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Using Images in an Assignment: Finding and Crediting

Using images in scholarly works or assignments

Attribution vs. Citation

Attribution vs. Citation

While attribution and citation are often used interchangeably, they have subtle differences. Attribution is usually more focused on giving credit to the source of images, texts, ideas, etc., while citation is more focused on helping scholars trace back ideas through their development in various scholarly and primary resources. There is no single way to provide attribution, while citations have specific requirements and structure depending on the style guide you are using. Both are acknowledging that someone else contributed content that you are using in your material.

This work is adapted from "Attribution" by Gettysburg College, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Image Guideline

Searching for Images

Images can be found anywhere on the internet. They are found on social media, informational or educational websites, clipart and stock image websites, and perhaps the easiest way to find images is by using a search engine. While images may be easy to locate, using them in an assignment isn't as simple. Copying from a website and pasting it into your assignment may make it difficult to properly give credit to the image's creator, may make it difficult for others to find, or might violate copyright law. Links to image websites will be provided in the "Image Websites and Tools" tab to help with these issues, but sometimes the easiest way to get the image needed is to Google it. The guide below will detail how to search for any type of image, Creative Commons images, and where to access the original image, to retrieve the best information for a citation or attribution.

Searching With Google

Searching for ready-to-use images in Google

Finding an image's correct URL in Google


Searching with Google

It is recommended to use the Google Images search rather than the global Google search. If you do use the global search you can select the "Images" option in the blue oval below the search box, as captured in the screenshot below. The screenshot also displays an example of an unlimited search for a "heart diagram." Image results come from Wikimedia Commons, Britannica, healthcare websites, and more. Some of these images may require a fee or copyright permission to use. In order to avoid determining if the image is free to reuse and if permission is already granted, details are below. 

Screen capture of the results page for a Google image search for a heart diagram

Searching for ready-to-use images in Google

One way to find ready-to-use images is to include one of the following phrases in a global Google search. Adding these phrases to the search isn't a guarantee that the images are free and have permission to reproduce elsewhere, so double-checking is recommended. The global search helps as the results include websites that state if they are free. 

  • public domain 
  • free to use 
  • Creative Commons
  • royalty free
  • license free

Another option for finding ready-to-use images is the Google Images search. Below is the same search as displayed in the image above; however, by clicking on the  blue, rectangle, labeled "Tools", a set of options appears, including "Usage Rights." Select "Creative Commons licenses" by clicking on "Usage Rights". 

Screen capture of the results page for a Google image search for a heart diagram, highlighting the Tools button and the Creative Commons limiter

Viewing an image's correct URL in Google

Once an image has been selected, follow the link to the original source. To do this, click on the image in the result list and then, in the large view of the image, click the blue oval labeled "Visit." This will take you to the website where Google found the image. From this website, the information for an attribution or citation should be found. Note: Do not use the URL from the address bar on the Google search page. This is a link to the search and not the image. Results can change order or be completely different for other individuals.

Screen capture of the results page for a Google image search for a heart diagram, with a specific diagram of the heart selected, and the Visit button highlighted

What is Required for an Attribution?

There are best practices for giving attribution for materials you find online. This is different than citing a source in a bibliography or works cited. There is no correct way to attribute, but there are better ways than others. Ideally, in a digital project, if you are using something you found online, such as an image, video, audio, or text, the following elements are crucial: title, author, source, and license, collectively known as TASL.

  • The title of the media, as best as you can determine it. If no title, it’s not required.
  • The author‘s name. Sometimes you will see a screen name or other pseudonym, so use that.
  • The original source. You need to provide a link to where the media lives on the Internet so others can find it as well.
  • The license. If the media includes a Creative Commons or other license, include the specific license as well. If it’s in the public domain, you can simply note that.

It is usually best to include the attribution in the caption for media, if that is available. Some digital tools, such as TimelineJS and StorymapJS, have specific fields for credit. Otherwise, try putting the attribution as close to the media as possible, such as on the same webpage.

Finding Information for Attributions

Sometimes finding information for attributions is easy, other times it can be a bit tricky. It depends on the website where the original media was hosted. Some websites, like Flickr and Wikimedia Commons make it easy. Other times, you just have to use your best judgment. The most important piece of information is the Source part of the attribution, so a user can trace back to where you found it.


Wikimedia Commons

For our first example, we are using a picture of a cat found on Wikimedia Commons.

Tan and white cat sitting on pavement
Credit: Mittens, the Cat of Wellington by Diksha Gaur. CC-BY-SA.

TASL Analysis

Finding Attribution Information

This video will show you how to find the TASL attribution information for an image found on Wikimedia Commons.


Our second example is a picture of a penguin found on Flickr.

TASL Analysis

Finding Attribution Information

This video will show you how to find the TASL attribution information for an image found on Flickr.

Public Domain

Images in the public domain don’t need attributions legally, but it’s still the best practice to do so anyway as ethical users of information. This is an image of the earth taken by NASA astronauts; generally, all materials created by the United States government are required to be in the public domain.

Apollo 10 view of the earth
Credit: May 18, 1969 – Apollo 10 View of the Earth by NASA. Public domain.

TASL Analysis

Image without Title, Author, or License

Black question mark
Credit: Question Mark.

TASL Analysis

  • Title: Unknown, so went with the descriptive “Question Mark.”
  • Author: Unknown, so not used.
  • Source: A link to where you found the image on the Internet (since I made this up on my own, the link just goes to for illustrative purposes).
  • License: No known license, so not used.

