What can you do with a documentary photography degree?

From photo-journalism to documentary filmmaking, cinematography to photography, degrees that fall under the Media Arts banner like Documentary Photography can lead you down an array of interesting career paths. You could even end up making a real difference, by drawing awareness to a cause or inspiring others.  

Remember Super Size Me? The 2004 documentary film served up a public nutrition debate that has since been picked up by the likes of Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama, and saw McDonald’s remove the ‘super size’ option from its menu within six weeks of it hitting cinemas.

That’s the kind of impact that documentaries can have, and the kind of agenda-setting films that Plymouth’s department of Media Arts hopes that graduates of its Documentary Photography degree will produce.  

Top-of-the-range equipment and facilities (including a cinema) and a course remit that allows students the opportunity to scout out their own interests means that a host of untold stories will be brought to the screen. Students will learn everything from basic camera operating to filming two self-directed pieces in the final year, finishing up with their own online portfolio. Budding filmmakers also have the chance to collaborate with experienced documentarians – a benefit of the faculty’s links with the BBC, ITV and the Royal Television Society.  

Meet three University of Plymouth graduates whose careers are taking off:

Danny Cooke

As a freelance cameraman, Danny has been to some of the earth’s more desolate places. His 2014 film Postcards from Pripyat recorded the haunting landscape around the Chernobyl nuclear explosion site. Danny used a camera mounted in a drone to show the area from the air for the very first time. It had seven million views on Vimeo in its first week and was shown on US TV channel CBS.

“The beauty of being a filmmaker is that each client and job is a different experience and requires a unique approach, all of which test my skills and passions whilst practising a craft that I love.” he says.

Alex Nicol

Alex was nominated for a national award by the Royal Television Society, thanks to his in-depth look at the legal wranglings over river access in the UK. Its titles Wars on the Moors goes some way to hint how much more dramatic the topic is that it might at first seem.

The nomination built on his success winning a regional award, at which he commented: “During my time at University of Plymouth I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom and ability to express myself through different mediums...Winning this award has made me reflect on how much time and energy was spent in the creation of the documentary.”

Sian Davey

Documentary comes in many shapes and forms – not just film. Sian Davey’s moving book Looking for Alice is a photographic record of Sian’s daughter who suffers with Downs Syndrome. The book starts when Alice is a year old and covers three years of her development in quiet, intimate moments. It garnered Sian success in the New York Photo Awards and the Lens Culture Emerging Talents Award. She was also named Best Emerging Photographer at the Pingyao International Photography Festival.

"The level of praise for my book has taken me completely by surprise, but my development as a photographer has largely been down to the quality of teaching at Plymouth,” she says.