Want letters after your name? Here's a useful guide to help you pass
Words & images Georgia Denby. FBIPP, ARPS, QEP, CPAGB.
Sitting exams or taking any type of test can be a nerve racking experience. Going for a distinction in photography is no different. It involves a lot of hard work, photographic knowledge, high quality images and sheer determination. Distinctions are not given lightly. The 'higher up' you go, the harder they are to obtain. Licentiateship is the first rung of the ladder, going up to an Associateship and finally the top of the ladder, the Fellowship. If you go into it with a 'oh that will do attitude,' you are almost certain to be on the path to failure.
I have been fortunate to have gained my A with the RPS, the BIPP and most recently, the MPA without having to 're-sit' them. The F might be a different story!
There are many photographic organisations that award distinctions to their members, RPS (Royal Photographic Society), BIPP (British Institute of Professional Photography), MPA (Master Photographers Association), and PAGB (Photographic Alliance of Great Britain) to name a few.
So, what are the judges looking for?
Take the RPS as an example. For the Licentiateship, you need to produce a panel of 10 images normally displayed in two rows of five. These are placed on a 'Distinctions Assessment board' (a display stand really), and discussed by the judges. All prints need to be in mounts sympathetic to the image and up to a size of 16x20in.
It is also very important that your images hold together as a panel. (The PAGB are an exception when it comes to distinctions as their's is strictly judged on individual images - not panels.) It is no good having 10 prints, however wonderful their content or technically brilliant they are. If they do not hang together as a panel, you will almost certainly fail. For example, a panel can consist of nature shots, say a mixture of plants, animals and birds. Portraiture is another popular panel, as is architecture and landscapes. What would not be acceptable as a panel, would be 17 images classed as portraiture with a landscape and two abstracts thrown in.
Having said that, my own L panel was gained from a reasonably mixed content, but they formed a panel because of their style. All my distinctions have been gained from digitally created prints and I have a very individual style that holds the images together.I cannot emphasise enough the importance of panelling your images. This can take just as long as taking the shots in the first place!
Very simple things can make or break a successful panel. For example, if you have a portrait shot as your first image, don't have your subject looking left. This leads the viewer away from the panel, not into it. Always have your first and last images, on both rows, 'looking inwards' rather than outwards. Also, the central prints, (images 3 and 8) look better as 'full frontals' or centralised images, because of their positions within the panel.
The seven key things that all images in an L panel must show.
1. Camera Work: (your ability to use a camera competently.)
2. Technical Quality: (contrast, shadow, print quality etc.)
3. Appropriateness of Technique: (shutter speed, depth-of-field, correct angle of chosen image.)
4. Visual Awareness: ( imagination and creativity)
5. Communication: (Is the meaning behind the image coming across?)
6. Range of work: (Has the subject been seen 'at all angles'?)
7. Presentation: (Mounted well, sizes, colours etc.)
If your images fall down in any of these, you're unlikely to pass.
Below are pictures that Georgia submitted to the judging panels.
Though the RPS and the BIPP have much the same rules regarding successful panels, their attitudes and comments about them tend to be very different. When I went for my Licentiateship with the RPS, they put up my panel on their stand and I had to wait behind the prints while they were being assessed. I was unable to see or hear what was being said or points discussed. It could only have been a minute after the last print was put up on the stand that they were beginning to take them all down again! My heart sank and I felt certain that this was a sign that I had failed miserably as they were not even going to give them the light of day.
I was soon called in and given the opportunity to shake hands with the judges. With a very nervous smile on my face, I was congratulated on a successful panel entry and that I had passed with flying colours! I thanked them, took my prints and left quickly, in case they changed their minds!
That same day, I had my L assessment with the BIPP. This was also judged 'behind closed doors' but this time I was offered a seat to wait for the outcome. The judges took what seemed ages and my nails got a good chewing as I sat and burned calories through nervousness. I didn't know how to interpret the long wait. The RPS were so quick and I passed, so did this mean the BIPP were going to fail me? Or did it mean they were not sure and were arguing amongst themselves as to whether to give me the distinction or not?
Eventually I was called in to the judging room where four or five men stood looking at my work. As I waited, I couldn't help but notice the atmosphere felt so different than with the RPS. Is this because I had already passed with them so was on a high anyway, or was it because I knew more of how these things worked now? Again, my hand was shaken by the judges in turn. As I waited with baited breath for them to tell me Yes or No, I was asked to explain a few of my images. The thoughts behind them, my reason for creating them, how did I create them? Where did I sell my work? What software did I use? etc etc. I had to think on my feet - I was not prepared for questioning. I so wanted to sound confident and self-assured when I didn't feel either!
As I stood discussing my work with the panel judges and really 'getting into it,' the main Distinctions Organiser came in and politely asked if we could draw our discussion to a close now as there were many more panels to get through that afternoon. It was at this point that I heard those words I wanted so desperately to hear, 'Yes, you have passed. We actually agreed this panel was a pass before we had even put all the prints on the stand!'
With the Associateship, much the same applies when it comes to the panelling, but this time you need to show 15 prints for the RPS, 20 for the BIPP. All the same 'seven rules' apply too, but all to a much higher standard. The panel also needs to be 'tighter' and hold together even firmer than for the L. It is possible to get away with one slightly weaker image in an L panel if all the others are strong enough, but with the A there is no room for error!
Distinctions are not just about getting letters after your name, but they are about showing to others you take your photography seriously. They give the photographer a great sense of worth and achievement. All this far outweighs the nerve racking experience of going for it - and its all good fun along the way too!