There is a buzz of activity when I arrive at Littleton Hall for the Southern Region LRPS Assessment Day. Anthony and Chris are in the kitchen making patterns on plates with Jaffa cakes while Paul, the Regional Organiser, is flitting around, looking smart as always in his beautifully ironed waistcoat. As he briefs me on the day ahead, he is animated and focused - we are the Southern Region team and it’s our job to ensure the day goes smoothly.
“Right, we have 26 LRPS panels being assessed today. I’ve been to Waitrose and bought lunch for the Assessment Team. Here’s the list to sign everyone in.”
As I take my seat behind the makeshift welcome desk, the first panellists arrive from Hampshire and beyond. They trickle in, some alone and others with partners, but all looking anxious, and I am not surprised. Some of them may have worked for years to reach this point in their photography journey, painstakingly taking, editing and mounting photos to the best of their ability. The big day has arrived when they will find out if their efforts will be rewarded, and it’s terrifying.
Now we’re all seated and there is a hush in the hall as we wait for the event to commence.
The lovely Ben Fox ARPS from the Distinctions Team appears and diffuses the sombre atmosphere with a friendly welcome to this Regional Assessment Day in Winchester before we meet the Chairperson, Vanessa Slawson FRPS.
Vanessa introduces the five assessors, Nigel, Hazel, Ian, Viveca and Linda, all carefully selected for their wealth of photography experience. With a mixture of ARPS and FRPS distinctions behind them and excellent public speaking skills, they will assess images to criteria set by the RPS and succinctly explain why a submission meets or does not meet the required standard.
The assessors sit side by side in the front row directly opposite the print stand, meticulously erected that morning by Andy Moore LRPS, the RPS’s Head of Distinctions, who is now busy removing tissue paper carefully protecting the first panel as he prepares it for display.
There is also a Distinctions Committee Observer present, Simon Leach FRPS, whose role is to ensure the process is followed and support the Chair if needed.
Vanessa is now in the spotlight and explains the process to the panellists:
“To be successful you must pass all the criteria for the LRPS distinction. The assessors will review the panel from their seats to gain an overall perspective before checking images more closely. Everyone will vote and then two panel members will share their thoughts on the panel and make comments relating to the LRPS criteria, pointing out the images that have or have not fulfilled the criteria. There may be some discussion between them before a second final vote is taken. Can everyone please be silent while the judging is taking place.”
By now Andy has discreetly placed the first panel on the print stand and the judging commences.
After a minute of concentrated reflection from their seats, the assessors approach the print stand and start scrutinising the photos. They are typically displayed on two rows, although they can be arranged however the panellist wishes. From a distance the panels may look stunning, but close-up is where any technical flaws will be identified. The assessors then return to their seats and vote using small red and green cards, not visible to the audience behind them.
The first assessor presents his feedback:
“This photographer shows a good understanding of light in difficult lighting conditions, they have handled contrast well, there is a variety of subject matter in the panel and the layout works well.”
The second assessor then presents her feedback, agreeing with his comments but adding that she has some concern about overcontrolled highlights in one of the photos. The panel discuss it in more depth of before Vanessa asks for the final vote and announces the panel’s decision.
“I am pleased to announce that we will be recommending this panel to the council for the LRPS Distinction.”
In this case the assessors have decided to let the small flaw go.
Until this point the photographer has been anonymous but, as the audience burst into applause, she can now be mentioned by name. She is identified as an attractive, bubbly woman sitting in the row in front of me, so I am able to closely observe her reaction. Her relief is palpable. This may have been the most nail biting few minutes of her life, but she did it and she is overjoyed. As she reaches and hugs her family next to her, they are already planning how they will celebrate that evening. This is a milestone in her photography journey, and it merits a celebration.
The next panellist is not so successful. There is an issue with one of his photos which seems to have been over-darkened in post-production. To be awarded the LRPS distinction, every single photo must match the criteria and this one doesn’t. The panel make the final vote and Vanessa addresses the audience:
“Unfortunately, we can’t recommend this panel due to a technical issue in one of the photos but, as it is only one image, we can offer a referral to the photographer.”
A referral means that the photographer can resubmit the same photo with the post-production issues corrected or with a substitute photo. As he was not recommended, he remains anonymous. This is a near miss and means that the other nine images have reached the required standard and will not be re-assessed when the submission returns. However, the new image must fit within the panel.
As the assessors painstakingly inspect each and every one of the panels with the same attention to detail and fairness that is required, I find it fascinating listening in and observing.
The next member is offered a resubmission, meaning the panel is generally up to standard but there are some minor technical issues that need addressing.
There are a few panels that are not recommended, proving that achieving LRPS requires skill and all the criteria must be carefully met.
At times, when panels are obviously borderline, I feel like I am watching an edge of the seat thriller. There may be flaw but it’s not serious and the rest of the panel is deemed excellent. The assessors intensely debate the flaw before deciding whether they can accept it or not. The audience waits with anticipation, willing the best for the photographer, then delighting in seeing the relief and joy on his face when Vanessa announces he will be recommended.
One panel, all in monochrome, is so striking there is no doubt in anyone ‘s mind that it will be recommended. The assessors very quickly recommend it before moving on to the next one. What a talent that photographer has!
It is an intense day for the panel, assessors and spectators and, as a photographer yet to submit an LRPS panel, I soak up the knowledge.
I notice the assessors use certain key phrases that seem to come up time and again; some negative and others positive. They are helpful pointers for preparing my panel.
Contrast managed well
Variety of subject matter
Clear point of interest
Range of depths of field
Cohesion in colours
Good use of light
Good use of shapes
Appropriate shutter speed
Great ability to capture decisive moment
Lots of imagination
Range of approaches
Range of lenses
Fantastic attention to detail
Sense of design
Good mirroring of images
Sees in an original way
Good use of different techniques
Empathy with subject
Over sharpened skin tones
Eyes not sharp
Graduated filter overdone
Parts of macro image not in focus
Not sure where to look
Not enough visual awareness
Distractions in image
No point of interest
Not enough attention to detail
Lack of critical sharpness
Pictures not ordered correctly in panel
Presentation not to standard
Focus not on subject
Cohesion of panel not right
Drab, flat lighting
Over cropped/over enlarged
Lacking in subject matter
Wrong colour balance
There is no doubt that the standard required for the LRPS is high, requiring both talent and attention to technical detail, but it is achievable with hard work and dedication, as the ones who were recommended proved.
As we pack up the hall, the sombre mood has lifted. It’s been a good day that has ran smoothly. Those who were recommended are positively beaming as they grab a cheeky chocolate digestive for the car journey home. Those who were not approved this time are simply relieved it is all over. The panel and chair will provide detailed feedback so they can learn, improve and re-submit a panel at a later date. They may be disappointed, but they have moved on in their photography journey and there is always the next time.