7th December 2017

For a couple of years now I have toyed with the idea of taking my photography to the next level by gaining my LRPS distinction, so when David gave me a membership to the Royal Photographic Society for my birthday at the end of November, I was very excited.

It was just the little push that I needed, and after having read all through the bits on the website about how to apply, I downloaded the guidelines pack and other information; and decided to go for it.

All applicants are recommended to attend an Advisory date before applying, where your images are assessed in a much more relaxed atmosphere and you are given guidance about what works and what doesn't. The first one available in this area is in April next year, which I have now booked. So, it is just a question of deciding how long I want to wait between the Advisory and the actual assessment. The options are 18 days (too short), the end of May or the beginning of June. As we have plans to go away in May, I decided on the June date, which also gives me the most time to get my panels together. I have now sent off my application form together with my payment, so there is no turning back. Eeek.

At the moment I am excited and nervous in equal measures. I am not telling people yet, just a couple of good friends, just in case I don't pass – it would be so embarrassing.

8th December 2017

Today I have gone through some of my favourite images and chosen a few that I think might be suitable.
9th December 2017

Going through the guidelines booklet, I have drawn up a spreadsheet – I do like my lists and tick boxes – of all the various criteria that they have mentioned in the requirements. I have also played around with the Panel Sequence Plan.
I know that I am capable of using all the different techniques required for the LRPS, it is just a question of finding suitable images to demonstrate that ability.
11th December 2017
Today I received a confirmation email from the RPS about my LRPS Assessment Date of 8th June next year. I looked over the images I have so far collected as a tentative suggestion for inclusion in my panel, and immediately found something wrong with each and every one of them, even those that I felt very strongly about before.
2nd January 2018
I spent the whole evening last night printing possible images to be included in the assessment panel. The printer come out darker and more contrasty than they appear on the screen, so I have to adjust the brightness for each of the images before printing. I think I have just about got the hang of that now. Before Christmas I was very disappointed with the printed images, the colours and quality were very different to the original digital versions. After discussing this with the Practical Group at my camera club, I ordered some better quality papers from Photospeed, and the difference is enormous. I love the way the pictures look somehow so much better when printed and mounted.
Mounts. I have a small variety of colours when it comes to mounts, and have temporarily mounted the images in different style mounts. Once I have decided on my 20 images to include for the Advisory day, I shall check to see which coloured mounts suit all the pictures and change them to all one style.

Once I had printed my lot for now, David and I went through each of the photos and criticised them to the moon and back. Only a few went unscathed. This is round one of the selection process to ensure that I get the best of my images in front of those judges!
7th February
Today I chatted with a friend who went for his Advisory Day last month, and he was telling me how awful it was. He found one of the judges terribly rude and thought they were all over-critical. One girl's photos were apparently completely torn asunder (verbally, of course), leaving her in tears. I now feel worried that I am going to cry.

In a conversation with another friend (who achieved her LRPS last year),  she confirmed that all the judges are 'over-critical', but hers were not rude, at least. She showed me her successful panel, and her parting shot made me feel a little more at ease: “I got the impression from the advice Day and assessment that the photos don’t have to be spectacular just interesting, show evidence of composition and be technically perfect”.
25th March
I think I am now ready. Three different friends have given me feedback on my selected photos - all totally different opinions, of course – but I was able to take away some good points from each of them. 20 images have been printed and mounted as suggested by the RPS, so that I can have a selection of extra images to swap out any that the judges consider weak. It is now just down to selecting which 10 will be my main images to submit and which I will use as spares. That done, I can label them all and put them away ready for the Advisory Day.

The main ten images

The ten spares
7th April – The Advisory Day
We get to the RPS HQ in Bath five minutes after the doors open and we are the last to arrive (some 25 minutes before it is due to start). The HQ is very unassuming, disappointingly bland and basic to be honest, for such a prestigious society.

