The Pennsylvania State University

School of Visual Arts



The Photography major has a fine arts focus and offers an articulated introduction to the breadth and depth of photography as a medium of creative and critical cultural production. The B.F.A. (Photography), and the B.Des. in Professional Photography are parallel majors offer complementary courses that explore technical and creative components of photography, and also provide courses that offer different purposes and procedures of photography as issues-based and client-based art practices.

The Photography program is designed to equip students with a range of conceptual and technical skills and knowledge that will enable them to create photographic works of art that contribute to contemporary issues in cultural production. The sequential curriculum is organized around core objectives varied concepts that are explored and applied in response to personal artistic interests. Strategies used for evaluating the quality of portfolios follow well-accepted criteria. These includes how well students acquire and apply photographic competencies, how well students solve image-making problems, how well students apply innovative thinking to the process of making photographs, how effectively students apply risk taking such as going beyond the original assignments parameters or tackling controversial ideas, and how effectively they synthesize or transform ideas into new unexpected photographs.

The main strengths of the Photography program lie in three areas, students, faculty and curriculum. All three areas intersect. Since photography and photographic imaging are components of many disciplines across the arts and sciences, photography classes tend to attract diverse type of students with wide ranges of interest. Our faculty also represents diverse interests and expertise from fine art photography, documentary, technical and commercial image making modes. We have designed our curriculum to take advantage of the strength of the diversity by offering four degree types to accommodate the range of approached to making and studying photography.

A particular strength of Photography lies in the treatment of various forms of photography we teach as having fine art characteristics. This approach is consistent with photographic history where commercial and fine art approaches to photography often intersect.

Professional Photography

Virtually all online and printed media now rely on photography for visual communication and aesthetic content. The creation and use of photographic images has increased exponentially since the development of digital photography in the mid 1990s and students in many disciplines will ultimately use photographic images in their academic and professional careers. Advanced camera and software technology has made taking and editing photographs substantially easier and the quality achieved among practitioners has dramatically increased. However, since photography is a medium heavily influenced by craft, culture, and style, access to digital technology alone cannot give photographers the image-making edge necessary for their photography to stand out.

The Program in Professional Photography addresses this reality by strengthening technical, creative, and intellectual competencies and capabilities so students in a broad range of disciplines can identify and create professional quality images for photographic applications in a wide variety of disciplines and careers.

A pedagogical goal of the degree is to challenge students to take ownership of their learning, which is one of the key features of the educational mission expressed in SoVA’s Strategic Plan (2014-2019) and our assessment policy. A series of enabling goals and actions bring teaching and learning into a constant mix with students being expected to be active partners in charting one’s productivity and progress. The commitment to valuing imagination and creativity as human resources and individual capabilities embraces the belief that visual arts and design teaching and learning has the capacity to increase individual professional agency.

Many students from other Colleges show a profound interest and aptitude for photography. The introduction of a degree in Professional Photography is a direct response to student/parent interest in the professional aspect of photography.

Much time and energy has been dedicated to envisioning, addressing and the implementing a range of photographic technologies as the medium has redefined itself with the advent of digital image making. The photo area employs a digital print facility equipped with current professional level printers along with software to ensure the highest quality printing.