How Do I Attribute Something I Created?

Images that you have taken yourself and uploaded directly to a project can be handled as easily as:

Photo by Abraham Lincoln (Own work)

If you put the image on Flickr or another online repository, or added a Creative Commons license, you can treat it like any other image. Adding a title to the image may help identify it.

This work is adapted from "Attribution" by Gettysburg College, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Copyright Attribution and Citation for Images (Using APA, 7th edition)

Using personal images

When using your own images, a reference citation and copyright attribution are not required, unless you have published your images elsewhere. If your images have been published elsewhere follow the formats listed below, treating the images as though they were published by another author. For papers, a figure number and title will be needed for your images.

Using others images

When referring to an image, without reproducing it, use an in-text citation and reference citation, as laid out in the APA, 7th edition, Style Guide. If an image is being reproduced, a reference citation and copyright attribution will replace an in-text citation. The formatting for and examples of reference citations and copyright attributions are detailed below.

Reference List Citation

Citation Format:

Creator last name, First initial. (Year). Title of the image [Medium]. Source. Image URL 

  • Creator- For photographs list the photographer, for clip art list the creator
  • Year- the year the image was created, posted, or copyrighted
  • Title of the image- some images may have titles, if there is no title either the file name for the image can be used or a description of the image should be used
  • Medium- list Photograph, Clip art, Infographic, etc. as the medium, depending on the image
  • Source- the name of the website, journal, book, or other material the image is located in
  • Image URL- Use the most direct link to the image possible; if the image doesn't have its own URL use the URL of the webpage where the image is located. Note: Google or other search engine URLs will not be the most direct link. Please see the Finding Images tab for more details.

Unknown citation information:

Some images may not have all the information listed above and it is acceptable to fill in as much as you can. Note: If no creator name is found, move the Title to the creator position. 

Title of the image [Medium]. (Year). Source. Image URL

HIPAA protected images 

If an image is protected under HIPAA, there are two ways to address citing the image. The first would be to receive permission from the patient to disclose the image and associated information. The second way would be to remove all identifying data, following the HHS's  Guidance Regarding Methods for De-identification of Protected Health Information in Accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule. You would then cite the image using what information you have. An example of an image that has been de-identified can be found in the examples below. 

Copyright Attribution

If an image is reproduced in the assignment, a copyright attribution must be included under the image. All the information from the citation is included, with the addition of licensing information. However, the formatting follows a different pattern. A figure number and title (does not need to be the image title in the citation) must be included above an image, in an APA Style paper. The figure number and title are optional for presentation slides.

Attribution format (to be located under the image): 

Note. From Title of the image [Medium], by Creator First Initial Last Name, Year, Source, (Image URL). Permissions Statement.

  • If changes are made to the image, include "Adapted from" before the title
  • Permissions Statement- This depends on who owns the image and the permissions provided to reproduce the image. It is recommended that the following types of images are used where possible:
    • Images with Creative Commons licenses  - Authors have granted certain permissions to reproduce images, in advance
      • Permissions statement format: CC BY-NC.
    • Images in the public domain - Permissions to reproduce the image are not needed
      • Permissions statement format: In the public domain.


Creative Commons Image

The image in the assignment:

Figure 1

Heart Diagram

Detail image of the human heart, with the parts of the heart and connected veins and arteries

Note. From Heart diagram-en [Clip art], by ZooFari, 2010, Wikimedia ( CC BY-SA 3.0.

The image citation in the reference list:

ZooFari. (2010). Heart diagram-en [Clipart]. Wikimedia.        

Public Domain Image

Note: There was no title for this image so a description is used in place of the title.

Figure 2

Results of a Hemagglutinin Inhibition Test

A scientist holding the results of a hemagglutinin inhibition test

Note. From a photograph of a scientist examining the results of a hemagglutinin inhibition test, by J. Gathany, 2019, CDC Public Health Image Library ( In the public domain.

The image citation in the reference list:

Gathany, J. (2019). [Photograph of a scientist examining the results of a hemagglutinin inhibition test]. CDC Public Health Image Library.

HIPAA Protected Image - De-identified 

Figure 3

Ultrasound Depicting the Parasternal Long Axis View from a Patient

Parasternal Long Axis View Ultrasound Image

Note. From Parasternal Long Axis View, 2023.

The image citation in the reference list:

Parasternal Long Axis View [Ultrasound] (2023). 

Open Access Medical Images

American Society for Microbiology: Image Library

Peer-reviewed images relating to microbes, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Public Health Image Library (PHIL)

Images are intended for public health professionals, educators, students, and the public for reference, teaching, presentation, and public health messages. Most of the images are in the public domain.


Open-i is a service of the National Library of Medicine that enables the search and retrieval of abstracts and images (including charts, graphs, clinical images, etc.) from the open-source literature, and biomedical image collections. Searching may be done using text queries as well as query images. Open-i provides access to over 3.7 million images from about 1.2 million PubMed Central® articles; 7,470 chest x-rays with 3,955 radiology reports; 67,517 images from NLM History of Medicine collection; and 2,064 orthopedic illustrations.

SMART - Servier Medical Art

Over 3,000 free medical images, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

University of Utah: Health Education Assets Library (HEAL)

A collection of over 22,000 free, digital materials for health sciences education. The license for usage is included with the images.