MA Documentary Photography

This degree is based (online) and at USW’s purpose-built campus, in the creative centre of Cardiff.

The University of South Wales is world-renowned for the study of Documentary Photography and our students and alumni are extremely well regarded within the photographic community: winning awards, exhibitions, and book publishing deals. With a focus on real-world engagement with social and political issues, this distinctive (online and on campus) MA offers an exploratory and lively engagement with the subject. It is characterised by an expansive understanding of photography, as well as its more traditional documentary forms, it encompasses networked imagery, data, archival material, audio, and moving image.
You will study online with the option of having a facilities access pathway, on campus at the University of South Wales. There will also be optional masterclasses delivered both on campus in Wales and internationally with our professional partners. Peer-to-peer learning and networking will form an important component of the course. 

You will be taught by experts in the field of photography and engage with international visiting speakers and our cohort of scholars undertaking PhDs in photography as part of our European Centre for Documentary Research (ECDR). 
The aim is to develop a strong, expansive and sustainable documentary practice that unites rigorous critical thinking with a body of work that you can confidently exhibit and publish. The MA will provide a strong foundation for developing a career as an independent documentary practitioner within the photographic industry. 
This course places an emphasis on the philosophical and theoretical implications of photography, as we believe it is important to contextualise practice and enable clear communication to a variety of audiences. 

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Study Mode
Duration Start Date Campus Campus Code
Part-time 2 Years September Online 8
Study Mode
Duration Start Date Campus Campus Code
Part-time 2 Years September Online 8

The MA in Documentary Photography has a long-sustained reputation for innovation and has established a highly distinctive approach towards its teaching, research and professional practice.  The new programme will be the first course that offers an online programme alongside access to printing facilities, processing of film, scanning and access to our expert technicians.    

The new two-year online programme, with optional on-campus and national and international masterclasses, will provide flexibility for students, depending on their requirements, ability to travel and proximity to the campus. The desire for remote learning is indicative of the way in which contemporary documentary photography students wish to study and engage with experts in the field. This philosophy supports the contemporary student and alleviates certain barriers around postgraduate study.  The new programme will provide the highest education at a universally commensurate price point, beyond the boundaries of race, class, sexuality, gender or ability to travel.    

The programme will reflect the shift in documentary practices with the incorporation of student engagement with networked media and post-digital cultures alongside, archival material, audio, and moving images. This will reflect the philosophy and interests of the teaching staff and support the production of portfolios that engage with complex narratives that utilise wide-ranging material and are disseminated utilising a broad range of online and material environments. 

The new MA Documentary Photography course will continue to challenge students to explore definitions of Documentary Photography and to develop a strong, expansive, and sustainable documentary practice that unites a diverse range of imagery from multiple sources, alongside rigorous critical thinking and real-world engagement with social and political issues. 

Study online. No need to relocate, take a career break or apply for a visa. Study alongside and network with other students from around the world. All assessments are taken and submitted online and assessed by our world-class academics. 

Access to facilities optional course cost. This will be of benefit for ‘Home ‘students and will include access to the library facilities, printing facilities, processing of film, scanning and access to our expert technicians. 

Biannual masterclasses. During the duration of the course, there will be optional opportunities at residential workshops with lecturers, fellow students and industry specialists, held either at Cardiff or other International locations. (subject to student numbers) 


Reviewing Practice 20 credits. During this introductory module, students will explore distinct areas of documentary photography while reviewing and reflecting on their own and fellow students’ work in progress. The module will start with a series of online technical induction and equipment use tutorials. This will take place alongside a series of demonstrations and workshops by industry specialists working professionally within the field of documentary practices. In addition, there will be lectures and presentations that will address introductory themes of documentary practices.    

Researching Practice 20 credits. This module seeks to explore, discuss, and debate ideas, issues and practices connected to the histories and theories of documentary practices and works alongside the Reviewing Practice Module. Students will also have a series of lectures by specialists introducing them to research methodologies. Completion of a literature review and development of a proposal for a major project.  

Defining Practice 20 credits. During this second module students will start the process of defining their practice with a focus on collaborative practice and ethical community engagement. Understanding how to negotiate, propose, develop, contextualise, create and evaluate projects alongside the production of the beginnings of a body of work. Submission will be a development folder and a ‘work in progress' portfolio.  

Research Contexts 20 credits. An understanding of the history and theory of photography is pivotal to postgraduate studies as is the ability of students to contextualise their work. This module will facilitate that process by exposing the student to a broad range of material delivered by industry and academic experts from a diverse area of photographic and artistic environments. In addition, the module will encourage authority when evaluating and critically assessing others’ artifacts relevant to that practice and deepen the grasp of the intellectual concerns that propel their practice. 

Positioning Practice 40 credits. During this module, students will continue with their major projects alongside learning the importance of positioning their practice. Students will be exposed to platforms utilized for the dissemination of projects and learn additional application skills with a focus on moving image and Web Doc production. In addition, students will consolidate their research through a presentation that will situate their work within the broad field of documentary practices.  

Professional Contexts 20 credits.  Students are required to develop an understanding of business practice pertinent to their own practice. A report of interviews and independent industry research will form the structure of the module focusing on networking and business practice, including interviews with and or case studies upon relevant practitioners, writers, or curators. In addition, students will present their findings.  

Critical Text 20 credits. This module addresses the key issues and ideas raised by that practice.  The final written text should articulate the student’s ideas with confidence and authority. The module requires students to identify a representative practice or practices (Case Studies) that connect with and inform their own core interests. Through identification and consideration of these practices, students will examine the central questions of site, audience, institution, and authorship. 

