Images for Dissertation

Getting Started

Congratulations on your forthcoming dissertation! Please note that the Visual Resources Center (VRC) staff are not lawyers and we cannot provide you with legal advice. However, the VRC can provide you with helpful information about including images in your dissertation. 

This guide outlines the general workflows associated with tracking your images you’d like to use for future publication, and outlines the ways the VRC can collaborate with you to support your dissertation. We invite you to begin discussing images for your dissertation with the VRC as early as possible, including at the dissertation proposal phase. Our services and resources for managing personal image archives may be useful for your fieldwork and research. The latest we can begin collaborating with you on images for your dissertation is one quarter before your dissertation will be filed with the Dissertation Office. You are welcome to work with us in some or all elements of the lifecycle of your dissertation—it is not required to opt-in to all aspects. Likewise, the different components do not necessarily need to proceed in a particular order, and some work can happen simultaneously or in parallel with other phases of the workflow. 

This service is offered to graduate students in the University of Chicago Humanities Division as a parallel to our Images for Publication service, which is available to graduate students and faculty in the University of Chicago Humanities Division. We also invite you to review VRC Observations on UChicago Art History Dissertations, which includes commentary and advice on trends in UChicago art history dissertations and publications. [Last updated 5/21/2024]

Check-In with the VRC


Book an appointment to discuss your dissertation project and how the VRC can help you move forward with images. Before our meeting, we’ll review any materials you can share and make some notes. We can help conduct copyright assessments, direct you to resources, and do some light research into potential copyright holders. However, we cannot send permissions requests on your behalf. 

Before meeting with a VRC staff member, please share any materials you’ve assembled, including an image list, captions, image files themselves, etc.

Create a Spreadsheet

The VRC recommends tracking the images used in your dissertation in a spreadsheet, where you can include information about each image, including the caption, the copyright status, a fair use justification (where appropriate), the image size, and other notes. 

The VRC uses this template—if you have a Figure List for your dissertation, the VRC can import that into a spreadsheet for you. If you’d like to start your own spreadsheet, you can make a copy of the template and adapt/expand it for your own purposes. The second tab of the template defines the role of each field in the template.

Choosing to file your dissertation with all, some, or no images is ultimately up to you. The VRC can offer advice about images you may want to include or exclude. Regardless of which images are submitted with the dissertation, tracking all of the images in the spreadsheet will help in selecting images for future publications.

When you go to publish the dissertation as a book, your publisher will likely ask you to complete a similar spreadsheet known as a permissions log. The VRC’s template was designed with publishers’ permission logs in mind, which will hopefully set you up nicely to pursue any official permissions for the book project. 

Keeping track of your complete research images sooner rather than later will be an important part of managing your personal image archive. If you haven’t been tracking images previously, doing this work at the dissertation filing stage will save you a lot of time when it comes time to publish this as a book or article, etc. Platforms like Tropy, Airtable, Google sheets, etc. can also easily export information into templates to track your dissertation/publication information.

Image Captions

Citing each work properly, and in sufficient detail, is critical. When using photographs of other works (e.g., paintings, sculptures, other works of art), it is necessary to assess the copyright status of both the underlying work itself and the photographic reproduction of the work. In such cases, it’s important to fully cite where your image of the work came from, either in the caption or in your own records. For example, if an image was scanned from a book, you may or may not need to provide a full citation of the text, including page number. If it’s from an archive, include all identifying information available to you, including the name of the papers, series, box, folder, etc. If you obtained the image from a website, individual, or institution, it is important to note that as well. Include rights information, such as Creative Commons licenses or other permissions notes. Note that the original source of the image should be included in the citation. If the image was posted to a third-party website (such as a blog), you will need to find where the website sourced it from. 

We recommend you review the University-Wide Requirements for the Ph.D. Dissertation, which includes formatting requirements, and “Citing Images,” in  Images: A Guide to Visual Resources which is maintained by Arts Bibliographer Nancy Spiegel in collaboration with VRC staff. Additionally, Chapter Three in the Chicago Manual of Style includes a detailed discussion of captions for art works and examples of usage. University of Chicago users have access to the full text online using the Quick Link on the Library home page. The VRC also recommends the CAA Publications Style Guide, which provides instructions on formatting captions as well as robust examples for a variety of work types, including architecture, book illustrations, engravings, installation views, interiors, manuscript illuminations, murals, paintings, performances, photographs, scrolls, sculptures, video games, video stills, and woodcuts. There may also be discipline and/or sub-field specific conventions and best practices as to what information should be included as part of a source statement, and we rely on you and your faculty to be familiar with those conventions. The VRC invites you to explore our resource on Image Citations and Captions, which includes also a discussion of citational ethics.

