institute for documentary studies


salt students develop
into image storytellers

use the tabs below to learn more about our photography program

“SALT IS AN INTENSE PLACE. The experience is baptism by fire and the academic rigor is constant.”

Nelson Chan // former photography instructor

  • What You'll Learn

    In the photo track, students attain an understanding of different visual narrative forms in both a historical context and in current photographic works; refine and extend their ability to read, analyze, and articulate the meanings of photographic images; learn to propose and research a topic, approach a subject, and conduct a photo based documentary project; discuss the ethical questions and topics involved in doing documentary work; discuss how image sequences and series can serve to expand, contain and confound the meaning of photographs; and learn earn the basic tools and software for editing and sequencing image files.

  • What your Salt schedule might look like
    Photography students spend two (very full) days a week in class in addition to weekly individual conference time with instructors. Time outside of class is devoted to researching, exploring story ideas (whether that means checking Craigslist posts, talking to people on the street, or going to a tiny dot on the map to explore), spending time with subjects in the field, shooting, and editing – lots of editing. All in all, Salt is a 24/7 experience for the fifteen weeks you’re here.
  • What's provided + what to bring

    Each Salt student is provided with an iMac desktop computer that has all the software you’ll need to do your photo and new media work. Photography students edit their work in Adobe Lightroom 3 and PhotoShop 6. Please bring a personal hard drive with at least 1 TB of space to save and take your work with you.


    As far as photo gear goes, please follow the guidelines given by your photo instructors. In general we recommend a digital SLR at a prosumer level, fast lenses (aperture = 2.0 or less) or varying length (at least 24-70mm). If your DSLR has HD video capability, even better.


    Photography students receive an audio gear kit complete with audio recorder and accessories for recording any audio interviews in the field. Salt provides one set of new AA batteries for all recorders – after that, students are responsible for providing their own. Salt also has a limited number of lenses, tripods and video/audio gear available for students to check out. However, we encourage you to bring any camera equipment (tripods, lenses etc.) you may have to maximize your options.


    Having a car at Salt is not required, but it makes pursuing stories outside Portland much easier.

  • Curriculum

    Salt photography students take two courses during their time at Salt – their photo track course, and an all-student-body course in writing essentials for professional storytelling.

    The photography course is broken down into two components:


    In consultation with their instructors, students develop their own research topic early in the semester based on their interests and the viability of pursuing the topic in the context of Maine life. Students are expected to uphold the highest standards of ethical behavior with their subjects and to develop a collaborative working relationship with their research partner(s). Students present their field research on a weekly basis and discuss their goals and challenges with fellow students and faculty. The Field Research course is fundamentally integrated with the Advanced Documentary Skills course.


    With Maine as their classroom, students in Salt’s Digital Photography Program will learn the fundamentals of visual storytelling. During the semester, they will build practical skills for fieldwork and collaboration. Students will develop their proficiencies in shooting and editing while working toward a better understanding of Photoshop, digital workflow, and file management. Through critiques and ongoing conversations, students will strengthen their ability to discuss and think critically about their work and that of their peers.Through presentations, guest visitors, and research, students will gain perspective on where their work fits within the larger context of contemporary documentary photography. Graduates of the photo program leave Salt with a comprehensive understanding of how to tell stories with images, a solid digital workflow, and a portfolio of their work.



    If you are interested in earning graduate or undergraduate credits for your coursework at Salt through one of our affiliate universities, please contact to learn more.



  • What do alums + others have to say?

    SALT IS AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE and one that has helped bring me to where I am now – a photojournalism graduate student at Boston University. On the surface, Salt is a competitive, demanding, unique, high-level program that, I think, is one-of-a-kind in the country. Students learn the basis for what it means to be a documentarian and how to better your craft (photography, writing, or radio) technically and conceptually. The attendance is small and select, so classes and training are hands-on and direct.

    My fellow Salties/Saltys/Saltines (as you will come to identify yourselves) provided constructive criticism and, consequently, we pushed each other to do better, which ultimately produced more in-depth, substantial concluding documentaries. My semester-mates were uber fun, loads of laughs, and, I like to think, the best group that went through Salt! We were pretty tight and a bunch of us remained in Portland after for the few years that followed. Salt was my introduction to Maine and a great way to see the state that I have grown to love.

    On a deeper level, Salt is an experience that teaches you not only about documentary studies, but also about what is key to producing effective documentaries – a meaningful human connection. I felt this in my documentaries with my subjects, in my training with my classmates, and in my academics with my instructors. Salt creates an intimate community of people, all passionately committed to working for the same thing – to essentially tell stories through images, words, and sounds by making human connections. That is what makes Salt so powerful and special.”

    [ Whit Fox // Photography Student ]


    SALT IS DOCUMENTARY BOOT CAMP. It’s HARD, it’s INTENSE, and it’s a lot of late nights. But along with that, for me, came a lot of fun, camaraderie, and a PURPOSE IN BEING A PHOTOGRAPHER.

    [ Shuva Rahim // Photography Student ]

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