The Realised Document 20 credits. A submission of specified material prepared by the student during the course that realises their projects. The module will concentrate on the realisation of an individual project/s for assessment at the end of the module and explore the potential outcome of practical work in relation to audience, site and distributional form.


Students will be taught via a range of university-taught modules. During this period you will learn the professional skills required to become a professional practitioner. 
Alongside the modules you will undertake workshops with industry experts in moving image, culminating in the production of a short film, Webdoc development and the production of a publication of your own work. 


Initially you will be assessed through the production of experimental work-in progress, with fully resolved work expected in later modules. Alongside your work you will be asked to develop a perspective through written texts, placing your work in its photographic and social context. 


Lisa Barnard, Associate Professor and MA Documentary Programme Leader

For an informal chat about this course:

Professor Mark Durden

David Barnes, Senior Lecturer

Eileen Little, Senior Lecturer

We regularly revalidate courses for quality assurance and enhancement

At USW, we regularly review our courses in response to changing patterns of employment and skills demand to ensure we offer learning designed to reflect today’s student needs and tomorrow’s employer demands.

If during a review process course content is significantly changed, we’ll write to inform you and talk you through the changes for the coming year. But whatever the outcome, we aim to equip our students with the skillset and the mindset to succeed whatever tomorrow may bring. Your future, future-proofed.

Qualifications and experience

Normally an Honours degree in a related subject is required. However, if you have solid professional industry experience rather than academic achievement, this may be acceptable for entry to study at this level through a process called Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL).

Portfolio requirements

Please provide evidence of a website or any other form of digital portfolio within your application. We are looking for an engagement with documentary photography or photojournalism with a particular focus on series of images rather than individual photographs. The portfolio should evidence your interests in documentary photography or photojournalism and demonstrate your desire to study Documentary Photography at Masters level at The University of South Wales.

English language requirements

The course welcomes international applicants and requires an English level of IELTS 6.0 with a minimum of 5.5 in each component or equivalent.

However, if you have previously studied through the medium of English, IELTS might not be required, but please visit the country specific page on our international website for exact details. 

For students not at this level, a range of intensive English courses recognised by UKBA are available at the university. These must be completed prior to entry on the award.

More information on our intensive English courses.

Full-time fees are per year. Part-time fees are per 20 credits. Once enrolled, the fee will remain at the same rate throughout the duration of your study on this course.

August 2024 - July 2025 Fees


August 2025 - July 2026 Fees


Student Perks

At the University of South Wales, you’re investing in so much more than a degree. We strive to provide our students with the best possible experience, no matter what you chose to study. Whether it’s access to top of the range mac books and PCs, state-of-the-art facilities packed with industry-leading equipment and software, masterclasses and events led by industry experts, or a wide range of clubs and societies to meet likeminded people, better tomorrows start with extra perks.

Each course also has their own unique student benefits to prepare you for the real word, and details of these can be found on our course pages. From global field trips, integrated work experience and free course-related resources, to funded initiatives, projects working with real employers, and opportunities for extra qualifications and accreditations - at USW your future, is future-proofed.

Click here to learn more about student perks at USW.

Additional Costs

As a student of USW, you’ll have access to lots of free resources to support your study and learning, such as textbooks, publications, online journals, laptops, and plenty of remote-access resources. Whilst in most cases these resources are more than sufficient in supporting you with completing your course, additional costs, both obligatory and optional, may be required or requested for the likes of travel, memberships, experience days, stationery, printing, or equipment.

* Obligatory

Item Cost
Access to On-campus Equipment £1500
To allow students based in the UK to access/borrow equipment based at the Atrium we recommend these students pay this annual fee via the USW Online Store - your course leader will provide more details of how to do this at the start of your course.
Masterclasses £400
During the duration of the course, there will be optional opportunities at residential workshops with lecturers, fellow students and industry specialists, held either at Cardiff or other International locations. (subject to student numbers)


Funding to help pay for (or cover) course tuition fees and living costs

Whilst you’re studying, you’ll have two main financial obligations – tuition fees and living costs. There’s lots of financial help available from the University of South Wales and external funding sources, that may provide loans (which have to be paid back) and grants, scholarships and bursaries (that don't).

To learn about course fees, funding options, and to see if you are eligible for financial support, visit our Fees and Funding pages.


USW Postgraduate 20% Alumni Discount 2023/24

The University of South Wales is offering a 20% reduction in tuition fees for all University of South Wales* graduates starting a taught/online*** MA,MSc, LLM,MBA or DBA course from September 2023 (this includes students starting a course in January/February 2024). T's and Cs apply. Click here for more details and eligibility criteria: USW Postgraduate Alumni Discount 2023/24

Please apply through the appropriate USW channels with a portfolio of images that best represent your practice. Ideally these should be formed into a coherent body of work. All applicants are interviewed. However, as places are limited it is advised that you apply early to ensure that you have the best chance in securing a position on the course. 

USW's documentary photography masters is particularly popular among those wishing to pursue a career in documentary production and research, photographic exhibition, publishing, teaching or journalism.

Recent graduates have regularly exhibited their work and several now teach in higher education. A number are also undertaking PhD study.

The documentary photography course has an eminent list of alumni now working within the photographic industry, including freelance photographers and those who have set up their own businesses.

Graduates can also progress to a PhD or research degree.

Our Careers and Employability Service

As a USW student, you will have access to advice from the Careers and Employability Service throughout your studies and after you graduate.