Seattle Central Creative Academy, part of Seattle Central Community College, offers a six-quarter Commercial Photography Program that allows students to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree. Senior faculty member Alejandro Tomás talked about the program.
For more information about Seattle Central Creative Academy, and to see photos and videos of the campus and student projects, visit the school's profile.
PhotoVideoEDU: What is distinctive about your program?
Alejandro Tomás: We prepare students for careers as professional image-makers by attempting to provide a graduate education at an associate degree level. Our curriculum is in a continual state of revision and is divided into thirds: 1/3 technical skill building, critical thinking, and problem solving; 1/3 personal voice and creative thinking; and 1/3 the development of professional business practices. We place a strong emphasis on individual attention within a highly collaborative learning environment. Faculty set one goal for this rigorous program, and that is to provide the absolute best photographic education in the country.
As defined by our program, the term "commercial" encompasses all forms of photography. We place no limits on which professional direction students choose to pursue. Each student is simply and continually asked one overarching question: "Given your choices, how will you successfully support yourself?" Students are exposed to real-world problem solving and receive critical feedback from outside working professionals. They graduate with marketable portfolios, a Web presence, and business and marketing plans, so that they’re prepared to succeed in an ever-changing and competitive profession.
We require students to purchase about $12,000 of personal equipment when they begin the program. We feel that’s necessary for them to pursue a career. Many schools don’t require students to own anything and supply them with a lot of equipment to use. But when they graduate and lack equipment, how are they supposed to enter into their own independent business? When they come out of our program, they have both a degree and the gear that they need to work, in addition to an understanding of the business. It’s the smoothest transition from school into the working world. We tell our students that the goal is for them to be working within six months. We just did a survey of the last class to graduate, and they’re 70% employed.
PhotoVideoEDU: What kinds of students does the program attract?
Alejandro Tomás: The program only accepts 32 students once a year and seeks only the most committed and dedicated future professionals.
We begin by informing all who express interest of both the harsh realities of the profession and the intense demands required by the program. For example, we tell prospective students that as freelance photographers they can expect to spend 80% to 90% of their time and energy on business and 10% to 20% on actual image making. According to surveys by the national trade organizations and publications like Photo District News, they will compete with 30,000 graduates of national photography programs every year and their chances for success are minimal at best. Deadlines in the program, as in the field, are taken very seriously. If students are one second late at the start of critique, their work receives a failing grade, no matter how exceptional.
The prospective student who remains undeterred and is willing to spend the initial $12,000 on personal photographic equipment by the first week, as well as an additional $1500 to $2000 a quarter in materials and supplies, is most welcome. Even with these costs, which are in addition to tuition, we tend to draw students who cannot afford more expensive educational options.
PhotoVideoEDU: What kind of campus does your school have, and what is student life like?
Alejandro Tomás: Our campus is in an urban setting and is non-residential. Students have access to the campus health club and two inexpensive gourmet restaurants run by the college’s Seattle Culinary Academy.
Students can expect to spend 10 to 14 hours a day, five to seven days a week completing their assignments. Within each graduating class, we’ve seen students form strong bonds that continue long after graduation.
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have required courses or final requirements?
Alejandro Tomás: Yes, all 32 of the students who enter each year take the same courses together and graduate together. They get to experience the range of photography in our series of classes, including product, fashion, journalistic, portrait, and wedding. That experience helps them to understand what they’re most qualified for and interested in pursuing. They also take electives from the school’s general program.
Students are required to create a minimum of two portfolios, promotional materials, and an online presence through websites, blogs, and social media. They have to learn pre- and post-production procedures, image archiving, and digital imaging and CMS workflows. They’re also required to graduate with business and marketing plans, a business license and tax ID number, business insurance, and trade organization membership.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students do internships?
Alejandro Tomás: Yes, an internship experience is required for graduation and can be fulfilled at any time during the two years. It’s usually a mix of paid and unpaid internships. We require them to be formally set up, with learning objectives that are agreed upon by the mentor and the student. It can’t be just a filing job or running for coffee. There has to be something that the student is gaining from it, educationally. Students are expected to set internships up and seek them out, but we have a lot of contacts here and across the country.
Our students also complete a quarter-long service learning project in their second year. They develop and execute an advertising campaign for a non-profit organization in the greater Seattle area.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do you hold special events for photography students?
Alejandro Tomás: We frequently play host to educational events sponsored by the local chapters of ASMP and AIGA, as well as seminars sponsored by some of the major manufacturers and distributors of camera equipment, including PhotoVideoEDU, Canon, Adobe, etc.
Each spring, Commercial Photography Program faculty and students move the entire program to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula for a week, to finalize their individual portfolios for the graduate portfolio show. You can watch documentary videos of the two most recent Port Townsend Shootouts.
Our Crewdson Light project also takes place each spring. First-year students collaborate to execute a single image, attempting to achieve the high level of production values commonly found in the artistic imagery of Gregory Crewdson. You can view documentary videos of the two most recent Crewdson Lite shoots.
PhotoVideoEDU: Do your students get opportunities to show their work?
Alejandro Tomás: The highlight of every school year is the June graduate portfolio show.
One month prior to graduation, Glazer’s Camera Supply sponsors a portfolio review for second-year students. Industry professionals review each student’s portfolio, score it, and provide written feedback. The winning portfolios receive a scholarship from Glazer’s.
PhotoVideoEDU: What areas do graduates of your program go on to work in as professionals?
Students also present their portfolios to a group of professionals—including media buyers, art directors, and photographers—right before graduation. Those professionals sit down with each student for 15 minutes. I consider that their final exam.
Alejandro Tomás: Our graduates have gone on to work for Amazon.com's studio, Nordstrom.com's studio, RR Donnelly's Iridio studio, Studio3, REI's studio, Getty Images, Microsoft/Corbis Images, Boeing, Blend Images, and Starbucks, to name a few. We have growing numbers of graduates working in L.A., New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. You can view some work by recent graduates on our website.
PhotoVideoEDU: Could you name a few distinguished graduates?
- Ryan McVay, former Senior Staff Photographer, Getty Images
- Steve Miller
- Ken DeJarlais, Director of Photography, Boeing Commercial Airplanes (retired)
- Tom Frohlich, Amazon.com Photo Studio Manager
- Josh Courtney, Chairman, VODA Brands, former Director of Photography, Nordstrom
- Jonathan Ross, Co-Owner, Blend Images and CEO, Spaces Images
- Amy Andersen Ross, Co-Founder and President, Spaces Images
PhotoVideoEDU: Does the program have any important new developments on the horizon?
Alejandro Tomás: In addition to the traditional forms of image presentation and distribution, the program is experiencing an increase in the number of student video and multimedia productions, as well as e-pub presentations such as iPad folios, one-off digital books, magazines, and magazine blogs.
We expect an increase in the number of interdisciplinary projects created by teams that include students from other programs in the Seattle Central Creative Academy. We’re in the beginning stages of expanding the number and diversity of course offerings in collaboration with other SCCA programs. Our long-term goal is to develop a three- or four-year course of study.