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Graphic Design: Citing images & films

This guide will help you find graphic design resources both in the library and on the web.

Why cite images and films?

If you've ever been told about citations and plagiarism in the past, it probably sounded like one of these two:

  1. "You need to cite sources because otherwise you're stealing, which is wrong." This is an ethical argument.
  2. "You need to cite sources because if you don't, you'll be committing academic dishonesty and will be suspended or expelled." This is a punishment argument.

Since you are familiar with these arguments and probably already have strong feelings developed surrounding both, let's add one other perspective on citations you might not have heard about.

Have you ever seen or heard an interview with your favorite music artist, in which they list some of their greatest influences? Did you then look those artists up to discover something great you had never heard before? Think back to our discussion of the information cycle, the game of telephone, and the "upstream/downstream" metaphor. These are all ways of saying that ideas change over time. Rarely does someone wake up in the morning and think of something totally new out of the blue. They borrow ideas, they adapt ideas, and new emerges from the old.

Citations are not just to be ethical (to address the concept of intellectual "theft"). They are also a way of documenting how a piece of information has journeyed from one source to the next, its significance and appearance often transforming along the way. Why create a project with few or no citations that basically just says "here's an idea I thought of" when you could instead show your audience the journey that this idea has been on? In this way, citations are a form of storytelling. They don't just make you more organized; they make you more interesting.

Can you find the original image?

Do you remember this image?

A dress that is blue and black... wait, maybe it's white and gold.


Source: Caitlin McNeill/Tumblr

This picture has been on quite a journey. It's spread from site to site, ripped through the emotional bonds of countless families and friendships, and at one point ended up in this CBS News article.

Do you think you can find the original Tumblr image that this came from? Go ahead and try. If it took you more than a few minutes, it shows how the story of an image can sometimes get lost as it moves around.

Maybe you'll get as far as an article like this one from Business Insider that appears to link to the original Tumblr post. However, the link is broken. Does this mean the post no longer exists? (I'll give you a hint: If you ask a librarian, we can show you how the original post is in fact not lost).

My text below that image is called an "attribution," which is similar to a citation but shorter and less detailed. If I had instead cited the original Tumblr image with a link, how much faster do you think you could have found the original post of this dress?

You've convinced me - how do I cite images and films?


Attribution has no formal style - if you decide to do a simple attribution, just include what you think is most important (I suggest a person's name, name of the image, and a link). Example:

Source: "Photograph of WU Library at sunset." Woody Owl,

Full citations

Be your style APA or MLA, you need to ask yourself:

  • Am I citing an original master copy of an image, like a painting in a gallery?
  • Am I citing a copy of that image, like a photo in a book or on a website?
  • Am I citing an image that was born-digital (didn't start as a physical work in a gallery)?
  • Am I citing a short video (like a YouTube video)?
  • Am I citing a television show?
  • Am I citing a feature film?

Choose a tab above for examples on what to do for each of these situations.


Artist. (Year). Title [Description of material]. Institution/museum/collection, City, abbreviated Province/State.

Owl, W. (2018). Portrait of Woodbury University Library at sunset [Encaustic painting]. Nan Rae Gallery, Burbank, CA.


Artist. Title of Painting. Date, Institution/museum/collection, City, abbreviated Province/State.

Owl, Woody. Portrait of Woodbury University Library at Sunset. 2018, Nan Rae Gallery, Burbank, CA.


If from online:

Artist (Artist's role). (Date). Title of image [Material]. Retrieved from

Owl, W. (Artist). (2018). Portrait of Woodbury University Library at sunset [Encaustic painting]. Retrieved from

If from a book, APA is a little vague on the matter. I suggest either citing the whole book, or doing this:

Owl, W. (Artist). (2018). Portrait of Woodbury University Library at sunset [Encaustic painting]. In Woodbury, F. C. (2018). How my name got turned into a mascot: Reflections from the grave. Burbank, CA: Nickelodeon Academic Press.


Artist. "Title of Work."  Name of website/book containing this image, Container's author, Date, URL (if it's an online source).

Owl, Woody. "Portrait of Woodbury University Library at Sunset." Instagram, 2018, (notice that this containing website does not have an author).


Artist. (Artist's role). (Year). Title [Description of material]. Retrieved from

Owl, W. (Photographer). (2018). Portrait of Woodbury University Library at sunset [Photograph]. Retrieved from


Artist. "Title of Image." Name of website, Webpage's author, 2014,

Owl, Woody. "Portrait of Woodbury University Library at sunset." Instagram, 2018, (note how this containing website has no author)


Author. (Date). Title of video [Video file]. Retrieved from

Owl, W. (2018, January 23). Time-lapse of Woodbury Library bell tower [Video file]. Retrieved from


Author. "Title of video." Website's name, uploaded by Username, Date,

Owl, Woody. "Time-lapse of Woodbury Library Bell Tower." YouTube, uploaded by WULibrary, 23 January 2018,

The APA and MLA guidelines for television and film depend on a number of factors like film availability. For the most specific and up-to-date guidelines, check the Purdue OWL APA "non-print sources" guidelines and the Purdue OWL MLA "Other common sources" guidelines.