Creative Commons Licenses

Many museums and other image archives are making digitized versions of the collections available through Creative Commons licenses. Creative Commons (CC) provides six different license options that allow institutions to grant users certain permissions to use their work under copyright law and allow users to quickly identify what they can do with particular works. 

CC BY-NC 4.0

A frequently used license for cultural heritage materials is the CC BY-NC 4.0. For content made available under the CC BY-NC 4.0 license, users may “copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format” if the image is appropriately cited and if the use is for non-commercial purposes. 

Proper attribution under the CC licenses means that you must provide the name of the creator, the title of the material if supplied, a copyright notice, a license notice, and a link to the material. It is important to read, understand, and comply with the attribution terms of the applicable CC license.

Your use of the material is scholarly, not commercial. However, your dissertation will be available through ProQuest dissertation publishing. ProQuest is a commercial organization, not a non-profit. ProQuest can make and sell copies of your dissertation if individuals request a copy. It is up to you to assess the copyright and decide if your use is in the spirit of the license and whether to include the material in the filed dissertation or not.

Copyright Assessment

Next, you must conduct a copyright assessment and/or fair use analysis for each image. If you’d like, VRC can assist with an initial review of the images you intend to include in your dissertation. We would assess the copyright status of the work and of the image separately, because in some cases the rights holder for the work depicted in the image may be separate from the image rights holder. Please note that you will need to carefully review this initial assessment. Where permissions are required, the VRC can help advise with your strategy and language, but you will need to coordinate all licensing and permissions efforts with the relevant copyright holders.

Be sure to take note of any copyright statements, licenses, or other rights information provided by the image source. In addition to needing to include that information in the caption or citation, we recommend that you also vet the information provided against your own knowledge of art and image copyright using the recommended resources below. Occasionally, individuals or institutions may attempt to claim rights over the work or the image when it is in the public domain or when there are no additional rights to claim. (For example, claiming copyright over a reproduction image made from a scan or photograph of a 2D work of art that’s in the public domain, or supplying a CC-BY-NC license over a work that is in the public domain and should have been presented under a CC0 license instead.)

Resources for Assessing Copyright Status

Sample Language for Noting Work Copyright Status

The underlying work depicted in the image (ie, the work of art) will typically be listed as Copyrighted or Public Domain. Include the full rights statement provided by the institution in the work or copyright status field, as appropriate, and in the caption as well.

Sample Language for Noting Image Copyright Status

The image reproduction of the artwork may have its own copyright considerations. Some sample language for noting image copyright status include:

  • Photograph by the author (you are the copyright owner of a photograph you have made)
  • Copyright statements or credit lines from the copyright owner, such as “© Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Ann u. Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York?”
  • N/A: This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional work of art.
  • N/A: CC0 license (or similar Creative Commons designation)
  • N/A: Open access use

Other Permissions Considerations

There might be additional considerations in addition to copyright-related issues that you may need to make. For example, if your photographs have people depicted in them, you may want to request their permission for publishing their likeness. Additionally, if your images depict sensitive materials or cultural objects, they might require additional permissions. The VRC maintains a page on Ethical Considerations for Images that we invite you to explore for more information.

Fair Use Analysis

For works and/or images that are copyrighted, conduct a fair use analysis to see if you can justify your use of the image in your justification. The VRC follows the CAA Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts. Section One of the code outlines the situations, principles and limitations of using images fairly in analytic writing. 

If you intend to use an image under fair use in your dissertation, you should prepare a justification for that claim of fair use in your tracking spreadsheet. 

The United States Copyright Act provides a framework to determine whether the use of copyrighted materials constitutes a “fair use” based upon a consideration of the following Four Factors: 

  1. Purpose and character of your use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work you want to use;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion of the work that you used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;
  4. The effect of your use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The United States Copyright Office [] provides useful guidance for understanding this analysis.

