SFAI approaches photography as a visual and conceptual tool, a way to construct narrative, and a means to document the world. 

SFAI is home to the first “fine art” photography program in the country, founded by Ansel Adams in 1946. Historical and critical knowledge of photography is brought to bear on contemporary practice, and students are encouraged to utilize technique in the service of their concepts. Issues of installation, scale, materials, presentation, and audience interaction are rigorously considered and questioned. As technology continues to change, Photography at SFAI continues to expand and evolve while still being attentive to traditional, analogue approaches.

The Photography curriculum prepares students to bring a critical understanding to a society that is saturated with cameras and photographic images, and to envision what they—as artists—have to offer such a world.

Past Courses

  • Introduction to Photography and the Darkroom
  • Introduction to Photography as the Digital Medium
  • Documentary Photography: Art and Activism
  • Visual Translations
  • Conversations with Contemporary Photography
  • Sacred & Profane
  • Vernacular Landscape
  • Constructions of Space
  • Digital Printing for the Handmade Book


Our Photography Department’s resources include a 12­ station group darkroom and private darkrooms, all with Saunders and Beseler enlargers to print 35 mm to 4x5 inch negatives; a digital facility, fully color managed with Mac Pro towers; Epson V700 & 10000XL, Nikon 9000, and Hasselblad X5 scanners; a fleet of state-of-the-art Epson inkjet printers to digitally print up to 44” wide; a 30x40 inch UV light exposure unit for historic processes; filtered and temperature controlled water for film processing; a fully equipped lighting studio with a green screen and lighting grid; mat cutting facilities; and a classroom with Intel iMac computers, scanners and Epson printers. Digital and film cameras, including Canon SLRs with HD video capability, 35mm, medium format, and 4x5 cameras, are available to students for checkout.


See a sample four-year academic plan.

Summary of Required Credits

Title Units
Liberal Arts Requirements 33
Studio & General Elective Requirements 72
Art History Requirements 15

Photography Major, Elective + Exhibition Requirements

Title Units
Introduction to Photography 3
Contemporary Tools and Practices 3
Technical Elective 6
Digital Photography I 3
Digital Photography II 3
Conceptual Elective 6
History of Photography II 3
Photo Elective 6
Contemporary Practice 3
Electives in any studio discipline 24
General Electives 9
Senior Review Seminar 3
BFA Exhibition 0

Art History Requirements

Title Units
Global Art History 3
Modernity and Modernism 3
Art Since 1945 3
History of the Major 3
Art History Electives 3


Program Learning Outcomes

  • Students will acquire a comprehensive working knowledge of analog photography, digital photography, and alternative photo-media skills.
  • Students will gain a thorough understanding of photography’s history, theory, and relationship to other media.
  • Students will understand both the aesthetic and instrumental functions of the medium and their relationship to social and cultural issues.
  • Students will develop a cohesive body of work that demonstrates conceptual and aesthetic consistency and a point of view.
  • Students will develop the ability to learn through the critique process and become self-critical.
  • Students will have the ability to articulate how their own work and the work of others functions in related contexts: historical, social, cultural, aesthetic, and psychological.