#190 – Royal Photographic Society Portfolio Part 7 – The panel

Finally some pictures!!!!

I’ve been working on them for that long that I’ve now got some better images, but at some point ou have to freeze the selection, otherwise you’ll never submit. I’m considering pushing on and putting together a panel for the Fellowship, but that’s 20 images, and it sounds like they’re going to change the rules so you cannot use any images from the Associate panel, so it’s going to be a case of starting the process from scratch. But still, having trod the path once already, at least I have an understanding of what the journey entails, although the standard required for the FRPS is very high indeed.

Anyway, this is the panel, I’ve put them in order, but you’ll have to look at the Hanging Plan to get an idea of the layout.

And that concludes this series, hope it’s useful to someone out there!

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#189 – Royal Photographic Society Portfolio – part 6 submission

OK, so I’ve got a pile of prints and some blurb to describe what it’s all about, we’re now in the final straight. The guide in this is the RPS distinctions handbook which you can download from the RPS website, it’s superb – well written and very informative. It’s got pretty much everything you need to know about the process.

So on to the remaining actions:

1) Fill the application form in – possibly the easiest part of the entire process. What wasn’t easy was filling the cheques in – £180 in total, gulp. Not cheap, especially when you consider the cost of the Nomad box, courier costs, all the paper and ink I’d used, etc.

2) Book a place on an assessment day. The LRPS assessment days are more frequent than ARPS and FRPS, and also tend to be at the weekend. The ARPS ones tend to be during the week, but I couldn’t attend on the day – getting to and from Bath from Chorley during the week is a slog, especially if you need to be there before 10 – that’s a long day, and I wasn’t in a position to stay over as that would mean eating into my annual leave. In retrospect it was an inspired decision – on the day of the assessment I was laid up at home in bed with a virus, so I couldn’t have attended anyway.

3) Buy a suitable box. Nomad of Market Harborough are the recommended supplier, and I can back up that recommendation. When I called, they were in the middle of a stock check and couldn’t tell if the box I wanted was in stock. When I explained the urgency, they went for a look in the warehouse and rang me back to confirm. Good stuff – I like that kind of service.

4) Produce a hanging plan – this is basically the sequence of the photos so that someone at the RPS can see how to lay them out on the racks for the assessors to see. I also had to individually number each image on the back, just to remove any ambiguity.

EDIT 19/06/2011: 5) Pack the prints carefully! When I got my box back, it had taken a serious kicking, to the point that a dent had pretty much penetrated the box, and the hanging plan. Fortunately, the prints were bubble inside the box (the hanging plan was on top of the bubble wrap) so no damage was sustained. I don’t know whether the damage occured coming or going to the assessment, but if it had happened on the way down, and there had been no bubble wrap, then at least one of the prints would have been damaged. My advice – bubble wrap the package of prints inside the box if you’re using a cack-handed courier to ship your panel.

6) Finally, I arranged for Interlink to come and collect the box, and all I could do then was cross my fingers and wait!!

The result of course was worth waiting for, and given the amount of time, money and effort over the 3 years or so, I was mightily relieved! But of course, this was as much about the journey as the destination, and I feel that the process has made me a better photographer, and that alone was worth the time, money and effort.

#188 – Royal Photographic Society Portfolio – part 5 statement of intent

For the ARPS and FRPS distinctions, a Statement Of Intent is required to be submitted with the panel. Basically this put the panel into context and sets the scene in the minds of the assessors. It’s not difficult to put together, but it does need some thinking about.

As a professional engineer, I am fascinated by the structures, processes and machinery of industry. However, my lifetime has seen huge changes in the industrial landscape with the skylines of the northern industrial towns rapidly changing to something unfamiliar.

The past ten years have seen a quickening of this transformation, with changes in the global economy meaning that many traditional industries have all but vanished. These workplaces, once the hub s of their communities, lie empty, stripped of their assets and smashed up by vandals and copper thieves. An uncertain future awaits the buildings and their former workers.

In the gap between closure and re-generation, I have been recording these landmarks before all traces of our industrial past are erased forever.

#187 – Royal Photographic Society Portfolio – part 4 printing and mounting

As mentioned before, I was considering getting my prints done by a lab, but given the amount of control I needed over the final output, I opted to print them myself, without quite realising the amount of time and money I’d end up throwing at it 😦

Calibrated my screen – wow, what a huge difference!!!!!!

