BA (Hons) Documentary Photography

BA (Hons) Documentary Photography


Since it was established by Magnum photographer David Hurn in 1973, BA Documentary Photography has become one of the leading documentary photography and photojournalism courses in the world.

Our students have a passion for social issues storytelling in all its forms. We closely mentor you to work on topics that you are passionate about; to produce powerful and visually distinctive photography. Our assignments immerse you in the worlds of fine print and photobooks, exhibition production, digital storytelling for web, documentary filmmaking and much more.

Our students and alumni are celebrated within the photographic industry: working as photojournalists for the world’s most prestigious news agencies including Associated Press, magazines like The New York Times, National Geographic and Time Magazine; winning awards, exhibitions, and publishing photobooks. Recently, Lua Ribera gained a Magnum agency nomination (the only course in Europe to achieve this), Tobias Zielony represented Germany at the Venice Biennale and in the Deutsche Boerse award, Jack Latham won the Bar Tur Photobook award, Sam Laughlin was a winner in the Jerwood/Photoworks Award and Leo Maguire won a Grierson Trust award for documentary film.

BA Documentary Photography is part of a pathway in documentary at USW including MA Documentary Photography and The European Centre for Documentary Photography for PhD and post doc.

USW has a history of 100 years of photography, and nearly 50 years of teaching Documentary Photography. We have been collecting photography books since 1973 and have one of the largest specialist library collections in documentary/ photojournalism in Europe at your disposal as well as a extensive, specialist department with full digital and analogue faculties.

Typical A-Level Offer
CCC to exclude General Studies (this is equivalent to 96 UCAS tariff points).

Typical Welsh BACC Offer
Pass the Advanced Welsh Baccalaureate Diploma with Grade C in the Skills Challenge Certificate and CC at A Level to exclude General Studies (this is equivalent to 96 UCAS tariff points).

Typical BTEC Offer
BTEC Extended Diploma Merit Merit Merit (this is equivalent to 96 UCAS tariff points).

Typical Access to HE Offer
Pass the Access to HE Diploma with a minimum of 96 UCAS tariff points

Additional Requirements
GCSEs: The University normally requires a minimum 5 GCSEs including Mathematics/Numeracy and English at Grade C or Grade 4 or above, or their equivalent, but consideration is given to individual circumstances.

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Entry Requirements

Contextual offers

We may make you a lower offer based on a range of factors, including your background (where you live and the school or college that you attended for example), your experiences and individual circumstances (as a care leaver, for example). This is referred to as a contextual offer and we receive data from UCAS to support us in making these decisions. USW prides itself on its student experience and we support our students to achieve their goals and become a successful graduate. This approach helps us to support students who have the potential to succeed and who may have faced barriers that make it more difficult to access university. Here is a link to our Contextual Admissions Policy.

Other qualifications and experience

We can also consider combinations of qualifications and other qualifications not listed here may also be acceptable. We can sometimes consider credits achieved at other universities and your work/life experience through an assessment of prior learning. This may be for year one entry, or advanced entry to year two or three of a course where this is possible.

To find out which qualifications have tariff points, please refer to the UCAS tariff calculator.

If you need more help or information or would like to speak to our friendly admissions team, please contact us here


You’ll be closely supported to become a professional documentary photographer/ photojournalist by staff with extensive industry experience. You’ll be mentored to research subjects that really interest you and have the opportunity to experiment with a full range of technical processes including high-end digital and analogue cameras, scanners and large format printers in our bespoke department.

We specialise in ‘long form’ documentary photography which gives you scope to work on ideas you are passionate about over extended periods. Live projects and workshops include collaboration with internationally active visiting experts, curators, commissioning editors and photobook publishers/ designers. We host networking events and trips to directly connect you to the industry. Unlike many courses, our modules are completely focused on documentary, to give you scope to explore all aspects of this exciting genre. We are completely focused on you, via small-class interaction and individual support of your journey through the course. The final year of the course is seen as a professional year and many students will travel internationally to produce portfolios during this time. You’ll produce one or two ambitious bodies of work in the final year and respond to a live professional brief to prepare you for the photographic industry.

