A level Photography

What is the course about?

Photography is about learning to look. It is about noticing “the marvellous in the everyday” and communicating your unique vision with others. Photography means “drawing with light” and is as much a creative process as a technical one. It is about looking, learning, thinking and exploring ideas, using photographic techniques and skills to create images which make a personal statement about things or issues which concern or inspire them. The most exciting aspect of photography is that you are capturing the world as you see it.

Course Overview

We offer the AQA “Photography” specification which offers pupils the freedom to explore a wide range of ideas through the development of camera skills, photographic techniques, media and processes. As well as learning to use digital editing software, particularly Lightroom and Photoshop, pupils will also be expected to develop a personal sketchbook or visual diary to document their work. Pupils will explore relevant images, artefacts and other contextual resources to develop critical and analytical skills to broaden their knowledge and understanding of the of different photographic styles, genres and traditions. Teaching and learning takes place within small groups, supported by one-to one guidance. This allows pupils to discover their own strengths and explore and develop ideas of particular personal interest.

Component 1: Personal Investigation: 60% of A level

(An extended practical exploration of a theme or idea supported by a 1-3,000 word written element.

Component 2: Externally Set Assignment: 40% of A level

(An extended practical project culminating in 15 hours of work conducted under supervised examination conditions)

Work must fulfil the requirements of the four Assessment Objectives:

  • AO1: Develop ideas through investigations, demonstrating critical understanding of sources.
  • AO2: Refine work by exploring ideas, selecting and experimenting with appropriate media, materials, techniques and processes.
  • AO3: Record ideas, observations and insights relevant to intentions as work progresses.
  • AO4: Present a personal and meaningful response that realises intentions and demonstrates understanding of visual language.

Aims of the course

Pupils will be encouraged to develop

  • intellectual, imaginative, creative and intuitive powers
  • investigative, analytical, experimental, practical, technical and expressive skills, aesthetic understanding and critical judgement
  • independence of mind in relation to developing their own ideas, refining their own intentions and personal outcomes
  • an interest in, enthusiasm for, and enjoyment of art, craft and design
  • the experience of working with a broad range of media, including traditional and new media technologies
  • an understanding of the inter-relationships between art, craft and design processes and an awareness of the contexts in which they operate
  • experience of working within relevant and real frameworks and, where appropriate, make links to the creative industries
  • knowledge, understanding and application of art, craft, design and media and technologies in contemporary and past societies and cultures
  • an awareness of different roles, functions and audiences and consumers of art, craft and design practice

Course Structure

Students are required to work in one or more area(s) of Photography, such as those listed below. They may explore overlapping areas and combinations of areas

  • portraiture
  • landscape photography (working from the urban, rural and/or coastal environment)
  • still life photography (working from objects or from the natural world)
  • documentary photography, photojournalism
  • fashion photography
  • experimental imagery
  • photographic installation

Lower Sixth

Term 1

  • Introduction to basic camera skills: aperture, ISO, shutter speed
  • Introduction to the Visual Elements: Texture, Tone, Composition, Lighting etc

Term 2

  • Introduction to Adobe Suite Software for digital editing and manipulation. (LightRoom and Photoshop)
  • Responding to the Photographic Genres: Documentary, Fashion, Portrait, Landscape, Still Life, Experimental Photography
  • Responding to the Assessment Objectives through own practice.

Term 3

  • Contextual studies and response. Written analysis.
  • Introduction to the Personal Investigation. Pupils begin A level course.

Upper Sixth

  • Term 1: Pupils will focus on the development of the Personal Investigation on a theme, idea or concept of their choice. It will normally take the form of contextual and personal research, experimental photoshoots, image editing and manipulation and ambitious, resolved final responses. The written element complements the practical work and is completed alongside it
  • Terms 2-3: Pupils receive the examination paper on February 1st and choose one question to explore and develop into an extended practical investigation. Research and experimentation, exploration and planning takes place during lessons with teacher support. The final 15 hours are completed under supervision.

Skills needed

  • Level 6 in GCSE Art or DT.
  • In the absence of this, a portfolio of images, demonstrating a pupil’s interest and skills in Photography may be considered.