As Margaret Salisbury is sponsored by Fotospeed Papers, she recommended them to us, and jolly good they are to, but they’re not cheap! I ended up using Fotospeed PF Gloss which was recommended to me, and then I was recommended  Baryta paper, which sounded good until I realised just how much it cost!!!!!! Given that I was printing A3, the cost of the paper and the large volumes of ink made this the most expensive bit of the entire process by some distance. Thankfully, the cost of consumables was spread out over an 18 month period, otherwise I’d probably be divorced by now.

I’d previously bought an HP A3 printer with some overtime money, as it was on a great offer and the price of  ink looked almost reasonable compared to Epsons, and I’d also heard they were very good at doing neutral B +W. However, the more I got into it, the more I realised what a nightmare printing monochrome on inkjets is. Basically, you’re going to get some kind of colour cast unless you have a RIP software on your computer, and they’re hugely expensive. The initial cast was red, so I printed a test sheet out and sent it to Fotospeed for them to produce a profile for that paper and my printer (a free of charge service on Fotospeed branded papers BTW). This pretty much eliminated it, but I struggled then with the selective colours, so I had to get another one done just for them. Under certain lights, there is still a slight green cast, but not others, so I just took a leap of faith and hoped that the lights at the RPS were ones that were OK.

For the mounting of the prints I opted to window mount them using plain white card, and back them with board for stiffness. I decided not to tape the backing and the mount together, as I then had the option of re-using the mount if I needed to re-submit.

Learning Points

Colour management = minefield, but if you’re serious about your photography, and print out regularly, then it’s a necessary evil.

Printing monochrome on an inkjet is a right pain in the arse. Using bespoke profiles for your printer and papers are a good thing but not a panacea.

Good quality papers make a world of difference – forget the supermarket rubbish and even the printer manufacturers own, papers from the likes of Permajet, Fotospeed and Hahnemuhle are the way forward.

#185 – Royal Photographic Society Portfolio – part 3 Post processing

As discussed in a previous post, I’d never really got into doing lots of local adjustments to my images, more global ones. The concept wasn’t new to me, as I’d done it in the darkroom at college, but had never followed through and done that much of it digitally.

With my final selection pretty much frozen, I re-visited pretty much every image and took another look at nearly all of them. Some were pretty much the finished article, others required vast amounts of work.

Certain things were easy – burnt out highlights are an absolute no-no, so highlighting areas and using levels to bring back some grey was easy, but the headaches began when I looked at the images that I’d previously done using HDR. Close examination showed halos and jagged edges, reasons I’d stopped using the technique in the first place. So, even though the image looked OK at normal size, it looked awful at magnifications of 50-100% and even when printed large it didn’t look great. So a number of images were an outright start from scratch with the raw file, although a couple of HDR images survived, one untouched, one with some additional local adjustments.

The selective colour question

I’d originally planned on having just the one selective colour image (green door), for reasons of balance, but I then decided that the image at Backbarrow Ironworks was worthy of inclusion. This left me with a headache as I couldn’t figure out how or where to include them in the sequence – it just didn’t work. I was left with the dilemma of either leaving one out or finding another image to do in selective colour. Unfortunately, these were the only two images I’d ever done using this technique. After hours of exhaustive searching, I eventually stumbled across the photo of a foxglove at Dinorwic slate quarry that I thought might have potential. While it was easier to cut out than the fern at Backbarrow (cutting out my own appendix would have been easier and less painful) it was still a right pain in the arse, which should serve as a reminder to anyone who insists on using this technique that the results rarely match the efforts. But still, I had something which when viewed as a panel, looked reasonably cohesive.

One important thing is to get a similar ‘look’ to all the images, by which I mean in terms of contrast, etc. This was a headache as the images had all been taken at different places, at different times, in different light and processed at different times. However, they’re all broadly the same idea – high contrast with heavy blacks and greys, but I took a bit of a leap of faith with a lot of them, and hoped that the assessors showed some discretion. Where I was completely starting again with images it was relatively easy to get a similar look as I was using Nik Silver Efex to do my conversions, and the settings I was using in this were broadly the same.

In the end, the panel looked reasonably cohesive. The biggest worry was whether I would be able to get them looking as I wanted on paper, but that’s for a future post!

