Monday, 18 June 2012

Bringing home the RPS bacon

With Anthony recently being successful at Associate level with the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) there was a certain peer pressure for me and Philip to tread those same steps. We decided to submit a panel for the Licentiate distinction first, despite the fact that one can go straight for ARPS if so inclined (brave and foolhardy some might say).


The most common method of attaining an LRPS is to submit a panel of 10 prints. It is possible to provide a set of digital images for projection but the pass rate is known to be lower and, as Philip and I are happy working in print media, it was a 'no-brainer'.

I started thinking about my panel seriously early this year and quickly settled on a theme with a three-row layout: a top row of nature, a mixed middle row and a bottom row of monochrome landscape. Philip and I each put a draft panel together, along with a few spares, and took it along to an RPS Advisory Day - luckily there was one nearby in Canterbury in mid-April. The day was led by Richard Walton FRPS and he gave each of us sound advice on our panels - in my case totally restructuring it by removing all the landscapes, changing from three rows to two and making the top row nature with a mixed lower row. It appeared to hang together well and I stayed with Richard's suggestions and re-printed and re-mounted accordingly.

Note: If you thinking of submitting a panel for assessment, attending an advisory day in advance is a MUST. You get to see examples of successful panels and get expert advice on your work from an RPS Fellow.

Assessment (judgement) day

Our chosen assessment day was last Thursday, 14th June, and we headed off to Bath the day before so that we could hand our precious cargo in the day before and spend some time taking some photographs around the City. I have some friends who live just outside Bath and they were kind enough to put us up for the night in exchange for a meal at At The Chapel in Bruton. Sue kindly offered to drive and we had a fantastic evening. A combination of a fatigue from traipsing around Bath and a few local ciders meant that we both slept really well the night before.

We headed off to Bath, parked up near to RPS HQ and found a delightful Italian deli for breakfast. On entering Fenton House we mingled with other equally anxious souls in the foyer before being invited upstairs to the assessment room.

We were sitting right at the back (~20m) from the prints so could not see them in great detail, awaiting eagerly for the panels to be hung. The chairman of the assessment panel introduced himself, gave an overview of proceedings, after which the other five assessors introduced themselves.

There were two digital entries which would be screened first, followed by the prints (about 30 I believe). The individual images are scrutinised and the overall panel is considered, after which the assessors form a huddle and fill in their score cards. Everyone holds their breath awaiting the outcome. One of the assessors talks about the panel highlighting its positive and negative merits before issuing their judgement, which takes the form of 'we are unable to recommend this panel' or 'is <author's name> in the audience'.

Well, the first two projected panels failed on technical reasons. No surprises there really. Then the first print panel went up. From the back of the room it looked to be a good one, made up of a set of interesting and well balanced prints. Then we heard those words again....'we are sorry but we are unable to ...........'

The next print panel came up and that failed - as did the next three. That made it zero acceptances out of the first six - ouch! You can imagine how we were feeling. Finally though, a successful panel. A huge sense of elation from the photographer and a slight drop of tension in the room. The next panel then failed! After that the pass rate was higher and, by the time we left at lunchtime the balance was around 50:50.

My panel came up around noon and I waited in anticipation for a couple of minutes (that felt like a couple of hours) before the assessor praised my panel and finished with those words 'is Martin in the audience' - deep joy and much shaking of hands.

We knew that there would be a break for lunch at 1pm and I could sense that Philip was getting more and more tense as time went on. It suddenly dawned on me that if Philip were to not make the grade we would have a thoroughly miserable journey back to Kent - he in despair and me racked with guilt.

At 12:50 Philips panel was displayed. I have to say, from the back of the room, it looked good. I was confident and I smiled at Philip who could not reciprocate. So many panels were failing on technical issues: not sharp, over-sharpened, colour casts, lack of highlight detail and poor print quality being the main reasons.

The assessor who spoke on Philip's panel enthused over it commenting along the lines of 'here is someone who's photography is in the same style as mine but who does it better'. A well deserved pass!

When we went to collect our panel we were asked by the RPS if they could hold on to our panel and use them as examples for use in forthcoming advisory days. We were flattered and left even more contented with our print boxes empty.

There had been one more panel before lunch (a quick celebratory drink and a panini) after which we decided we would depart gracefully and try and beat the traffic.

Our panels

Special thanks to

Philip for sharing the journey, including that last-minute sizing, printing and mounting.
Anthony for giving us the confidence and moral support
Ashford Photographic Society for providing a rich environment for us to develop our passion for photography
My wife Julia for putting up with my moods over the last few weeks


  1. Congratulations, Martin, to you and Philip. Richly deserved LRPS awards. I think we all need a drink after that!


  2. Congratulations to you both.