What Does It Cost ... To Study, Live and Work in San Francisco?

By Amanda Baltazar

COST CONSCIOUS: For a Time magazine special report on America’s financial situation, still life shooter Dwight Eschliman sourced hundreds of wallets and purses in reds, whites and blues and arranged them into a flag.


photo © Monica M. Davey/City College of San Francisco

EDUCATION AND WELL BEING: An urban community college serving approximately 100,000 students annually, the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) has nine campuses throughout San Francisco, among many other sites. Pictured above, the CCSF Wellness Center welcomes visitors entering the main Ocean campus. Completed in 2008, this building houses state-of-the-art exercise equipment, gymnasiums and a pool.

1. City College of San Francisco
City College of San Francisco’s photography program is one of the oldest in the country, offering more than two dozen courses taught by working photographers and faculty. Students in this two-year program learn both traditional and digital photography skills as well as history, aesthetics, lighting and business practices and can earn an associate of science degree.
Tuition: $36 per semester unit for California residents. $223 per semester unit nonresidents.

2. Academy of Art University
Classes at Academy of Art University are taught by working photographers, to give students a real-world perspective in art for commerce, fine art and photojournalism/ documentary. The school offers AA, BFA and MFA degrees, and courses include portraiture, quality of light, landscaping as fine art, digital montage and Web site design, among many others. All courses have a strong emphasis on conceptual skills and technical knowledge to support students in becoming leaders in their area of specialization with a portfolio of powerful and conceptually driven imagery.
Tuition: Estimated annual tuition: $17,760. Total estimated annual costs, including registration fee and course fees: $20,343.
Housing: Various types of housing are available at the Academy of Art Institute, from private dorm rooms with a full bath to private studios with kitchen to shared dorms with no bathroom to four-person studio shares for the economically minded. Costs: From $3,600 to $7,090 per semester for fall or spring; $1,850 to $3,600 per semester for the summer.

3. San Francisco State
BA and MFA photography courses at San Francisco State are dedicated to instruction in the methodologies of photography in the context of contemporary art practice. Assignments are intended to provide aesthetic discussion and professional preparation. Coursework in video covers interactive digital video technology for cinema and experimental visual arts applications covering conceptualization, programming, production and presentation. There’s also an active photo guild and a student cooperative that stages exhibitions, lectures and workshops.
Tuition: $1,587 per semester for students taking six or fewer units; $2,736 for those taking 6.1 or more.
Housing: Residence halls are all double occupancy, while apartments are single or double occupancy. Townhouses also provide single- or doubleoccupancy residence. Costs range from $9,376 to $14,888 annually.

4. San Francisco Art Institute
Students at San Francisco Art Institute can pursue a BFA, a post-baccalaureate or an MFA in photography. The school’s photography department was the first in the country dedicated to fine art photography, and the program continues to engage with aesthetic, theoretical and technical issues surrounding contemporary photography.
Tuition: BFA: $17,023 (12 to 15 units per semester); more than 15 units: $1,491 for each additional unit taken. Postbaccalaureate and MFA : $18,183 (12 to 15 units per semester); more than 15 units: $1,597 for each additional unit taken.
Housing: $8,300 (triple occupancy with private bath) to $11,990 (single occupancy with private bath).

5. California College of the Arts
The four-year BFA at California College of the Arts encourages work in black-and-white, color and alternative processes on large and small scales. Facilities at the Oakland campus are staffed more than 90 hours a week and include two large black-and-white darkrooms, 12 individual darkrooms for color printing, high-end digital workstations and a dedicated lighting studio.
Tuition: $18,480 per year.
Housing: $5,700 to $7,475 for fall and spring semesters; $2,850 to $3,738 for spring semester only.


photo © Vance Jacobs <www.vancejacobs.com>

PRIME REAL ESTATE: When he’s not traveling for corporate, non-profit and advertising clients, Jacobs shares a San Francisco studio with two other businesses. Above, a view of the city from a Mission District apartment rooftop.

It’s no surprise that housing in San Francisco costs an arm and a leg. There are cheap deals to be had, but you’ll need to seek them out. Two artsy, bohemian neighborhoods are Bernal Heights and Glen Park, according to Aldo Congi, vice president and sales manager with McGuire Real Estate. Both are very walkable, with a village-like concept, and 10 minutes by freeway from downtown. A small, 800-square-foot cottage in either area runs around $500,000, he says, and a home with two bedrooms and one bath (around 1,100 square feet) is closer to $600,000. For families, a 2,000-square-foot, three bedroom house with two baths and parking costs close to $750,000. Those shopping for a condo should check out the North of Panhandle neighborhood, near Golden Gate Park. A onebedroom condo of approximately 1,000 square feet costs around $550,000; for three bedrooms, one bath and parking, the cost is closer to $800,000. For rentals, the South of Market and Intermission neighborhoods are best for a young demographic, says Earl Chan, owner and principal of Dot Real Estate, yet he notes that in the past two years, rates have increased substantially. A 450- to 500-square-foot studio costs $1,000 to $1,100 per month, while a one-bedroom apartment runs between $1,300 and $3,000. For two-bedroom home rentals, prices start at $1,800 monthly and reach $4,000. The best neighborhoods to find these are Excelsior District, Mission Terrace and the Sunset District. To save money, there are basement apartments known as “in-law” or unwarranted units. These cost around $900 monthly for 600 to 1,000 square feet.

