Documentary photography

Course Dates: 16/01/20 - 05/03/20
Time: 18:00 - 21:00
Location: PS - Photography Studio
Armelle Skatulski

Intrigued by documentary photography and the stories it can tell? Get immersed in this fascinating visual tradition, exploring its theory and history, the messages it can convey and the impact it can have. Learn about the technical choices involved, debate issues of truth and objectivity, then develop documentary skills yourself, working on short and longer-term projects leading to an exciting and varied portfolio.

See what you could create – view a selection of work made on our photography courses



What is the course about?

This course introduces the genre of documentary photography, covering its fascinating theory and history and encouraging image analysis and discussions while working towards your own practical documentary project. You will learn about different visual languages in documentary photography and how they convey messages, and consider the issues of objectivity and truth. You will get to understand the impact and potential of documenting the world around us, and delivering this as a story to a public. You will work on short-term and long-term projects, leading to an exciting and varied portfolio of work.

What previous students have loved about the course:
“I liked the discussion in class, the brainstorming sessions and also the varied examples out tutor was bringing into class every session.”
“The way the teacher remained focused on the type of photography (here: docu) although many diversions could have intervened.”
“The quality of teaching was excellent, I found the discussions useful and receiving feedback on my work very useful too.”
“The viewing of other documentary projects and in-class review of work.”


What will we cover?

– Documentary photography and communicating through images: the tradition of the photo-essay; contemporary creative storytelling and new media
– Objective and subjective dimensions of documentary photography
– Technical choices, expressive impact and truth; the language of natural light; compositional choices
– Achieving historical perspectives in documentary photography
– Analysis of contemporary documentary practice
– The social function of documentary, from social reform to campaigning
– Distinguishing in-depth story and the news image
– Practical, ethical and legal issues
– Editing and digital workflows
– Platforms for publishing, exhibiting and showcasing your photographic documentary work.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

- achieve better photographs with great expressive value through control of camera settings, composition and lighting
- produce several thoughtful, themed projects that can work as a portfolio
- apply effective storytelling techniques inspired by traditional and contemporary documentary genres in a creative and critical manner
- use traditional formats or new technology for presentation and distribution.

What students have achieved on their Documentary photography course run in 2014/15:
“Wide overview of documentary photography and a closer eye on technical/editorial/process of the field. Appreciation and critical insight into variety of photographers work.” CW
“I have significantly improved my understanding of what constitutes documentary photography. I have learnt a lot about documentary photography theory and had the opportunity to put things into practice.” CH
“I have learnt about putting together a story through images, editing and using text.”
“I can see more clearly how a documentary project can be done, what the concerns are in relation to subject matter and production of it.” CA
“A much broader assessment of what is required/ or how much input I must make – to a docu project, before, during and after. “ SB


What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

The course is not highly technical - it focuses more on the development of content and ideas. However you do need to understand how to use ISO, aperture, shutter speed, white balance and how to change these on your digital SLR, bridge or film camera (i.e. not a point-and-shoot camera). You must have manual functions on your camera (i.e. be able to change the aperture and shutter speed settings). It is ideal for those who have completed our Beginner's Photography: Stage 1' course, or anyone of an equivalent level.
You will need to be able to follow simple written and verbal instructions, demonstrations, hand-outs and health and safety information, and be prepared to take part in group discussion. You should be happy using numbers and able to do simple measurements and calculations.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

You will be taught via illustrated lectures, workshops and group and individual projects. Regular individual practical projects will also be realised outside the class. While demonstrations and illustrated lectures will guide, advice and teach you, you will benefit from a positive group dynamic where you can share your images and ideas in a supportive environment.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

Please bring your camera if you have one; if you don't Build has cameras and equipment you can borrow during the hours of the class. You will be expected to cover the costs of the materials you use in your project work.

If you would like to buy art materials for your personal use outside of the course, Build students receive 10% discount off everything* from Cass Art, the UK's leading art supplies retailer. Your tutor will advise you on what you should buy. You will need to show your enrolment receipt in-store to receive your discount. Visit the Charing Cross shop at 13 Charing Cross Road WC2H 0EP or find your local shop at *Terms and conditions apply, visit

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Build runs over 70 different practical and theoretical photography courses, from wedding and wildlife photography to darkroom processing and digital printing. Browse the website or prospectus to get inspired.

General information and advice on courses at Build is available from the Student Centre and Library on Monday to Friday from 12:00 – 19:00.
See the course guide for term dates and further details


Customer Reviews 3 item(s)

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Reviews below are by students who have attended this course, regardless of the course teacher. Please be aware you may not be booking onto a course with the same teacher.

Highly recommend. I've developed my observation skills and the way of thinking about projects.
Course Rating
Review by Anonymous / (Posted on 15/04/2019)
It was a great experience and I wish it wasn't over yet!
Course Rating
Review by Anonymous / (Posted on 13/04/2019)
Go for it!
Course Rating
Review by V / (Posted on 12/04/2019)
Tutor Biographies
We’re sorry. We don’t have a bio ready for the tutor of this class at the moment, but we’re working on it! Watch this space.

Book your place

Course Code: VY602

Thu, eve, 16 Jan - 05 Mar '20

Duration: 8 sessions (over 8 weeks)

Full fee: £249.00
Senior fee: £249.00
Concession: £152.00

Or call to enrol: 222-66-889-99

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Any questions? [email protected]
or call 020 7492 2700/2703

Please note: we offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. For more information visit our online Help Center. You can also visit the Information, Advice and Guidance drop-in service, open from 12 – 6.45, Monday to Friday.