#184 – Royal Photographic Society Portfolio – part 2 image selection and sequencing

As I was going to be submitting a panel of my urban exploration images, I had many to choose from, but only a few were actually good enough.

I had a short list of about 30, and these I discussed with Margaret Salisbury. In these discussions, I picked up several things of immense value:

1) You have more control of how your images are seen by the assessors if you submit prints, especially if you’ve printed them yourself. I’d originally planned on submitting the panel digitally (on cost grounds) but I then ran headlong into the wall that is monitor and projector calibration. In other words, what I saw on-screen on my computer was not necessarily what would be seen once it was put through the RPS projector. Additionally, getting your prints done commercially can be a headache as they don’t know how you want them to look.

2) As the panel of prints will be displayed as two rows (normally a seven and an eight) then consideration needs to be given to the sequence of images (which I’ll discuss further  in a future post) and consequently the right images need to be chosen that work together, rather than just the best fifteen.

3) Things to be considered are – having a strong opening image, achieving a balance to the panel, selecting the last image carefully so it acts as a visual ‘stop’, is there a story that can be told in the sequence, remove any images that are similar, etc.

This was a major eye opener to me, so I went away again and had another think! It put some very strong images out of contention, as I just couldn’t find a way to incorporate them into the panel.

I had to freeze my selection at a certain point, which was difficult as a) I was taking pictures on a regular basis, b) I felt I was getting better as a photographer, which meant that the pool of potential images I had to choose from was constantly expanding. But if I didn’t freeze the selection, I’d never ever submit it. So I froze it and set to work.

The actual order of the images is vitally important, to the extent that it could impact your image selection. The displayed panel has to be cohesive, and should ideally be symmetrical in shape so the placement of landscape and portrait format images needs to be considered.

My selection was quite broad in its range – I didn’t want to just include building exteriors, as that is only half the story, and the story telling aspect is the reason I entered the panel into the ‘Applied’ section. So I included a number of images that contributed a bit more to the party, such as the discarded payslip,  the reflection in the mill-pond, the barbed wire topped Huncoat image – all strong visual storytelling elements that weren’t just broken windows and rubble. I’ll post the full set in a future post.

#183 – Royal Photographic Society Portfolio – part 1 getting some good advice

After nearly 3 years of on and off work putting together a portfolio for submission to the Royal Photographic Society for an Associate distinction (ARPS), I finally submitted it and had it accepted. So how did the journey start? I’ve been involved with my local photographic society for several years, and although a number of people in the club were either LRPS or FRPS, I’d never really seen the benefit of joining. However, the more I heard about it, the more the journey appealed to me. So, I muddled together a selection of images and attended a Distinctions Workshop held by the RPS in Manchester.

Distinctions Workshop

I’d already been advised by two Fellows (who also sat on the awards panel), to go straight for the ARPS, rather than the LRPS first. This was heartening  to hear, so I attended a Distinctions Workshop in Manchester. Here I took along 25-30 digital images, and these were reviewed by a number of Fellows, who again said they were of a high enough standard to be considered for an Associate distinction, with the ‘Applied’ category probably being the natural place for them given my style of pictorial documentary.

As I was using my urban exploration photos, I had thousands to choose from, but I needed to select not only my very best images, but ones that fitted together as a set, and demonstrated the necessary variety of approach. To be fair, this narrowed it down dramatically, plus I already had a few favourites.

By sheer coincidence, my photographic society were starting a series of distinctions workshops with Margaret Salisbury, another Fellow who has spent many years on RPS panels, as well as mentoring people. There are few people in a better position to offer qualified (and very forthright) advice as Margaret, so this was a great opportunity.

At this stage, all I had was a long shortlist of images and not much else. I hadn’t realised at this stage the amount of work that would need doing to the images to bring them up to the required standard. I’d never done much in the way of local adjustments to images, beyond the odd bit of dodging and burning – I’d focussed more on global adjustments. Even though I’ve spent time in darkrooms, I’d never really got into the habit of making large-scale adjustments to digital images, but this was all about to change!

Learning Points

Get some advice. I’d highly recommend going to an RPS distinctions workshop for advice, and maybe even a reality check.

Don’t rush the process. Take your time, as you’ll get more from the journey.