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School of Land Use and Environmental Change

Using visuals

This depends largely on the nature of the assignment.

For field report assignments, images should be original (produced by the author of the paper).

Photos and maps

Photos and maps obtained from secondary sources are fine, so long as they do not replace those that can and should be produced by the student.

For example, if you are completing a poster on the Geography of Berry Production in the Fraser Valley, you should be using photographs of berry farms that you or a group member on the project has taken, rather than downloading images from a website.

However, for a project on, say, the Asian Carp as an Invasive Species in the Mississippi River, you would be hard pressed to produce an original photo of the carp swimming upriver.

Maps should be included in any research essay or project that explores the geography of a specific location. In fact, just about every research or field assignment in geography will require a map.

Tables, graphs, and charts

Take the time to evaluate if your information can be put into a table or chart. For instance, if you have a lot of detailed information that is presented in the form of statistics or specific identifying detail (such as in plant identification).

You can then refer to the chart when discussing your topic.

Most students know how to download photos and other visuals from the Internet, but don’t know which sites are appropriate.

Not all photos available on Google Images are suitable! They either have watermarks (symbols) laid atop them—compromising quality, or they are more visually interesting than they are informative.


Alternatively, the photo may be taken out of context; find out more about the source of the image. If you are downloading the image, but fail to get the necessary information needed to explain the photo, then you may be using the wrong photo to support your point!

If you need to download photos, try to do so from sites where the photo's location, photographer, and other descriptor information is included. Try to use photos from academic or government sites where you might also be able to obtain additional information.

Tables, graphs, and charts

Be particularly critical of tables, graphs, and charts that are showing trends, statistics, or other types of textual information.

It is very easy for these to be used by private interests to advance an argument, and they may not represent the full spectrum of information, nor do they necessarily present information accurately. For these types of visuals, limit yourself to using academic and government materials.


Photos and other images are often copyrighted. When this is the case, it may be illegal to download the images. While the copyright cops are not going to show up at your door the next day, you should be respectful of the rules of copyright.

When the image is heavily protected — including having the copyright symbol laid atop the image - leave it alone! However, a good many websites are more than happy to make photographs available so long as they are for educational or non-profit use.


Do not take photos of children for inclusion within your paper. If you need to take these, or if you have some already (perhaps of family members?), see the course instructor.


Copyrighted photos—especially those that have the copyrights printed atop the photos—are off-limits.

Using another classmates' photos

Original photography is often part of a class project, such as a field report. If you’ve been asked by an instructor to use photographs you have taken, then you will need to use your own photos and not those of a classmate!

There are exceptions of course, but you should speak with your instructor if you’d like to use another students' images in your paper.

Remember to reference your photos as your own in the figure captions and if you use a photo from a classmate they should also be acknowledged.

Examples of how photos, maps, and other visuals are formatted, please view the Sample Report.

In general, the following rules apply:

  • Images should be located within the body of the paper, and each image should be placed following the discussion of the image within the body of the text. Figures should follow the discussion rather than precede it.
  • If you have a photo series—e.g. six or more photos, you may need to include these on their own page.
  • Large, fold-out images (e.g. 11x17 photocopied images) should be attached as an appendix, and labelled accordingly.
  • Photos (and any other visuals except tables) are called figures and should be numbered sequentially in your paper. Figure captions should be placed below the figure and contain enough details to be stand-alone and not require the reader to refer back to the main text for an explanation.
  • The number and caption must be the same as in the list of figures.
  • For oral presentations, figures should also be labelled.

Table captions must be placed above the appropriate table and include a number and detailed caption. The number and caption must be the same as in the list of tables.

A caption should contain enough information to be ‘stand-alone’ so that the reader does not have to refer to the original text for explanation.

All visuals require that you list your source, even if that source is you!

For papers being cited using Chicago-Style Scientific, you should use the (Author Date) format for captions.

For papers cited using Chicago-Style Humanities, you can choose to use footnotes, but it is often preferable to place the full reference under the photo or above the table. Include the full references for your sources in the reference list or bibliography.

Because many images are downloaded from websites, a common mistake is that a student will provide the web address under the visual.

Web addresses are clunky and are misplaced within the caption of a photo, particularly when they stand alone without other information. Even photos downloaded from websites must be cited using (Author Date) or full citation, as noted in the previous paragraph.

If you are the ‘author’ of the photo, then you can also put “Photo by author, 2008”.

For tables and charts that have been created by the student, the source of the information used for the visual must still be referenced.

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