Getting the LRPS distinction from The Royal Photographic Society

Posted by David Travis on 20 Jul 2020

The Hanging Plan

In July, I was awarded my LRPS by the Royal Photographic Society. My application was the result of about 6 months worth of planning.

Before I explain why I chose the individual pictures in my panel, I want to show the hanging plan. For a print submission, the 10 images in your panel need to form a cohesive group. People often refer to the hanging plan as ‘the 11th image” and there are stories of panels failing, not because the images were poor but because the hanging plan wasn’t thought out.

My LRPS Hanging Plan I found it useful to think of my hanging plan in terms of pairs of images. If you think of the images as numbered 1-10 from the top left (1) to the bottom right (10), I thought of the outside images on each row as a pair (i.e. 1 & 5 and 6 & 10). I also treated the two middle images (3 & 8) as a pair. So I was looking to create horizontal and vertical symmetry. It’s also considered important to make sure the outside images lead the viewer into the panel: so for example, the panel wouldn’t work if I swapped images 1 and 5 because then the implied leading lines would pull the viewer out of the panel.

I found this the hardest part of putting my panel together. It meant that the final 10 images in my panel aren’t my best images; they’re just a permutation of the images in my archive that I think work together as a group.

Because I wanted the hanging plan to look cohesive, it also meant I made each of the images the same aspect ratio: 10 x 8. Again, this isn’t the best aspect ratio for some of the images: I think the landscape images (in positions 6, 9 & 10) look better with a wider aspect ratio (like 6 x 4), and the graphic images (in positions 2 & 5) look better with a square crop. But this is the compromise I needed to make for the images to work as a panel.

Early draft. For comparison, here’s an earlier draft of a panel which had different images. I didn’t submit this to RPS; I was just playing around with different images. Taken individually, I think these images are at least as strong as the ones in my final panel. But viewed as a panel, it looks haphazard. With the strong blue image at position 1 and the black and white image at position 5, there’s a riot of colour compared with my final panel. You'll also notice an early version of the Llandwyn Island image (in position 6). It's overprocessed here with a fake sky so I fixed that in my final submission.


The LRPS Criteria

The assessors review each image against a set of 4 criteria:

  • Camera work and technical quality: this criteria includes checks for sharpness, exposure and colour rendition amongst other things. Basically, this is about showing you are in control of the camera. I think of this as the most basic photographic skill.
  • Visual awareness: this criteria checks you know how to use light appropriately, that you can compose a good image and that you have chosen the correct viewpoint.
  • Communication: This is about creativity, capturing the decisive moment and having a clear intent.
  • Overall impression: This is where the organisation of the panel comes in. But it’s also about showing a variety of approach. So if your panel contains only shallow depth-of-field portraits, or macro images of bugs, it won’t pass, no matter how good the images.

The Images

Now let’s move onto the images themselves. Just to be clear, although I’ve titled the images in this blog post, this wasn’t part of the LRPS submission. For the LRPS, each image is just a number.

Image 1: The Skateboard Artist. This is a portrait of Joe, who carves skateboards. I chose it because I wanted to demonstrate knowledge of using off-camera flash (this meets the LRPS criteria about having a good understanding of how to use light) and I wanted to include a portrait to show diversity of subject matter. The portrait also shows clarity of intent as there’s nothing distracting in the image. The fact that Joe was gazing to the right meant this was a shoo-in for the start of the panel.

Image 2: Come back to Earth. This is the helical staircase at the Mackinstosh Centre in Glasgow. The original picture has no-one on the staircase but on reflection I thought it needed someone to provide a sense of scale. So I pasted in someone from another image from the same shoot. I chose this to meet the LRPS criteria about composition and design as well as correct choice of viewpoint.

Image 3: Let me help you with that. Another image from Glasgow. This image has done well in club competitions and was one that I knew I needed to include as it meets the LRPS criteria around the decisive moment. In the past, I’ve only shown this in black and white, but this made it feel like an outlier in the panel as I had no other black and white images. So I left it in colour.

Image 4: One man's trash. This image shows a rusty tin can. I chose it to demonstrate variety of approach since it’s the only macro image in the panel. It also shows good control of lighting since it’s not easy to light reflective materials with flash. With its strong graphic shape it also ticks the ‘composition and design’ box. That said, this was the only image in the panel I was unsure about. Although I like the composition, the rim of the can (in the centre of the image) is slightly soft. The subject of a macro image should be tack sharp front to back. I left the image in because it paired so well with the staircase image in the top row of my panel but I was worried the assessors might fail me on this.

Image 5: Portrait of a golden eagle. I chose this to demonstrate that I know how to control depth of field in an image. It’s incredibly sharp exactly where it needs to be: on the eye and on the beak. With the eagle looking back into the panel, it acts as a good book end for the top row.

Image 6: Llandwyn Island sunset. This is a classic image that’s been taken many times before. It’s a little clichéd but with its strong leading line and definite subject it does tick the LRPS ‘composition’ and ‘point of interest’ criteria. It was taken at sunset and that also meets the criteria around understanding light.

Image 7: The Final Straight. I took this at Kingsbury Water Park. Sports photography isn't my thing but I wanted to demonstrate a variety of approach to the LRPS assessors and show that I know how to freeze fast action. The composition avoids spectators, buoys and other junk and that demonstrates correct choice of viewpoint and awareness of inappropriate backgrounds and distractions. This image also demonstrates good control of exposure since it’s very easy for the spray to become over-exposed in images like this.

Image 8: Field mouse. Although this is a pleasing image, I’d be the first to admit it doesn’t add much to the panel in terms of showing variety of approach. It’s very similar to the portrait of the golden eagle. I put this in because it has strong vertical symmetry which makes it work well in the centre of the bottom row of the panel and pairs well with the image above it.

Image 9: Coniston Sunset. This was taken by Parkamoor Jetty on Coniston Lake. I chose this to demonstrate composition and use of light and to show that I’ve mastered long exposure photography. It’s also sharp front to back. When I was putting my panel together, I first chose a version where I’d replaced the empty sky with a more ‘interesting’ sky. I know I have a tendency to overwork images in Photoshop and for this panel I decided to keep things as close to the original as possible — especially as one of the LRPS criteria is about appropriate use of post-production techniques. I felt that adding a new sky wasn’t making the image substantially better and was simply giving the assessors a reason to fail the panel.

Image 10: Queens Bridge, Belfast. I thought this was a strong image to end on and the right-to-left direction of energy works well given its position in the panel. It shows good exposure control in difficult lighting and demonstrates evidence of imagination to convey a mood. The leading line of the bridge shows visual awareness of composition.


The pandemic impact

I intended to submit my panel as a set of prints. I had them printed and mounted ready to send to RPS headquarters just as coronavirus hit. Because I wasn’t sure how long the delay would be, I took advantage of a change RPS made to the submission criteria. They temporarily allowed people to submit electronic images but to be assessed as a print panel. I was pleased with my prints and I would have preferred to have had them assessed as prints but as with any exam, I just wanted to get it over with.

Curious about LRPS?

If this has whetted your appetite and made you consider applying, here’s some resources I found useful:

Without these resources, I don’t think my panel would have passed first time because they helped me get into the RPS way of thinking. So be sure to check out the RPS resources if you decide it’s for you.


If you liked this, try…

What does 'good' look like to a photography club judge?

1 Feb 2019

My Top 20 from 2019

7 Jan 2020

The four things that make a great photograph and the one thing that doesn't

7 Nov 2018

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