to photographs of Munch’s “The Scream”, for example, embedded in an article describing a scientific pigment analysis (not the original painting displayed on a museum website) would include the web source and the author of the article:
de Jong, Sidsel. Photograph of Munch’s The Scream. “The Scream’ is Fading. New Research Reveals Why” by Sophie Haigney, 7 Feb. 2020. The New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2020/02/07/arts/design/the-scream-edvard-munch-science.html.
The in-text citation in this case lists the last name of only the photographer (not the painter or the writer):
Citing an Image in Chicago Style
The Chicago Manual of Style allows you to cite images, photographs, paintings, or other works of art in notes in the text while not including them in your bibliography. Reference entry lists only need to be included for images you cite repeatedly or those that are essential to the argument you make. The correct citation format depends on whether the image is a published photograph or taken from an electronic resource.
For artwork you have seen in person (at a gallery or museum), specify what institution displays it. As for APA and MLA citations, include the URL to the museum website if the image/painting is displayed there:
Author last name, First name. Artwork Title. Year. Format description. Institution Name, City. URL.
Our Mona Lisa Chicago-style bibliography entry looks very similar to the APA citation above (but note the spelled-out name and the title in italics):
Da Vinci, Leonardo. Mona Lisa. 1506. [Painting]. Musée du Louvre, Paris. https://focus.louvre.fr/en/mona-lisa
Format your long- and short footnotes for the same painting in the following way:
Long: Author first name Last name, Artwork Title, Year, Format description, Institution Name, City, URL.
Leonardo Da Vinci, Mona Lisa, 1506, painting, Musée du Louvre, Paris. https://focus.louvre.fr/en/mona-lisa
Short: Author last name, Shortened Artwork Title.
Da Vinci, Mona Lisa.
If you cite an image viewed online, not physically in a museum, then simply replace the location with the website and provide the full publication date if available:
Appel, Mathias. Panda. Photograph. Flickr. February 28, 2016. https://rb.gy/69aa3b
If the image is a published photograph, then make sure you also list the book/medium it appeared in:
Author Surname, First Name or Initial. Photograph Title. Year Photo was Taken (if provided). In Book Title. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year, page or plate #.
And if an image or photograph was taken from a book, then make sure you include the title and page number in your reference list and in-text citation:
Author last name, First name. Image Title. Year. In Author first name Last name, Book Title, Page number. City: Publisher, Year.
Full note: 1. Author first name Last name, Image Title, Year, in Author first name last name, Book Title (City: Publisher, Year), Page number.
Short note: Author last name, Shortened Image Title, Page number.
Citing an Image in Vancouver Style
Vancouver style is generally used in the health and biomedical sciences, and artwork is not usually discussed in such publications. If you do cite an image (which could be a figure reproduced from a textbook or earlier publication) in Vancouver style, however, you can do one of the following:
1. Add an in-text citation number after the citation or caption (either a number in parentheses (1) or a superscript number¹) and include full source details in the reference list.
2. Include the full reference below the image/figure, and do not repeat the source details in the reference list.
For the bibliography entry, if you need one, you simply follow the format of the reference type (book, journal, website, or other source) in which you found the image, and add the image number of the original source, the title of the image of the original source, and the page number of the original source:
Lashley FR. Clinical genetics in nursing practice. 3rd ed. New York: Springer Publishing Company; c2005. Figure 2.5, Meiosis with two autosomal chromosome pairs; p. 27-8.