Year 1 – Documentary Photography degree

What is Documentary?

This module explores what documentary/ photojournalism can be today- giving a chance to experiment with some of the exciting ways in which photographers can explore the world. You might be surprised by what documentary can be. The module is accompanied by technical training in a range of equipment to start your journey with confidence in software processes and workflows, the amazing range of cameras and other facilities we have, beginning to experiment with using flash lighting and printing your images. Alongside this, we will run special events and collaborative projects so you can get to know other students and go on exciting field trips to explore the world of photography together. Your contact with visiting experts starts here as you are immersed in the professional world from day one.

Photographer as Observer

This module develops your training further to begin to research topics and gain access to stories you care about. Beginning to learn how to deal with your subject matter ethically and legally from photographers with experience of doing just that. Being a great photographer involves creating images with creativity clarity and impact, and you will practice with achieving this, whilst learning to select the best images from your shoots to set you apart. You will have opportunity to engage with social topics of your choice within this carefully structured, short assignment.

The Narrative

This module is an extended 12-week project in immersive documentary storytelling, which gives you the chance to bring together your skills and passions from the first modules to go into depth with your ideas. You are given freedom to work with whatever topic and approach you want, and students engage with a wide range of topics, from classic magazine picture stories to craft-based landscape stories in black and white to everything in-between. Alongside this your training continues in range of skills in research, planning and getting access, and you learn strategies to tell stories in ways that are original and exciting. You learn to shoot and fine print analogue and digital of various formats and experiment with our extensive range of cameras from media stores, as well as learning the skills of sequencing, editing and structuring long-form documentary stories / photo-essays.  

Digital Storytelling

This module gives you opportunity to engage with short form digital storytelling on a subject of your choice. You gain training in moving image, sound recording, interview skills, video production, and editing using industry standard kit taught by experts. You can choose to experiment with a wide range of styles, from journalistic documentary reporting to avant-garde documentary film as reflects your own passions and use amazing equipment from our media stores.

Documentary Themes

This module looks at some of the most exciting and important photographers in the world, and why they have had such an impact. It introduces some of the major debates that have shaped the development of photography, including the challenges posed to the medium by the rapid development of digital technology, examining the parallel histories of photography as document and art, and its role in exciting photobooks and gallery shows. Students are encouraged to think carefully about the complex range of ideas behind this work; and about the issues including audience and ethics. Alongside this, you are supported to research photographers and ideas really interests you- this involves accessing our world-leading library collection of documentary and photojournalism as well as a specially curated electronic database.

Documentary Contexts

This module builds on your research skills to explore the wide world of documentary ideas in all its forms. Amongst other topics, it considers the role of documentary in social change and advocacy, and its potential to represent the urgent issues and ideas of our time. Photography’s potential to speak about race, the environmental crisis and gender are considered, as well as more niche world of documentary in photobooks, moving image, and in digital worlds.

Year 2 – Documentary Photography degree

Framing documentary (exhibition production)*

This is a major module exploring production of documentary for exhibitions with impact. You work on a topic of your own in whatever process you choose (analogue, digital, moving or still image). You are mentored to consider challenging existing forms and approaches to documentary and to forge your own distinctive path as a contemporary photographer. As a group of students, you are mentored to produce a full exhibition (including ultra large format fine-print and installation) and to fabricate and install in a community venue off campus. You will be taught skills of exhibition design and fabrication and have access to our workshops and industrial fabrication machines, tools and experts. You will learn to promote and market your work to engage your intended audience. You can use any method of exhibition you choose (inside or outside!) including incorporating moving image or sound installation. The exhibition opens to the public with a special event attended by all three years of the course, staff, family and friends and the public. You learn technical skills in advanced location lighting for interior and exterior with our professional lighting battery kits and be able to experiment with both medium format digital (Fuji 6X7) and large format film cameras.  