The room is small and full when we get there. In order to sit together, we have to grab a couple of extra chairs and climb over people right at the back, and and up sitting next to the large monitor and stacked chairs.

The day is quite informal, with three judges (different from the ones advertised) taking it in turns to comment on the portfolios. It is a mixture of LRPS and ARPS panels (the next level up), which initially confuses the hell out of me, as they start to read out one chap's “Statement of Intent” (as required for ARPS, but not LRPS, and I was panicking that I haven't produced one).

The first 'victim' is an easy one as far as the judges go, as he is told they struggle to find something wrong with his images, which are clearly all of LRPS standard. Easy. He receives a round of applause.

Following on his success, each applicant go like lambs to the slaughter. No stone is unturned, every tiny little flaw is pointed out. Some are told they are almost there and just need to make a few changes to some of the photos, others are told to go away and take more pictures, two are 'almost there', while a couple are deemed “nowhere near ready yet”.

Each applicant places his ten chosen images on a grid rail on the wall (hence the sequence panel as shown above), with the spare ten images lying flat on a table to one side of the room. The photographer stays at the front of the room with the advisors who give feedback, critique and ask questions.

My name is called just before lunch, the slot that I least wanted, as when I am feeling hungry I feel very emotionally sensitive. Thankfully the judges vote to have lunch rather than critique my images, so my photos are left on display to discuss after lunch. Phew. It also leaves me in the lucky position that I get some extra one-to-one feedback during an informal chat with a couple of the judges as I place my images on the rails. Judge John's comment was: “I am glad these are mine (it is his turn to give feedback), I shall enjoy talking about these later”.
Feeling really encouraged by John's opening line during the official assessment after lunch: “Unlike most people here today, in your case it is not a question of which photos to put in, the difficulty is knowing which pictures to leave out" (a sentiment later echoed by Roger); I settle down in the 'naughty chair' (a name given to the photographer's chair at the front) to take in all the feedback and suggestions. They love my photos. “very different set of images”, “you have proved me wrong about not being able to use a wide angle for taking photos of birds” (my up-close image of a pigeon), “how did you do that?” (the photo of Katie flicking her hair) “...strong images”, “very good work” “very creative”. A few suggestions are made, some pictures deemed “risky” and others not as strong as some.  After a final selection of ten is achieved, the advisors declare that I am ready for the LRPS, and we are all happy. Taking a photo of the final panel for my records, I walk back to my seat at the back, to some lovely comments from the other photographers and observers, feeling on top of the world.
Feedback on individual photos:

Initially felt it didn't fit into the panel, as it was the only one without an interesting background. Colours fine, doesn't matter that one antenna is not in focus (even in ARPS), but too big in the frame. Needs more space around


Love this one. Shows movement

Interesting, but too big in frame losing quality. Removed as 'risky'

Love, fabulous atmosphere 

Greenish cast. Like very much, but possibly too high contrast or too much sharpening 

Good control of highlights (some burnout acceptable in this case, especially for LRPS). Doesn't like the chap on the phone on left. Removed from the panel.

Super, perfect in every way: the shapes, the angles, the light 

Interesting and eye catching, edge of cloud may be processing fault, so deemed 'risky'.  Removed from panel.

Love the images apart from the car, but won't fail on that for LRPS. 

The judges added four images they felt were stronger and more in keeping with the image quality of the others.

“You have proved me wrong when I said earlier that you cannot take pictures of birds with a wide angle”
“This HAS to go in” 

Highlights on fingers and cup cakes need to be lowered ever so slightly. Try flipping it to see which one works best. 

“How did you do that?” “Did you have to pay her to do that?” “How many attempts did she have to make before she got the flow right?” “This HAS to go in” 

Very strong image, great colours. The green balances well with the aurora on the opposite side of the panel. 

