Admittedly I tend to leave things to the last minute, and I had visions of myself frantically rushing around the day before the assessment to print and mount images. I promised myself not to rush my final panel prep and started choosing possible candidates for selection almost immediately after sending my application some three months before the date. I'd researched online, picked people's brains on Twitter and photography blogs and to be honest; I found myself getting somewhat confused with what the judges would be expecting.
So for all future LRPS candidates here is my take on the assessment day, why many people passed and why some failed.
Firstly, I did my assessment at the RPS headquarters at Fenton House in Bath. Being a 3-hour drive from my corner of the UK, I set out at 5:30 in the morning, leaving me plenty of time for traffic and parking. Naturally and as expected, Birmingham provided some traffic problems, parking in Bath was the other. Fenton House has no parking facilities, so the only option is parking in nearby streets, most of which are for resident permit holders only.
Allow yourself plenty of time to get there.
After arriving at Fenton House and delivering my package of prints and my two hanging plans, there was time to relax and chat with other candidates of the day.
At 10:30, the judging began with the five judges sitting up front ready to assess the first panel, which is brought out and arranged as per the owners hanging plan. From there the judges peruse the panel as a whole and then each image. Taking turns, one of the judges talks to the audience about the panel before each judge writes their remarks on paper which gets handed to an official who reads out whether the submission is successful or not.
A reasonable rate of success was apparent during the assessment session. I stayed until lunch break, which allowed time for roughly 20 or more panels to be assessed. From those assessments, two panels failed, and two went into a review phase where the candidate was allowed to change one weak image from an otherwise strong panel.
Why some panels passed
The LRPS assessment revolves predominantly around technical skill and variety of technique which was apparent by the judge's comments and why many panels passed. The overall technical skill level of each panel was excellent, but it was evident that the judges were looking actively for common faults such as:
- Blown highlights
- Over sharpening
- Soft focus
- Colour casts in printing
- Poor exposure
- Compositional faults
You must get all of these correct in every image to pass.
The overall panel and positioning of images within the panel are essential, often being described as "The 11th image". It was noted that a strong portrait should be positioned in the middle of the panel. Judges also liked colour themes along a row; one panel had five images across the top row, which all had a red theme.
Balance is essential both in visual weight, image shape (square, landscape, portrait) and colour. If one picture looks heavy or too bright within the panel, it's probably in the wrong place, or it's the wrong image.
Why some panels almost passed
Two panels were allowed to replace one image which was considerably weaker than the other nine, a process which requires a re-assessment in private by the RPS. While this means that a pass is probably highly likely, it still detracts very much from the celebration of the day.
Of the two that went into this process, each panel had one image that was underexposed; one was of a jet skier in action with water that looked grey rather than white.
Most panels were arranged in two rows, and this seemed to please the judges. Two were laid out in three rows, and on both counts, the judges remarked that each panel work in this layout as the images fell into three distinct subjects; Portraits, Landscapes and Wildlife.
Make sure all your images are of an equal standard and make sure the printing quality is good throughout. The judges refer back to the hanging plan images, so make sure the printing there reflects the printed examples. Unless you have an excellent reason to do otherwise, a two-row layout is better.
Why some panels failed
Two panels failed on my assessment day, and interestingly they failed for different reasons.
One displayed multiple images with faults such as colour casts in the printing. This failing image was a portrait, which is generally harder to print because everyone knows what colour skin should be, and therefore printing colour casts are more evident. Another photo was heavily manipulated and over-sharpened, an error that the judges assumed was the photographer compensating for soft-focus issues.
Good quality in printing and post-processing is required throughout the panel.
The second failing panel must have been a big disappointment for the candidate. The panel displayed a set of 10 macro images of flowers. The panel was balanced and colourful; each image was of a very high standard both in visual creativity and image quality. I would say that on an individual image level they were better photographs than 50% of all other submissions. The big failing issue is that there was no variety, all pictures were visually similar, of the same subject and taken with the same technique. The judges noted that the panel only displays that the photographer can only use one lens with one method.
The LRPS distinction assesses five areas; Presentation, Technique (Camera), Technique (Technical), Visual Awareness, Communication. Submit a panel of different images showing different techniques; portraits, still life images, landscapes, night photography, flash photography.
Before getting to the individual images, I'll discuss the layout of my panel. Having six images in landscape format and four in portrait, I was limited in layout possibilities as visual weight is essential. I could either have the four 'uprights' in their position as shown or the first and last image in the row. I wanted 8 in its position as it's an intense portrait and forms a strong centre to the panel (the judge's remarks confirmed this). Image 6 helps to keep the eye inside the panel as the visual follow of the image points towards the right. Image 7 belongs between the two other portraits. Image 3 is a more creative style and sits nicely between 2 and 4 but is also related to the people theme of image 8 below it. That leaves the three classic landscape at the end of each row.
Image 1 A classic wide angle landscape showing good composition and shutter speed control. Long exposure images of water can be difficult to control and blown highlights are common, showing a good exposure control is vital.
Image 2 A creative still life with the use of flash and fast shutter speeds. Water and ice with flash is shows again good exposure control to avoid blown highlights. Specular highlights that go to pure white are fine.
Image 3 A creative image showing street photography skills and creative intent. The black and white shows monotone printing skills.
Image 5 A classic and interesting landscape showing extreme long shutter speeds and exposure control. I was a little worried about this image as the composition tries to break some rules with heavy rocks at the top balanced by open space and two pebble highlights at the bottom.
Image 6 Capturing movement in a creative way with the use of flash outdoors. This image is actually a composite of two photographs, the skateboarder and the background alley.
Image 8 A strong street portrait using mobile studio flash. This image shows lighting skills, exposure control and aperture control with the subject in focus and a blurred background.
Image 9 An example of wide angle night photography showing compositional skills, exposure control and black and white printing skills.
General tips for your LRPS submission
- Make sure your images have no common faults like blown highlights and soft focus.
- The hanging plan is considered to be the 11 image, so make sure it works as a group.
- Print on either semi-gloss or matt paper; from all the submissions, only two were printed on matte paper (mine and another) and I must say they looked best under the lights. One candidate used some weird titanium which the judges didn't like.
- Make sure your printing is spot on. If you print yourself, then don't be afraid of printing the image a few times in search of the best result.
- Make sure you show a variety of technique and skill.
- You don't need a single theme for the LRPS images.
- Enjoy the assessment.
About Robert Rhead
Robert Rhead is a English landscape photographer, UX/UI designer, web developer and graphic designer. He currently holds the LRPS certificate from the Royal Photographic Society, has won English and international photography awards and has featured in various high-profile photography and lifestyle magazines.