Where you plan to assert fair use of a copyrighted work, you will want to provide a justification supporting your analysis. We recommend consulting the guidance outlined in the CAA Code of Best Practices for Fair Use when drafting your analysis. Include as many phrases that are relevant to your specific use. 

For example: 

  • The use of the work in its entirety is crucial to the argument outlined on pages x-y because 123. The scan is a high-fidelity copy of a work published in 1975, with accurate color and cropping. The image size is 1536 pixels on the long edge and 72 ppi, a resolution suitable for use in papers, PDFs, and classroom projection but not reproduction. I have cited the image in the caption, figure list, and within the text.

For images that are copyrighted and where fair use does not apply, you will need to identify copyright holders and obtain permission to publish these images in your work.

Please note—even where you believe you have a defensible argument that you use of an image would qualify for “fair use”, you may still wish to pursue getting permission to publish images, for example, in order to maintain a good relationship with an artist or institution or where you are aware that a rights holder is especially aggressive in taking action against unlicensed use of its copyrighted material.

Requesting and Obtaining Permissions

There may be copyrighted images for which you need or want to request permission from the copyright holder to use the images in your Dissertation. You will want to send a written request for permission to the copyright holder or its representatives (such as ARS). Make sure to include information requested by the press including print run, distribution, online access, etc. Save a copy of your correspondence to a central folder, and indicate in your permissions log when you contacted them for permission. Set a reminder to follow-up on your requests in 2 weeks if you have not yet heard back from them.

Please review the VRC’s guide to Copyright Resources for Academic Publishing for more information on identifying rights holders and templates and sample language for requesting permission.

Create a Shared Box Folder for Images

We recommend setting up a shared Box folder for your publication and sharing it with VRC staff. This will allow us to review your images, share new image files with you if necessary, and collaborate easily. 

Image Quality Assessment

Review the image quality and specifications of each image based on the guidelines from the press. For example, many press guidelines suggest the following:

  • Color images: tiff files that are at least 300ppi and printable at 4x6” or larger
  • Grayscale images may require higher ppi than color images
  • Line drawings: may be required in vector format, such as .indd files from Adobe InDesign or .ai files from Adobe Illustrator. The VRC and/or Academic Technology Services may be able to assist with drawings. Please write to the VRC for more information.
  • Film stills captured from DVD and Blu-Rays may need to be artificially upsampled in order to meet the press specifications, although if you can create them on a 27” desktop monitor rather than a laptop screen they may be sufficient size for publication.

VRC staff may be able to assess the quality of your images for you if you do not have access to Adobe Photoshop and depending on the size and scope of your project. 

If your images aren’t publication quality, they may still be sufficient for inclusion in your dissertation. For example, lower-resolution images, including jpegs or pngs, may look good in the PDF of the filed dissertation but may not be high enough quality to submit to an editor for a print run of a published book. Please write to the VRC to discuss requesting new images and/or help editing existing images. he VRC can also assist with creating custom digital images for your publication, including line drawings, image stitching, maps, and diagram creation.

Note: Resolution is a relative value. Image resolution and image size are inversely proportional. Knowing the output or print size required by the publisher will help assess whether your images are up to publication quality. We recommend reviewing image size in Adobe Photoshop. Their Image Size tool allows you to explore what size images can be printed at different resolutions by unchecking the “Resample” button. Downsampling (ie, making an image smaller) is acceptable, but we do not recommend upsampling (ie, adding arbitrary pixels to make an image larger). 

For use in a PDF, we typically look for at least 1500 pixels on the long edge of the image at at least 72 ppi. If you have access to Adobe Photoshop, this can be checked under Image Size, otherwise if you have the image saved to your computer you can find the dimensions under “Get Info” or “Properties.”

Add Your Images to LUNA

If the images you’re publishing are relevant to future teaching and research, but aren’t yet well-represented in the departmental image collection, we welcome the opportunity to collaborate and we invite you to contribute your images to the Art History Department Image Collection in our LUNA database. If you’re interested in pursuing this collaboration, we can embargo the images for up to 5 years before making them available in LUNA if you would like.