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The picture element allows us to define a number of different sources for an image. This can be really useful for things like,

The code

  <source srcset="webP-image.webp" type="image/webp">
  <img src="fallback-image.gif" alt="Alt Text!" style="">

There are 3 main parts to the code


The <source> element is used to give other options to use for the <img> so we need to give some hints to say which image is the best to use. This is done with 3 attributes srcset type and media.


This sets the alternate image src. However as it uses srcset rather than src we can do a little more with it too and include a comma-separated list of image sources with either a width descriptor to define the source image width or a pixel density descriptor for high-DPI screens. <source srcset="image-300.png 300w, image-600.png 600w, image-2x.png 2x">


This defines the image type, in the above example I’m using a webP image. WebP is a great image format, it can do animation and has far better compression than a gif (to be fair the gif format was last updated in 1989 so it’s done well to last this long). However webP is not supported everywhere just yet, so using type="image/webp" we can suggest to switch to this image if it’s supported, otherwise it will fallback to another <source> that is supported or go back to the fallback set in the <img>.

Here is a list of image file types you can reference.


This defines a media condition (similar to a media query), so you could, for example change an image on viewports less than 500px using this code.

  <source srcset="small-logo.png" media="(max-width: 500px)">
  <img src="big-logo.png" alt="Alt Text!" style="">
Dark Mode

But where this is really cool is you can use it for other enhancements, like dark mode.

  <source srcset="dark-img.png" media="(prefers-color-scheme: dark)">
  <img src="light-img.png" alt="Alt Text!" style="">
Reduced Motion

And it’s great for using as an accessibility enhancement for things like reduced motion.

  <source srcset="animation.webp"  type="image/webp" media="(prefers-reduced-motion: no-preference)">
  <source srcset="animation.gif"  type="image/gif" media="(prefers-reduced-motion: no-preference)">
  <img src="static.png" alt="Alt Text!" style="">

In this example if the user has said they don’t mind movement and there is support for webP they will see the animation.webp image. If the user has said they don’t mind movement but there isn’t support for webP they will see the animation.gif image. And if the user has said they don’t want movement (or if <picture> isn’t supported) they will see the static.png image.

Additional support

We can add a little extra support by wrapping our picture element with a span so we can target it.

<span class="picture-fallback">
		<source srcset="source-image.png">
		<img src="fallback-image.png" alt="alt text">

Then adding some CSS to show an alternate image.

  display: inline-block;
span.picture-fallback img{
  opacity: 0;
span.picture-fallback picture img{
  opacity: 1;

Here we set the span to be display: inline-block; and set our new image as a background-image.

We then set the original image to be opacity: 0; I’m using this instead of display:none so we can use the same height and width of the original <img>.

Finally we put the image back if the picture tag is supported span.picture-fallback picture img{opacity: 1;}.

You can wrap that code inside a media query or use some CSS email client targeting to make sure it only applies where you want it to.

<picture> support

The <picture> element doesn’t work everywhere but the fallback to the <img> is solid so I’d say it’s pretty safe to use. If you spot anywhere where the fallback isn’t working, please let me know and I’ll add a note.