Pupils need to demonstrate

  • An enthusiasm and interest in the visual arts
  • A positive, can-do approach
  • A willingness to experiment and explore materials and techniques, learning from mistakes
  • Determination, resilience and independence of mind
  • Curiosity, imagination and an openness to new ways of doing/ thinking
  • An ability to communicate your own ideas whilst respecting the views of others
  • The ability to analyse and write about images

During the course of study, pupils will be required to demonstrate skills in all of the following:

  • the ability to explore elements of visual language, line, form, colour, pattern and texture in the context of Photography
  • awareness of intended audience or purpose for their chosen area(s) of Photography
  • the ability to respond to an issue, theme, concept or idea, or work to a brief or answer a need in Photography
  • appreciation of viewpoint, composition, aperture, depth of field, shutter speed and movement
  • appropriate use of the camera, film, lenses, filters and lighting for work in their chosen area(s) of Photography
  • understanding of techniques related to the production of photographic images and, where appropriate, presentation and layout.

Where might it lead?

The Cultural and Creative Sectors are some of the UK’s most successful industries. More people work in the creative industries than in the finance and they are one of the UK’s big success stories.

Areas such as Software and Gaming, Publishing, Fashion design, Graphic design Television, Architecture, Film and Digital Media are set to be of central importance to the county’s future economic well-being. Art and Design develops the visual awareness required in this field, as well as the transferrable skills of creativity, innovation, problem-solving, adaptability and resilience which will be required in the jobs market of the 21st Century.

For those pupils who want to take their studies further, we provide guidance and assistance in selecting appropriate courses, putting together strong and relevant portfolios, help with UCAS personal statements and interview practice.

Possible further study and career options:

  • Animation
  • Games Development: Art/ Audio/ Design/Programming/ Animation
  • Digital Media
  • Computing for Games
  • Marine and Natural History Photography
  • Press and Editorial and Fashion Photography
  • Visual Effects
  • Film and Television Production
  • Film and Visual Culture
  • Documentary Photography
  • Graphics with Photography
  • Forensic Photography
  • Medical Photography
  • Teaching
  • Photojournalism
  • Picture Editing

The usual pathway is to apply to an Art Foundation Course where pupils have the opportunity to build up a portfolio which is geared towards the specific course they wish to apply for. Some pupils do apply directly to degree courses and a considerable amount of our pupils have gained places to study the Visual Arts, Architecture, Games Design, Photography, Illustration and Art History at some of the most highly regarded universities and Art Colleges.

If you choose not to continue with your studies, the transferable skills you will gain will still be valuable. Problem-solving, creative thinking, investigation, research, communication and teamwork skills and gain the ability to develop and present ideas. Employers and universities regard all of these very highly.


We organise at least one visit to London per year to visit the major galleries and current exhibitions as well as inviting practising artists to give one-off workshops. We visit local galleries where relevant.


We would recommend that all pupils purchase the publication below at the start of the course: The Beginner’s Photography Guide DK (Dorling Kindersley) £14.99 Amazon

Also useful: Read this if you want to take great photos. Carroll, H. (2014)
The Short Story of Photography-A Pocket Guide to Genres Ian Haydn-Smith (Laurence King Publishing)

The following books are recommendations for further reading from AQA:

  • Understanding a Photograph, Berger, J (2013)
  • New Fashion Photography, Blanks, T (2013) Sloman, P
  • The Photograph: A Visual and Cultural History, Clarke, G (1997)
  • A Complete Guide to Digital Photography, Farrell, I (2011)
  • 20th Century Photography: A complete guide to the greatest artists of the photographic age, Golden, R (2001)
  • Image Makers Image Takers, Jaeger, A - C
  • The Photography Book, Jeffrey, I & Phaidon (2000)
  • Photo 2 (Icons), Koetzle, H M (2002)
  • Story of Photography - For technical skills see Michael Longford’s series of books, Langford, M (1998 edition)
  • The Oxford Companion to Photography, Lenman, R (editor) (2005)
  • Reframing Photography: Theory and Practice, Modrak, Rebekah (2010)
  • A History of Photography from: 1839 to present, Mulligan, T and Wooters, D (2005)
  • The Photo Book History V2, Parr, M and Badger, G (2006)
  • Twentieth Century Colour Photographs, Pénichon, S (2013)
  • Video Art, Rush, M (2003)
  • On Photography, Sontag, S (1979)