Now all I have to wait for the actual Assessment Day.
21st April 2018
As my dad has not been very well, and at 92 anything could happen, I decide to take my portfolio to the RPS offices in plenty of time before the Assessment Day in case I am unable to be there on the day. So today we drive to Bath to drop them off at Fenton House.
6th June
The day is finally here and it has been touch and go whether I would be able to attend or not as my dad has been quite ill for a few days. Last night he was rushed to hospital in an emergency ambulance with suspected sepsis, which in a way took some of the pressure off us, as the responsibility is taken out of our hands. But obviously we do want to be with him too, and see the various doctors and consultants to a) find out how he is, and b) translate for him. We called in the hospital very early this morning to find out what the situation was, and as he had been moved out of ICU and was showing quite some improvement, we decided it was safe to leave him for a few hours.

We arrive at Fenton House way too early, with nearly 1½ hours to spare. There is one applicant there already, Carol, who we met at the Advisory day as well as another event. We take a seat downstairs in the reception and one by one more applicants start to arrive. There is a hushed atmosphere of nervous chatter, with people talking about how far they have travelled, how long it has taken them to get their panels together and how much (or rather how little) they know about their camera when used off AUTO. Right. Carol and I look at each other and try not to snigger. There is a varied age group of applicants from early 30s to mid 80s, mostly men.

As someone who does not normally suffer from exam nerves, I am surprised about how seriously affected I am by the tension in the room, which you can cut with a knife. After what seems like an eternity, we are called upstairs for the judging to commence. 

The first panel is brought out with kid gloves (well, they are probably cotton) and placed on the rails without a word. Still in absolute silence, the five judges get up and carefully and attentively examine each and every one of the images, taking them down from the stands and holding them at different angles, then standing back to view the panel as a whole.

Even when the images are not mine, I find it absolutely nerve-wracking and I think most of us are holding our breaths as the Chairwoman asks the judges to give their first vote. They hold up a card which can be green or red according to whether they feel the panels are suitable for LRPS recommendation. The audience can't see the colour of the cards, adding to our anxiety.

The Chairwoman then asks one of the judges to give their assessment, which they do without holding back. For each and every panel they have a number of feedback points, both positive and negative. A second judge is given the opportunity to offer their feedback and then the chair asks if anyone else would like to make any comments. Usually all five of them have something to say, often disagreeing with each other and sometimes appearing to play the 'good cop, bad cop' scenario.

A second vote is cast and the Chairwoman calls out the name of the applicant to congratulate them. As one by one the photographers get their names called, the tension lifts slightly, with huge sighs of relief all round.

The first six pass. The seventh gets a lot more criticism than the previous panels, and at one stage I can hear a voice behind me whisper: “Uh huh, I think I'm in trouble here'. His images do not get past the scrutiny. 

Then I see my familiar images being placed on the rails and as the judges pick each one up to scrutinise them, I get the sensation of the heat in the room rising. It suddenly feels so personal, as if I am totally naked in a room full of strangers with all my emotions laid bare.​​​​

My LRPS panel

The first vote is cast, but I am no wiser, of course. One of the judges starts to sum up his feelings, both good and bad. I am sure the entire room can hear my heartbeat by now. My perception is that they are being so critical, I must surely have failed, and I feel my face growing hotter and hotter, probably the colour of beetroot, I can't breathe anymore, and I just want to cry. I have put so much love, time, and even my soul into these images and they are treating them like livestock at the market. These are like my babies.

The final vote goes out and I am sure my heart has stopped beating now. The Chairwoman walks over to her table, looks at her list of candidates, and asks: “Do I have a Grete Howard here?” I meekly wave my hand, still worried I might bawl my eyes out if I try anything more adventurous than that. “Congratulations...” she continues. 

I passed.

I stay to hear the assessment of Carol's panel (she passed too), and then collect my images and leave.

I feel elated, naturally, and relieved, but my soul, ego, and heart are still raw with emotions, feeling fragile and bruised. This is the most nerve-wracking experience I have ever had, ten times worse than all the other exams I have ever taken in school, college or workplace put together and then some. As one guy said when we were leaving: “I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy!”

You can see the successful panel here

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