THE BOTTOM LINE: TO BUY: $500,000 and up. TO RENT: $900 and up.

San Franciscans are fortunate to have one of the best public transportation systems in the nation. Both the bus system and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains are very reliable. Bonnie Rae Mills, a portrait photographer and Academy of Art University student, spends just $65 per month on a Muni Pass, which covers bus, metro, cable cars and any BART lines within San Francisco, she says. Commercial shooter Vance Jacobs gets around using his Honda Civic Hybrid and a Vespa. He lives about 15 minutes from his downtown studio and says gas costs him around $100 per month. Still life specialist Dwight Eschliman spends around $300 a month on gas and $5 a day to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

THE BOTTOM LINE: $65 for public transport and $200 for gas and tolls.

San Franciscans spend around $500 per month on groceries, which typically includes quality foods but not exclusively organic and expensive types. An average meal out can run anywhere from $35, says Jacobs, to $100, according to advertising photographer Hunter Freeman. Bonnie Rae Mills says she spends closer to $50 a week, although it’s mostly on sandwiches. Eschliman eats lunch out most days and has dinner at home, spending about $70 a week on lunch.

THE BOTTOM LINE: GROCERIES: $500 per month. EATING OUT: $50 to $100 per month.

photo © Hunter Freeman <www.hunterfreeman.com>

HELLO JELLO: Advertising and lifestyle shooter Hunter Freeman offers a humorous twist on youthful party goers in a 2004 campaign for the Electronic Arts game Sims 2, shot with the agency See, San Francisco.


Home utilities cost between $150 and $200 monthly, while cable TV/Internet/ phone packages run $150 to $200. Freeman cut his utility costs substantially several years ago—down to $50 a month— by installing a solar array.

THE BOTTOM LINE: $300 to 400 monthly.


Many San Francisco–based shooters have access to studio space, yet renting solo can be a big expense: Freeman’s former studio cost $1,800 a month, or $2,100 with utilities. Jacobs rents one with two other businesses and pays $700 per month plus $100 in utilities.

THE BOTTOM LINE: $800 to $2,100 per month.

At ProCamera, Nikon’s best-selling body, the D700, costs $2,700, says salesmanCarlos Meza. Other bodies that sell well run slightly less, at $2,200. The best-selling Nikon lens, the AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17- 35mm f/2.8D IF-ED, costs $1,700; other popular choices are closer to $2,200. According to Borrow Lenses, the Nikon D700 is also the most popular rental and costs $133 for three days or $190 per week. Another popular body rental runs slightly cheaper at $112 for three days and $160 per week. The AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens is the favorite rental of its type and costs $52 for three days or $75 for a week. Slightly cheaper lens options run $42 for three days or $59 for a week. The most popular lighting rental is the Bowens BW-4805 USD Gemini 500R 2-Light Kit, which costs $70 for three days and $105 weekly.

THE BOTTOM LINE: TO BUY: $3,900. TO RENT: $240 for three days; $347 per week.

San Franciscan photographers spend a good deal of money on marketing. Jacobs hires a blogger to do his marketing for him and uses ASMP, PDN Photoserve, Agency Access and a liveBooks site. He also does e-mail blasts and mailers. All told, he spends almost $9,000 annually. Eschliman advertises in Lebook, At Edge and Luerzer’s Archive, which costs around $12,000 a year, and spends an additional $15,000 to $18,000 annually on direct mail. He also pays to enter award shows, budgets for portfolio expenses and works with a Web designer. His total marketing budget last year was $29,000.

THE BOTTOM LINE: $12,500 per month.

Freeman pays around $12,000 annually for Workman’s Comp insurance and around $5,000 for his insurance, which includes liability, equipment and a homeowner policy. Eschliman pays about $15,000 for Workman’s Comp and business insurance every year. Jacobs spends $450 on liability insurance, $500 for his equipment, $100 for catastrophic injury and $3,000 on health insurance, for an annual total of $4,050.

THE BOTTOM LINE : $12,000 per year.

photo © Bonnie Rae Mills <www.bonnieraemillsphoto.com>

FRESH AIR: With the dramatic landscape of Ocean Beach as the setting, Academy of Art University student Bonnie Rae Mills shot this portrait of cellist Anne Suda for a personal project to show the grace and beauty of music and dance, and its connection with nature. The result is a surreal take on the performing arts.


• Total population: 805,235

• Median age (years): 38.5

• Age distribution:

Under 5 years – 4.4%

5 to 17 years – 9.0%

18 to 64 years – 73.0%

65 years and over – 13.6%

• Per capita income: $34,556

• Median household income: $55,221

• Median family income: $63,545

• Owner-occupied housing: 33.43%

• Renter-occupied housing: 63.10%

• Vacant housing units: 3.48%

• Monthly housing units, renters: Median $1,646

• Leading occupations: Management, professional and related occupations (48.3%); sales and office occupations (25.6%); service occupations (14.3%); production, transportation and material moving occupations (7.5%); construction, extraction and maintenance occupations (4.2%); farming, fishing and
forestry occupations (0.1%).

• Type of employer: Private wage and salary workers (82%); federal, state or local government workers (10.7%); self-employed, nonincorporated business workers (7.3%).

• Mean travel time to work: 30.7 minutes

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



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