Documentary and the Publication (photobook production)

This is our full on ‘photobook’ module. You will work to produce work on a topic of your choice to develop your own professional project for a photobook dummy or maquette. You build your storytelling skills to tell innovative and original stories on topics with meaning, and you learn to design, sequence, scale and sequence your images for publication. You engage with the photobook industry and explore a range of publications and publishers. You also learn the specialist skills to print, construct, mount and bind books using a range of experimental methods which helps your book stand out and find an audience. Some of the photobooks produced on this module have subsequently gone into commercial production.  

Documentary Industries

This module focusses on the varied professional practices of Documentary Photography. It considers the changing roles of documentary within a wide-ranging industry, and the emerging forms of storytelling possible within the digital world. The module requires the student to research and deliver a detailed Case Study of an aspect of professional practice that interests them and might represent a future career path. The Case Study will examine the link between the working methods of the photographer, how the work has been published or otherwise disseminated, and importantly, how it has been received by viewers. Social and ethical issues of engagement with the subject, and the nature of institutions in commissioning are be considered. Areas of study will respond to the student’s own interests, but can include long-form documentary commissioning, photojournalism, multimedia, photo-book production, visual anthropology, documentary, film etc. 

Research for Practice and Dissertation

The module deepens your understanding of the readings and critical theories that have previously been studied, and connects these to how students make, describe and rationalise their own practice. The module links theories from photography, fashion, film, art and advertising through a programme of lectures and seminars. As such, it is both a preparation and planning for final year studies and also lays the theoretical foundations for their final year major project. Lectures, seminars and readings will introduce the student to a range of different approaches to the study of photography and how it connects to practice and wider visual culture. Key texts by important writers in each area will be examined and placed in a historical and cultural context. Students will be asked to select a particular field of enquiry for further exploration and undertake a close examination of that field, looking at a range of sources: this will involve the use of the library, database searches and the internet. 

*25% of this module can be studied in Welsh

Year 3 – Documentary Photography degree

Negotiated Practices

This is a module in two short parts; firstly, a short unit on a professional assignment / live brief to develop your ability to in originate, access and produce a project in a set timeframe. The ability to do this is key to your employability as a photographer. How you do this and the topic you choose is up to you, and responds to the area of the industry you are most interested in. You will be supported to craft and perfect a meaningful and visually striking small project and enabled to immerse yourself completely in it! Part 2 of the module is completely open to your own interpretation, and by now you will have experienced the full range of possibilities of documentary, so we support you to begin to spread your wings and look towards that big idea you have been waiting to develop. This module can lead through into the next module (Project Portfolio Development) to become an even more extended project. Many students will undertake some travel at this point and we will be flexible to allow this in an organised and structured way to achieve your goals. You can work with the full range of facilities and equipment you have experienced and been trained in on the course.

Project Portfolio Development (final portfolio production)

This is our full industry preparation and portfolio production module. The world is your oyster here and the work made here will be showcased in our graduation events, exhibitions and / or publication. Global or local issues or idea, a more personal lyrical issues of identity or passion project. The module reflects the true range of ideas and identities of documentary today and again, you can work with the full range of facilities and equipment you have experienced and been trained in on the course.  

Preparation for Industry*

This module encourages the student to research areas of practice that are pertinent to them and facilitates a detailed understanding of the fundamental aspects of business practice that complements the making of the work. This is an outward facing module that expands the foundations of business practice, creative strategies, marketing and distribution networks that are key to the photographer working today. The student will gain an understanding of the aspects of central business workflow that are integral to a sustained professional practice. The rationale for this module has, at its core, the ambition for students to take forward the sophisticated and refined practical work that they achieve in wider modules and deploy knowledge gained in this module when establishing their position within the creative field. The module will be built on a series of lectures, seminars and practical workshops that consolidate aspects of creative workflows that are fundamental to the organisational structure of the contemporary practitioner. The student will carry out industry-based research on an area that they feel pertinent to their own professional development and, through research, site visits or onsite experience, prepare a case study that offers a significant contribution to their understanding of the aspect of the industry that they aspire to. 

