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Why you should take the Photography Professional Practice and Academic Portfolio Course

Portrait of a women.
  • Written byHamish Chohan
  • Published date 16 March 2022
Portrait of a women.
Ava Pavlenč, Portrait of a women.

Our Photography Professional Practice And Academic Portfolio Course is a 20 week course, split over 2 terms, that aims to develop your knowledge of photography through the understanding of professional processes and skills, as you build an original and personally tailored photography portfolio. To find out more we spoke with lead tutor, Peter Cattrell, as well as some former students.

Learn more about the Photography Professional Practice And Academic Portfolio Course at Central Saint Martins.

If you're looking to expand your photography practice and improve your technique take a look at our guide on how to improve your photography skills.

Who should take this course?

The course appeals to those in a moment of transition in their lives - perhaps those thinking of changing career, wanting to do something creative for personal growth, or as a help to apply for a BA or MA course in photography, depending on the age of the student, and previous experience. "The course has been a good basis for students to apply and get onto a variety of courses from Photography or Fine Art BA degree or MA courses, depending on their age or past experience," says Peter.

Some students have been working in another career and want to switch to something more creative so take the course to see if the change could be in photography. They use the course to help apply for an MA, particularly if they have done a BA before, perhaps in another subject. As the course only accepts a small group of students, no more than 14, the size of the class also appeals to some younger students who don’t want to be on a foundation course and use the Photography Folio course as a way of helping them to apply to a BA.

Peter enjoys the variety of students who take the course, noting that it's great to see different approaches and perspectives coming together; "I enjoy the variety of students who do the course in terms of nationalities and ages, bringing diverse approaches and experiences to the group."

What sets the Photography Professional Practice and Academic Portfolio Course apart from other courses?

"The main benefits of the course are that students can learn about a range of practical techniques from darkroom to studio and digital software," says Peter. "Students get feedback on variety of projects that they undertake as well as their own self-initiated work. They work towards a final project which they exhibit, which is linked to their own research into critical theory."

The technical workshops really challenge students, and in a time when many learn photography through digital cameras or mobile phones, this course offers a solid practice with traditional analogue photography using pinhole, 35 mm SLR’s, medium and large format cameras. Thorough grounding in techniques are offered in all areas including the ideas behind contemporary practices with a reading list, discussions, an essay on Barthes’ Camera Lucida, individual tutorials and advice. The course also gives students more confidence in talking about their own work and presenting their ideas to a group.

2 portrait photographs. Portraits are layered so 2 faces can be made out.
Nilu Izadi, 2 portrait photographs. Portraits are layered so 2 faces can be made out.

What can students expect to do while on the course?

"An aim of the course is to help students apply research in critical theory and work on projects that are issue based," Peter tells us. "We bring in visiting tutors which is a great way for students to hear top photographers discussing their working methods. It is great to put up the end of course exhibition, have a private view with friends, and see how far the group has progressed during the course."

Students are taught by a series of visiting tutors, each with a vast experience of the creative and commercial world of photography. We visit a studio where photographer, Kasia Wosniak, does her wet collodion process and students are also taught alternative processes such as cyanotypes and liquid emulsion. There are darkroom and studio lighting workshops, which have been very popular and the course culminates in a final exhibition where students can invite family and friends to see their work on the wall and get a final feedback session. Students have commented on how much they enjoy the interaction within the group - seeing how others tackle the same brief in different ways.

What projects do students work on?

There are 4 main projects worked on over 5 weeks each, with time for research and practice, including a final project which is self-directed. The projects challenge how students perceive and think about the photographic process, plus there are several short workshops on different techniques. We start with analogue photography, with film and processing in the darkroom, and the second half is about digital photography including a two day session on Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, scanning, and printing. Students are expected to develop and work on projects in their own time outside of the teaching days.

A women and man walking down a street.
Ava Pavlenč, A women and man walking down a street.

How does this course help students develop or progress?

All students that have completed the course and have applied to a BA or MA course have gained placements, notably at London College of Communication (LCC), London College of Fashion (LCF) and the Royal College of Art (RCA). Students get help with their applications to higher education, including advice on arranging their portfolio and a personal reference.

Student, Ava Pavlenč, went on to study BA (Hons) Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at London College of Communication.

"As soon as I knew I was going to pursue a photography career professionally, my goal was to study in one of the universities in London. Before enrolling to any of the courses I decided I wanted to improve my portfolio and to get a feel of how student life in London was going to be, which is why I joined this course. The course activities really opened my horizons and made me think outside of the box. It made me realise that this new environment gives me much more room to explore, create and evolve as a photographer. Coming to this course was a perfect stepping stone between high school and university. Since then I have continued my education at LCC, studying Photojournalism and Documentary Photography. I have also worked for a few photographers as their assistant and helped curate and design a photography exhibition in Slovenia.

I would highly recommend the Photography Folio course to foreign students as they will get a feel for university life and prepare for any further education in England. I would also recommend this course to anyone who is new to photography and would like to explore a variety of photography techniques and styles. Not only do you learn about technicality, you also learn how to understand and “look” at images - as well as meeting some amazing photographers."

2 photographs. A women sat in a chair. An empty chair tilted.
Ava Pavlenč, 2 photographs. A women sat in a chair. An empty chair tilted.

Student, Nilu Izadi, went on to study MA Photography at London College of Communication.

"I decided to join the Photography Folio course because, as a professional photographer in lifestyle and events, I needed to reinvent my practice and I wanted to continue my fine art photography in a new way. When I started, I wasn’t planning on continuing on to a postgraduate course, but surprisingly I applied to do an MA. I am now studying on the MA Photography course at LCC.

This was an incredibly valuable course and Peter Cattrell is a wonderfully nurturing and supportive tutor. He has designed the course in a marvellous way by bringing in professional practitioners to talk about their work and journey. The projects are both challenging and rewarding and a great deal is accomplished in such a short amount of time. Peter also provided references for students that were applying to further study, which was invaluable."

2 portrait photographs. Portraits are layered so 2 faces can be made out.
Nilu Izadi, 2 portrait photographs. Portraits are layered so 2 faces can be made out.

Tom Hogan found Photography Folio focused and developed his passion for photography, he now works directly with practicing photographers in the industry.

"Before joining the course I was in my last year of university studying a BSc in Computer Science, which I wasn’t enjoying. During my last year of the Computer Science course I got more and more into photography and thought it would be a great thing to do, which is when I came across the Photography Folio course. I had studied A Level photography but that was it. I wanted to build a portfolio and develop my experimentation with studio photography which I had no experience of.

While I was studying on the course I was interning at a company called Management + Artists, working there 5 days a week and attending the course at the weekend. I continued to intern at Management + Artists and I now have a full time job there. This course definitely developed my skills and technical ability. I now work with the photographers, helping with full productions, as well as website management and putting together photography portfolios to show clients. To anyone thinking about joining this course, I would say that it is a good starting point for people wanting to learn different types of photography and to find what they like in the field."

Feeling inspired? Check out our guide on 5 types of photography to master for an overview of the different specialisms you could pursue. You may also be interested in exploring one of our other photography short courses to develop your skills or start building a portfolio.

Take a look at our Photography Professional Practice and Academic Portfolio Course for future dates.

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