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How to Cite an Image in APA Style

Images are valuable visual sources in academic writing. Citing images in APA style requires specific elements: creator’s name, creation date, image title, source type, and location information (URL or museum details). These elements apply to both in-text citations and reference list entries. Proper citation ensures credit to creators and allows readers to locate the source.

When to Cite an Image

Differentiating Between Public Domain and Copyrighted Images

Not all images require the same level of citation detail. Images in the public domain, such as those created by the U.S. government or those explicitly released by the creator, generally do not require a formal citation, though acknowledging their source is good practice. In contrast, copyrighted images must be cited properly to avoid plagiarism and intellectual property violations. Understanding these distinctions helps you determine when and how to cite images correctly. 

Citing Your Own Images

If you use images you have created, it’s important to cite them to provide clarity and avoid any appearance of plagiarism. Indicating that the image is your own creation adds transparency to your work and separates your original contributions from sourced material. The citation should include a note that it is your own work. 

How to Format an In-Text Citation for an Image

Basic Format for In-Text Citations

In APA style, the basic format for citing an image in the text includes the author’s last name and the year of publication. For example,

(Smith, 2020).

If the image lacks an author, use the title in place of the author’s name. If the image is part of a larger work, like a website or a book, include additional details such as the page number or the section where the image can be found. 

Examples of In-Text Citations for Different Types of Images

Photograph: (Smith, 2020)

Chart or Graph from a Book: (Jones, 2019, p. 45)

Screenshot from a Website: (“Annual Report,” 2021)

Creating a Reference List Entry for an Image

Required Elements for Image Citations

The reference list entry for an image should include the following elements: author (or creator), date, title of the image, description of the format (e.g., photograph, chart), and source (URL or publication details). 

Format for Online Images

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of image [Format]. Retrieved from URL 


Doe, J. (2020). Sunset over the mountains [Photograph]. Retrieved from 

Format for Print Images

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of image [Format]. In Title of book (page number). Publisher. 


Doe, J. (2019). Historical map of Europe [Map]. In World Atlas (p. 123). Global Publishers.

Examples of Reference List Entries

Online Image: Smith, L. (2021). Modern art piece [Digital image]. Retrieved from

Print Image: Johnson, R. (2018). Ancient artifact [Photograph]. In Archaeological Discoveries (p. 78). Academic Press.

Special Cases in Image Citation

Citing Images from Social Media

Citing images from social media involves additional considerations such as the username and specific post details. For example: 

Twitter: @username. (Year, Month Day). Image description [Image attached]. Retrieved from URL


@historicalpics. (2021, March 15). Rare photo of early 20th century [Image attached]. Retrieved from

Citing Stock Photos

Stock photos should be cited with the stock photo service as the source. 


Doe, J. (2021). Business meeting [Photograph]. Retrieved from Getty Images. 

Citing Images in Presentations and Slideshows

When citing images in presentations, include a brief citation on the slide itself and a full reference in the slide notes or a reference slide. 


Image source: Doe, J. (2021). Business meeting [Photograph]. Retrieved from Getty Images. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Misidentifying the Source

Ensure you correctly identify the image’s creator and the original source. Misidentifying the source can undermine the credibility of your work and lead to accusations of plagiarism. 

Incorrect Formatting

Adhere strictly to APA formatting guidelines. Incorrectly formatted citations can confuse readers and diminish the professional appearance of your work. 

Overlooking Permissions and Licenses

Always check the usage rights and licenses of images. Even with proper citation, using images without appropriate permissions can lead to legal issues. 

Practical Tips for Managing Image Citations

Utilize tools like WriterBuddy for accurate citations. These tools can streamline the citation process and ensure adherence to APA style. 

Keeping Track of Image Sources

Maintain a detailed record of all image sources as you gather them. This can be done using a spreadsheet or a reference management tool, making it easier to compile your reference list later. 

Ensuring Ethical Use of Images

Ethical use of images goes beyond citation. It involves respecting copyright, obtaining necessary permissions, and accurately representing the content and context of the images used.


What is the difference between public domain and copyrighted images, and how does it affect citation?

Public domain images can be freely used without formal citations, though acknowledging the source is courteous. Copyrighted images, however, require proper citation to avoid legal and ethical issues. Proper attribution ensures the original creator receives credit for their work.

How do I cite an image from a social media post in APA style?

When citing an image from social media, include the username, date, description of the image, and the URL. For example: @username. (Year, Month Day). Image description [Image attached]. Retrieved from URL.

What are the essential elements needed to create a reference list entry for an online image in APA style?

The key elements include the author (or creator), year, title of the image, description of the format (e.g., photograph), and the URL where the image was accessed. An example format would be: Author, A. A. (Year). Title of image [Format]. Retrieved from URL.

Can I use images I created myself in my academic work without citation?

Even if you use images you created, it’s important to cite them to maintain transparency and professionalism in your work. Acknowledge the image as your own creation to distinguish your contributions from sourced materials.


APA citations for images include the creator’s name, creation date, image title, source type, and location information. Use the creator’s last name and year for in-text citations. If no creator is named, use the image title. Create a full entry in your reference list. For online images, include the URL.


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