Critical Paper

This module provides the opportunity for students to evaluate and critique the contexts of documentary that are most pertinent to the interests engaged in own their practical work. The text should draw upon skills developed in earlier contextual modules. You are going to be dependent on a range of strategies to move through the transition phase as emerging professionals, and the process of applications for funding, project presentations to clients and submissions for developmental support are all key areas in which a critical authority over contexts and ideas is paramount. This module focuses on the production of a text that will articulate a critical positioning of documentary, and present a consideration of applicable philosophical, formal, contextual, and ideological issues. The text should interrogate issues of authorship, audience, and reception, as well as specific contexts of institutions of commissioning, publication, and distribution. The text will address issues specific to documentary but should also draw in wider social and cultural questions, as appropriate. The production of the text should involve substantial research that indicates new knowledge and scholarship appropriate to final year study at undergraduate level.

*25% of this module can be studied in Welsh


Throughout the Documentary Photography course you will be assessed on practice-based modules, supplemented by self-reflective and context-based analysis. You will receive clear and detailed feedback that will help you reflect on, and develop your strengths.

This is supported by individual tutorials, seminars and workshops around business practice and professional skills.



The comprehensive photographic facilities include:

  • Open access facilities open late, 7 days a week

  • Industry leading analogue black and white and colour darkrooms (dry to dry and fibre-based all formats)

  • Bespoke digital photography suites equipped with colour corrected Mac workstations, and multiple virtual drum scanners (Hasselblad)

  • Colour negative film processing service

  • Large format digital inkjet fine print facilities (up to 60”)

  • Photobook making equipment, cutters, presses, binding etc

  • Craft fabrication workshops, cutting, mounting, 3d printing etc

  • Comprehensive range of equipment loans via our dedicated media stores, including a large range of latest pro cameras (including digital medium format 6×7 ), mobile battery-powered lighting rigs.

  • Small, medium and large format analogue cameras and a full range of lenses, tripods and associated equipment

  • Bookable photo studios with convenient, flexible access

  • HD video cameras, audio recorders, stabilisation and prime lenses

  • Industry-standard photography, design and video editing software Adobe Suite free to all students, on and off-campus

  • Bookable Mac laptops to loan

  • One of the biggest specialist photobook libraries in Europe (collecting since 1973!)

Additional Costs

As a student of USW, you’ll have access to lots of free resources to support your study and learning, such as textbooks, publications, online journals, laptops, and plenty of remote-access resources. Whilst in most cases these resources are more than sufficient in supporting you with completing your course, additional costs, both obligatory and optional, may be required or requested for the likes of travel, memberships, experience days, stationery, printing, or equipment.


Graduates from the Documentary Photography course work in diverse areas, as commissioned photojournalists, working regularly for many of the world’s leading magazines, or as photographic artists, publishing and exhibiting at international galleries such as Tate Modern and participating in events including the Venice Biennale. They also work as picture editors and researchers, working for magazines like GQ and institutions such as the National Portrait Gallery. Graduates can also progress to a PhD or research degree.

Our Careers and Employability Service
As a USW student, you will have access to advice from the Careers and Employability Service throughout your studies and after you graduate.

This includes: one-to-one appointments from faculty based Career Advisers, in person, over the phone or even on Skype and through email via the “Ask a Question” service. We also have extensive online resources for help with considering your career options and presenting yourself well to employers. Resources include psychometric tests, career assessments, a CV builder, interview simulator and application help. Our employer database has over 2,000 registered employers targeting USW students, you can receive weekly email alerts for jobs.

Our Careers service has dedicated teams: A central work experience team to help you find relevant placements; an employability development team which includes an employability programme called Grad Edge; and an Enterprise team focused on new business ideas and entrepreneurship.


Full time

Complete your degree in the shortest possible time and study flexibly – when and where suits you!


You’ll study 9 modules in total (approx. 37 hrs/week).

Part time option one

Study for a degree whilst fitting it around your work, care and other life commitments.


You’ll study 6 modules per year (approx. 25 hrs/week).

Part time option two

Take time to study and spread the tuition fees over a longer period – at no extra cost.


You’ll study 4–5 modules per year (approx. 19 hrs/week).

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