Photography is a somewhat new discipline in the academic world, grouped within the discipline of Art. Everyone is familiar with photography in their everyday lives, but the study of photography is a whole other animal. The University of Colorado Denver has photography listed as one of its majors (catalog.ucdenver.edu), though it is not a topic you can study in every university. It is not unlike the other disciplines in that it has an efficient structuring seen in the Major study that is available at UCD where you can earn your Bachelors in the field taking courses studying light, technique and the necessary technology used in photography. (catalog.ucdenver.edu). The discipline is different from others in that it is also an Art form. This puts it into the category of disciplines you could teach yourself or have natural talents that you are born with. So, the pursuit of photography in academia comes with its own unique characteristics.
Photography by definition means to write with light, or light writing and is under the umbrella of the discipline of Art as a Visual Art. Photography is different from most fine arts not only in its visual aspect but that it is based in reality. This is best described by Amar and Isabelle Guillen Feb 24, 2017, in an online journal at www.guillenphoto.com who wrote that “The photographer uses developmental techniques which will produce a work that is an interpretation of reality at the exact time of shooting” and that “photography remains an interpretation of a real scene, with techniques of development. The aim is to accentuate certain elements to create emotions or provoke feelings”. This brings us to understand the two major forms of photography that encompass all the genres you see today and what you study in the discipline, realistic and artistic photography (Guillen, 2017). Realistic photography is unmanipulated reality shot to inform the audience of the subject, whereas artistic photography is the photographer’s interpretation of reality and not necessarily shot for anyone specific. “Both approaches are rooted in reality. The scenes that are photographed truly exist. The big difference is that one is an interpretation, a perspective, of the real world while the other gives an exact picture of what happened at a given moment” (Guillen, 2017). To study such things, like any discipline, you first examine the history.
The history of photography has vastly changed from its birth in 1826 (University of Texas, Harry Ransom Center, www.hrc.utexas.edu) to its modern-day digital era that is continuously progressing with the technology of the day. To study the history, you would consider the great photographers, such as Ansel Adams and Richard Avedon. Doing this, you might notice that most of these individuals did not have any academic training in the field. This is because they revolutionized the field to be more than a hobby in their time. Film photography is almost a part of history at this point and is a prerequisite to all of the photography classes at UCD (catalog.ucdenver.edu). Learning to work in the darkroom is very much about learning the process to develop prints, but it is also about learning how light affects the final product.
Light writing takes a particular set of skills taught over a culmination of classes starting with the introductory course and following through to the end of the major. To start out, you will learn the basics of light metering, reflections/refractions of light and Kelvin temperatures (as with my experience in the Photography Program at Colorado Mountain College). This gives the student understanding of how to capture the best lighting and when the most optimal lighting opportunities occur during the day. It is also paramount to creating light in the studio or another controlled environment. Light is not everything that is important in creating a good image. The other Major attribute that contributes to the creation of the photograph is how you compose your image, otherwise known as perspective.
Perspective and technique are taught through classes including Image Capture, Perception and Photography, and Contemporary Photographic Practices, to name a few (Colorado Mountain College Photography Program at coloradomtn.edu). The rule of thirds which is placing your focal point in one-third of the image is the first and foremost concept that is taught to make more eye-pleasing images that have a strong visual hierarchy. This Youtube video explains the idea and how to apply it, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpEuYp4_iSg (skip to 0:59 to start). Technique applies to photography in many ways, one of which is how you apply what you have learned while you shoot and another is how you print and edit that image.
Print and editing entail knowing your tools, and one of those is the software used to edit an image and printing that image. Classes like Color Management for Digital Photography and Computer Literacy for Professional Photographers (CMC, www.coloradomtn.edu) teach everything from Photoshop and Lightroom to editing for print and other mediums. Editing is where you choose the photograph that tells the story most thoroughly or alter the image to provoke emotion. What is learned in the editing software is how to use the program to achieve those desired results. Because photography is an art form, every student will come out with different results even when given the same information to work with, something that is unique to this discipline as compared to others. This 17-minute video is a perfect example of this, where four photographers shoot the same model producing entirely different results https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWelR5naP84. In this video, each photographer is shooting with slightly different cameras. Equipment is essential in photography and is another tool that is of utmost importance, such that one cannot be a photographer without it. This term equipment or tools is not limited to cameras but also includes lighting gear, lenses, and all things that modify your image during the shoot. In the academic world and the actual discipline of photography, this is something you learn in every class as you progress in your knowledge of shooting. Because we are living in a digital age that is on an exponential rate of growth, keeping up with current equipment is something that the student has to take upon themselves and which may alter the outcome of the knowledge acquired. This trait is unique to an art form that has a symbiotic relationship with technology.
In that Photography is such an art form, it creates an interesting dynamic of its own that differentiates it from other disciplines in academia and possesses a unique bundle of knowledge. A bit of keeping up with the times in technology and studying the basics like the history and light of the discipline will produce a well-rounded student that is capable of success in the field. The one thing that stands out most from other disciplines is that with any art form, talent arguably, cannot be purely learned. On the other hand, Photography, because it is an art form, generally attracts artists. Which brings it all back to why the discipline is not yet in every university? Simply put, the degree is not necessary for most fields of photography and can be learned elsewhere. The appeal to the academic side of photography is that the student has access to equipment, such as a darkroom or lighting studio and, of course, the professors with their abundance of knowledge and expertise. It can make the difference from a modest career to something of the standards of Anne Liebowitz who studied photography at the San Francisco Art Institute (Wikipedia). With that being said, photography is an ever changing, ever evolving, and steadily growing field of study in the academic world today that involves so much more than your everyday snapshot.
Amar and Isabelle Guillen www.guillenphoto.com
Colorado Mountain College https://coloradomtn.edu/programs/professional-photography/curriculum/
University of Colorado Denver http://catalog.ucdenver.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=19&poid=4929
University of Texas, Harry Ransom Center, www.hrc.utexas.edu
Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Leibovitz YouTube