How to Cite a Photo

There are a few styles for citing photographs, depending on their subject matter and origin. The three most common are MLA, APA, and CMS.

Generally, MLA (or Modern Language Association) is used for research papers in the humanities, and it emphasizes the author of a particular work. APA (or American Psychological Association) style is used more often in the social sciences, and it puts emphasis on the date of creation. Finally, CMS (or Chicago Manual of Style) formatting uses two different citation styles: author-date (AD) and notes-and-bibliography (ND). The latter is often used in history courses, since it allows authors to cite their source with footnotes on the same page. Below, we’ve listed the subtle differences in formatting when citing photographs, along with some example citations.


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Citing a Photograph from a Website
MLA: Depending on the photo’s source (i.e. a museum, encyclopedia, or stock photography house), the information contained in an MLA citation will change. For clarity’s sake, let’s assume that all of these photos are from digital sources. MLA places importance on authors, so you’ll always start the citation with the photographer’s name (last name, then first and initial). Next, write the photo’s title. Whenever citing a digital image, you’ll also need to write “Digital Image” in the description, and then the website name. Here’s a basic template and example citation:

Last Name, First Name M. Title of Work. Digital Image. Website Name. Website Publisher, Date Month Year Published. Web. Date Month Year Accessed.

Smith, Joe C. The Golfer’s Dream. Digital Image. GolferWeek. Golfer Inc, 4 January 2002. Web. 16 March 2014. 

APA: Since APA formatting places emphasis on authors and dates, you need to put the photographer’s name first, and then the original publication date. Once that information is established, you can list the photograph title and website source. One difference from MLA style — you’ll need to write “(Photographer)” and “[digital image]” to be more specific. Here’s a template and example:

Last Name, First Name M. (Photographer). (Year, Month Date of Publication). Title of Work [digital image]. Retrieved from http://www.xyz.com

Ballard, Brenda D. (Photographer). (1972, June 18). Talk to Your Neighbors [digital image]. Retrieved from http://www.picketfencephotos.com/brenda-ballard

CMS: Just like the other citation styles, you need to list the author’s name first. Next, write the photograph’s title, date of creation, and the institution/museum collection where it’s housed. Here’s a template and example:

Last Name, First Name M. Title of Work. Month Date, Year Created. Collection, Institution/Museum, Location. Access Month Date, Year. www.xyz.com 

Burns, Cornelius F. Tribal Weaving. August, 1967. Natural History Museum, Los Angeles. December 5, 2012. www.historicphotos.com

Citing a Photograph from a Database
MLA: Instead of labeling the citation with “Digital Image”, use “Photograph”. If the original photo is stored at a particular museum or institute, you can also list that 
information.

Last Name, First Name M. Title of Work. Year Created. Photograph. Museum/Institution, Location. Database Title. Web. Access Date Month Year.

Smith, Joe C. The Golfer’s Dream. 2002. Photograph. Shutterstock. Web. 16 March 2014. 

APA: Unlike MLA or CMS, APA style does not require you to mention databases in its citations. Use the same format for citing a website photo, but list the specific source found in the database. If it comes from another URL, use it for the “Retrieved from http://” section; if not, use the database URL. 

CMS: Generally, you should use a specific URL when citing a database photo. If the link seems unstable, just cite the database name instead. 

Last Name, First Name M. Title of Work. Month Date, Year Created. Collection, Museum/Institution, Location. Access Month Date, Year. URL/Database.

Burns, Cornelius F. Tribal Weaving. August, 1967. Natural History Museum, Los Angeles. December 5, 2012. Shutterstock.

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