Skip To Main Content

CTE Teacher Profile: Kelly Clark - Photography teacher at Rancho Buena Vista High School.

Kelly Clark has been the Photography teacher at Rancho Buena Vista High School for the past twelve years. She teaches a two-year program consisting of Photo 1 and Photo 2 and is also the department Chair.

(Photo caption: Kelly Clark, photographed by her student Jen Acosta)

Clark bought a wealth of experience when she moved from New York to California 14 years ago to be closer to family. Her previous roles included teaching art in New York, working in an advertising agency, and working as a PR and Marketing Director and in sales before she switched to teaching.

Clark holds a BFA in Photography and undertook a second degree in painting, during which she studied in Florence, Italy. She recently finished a four-year stint at the Art Commission for the City of Vista, serving as Chair in 2023.

Connecting to Industry Expert

Photo by Austin Hickerson

Through the program at RBV, Clark gives students valuable opportunities to improve their photographic skills via partnerships with local businesses and a panel of industry experts. 

“I try to get as many as real-world experiences for students as possible through the course’s advertising unit,” she explains. “Last year we partnered with a local sunglasses manufacturer who ran a photographic contest of their products. 

“They judged which photographs were best, and all of the kids got to keep the sunglasses, which was awesome. I also brought in a food truck and kids got to photograph the food and learn what clients want and expect.”

College Credit Potential

Photo by Diego Garcia

While the two-year program prepares students to go straight into the industry, it’s also articulated with Palomar College photography courses so those who want to go on to study for their Associate's degree can gain college credit early.

“I make sure the Photo 1 curriculum hits the same major points as the college’s Digital Photo course,” says Clark. “Kids still get high school credit but if they get 80% or above, they can also get three college credits.”

The Photo 2 class is articulated with Palomar’s Digital Darkroom class, and the program includes a heavy focus on Photoshop and more advanced photo techniques.

Photo by Cheyenne Crowe

“It’s more in-depth as we take it to the next level,” explains Clark. “These kids are very into it and so talented. It’s really been a delight to teach them Photo 2. This year, I already have three students doing it professionally. One is an assistant to a photographer who does quinceañeras, one does photography for her church, and another just did a wedding.” 

A fourth student just signed up to be a photographer in the Marines and will start training for eight months after boot camp. 

Professional Grade Equipment

Photo by Karina Dominguez

Regarding equipment used in class, Clark says, “We are very blessed. The CTE department makes sure everything we have is current with what’s in the industry. We have Macintosh computers, Nikon DSLR cameras, top industry software, and Epsom printers which are used in the field.”

They also have a lot of studio lighting, which Clark says is imperative. “Kids out of high school can become assistants to professionals and it’s a huge advantage if they know how to use studio lighting. We do a lot of that work and the kids love it.”

Clark keeps herself current with new photographic techniques and technology by attending conferences and online tutorials. 

“I’ve learned the most via a Facebook group I started twelve years ago called High School Photography Educators,” she reveals. “It started with a few people and now has 8000 people all over the world. It’s been a really great resource.”

Photo by Adora Jiminez

Educators swap tips, lessons, and techniques, and the group was particularly useful when the Covid pandemic hit. “We had to scramble to figure out what to do with the kids and we all just jumped in and helped each other,” remembers Clark.

Because Adobe doesn’t work well on Chromebooks, students had to use phones to photograph and edit their assignments, says Clark. “It was a lot more general than intense Photoshop editing but we made it work!

“Some of the kids did amazing work considering they couldn’t leave their apartments. They did portraits of each other, of family, and food and stills photography. We even did a silverware project, which turned out surprisingly great,” she laughs.

Clark places great emphasis on introducing students to industry insiders to inspire them on their photographic journey. She has an advisory group of up to nine professionals, including a photojournalist, a drone photographer, a software specialist, and a wedding photographer. 

Photo by Evangelique Zapata

“They tell me if my curriculum and equipment are current, and advise me on what they’re seeing being used for the future. Someone told me to embrace AI with students ‘because it’s not going anywhere and it’s going to get even bigger’ and sure enough, here we are!”

Clark now utilizes AI technology to encourage students to create backgrounds for their work in Adobe Express. 

Her students also enter competitions through the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park, the Congressional Art Awards, and the art showcase at the San Diego State Fair. 

Meanwhile, Clark fulfills her own creative passions via her freelance photography and painting business. Reflecting on the RBV course though, she admits, “It’s a class I wish I had in high school!”