Skip to Main Content

Image Research

This guide is a starting place for image-based research at UCLA.

Image Research Tips & Best Practices

Just getting started with finding images for your research? Here are some key considerations and tips!

  • Cast a wide net: As you can see on the Finding Images page, there are multiple resources and formats that support image research. Don't limit yourself! And keep in mind that not all images can be found online -- you may need to explore physical, non-digitized image collections. 
  • Be sure to evaluate the source of your images.
  • Be sure to verify permissions before sharing images or using them in your work.
  • If you have found an image that's free to use, you will still need to provide a citation.
  • This is an interdisciplinary research guide that should serve as a launching point for your image research. It's possible you will need to consult with subject specialist librarians or additional subject-specific research guides

Try a tutorial!

Start by considering

  • Who might have collected images relevant to your topic? Perhaps an institution, organization, profession, or expert has worked to gather images that could aid your research. Do they provide access to their collections?

  • Where might relevant images have been published or distributed? This could be an interdisciplinary or subject-specific database, online image repository, professional group's website, or more! There are many places to look. Where might you expect to find them?

  • Has a book, encyclopedia article, exhibition catalog, or dissertation, been published on the topic? If so, check their bibliographies and lists of illustration citations for possible image sources.

  • Has a research guide been created on the topic? Subject-specific research guides could lead you to more image sources. For example, the Film and Television guide or Gender Studies guide provide more specific image resources pertaining to those topics. Look at the many available research guides on the Browse all Research Guides page

There are several types of places to search -- databases, online web resources, books/e-books, archives, and more! You may be able to search resources that specialize in your topic or you may need to look at more general interdisciplinary resources. Be sure to search in multiple!

Selecting a Database for your Image Research

Factors to consider:

  • Subjects included 
  • Time periods covered
  • Descriptive Information provided (and the reliability or sources of this information)
  • How comprehensive or how selective the collection might be
  • Special features that allow you to refine searches
  • Display, download resolution, or citation generation options
  • Rights and Permissions

How is finding and using images similar to, and different from, a text-based research process?

  • Online search interfaces 
    • Whether you are search for images or text sources, there will likely be similar Advanced Search option and the ability to filter within the databases
    • Search capabilities will be similar to searching for text resources
  • Strategies for choosing keywords
    • Thinking of broader terms, narrower terms, related terms, etc. when you search so you can increase or decrease your search results
  • Possible use of both digital & physical resources
    • Keep in mind that images may still need to be accessed via a physical location (special collections, archive, etc.)
  • Different starting points
    • You will likely choose different web resources, databases, journals, etc. when searching for images vs. text sources
  • Different metadata
    • Keep in mind what you are searching, as image metadata can differ from text metadata (e.g. image catalogs often include format/medium, dimensions, classification, rights, and reproduction metadata)
  • Citations
    • Even if you are still using MLA, Chicago, etc., the image citations will look different from text citations
  • Different types of licenses and use permissions (see "Using Images" section in the guide)