Academy of Art University Prepares Photo Students for the Real World

August 6, 2012

By Jacqui Palumbo

© Academy of Art University

In the heart of San Francisco, Academy of Art University is the hub of learning for over 18,000 art and design students. Rising from modest beginnings in the rented loft of founder Richard S. Stephens, Academy of Art University is now the largest private school of art and design in the country offering degree programs in 19 areas of study, as well as continuing art education, pre-college programs and teacher grants. Students are provided the tools to become successful emerging artists and offered a flexible curriculum in the form of on site and online courses to achieve an accredited AA, BA, BFA, MA, MFA, or M.Arch degree in the field of their choice.

Academy of Art University’s School of Photography strives to foster both creativity and an understanding of business practices through the curriculum and resources. Marketing representative Jennifer Nelson explains, “The Academy created a curriculum that mimics the real world working environment.” Instructors are professionals in the industry, teaching from their valuable and extensive knowledge of the field.

Students range from young, promising photographers to established photographers returning to school to continue their education. With no foundation courses required, incoming students can choose courses based on their prior knowledge and experience.

© Connie Yawen Gao- School of Photography MFA

The School of Photography offers the standard courses necessary to understand the photographic medium including Black & White Darkroom, Digital Photography and Digital Printing as well as courses tailored for careers in editorial, fashion, documentary, fine art, advertising photography and more. One of the most popular courses on campus is Location Lighting, where students gain hands-on experiences working with models and stylists on location with available and artificial light. Students learn how to create a “studio” look while away from the studio with techniques that allow them to do the most with the least amount of equipment while on location.

Students are also taught how to turn their talent into a thriving business with courses such as Business Practices & Principles for Photographers (MFA level) which allows students to build upon practices and standards within the photography industry, touching on many aspects of the trade as a whole. The BFA level course The Business of Photography covers accounting, legal issues, copyrights and image usage, estimating jobs, permits, hiring employees and more. There are also courses on marketing and Web site design to teach students the best way to present themselves and their work to clients and a wider industry audience.

Facilities on site include 14 studios, MFA darkrooms, BFA intermediate and upper-division darkrooms, digital printing lab and an equipment rental cage. The largest studio is subdivided with six movable still-life shooting bays, a large cyclorama capable of full-figure, large-group shoots and large-production and car-shooting capabilities. The digital labs provide a professional-level facility in the area of photo digital imaging and portfolio production and imaging, scanning and printing rooms.

By the end of their time at Academy of Art University, students have a strong, personal portfolio and skills to assimilate into the working world. Internships are offered every semester and are open to qualified upper-division students with opportunities in photography-related fields. Students develop their own voice and aesthetic and are encouraged to take risks. “Cookie-cutter portfolios serve no real purpose. Graduating students’ portfolios are unique and speak to their personal vision and style,” explains Nelson.

Left: © Bonnie Mills- School of Photography BFA
© Alexandra Brown- School of Photography BFA

Every semester, the University fosters lucrative artists in a variety of fields. Leaders like MFA graduate Mark Chien, who was already a successful photographer in Taiwan, attended the Academy to further his education and improve his craft. Now an instructor himself, he shares his expertise with the University’s international students. Editorial photographers like Academy alumna Lisa Wiseman, have been honored with multiple awards and distinctions including PDN 30 in 2009 and shoots for clients like Wired, Newsweek, Marie Claire, and NYLONGuys. Social activists like Indonesian-based Academy alum Peter Tjahjadi, who photographed black & white portraits of Indonesian-celebrities for !Voice, a group of Jakarta-based professionals who raise awareness on social issues and encourage the public to get involved. Academy of Art University follows the careers of their graduates and post their stories to their Web site to show the influence and success of their students.

In the fall, the University will offer new courses in Alternative Digital Printing, Self as Subject, and Group Directed Studies in Alternative Practices and Advanced Photoshop. New courses are added every semester as Academy of Art University continues to expand to accommodate the always-evolving standards and technology in photography. Nelson says, “The School of Photography is constantly updating our course content to keep up with industry trends.”

For more information on The School of Photography at Academy of Art University, visit or call 800.544.2787.