Photography AS/A Level

Course Outline

The course is made up of six units, three of which are taken in Year 12, and the other three in Year 13. The unit titles run as follows:

AS Level

Unit One – Thematic Enquiry - This is the first unit on the course, which focuses on “A Sense of Place”. After selecting a place you explore this area, and using the influence of other photographers, you produce a coursework file to support your final piece.

At the very beginning of this unit you will also learn how to use an SLR camera, how to develop your own black and white films and how to work in the darkroom. In my opinion, this is the hardest unit because everything is new!

Unit Two – Expressive Study - The topic for this unit is “Expressive Portraiture”. Like the previous unit, artist influences are very important and again, you produce a coursework file and final piece. Unlike unit one, however, you have already learnt the basics, so more time can be spent experimenting with different processes such as burning negatives or photographing movement.

Unit Three – Externally set assignment - Unit three is the AS exam unit. Preparatory work is produced in a work journal again, but the final piece is produced under exam conditions (8 hours). The time limit on producing the final piece is the hardest part of this unit, because you have to estimate how long each image will take depending on the number of processes involved. The worst part was not being able to talk to anyone in the darkroom!

A2 Level

Unit Four – Contextual Study - In this unit, you chose your own topic area. This could be anything – music photography, digital photography, portraiture or the study of an artist, which are some from my class. Unlike the other units, your work journal is your final piece. This means it gets fat and heavy.

Unit Five – Problem Solving - You identify your own problem and find a way to solve it. Our problem was given as a class; we had to work with the Fire and Rescue Service to design a campaign to reduce the number of hoax calls. In order to create successful photographs, this involved trips to various fire stations and setting fire to an assortment of objects!

Unit Six – Independent Study - Again, this final unit is your exam piece. This time you have 12 hours in which to complete the work.

About Photography

Photography is much more than taking nice photographs. It involves and develops analytical skills, experimental skills and evaluative skills, good organisation and the generation of ideas.

In Unit One, you learn the very basic skills; how to work a camera, how to work in the darkroom, and you start to experiment with different elements of photography, such as composition, expressing your ideas, creating mood, which you develop as the course continues.

The A2 course provides much more freedom than the AS. You can identify your own subject areas, which means you can pick something you are passionate about, and this makes the course more enjoyable


Obviously, there is the darkroom, which has six black and white enlarger units available. Students are able to develop their own black and white film, as taught in Unit One.

Besides the darkroom, students have access to the computer bay, which includes a scanner, and both black and white colour printing, and the art department in general. This incorporates the reference library which has many specialist photography books on artists, techniques and art movements.


Mr Wilson is head of photography at Theale, and students are also taught by other art department staff; Mr Hook and Mr Battrick. Corinne Purcell is the photographer in residence. She is invaluable and most of us couldn’t cope without her help, which ranges from detailed technical advice to sorting out stupid problems like not being able to get the film on a spool.

The Best Bits

Personally, I really enjoy the photography course, and my interest grew greatly over the AS year. The worst part of the course is the not-so-interesting file work, and most boring of all: sticking things in folders.

David Kirkhope – Year 13 says “The best bit is the practical side. The staff knowledge of the subject is really good.”

Rachel Hoke – Year 13 says “Photography is hard but rewarding.”

After Sixth Form

Photography teaches you many different skills, and these can be applied to several different subjects – I found my photography knowledge helped with my film studies AS course.

Many students go on to take an Art Foundation course or on to university. Photography could lead to careers in photo-journalism, fine art photography, digital photography, advertising, design and many other arts based subjects.

By Jade Hanley

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