I’ve been thinking of applying for the LRPS for a couple of years now, as a specific creative exercise. An abortive start in 2015 saw me assembling a – frankly tired – selection of my old favourites from the past few years, but I never saw a coherent panel emerging from my choices, and the project took back stage for many months. In early 2016, I was spurred into action by a friend who wanted to apply for her ARPS, and booked us both on an advisory day in late April. I spent a few weeks mulling over what to include, having read the guidance on the RPS web site about what the judges would be looking for. A range of subjects and techniques gives scope for lot of images, but also makes it harder to achieve a balanced panel. As the date approached, I decided on a fresh start by looking for much newer images, chosen specifically to work together as well as showing “all round mastery of the camera”. I spent a lot of time with postcard-sized prints, arranging and rearranging on the desk. I was never entirely satisfied and asked my ARPS friend to have a look, which was invaluable – having a second person to bounce ideas off is well worth the tea and cake involved!
As (bad) luck would have it, my photo printer packed up at about this time after a period of disuse despite cleaning the printhead, so I had to send my files away to print (of which more later). When they arrived in the post, I checked them carefully for colour, sharpness and contrast, then mounted my chosen ten images tightly on backing board, with a mount stuck on the front (which avoids cockling – all too obvious in the bright lights used by the RPS for print examination!). The remaining five spares I didn’t mount.
These went to the advisory day, and were mostly favourably received, though my three-row panel was re-organised as two, and one image was – very politely – rebuffed, with one of my spare images suggested instead. A tighter crop of a second image was also recommended. So, I mounted the spare, ordered a reprint of the new crop, and assembled the panel and hanging plan ready for my big day in June.
Early June saw me in Bath in the RPS lecture room, full of nervous anticipation. You never know the order of assessment, and I was rather dismayed when, after the first successful panel, three were not recommended and a fourth was referred with two images to be replaced. Other panels were recommended (not many), referred, or suggested for resubmission with a number of new images. I was surprised by how many people had seemingly ignored the information on the RPS web site, especially in avoiding colour casts and blown highlights, which were obvious even from the back of the room.
I had to wait till after lunch for my panel to be put up on the wall for assessment, by which time it was apparent just how much careful attention the judges pay to technical quality, composition, and coherence of the panel – I was getting very twitchy by now!
All seemed to be going well until one of my images seemed to attract a lot of close scrutiny, which I guessed was not a good sign! I was dismayed but not surprised when the Chairman said that they could not recommend my submission (“a shame, as it’s a cracking panel”) owing to a technical fault in that one image – printer banding. As my images had been very carefully inspected at home, I was surprised by this, but after the assessment finished, spoke to the LRPS Assistant, who showed me the problem that was evident under bright controlled lighting – tiny faint striations in a pale part of the image. Anyway, I was advised that just the one image (centre bottom in the panel) was being referred, which meant that I had to get it reprinted and send it to Bath for examination.
So, my day ended with mixed feelings – pleased that the images were good, but disappointed that I could not leave certain of success. The great care taken to ensure that submissions were of top quality was admirable – and I reasoned that when (if) I was awarded a distinction, it would be well-earned.
Less than a fortnight later, I received an email saying that my referred print was satisfactory, and I only had one final hurdle – ratification of the award by the RPS Council, which happened within 2 weeks.
So, what would my top tips be for others thinking about applying?
- Read and take notice of the advice on the RPS web site.
- Ask a friend with a good eye to look at your proposed panel more objectively than you can.
- Print on all satin or all matte paper and mount as taut as you can – gloss is very unforgiving.
- Look at the prints under bright daylight or good lamps for imperfections – don’t assume that commercial Lightjet prints will be up to snuff!
- Go to an advisory day and really listen to what the advisors say.
- Enjoy the journey and – I hope – your eventual success.
Visit the RPS web site to find out more.