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Finding and Using Images (Yale-NUS College): Finding and Using Images

This guide is an introduction to finding and using images for coursework and assignments.


A picture is worth a thousand words, and we all know the value of using images in our blogs, presentations, and even essays. But how do we search for and find the best images? And once we have found them, how do we determine how we may use them? These concerns about copyright and creative commons also apply to our own original images.

Navigate the information boxes below on images sources, copyright and creative commons, and citing images.

Library databases

The ARTstor Digital Library has close to 2 million art, architecture, humanities, and science digital images. You can search and browse in ARTstor for images from museums, libraries, archives, and estates.

Oxford Art Online is not an image database; it consists of Oxford's art reference materials as well as articles and bibliographies. However, all the images available in the Oxford art reference works are available through this database.

Photography: The World Through the Lens assembles collections of photographs, photograph albums, photographically illustrated books, and texts on the early history of photography found in libraries and archives across the globe.


Internet databases

Copyright and creative commons

Copyright protects the expression of ideas (although it does not protect ideas themselves). Works like novels, plays, sheet music, photographs, and paintings are protected by copyright. The creator of these works has the exclusive rights to reproduce or distribute them. You can get more information about copyright from IPOS (Intellectual Property Office of Singapore).

This photograph I took is automatically protected by copyright. I do not have to register, and I am the sole owner of this image. I may choose to place a "© 2011" notice on the image to make this clear; however, I own the copyrights regardless. The creator owns the copyright to the image, including photographic and digital reproductions of it. Therefore scans or photos of my image are also protected by my copyright.

There are exceptions which are called 'fair dealings' in Singapore ('fair use' in the US). Images can be used for study or research; therefore, it is usually safe to include images in your reports and presentations as long as they are properly cited. It is also considered fair dealings to use images in criticism or review with proper citation.

You are free to use:

  • Copyright protected images if they fall under 'fair dealings' and terms of use
  • 'Public domain' images which are no longer protected by copyright (usually 70 years after the death of the creator)
  • Creative commons licensed images as indicated by the owner
  • Images that the owner has given you permission to use

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization which provides free copyright licenses so that creators can indicate how their work can be used and shared. You can use Creative Commons to license your own works. Look for licenses like this, which will let you know how you can use an image:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Citing images

In academic writing you always cite the original souce of an idea or quotation. Similarly, when you use images in your academic work, you should cite the source of that image.

When you cite an image you should usuallly provide:

  • Title of the work or image
  • Creator
  • Date of creation
  • Medium
  • Location of the original image (e.g. museum or gallery where it is held)
  • URL if available in an online collection

** Always follow your professor's instructions when citing images and sources. This guide is general, whereas your professors might have specific instructions.


Sample image, citation, and reference:

In text:

The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil (Édouard Manet, 1874)

Reference in bibliography:

Édouard Manet (1874), The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil, Metropolitan Museum of Art, oil on canvas,

Citation management tools allow you to organize your research.  In addition to saving citation information and linking to PDFs, many programs also assist with in-text citations and bibliography formatting. Visit our guide on citations and citing to learn more.

Subject Guide

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Priyanka Sharma
NUS Central Library
+65 6601-3660
Subjects: Yale-NUS College