The Definition of a Photo Credit Line

Who took that picture?

Although the internet is a great place to share and collaborate, it isn't OK to borrow photos from a person's website or social media site without permission. Any time you use another person's photo, you should ask the photographer's permission. You should also publish a photo credit line, sometimes accompanied by a website URL, with the photo.

Copyright symbol leaning against wall in black and white
mrgao / Getty Images

What's in a Photo Credit Line

A photo credit line identifies the photographer, illustrator, or copyright holder for images in a publication or on a website. The photo credit line may appear adjacent to a photo, as part of the caption, or elsewhere on the page. The photo credit line is the photographer's equivalent of the byline for the author of a written work.

Publications typically have a standard format for the wording or placement of bylines and photo credits specified in their style guide. Photographers and copyright holders often require specific wording or offer suggested phrasing to accompany photographs or illustrations they supply. In the case of web use, linking to the photographer's site or another source may be required or suggested.

Credit Line Examples

Some examples of photo credit lines include:

  • Photo by Art T. Fotog
  • Drawings provided by A. Illustrator
  • Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
  • © 2021 House of Clip Art
  • Art T. Fotog / XYZ Images
  • © Art T. Fotog 2020
  • "Pretty Picture" by Art T. Fotog is licensed under CC-BY 2.0 

Photo Line Placement

Usually, the photo credit appears adjacent to the photo, either directly underneath or positioned along one edge. If several photos from the same photographer are used, one photo credit is sufficient. If no style is specified, use a small—6 point—sans serif font, not bold, up the left or right side of the photo.

If the photo is used as a full bleed—it runs off the edge of the paper or website—place the credit line inside the photo near the edge, at a slightly larger size. In this case, it may be necessary to reverse the credit line out of the image for legibility. If it isn't readable, it doesn't count.

Terms You Should Know

Before you take a photo from the internet, look for its legal standing and any restrictions placed on it by the owner. Specifically, look for these terms:

  • Copyright: A photo is copyrighted as soon as the photographer takes it. Look for a watermark on the photo, although one is not required. You must seek permission to use the photo.
  • Fair Use: Fair Use refers to the legal right to use a copyrighted photo only for educational, personal, or research purposes, or to benefit the public—not for commercial gain.
  • Creative Commons: A Creative Commons license refers to a copyrighted photo that the owner has made available for use under certain specific requirements. 
  • Public Domain: No copyright exists for public domain images, either because the person who owned it has died or the owner relinquished the copyright. No photo credit line is required.
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