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BFA | 4-year program

Photography majors are taught to explore and examine the social, cultural and historical contexts in which they are making new work as a means of underscoring the cultural continuum of the medium. Through close observation and guided discussions, students learn to "read" images in order to develop the visual literacy needed to articulate ideas and make meaningful work.

Learning outcomes

The program enables students to engage with, interpret and represent the world in meaningful ways. Graduates are prepared to:

  • state and achieve individual goals for their work
  • deliver technically proficient work
  • develop a cohesive body of work
  • speak and write about their work with a high degree of clarity
  • contextualize their work in contemporary practice

Inspiring community

Just over 30 undergraduates work in close proximity with roughly 15 graduate students, who share certain darkrooms and workspaces but have dedicated studios in a separate building. Between crits, informal discussions and rotating exhibitions at the department's Red Eye Gallery, students find abundant opportunities to share ideas and talk with each other about their work. A wide range of photographers with totally different approaches and styles come to campus each semester through the popular T.C. Colley Lecture Series, whileProfessional Practice electives offer exposure to photographers working for commercial studios and photo agencies.

Learning environment

While many of the technical and conceptual skills taught at RISD are applicable to fields such as advertising, fashion and editorial photography, professors emphasize a fine arts approach in order to educate students for a rich, lifelong engagement with the medium. In addition, Photography majors benefit from a popular internship program that provides contacts with potential employers and grants elective credits for on-the-job experience.

Curriculum

In the first year of the program, students explore the history of photography – from its 19th-century beginning through contemporary manifestations – and learn the fundamentals, focusing on film-based media, camera formats, darkroom techniques, exposure and development controls, lighting basics, image and film scanning, and more. Juniors move on to more advanced techniques in digital printing, lighting, web projects, video and other production methods, while pursuing self-directed projects and strengthening the ability to articulate ideas verbally. In addition to completing a final Degree Project, seniors exhibit in on-campus galleries and hone professional practices and portfolio presentation skills.

Foundation year

Fall
Drawing I
Design I
Spatial Dynamics I
First-year Literature Seminar
Theory and History of Art and Design I: Global Modernisms
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Drawing II
Design II
Spatial Dynamics II
Topics in History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences
Theory and History of Art and Design II: Premodern Worlds

Sophomore

Fall
Sophomore Studio
Histories of Photography I
Digital Foundation
Liberal Arts elective
Non-major studio elective
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Sophomore Studio
Histories of Photography II
Seminar: the Genius of Photography
Photography elective
Liberal Arts elective

Junior

Fall
Digital Photography
Junior Studio
Photography electives
Liberal Arts elective
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Junior Studio
Photography elective
Liberal Arts electives

Senior

Fall
Senior Studio
Photography electives
Liberal Arts elective
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Degree Project
Photography elective

Degree project

Seniors create a definitive body of work and write a final thesis that addresses the aesthetic, theoretical and technical aspects of the work.

Application requirements

  1. Common Application

    You’ll begin and manage your RISD application process by completing the Common Application. There is a non-refundable application fee of $60 to use this service; eligible students may apply for a fee waiver.

  2. Academic transcripts

    Applicants must provide official transcripts of all secondary academic work through the most recent grading period. Your counselor may submit your transcript through the Common Application, Parchment, email or mail. If your academic credentials are not written in English, they must be translated into English by an approved translator prior to submission.

  3. Tests and Test-Optional

    Test-Optional, SAT and ACT

    Beginning with students applying for entrance in 2020, RISD is offering citizens or permanent residents of the United States the ability to be reviewed without submitting results from the SAT or ACT. Students who qualify may opt into this process by selecting this option within the RISD section of the Common Application. Students who hold citizenship from all other countries, as well as students who are homeschooled, are still required to submit test results from the SAT or ACT exams.

    For students who choose to submit test scores, RISD will superscore your results, looking at your highest outcome across multiple test dates. Subject tests are not required.

    RISD’s institution code number for the SAT is 3726; for ACT the code number is 003812.

    English language proficiency tests

    All applicants who speak English as a second language, including US citizens, must submit results from any one of these three options: TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or Duolingo (an online English test). Since proficiency in English is a prerequisite for acceptance, applicants must attain an acceptable score on their chosen test; RISD requires a minimum result of 93 on the TOEFL or a 6.5 on the IELTS.

    Duolingo is changing its scoring system beginning with tests completed on July 15, 2019 and beyond. If you took this test prior to the change, we require a minimum result of 63. Applicants who completed the Duolingo test on or after July 15, 2019 must achieve a minimum score of 115, which is the equivalent of 63 in their prior scoring system.

    Plan to take the TOEFL or IELTS well in advance of the application deadline since it may take three weeks for your scores to be sent to RISD by the test agency. Duolingo test results may take up to four days to be received by RISD.

    The language test requirement may be waived for applicants who have studied in an institution where English is the language of instruction. You must contact the Admissions Office to explain your school history and determine if you are eligible.

  4. Portfolio

    Your portfolio should present 12–20 examples of your most recent work that showcases your thinking and making. You will upload your portfolio in SlideRoom through the Common Application, where you will begin the application process.

    Your selected work should reflect a full range of your ideas, curiosity, experimentation and experience in creating and making. This can include work in any medium, in finished or sketch form, and can be the result of an assigned project or a self-directed exploration.

    We strongly recommend that you include some examples that involve drawing from direct observation (rather than from imagination or a photograph). Drawing is a fundamental tool for visual makers from initial concept to execution, so it is valuable for reviewers to see examples of your experience with and approach to drawing.

    While the majority of your portfolio should feature finished pieces, we suggest including some research or preparatory work in up to three—but no more than three—portfolio selections. This helps reviewers better understand how you develop your ideas.

    Finally, we strongly discourage including excessive visual elements and text descriptions in a single slide submission. These are difficult to view and are likely to exceed the allowed file limit. Additional angles or detail shots of some works can either be submitted as an individual image or video upload, or you can upload a composite including up to three images. Editing is an important part of curating your portfolio. You may need to devise creative solutions to best show your work within the limits of submission guidelines.

    Our recommended file formats are: jpeg, png, gif, mp4 and mov. These formats are most compatible with SlideRoom. Google Drive or zipped files are not recommended formats for sharing your artwork.

  5. The Assignment

    In addition to submitting your portfolio, all applicants must respond to the following assignment (your response to which will be uploaded in a specific section of SlideRoom dedicated to the assignment):

    Begin by observing a phenomenon or choosing an object in the natural world. Create a visual reaction to this object or phenomenon. You may use any medium and work at any scale. Document this work and upload it as your first response.

    Then, make a transformation to or modification of your first response. We encourage you to impose no limits to the potential nature or scale of the alteration to your first solution. Document this altered work and upload it as your second response.

  6. Writing sample

    Submit one example of your writing, up to 650 words. Remember, this is the limit, not a goal. Use the full limit if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so.

    You will find the writing prompts in the Personal Essay section of the Common Application.

    While we encourage you to adhere to the rules of good writing, we look for applicants who are not afraid to take risks in their expression. Please don't hesitate to use a writing style or method that may be outside the mainstream as you express a distinctive personal position in the samples you submit.

  7. Letter(s) of recommendation

    Although not required, these letters can be very helpful to your application. One letter is suggested, although as many as three may be submitted. Recommendation letters should be written by teachers or other professionals who have firsthand knowledge of your art or academic achievements and can comment on your potential as a student.

    Please use the Common Application to invite your recommendation writers to submit letters through that service. Letters may also be sent directly to our mailing address (see below) or emailed to admissions@risd.edu.