My Journey to ARPS Distinction
by Alison Mees ARPS
Since I watched "Born Free" at five years old, I have had a fascination for Africa, especially its cats. I dreamed of having my own lion cub, but living in Essex, that proved a little difficult.
I have always had an interest in cheetahs. I really admired them and felt they had a tough life. As a single mum raising her family alone, the smallest of the Big Cats in Africa - with those amber-coloured eyes - it really pulled at my heart. They still do to this day.
My dad loved taking photographs. He gave me my first camera when I was eight – a basic point-and-shoot. I went everywhere with him, mainly in Old Leigh, to photograph the fishermen and cockleboats.
Over 30 years ago, I took my first holiday to Africa, and I was not disappointed. The sounds, smells, vibrant colours and wildlife took my breath away and stole my heart.
For 16 years, I lived and worked in Africa; Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya. My husband and I were running safari camps; wildlife was a part of my daily life. I had the opportunity to go out in the field with the lion and cheetah researchers. This is where I gained so much in-depth knowledge. It also changed my photography. I started to record behaviours, interactions and ID shots. I spent hours sitting and watching. From this, my knowledge and understanding of wildlife photography has grown hugely.
In March 2020, the pandemic hit the world, and no one was travelling anymore. The safari camps closed, and I returned to the UK, where I have been ever since. But, for me, I still wanted to do something connected to conservation and cheetahs. In April 2020, I became a volunteer for the Cheetah Conservation Fund, helping them with awareness workshops and fundraising events. It has also given me the opportunity to share my stories and photographs of Africa with people via Zoom, hopefully giving them a little sunshine in the more gloomy times.
When I returned to the UK, I had the time to go through the thousands of photos I had taken over the years. I wanted to try for my LRPS (Licentiate), but I was not sure if my photographs met the required level.
Photography is also a very male-dominated world, and, as a woman, sometimes you lack the confidence to push yourself or believe you are as good as men.
I spoke to a friend of mine who is a photographer and chatted about trying for my LRPS. He actually told me that my photographs were at the ARPS level and I should aim for this. I read through the RPS website and looked at previous panel examples to give me an idea of what they are looking for and the standard required.
I selected 30 photos I felt were good enough to submit. My photographer friend went through each one in great detail and gave very honest feedback, some positive and some negative – however, this is the only way you learn.
I then started going over my images. Some I disregarded and replaced, others I worked on the processing. I only do very basic post-processing - I like to capture the moment in camera.
When I had 15 plus five extras that I was happy with, I booked a 1:1 review through the Natural History Panel. I gained some valuable feedback on my selected images. Again, some feedback was very positive, and other feedback covered where I either needed to work on the image or replace it.
I submitted my panel in September 2021. It was a digital panel, and the review was done online. I was so amazed and extremely pleased that I had succeeded in gaining my ARPS. I felt it was a real achievement.
From the age of eight years old to now, there has been a journey in my photography. My dad would have been so proud of me. If anyone is thinking of going for a Distinction, I would really suggest you go for it. Take the feedback on board and learn from it. When you gain that Distinction, it’s a fantastic feeling.
I want to continue to share my love of Africa and its amazing wildlife and the opportunities to photograph it with other women. I’ve set up Women on Safari, an eight-day safari experience to the Masai.
Mara, Kenya, in 2022 and 2023. Travelling to the Mara Conservancies, where the wildlife is abundant, is also an opportunity to experience the safari camps that work to support the local communities. I want to share my experiences and stories of the lions and cheetahs and living in the bush. But more importantly, I want to give confidence to women who travel on their own, giving them a sense of safety, peace of mind, and female companionship. Safaris are still largely male-dominated. The opportunity to be on safari with women who share a love of nature, wildlife, conservation and photography is a unique experience.
For further details about Women on Safari, please get in touch with me at email@example.com
If there is enough interest, I would happily take a Women in Photography Group on their Safari. Please get in touch, and we’ll see if we have enough participants to schedule one.
My website is www.alisonmeesphotography.com.
All images (c) Alison Mees ARPS
Join us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling RPS membership on 0117 316 4460 and asking to join the RPS Women In Photography group.
This article was published in WE ARE, The Women in Photography magazine, March 2022.