California MFA Photography Programs

Mar 28, 2019

Students who wish to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Photography in the state of California can choose from several programs that will provide coursework and studio opportunities to allow them to develop their artistic craft.

Students who are seeking extensive hands-on work in photography may consider earning a Master of Fine Arts, or MFA. In California, many programs are available for students seeking this degree.

MFA Photography Programs in California


At UCLA, students can pursue the MFA with a specialization in photography. The program focuses on studio practice, including individual work with faculty members. Courses in critical theory and art history are an important program component as well. Opportunities to explore the other artistic disciplines present in the MFA program are available to students. Extensive equipment is available to students, including enlargers and a 52-inch color processor, and students are assigned individual studios. A graduate exhibition is the highlight of the final year of study. To apply, students should hold an undergraduate degree and submit transcripts demonstrating a 3.0 GPA in the last two years of study as well as the names of three references. A portfolio of up to 20 still images will be reviewed to determine artistic potential.

CalArts School of Art

The MFA in Photography and Media is offered at CalArts School of Art, in Valencia. Students attend seminars focused on history and critical theory, and they also critique classes. All MFA students present an exhibition each year of study, and engage in a faculty review. Students may elect an integrated media concentration if desired. To apply, students may be asked to submit an artist statement, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and an online portfolio of around 20 current images. Those who are successful in the preliminary process will be invited for an on-campus interview.

California College of the Arts

Students can pursue an MFA in Fine Arts focused in photography at the California College of the Arts. The studios for the MFA program are housed in the Dogpatch neighborhood, close to the college's San Francisco campus. Numerous local artistic affiliations, such as with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, can boost students' engagement. In addition, the Larry Sultan Visiting Artist program brings top photographers to campus for critiques and presentations. Applicants will need to provide two recommendations, a resume, and undergraduate transcripts. They should submit a personal essay and portfolio. After a review of these materials, students may be invited for an on-campus or online interview.

New York Film Academy

The New York Film Academy offers the MFA in Photography at its Los Angeles campus. Candidates are required to complete 60 credits of study as well as a thesis designed as a gallery exhibition to be conferred the degree. Students are trained to critique images as well as to compose and develop their own photographic style. Students may also complete coursework in the business element of running a successful photography practice. Tuition costs include a DSLR camera. To apply, students should submit a transcript, narrative statement, recommendation, and portfolio.

California State University - Los Angeles

At Cal State - LA, students can pursue a MFA in Studio Arts with a focus in photography. In the program, students complete 60 units of study and a final project. Each year, students present a strong piece that they have developed with an artist statement, which is installed in the fine arts gallery. Application requirements include a portfolio demonstrating technical competence, an in-person interview, two recommendations, and the submission of transcripts reflecting a 3.0 undergraduate GPA.

Program Description

In most degree programs, students can complete the MFA in two to three years of residency. MFA programs are focused around the studio experience, and students should expect to create an extensive portfolio and body of work. Many opportunities for critiques, both with peers, faculty members, and visiting artists, should be anticipated as well. Read on for some more specific information about courses that those enrolled in an MFA program may take.

Cinema and Moving Images

This course may provide the opportunity for photographers to gain experience using video and other moving images. Students might be exposed to time-based media and installations; and gain experience with cinematography and use of light sources. Projects and exhibitions may provide hands-on practice with these techniques.

Black-and-White Photography

Those pursuing advanced study in photography must develop strong technical skills in black-and-white photographic techniques. A course in black-and-white photography can allow a student to learn about topics including exposure, lighting, films, and development. Students will likely engage in exercises of composing and creating black-and-white images.

Lighting Practices

A course in lighting practices will give prospective photographers understanding of light to the photographic process. They may work to develop technical skills to be used for a range of photographic assignments including tableaus, portraits, outside assignments, and still lifes. Students could also be exposed to the work of photographic artists renowned for their use of light.

Contemporary Art History

In addition to studio courses, MFA students will be exposed to a range of history and theory courses. A course in contemporary art history may provide a survey of recent developments in all areas of fine arts. The artists, their theoretical frameworks, and social and political considerations of contemporary art are potential topics of discussion.

Digital Photography

Professional photographers must be familiar with the techniques used in digital photography. This course may introduce students to formats of digital cameras, as well as how to best utilize these tools to create an artistic vision. Students might also be introduced to computer programs such as Photoshop designed to manipulate digital images.

Earning an MFA can provide exposure to a wide range of courses and studio experiences for artists, allowing them to hone their artistic vision. Those who wish to pursue the MFA in Photography in California have a range of programs from which to choose.

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