The Agony and the Ecstasy, My Journey to ARPS

It was great fun last night and interesting for me to talk about it [ARPS] – the preparation brought back many memories, mostly good, and all the emotions along the way. It was Chris Palmer who advised me to forget reality and stay with the totally abstract. Birmingham’s a wonderful place for reflections and I still get excited when I venture ‘that far north’!Kathy Chantler ARPS

The Royal Photographic Society (RPS) is a membership organisation that aims to promote all aspects of photography across art and science. Among many other membership benefits, the RPS offers “distinctions” – akin to qualifications – which set standards of achievement that are recognised throughout the world. (See more details below.)

Last Wednesday (9 May 2018) Kathy Chantler ARPS talked to club members about her photographic journey to obtain the ARPS – “Associate” – distinction. Kathy is a member of the Imagez Camera Club (based in Weston Turville) and has previously visited LBPC as a judge.

Kathy achieved her LRPS in 2014 using “images from stock”, with some of them enhanced or re-shot to improve quality. But ARPS is a significant step up and really requires fresh shooting. And, while the LRPS is about variety, the ARPS is much more about a consistent approach around a particular theme.

As she is a member of the blipfoto community (see ), Kathy recorded the progress of her ARPS journey in her blipfoto photo journal.

Come August 2015 Kathy was still searching for a theme. She had taken lots of advice on possible ideas and images and was considering approaches involving rust, intentional camera movement, and smoke images. But nothing was really crystallising.

Then she happened to go to Birmingham where New Street Station was being redeveloped. She spotted the distorted reflections in the new stainless-steel cladding and knew she was onto something. In September 2016 she was back in Birmingham taking more images in and around Grand Central (one of the shopping centres by the station). She was particularly excited by a reflected image of a Birmingham tram and, in her photo journal, described the exterior cladding of New Street Station as “a gift to a creative photographer”.

In November 2016 she was back in Birmingham again for more shooting and the theme was beginning to come together. The eventual panel was intended to fit into the Fine Art Photography category – “Photography produced to fulfil the creative vision of the photographer in expressing and sharing perceptions or emotions”.

In December 2016 Kathy met her RPS advisor, Chris Palmer, for some one-on-one feedback on some of her prints. While he criticised her printing and her composition, reassuringly he did not criticise her photography. And he advised her to forget reality and stay with the totally abstract.

Thus encouraged, she booked an assessment in Bath for 18 October 2017 and took more trips to Birmingham.

In June 2017 Kathy took her draft panel to an RPS pre-assessment Advisory Day at Amersham. (Advisory days offer an opportunity to view successful submissions and receive personal guidance on the standard of your work and the preparation of your panel. And you can attend as a participant or as a spectator.) This did not go as well as she had hoped and her panel was “shredded” by her own advisor, Chris Palmer, although not by the other advisor.

Kathy was left “confused as to how to proceed”. But of course, she persevered. And made more trips to Birmingham.

By August 2017, Kathy had a revised panel of prints back together. But was aware of shortcomings that needed to be addressed. By 8 October (about a week to go!) she had mastered home printing. And on 11 October she had all her prints together and they were being professionally mounted. And she had her Final Hanging Plan settled. So then she wrote her Statement of Intent! (This might seem like “after the event” but she had had a sort of draft statement at the beginning.)

18 October 2017 was the Assessment Day in Bath when her panel, together with the Statement of Intent, was examined by the five assessors. After a preliminary vote, one assessor spoke about the panel in somewhat favourable terms, another spoke about it in somewhat less favourable terms, and there was a second vote. The chairman of the assessors then announced the result and Kathy was delighted to hear she was being “recommended”. Recommendations are forwarded to the Distinctions Advisory Board and Council for final ratification before the Distinction is actually awarded. (And all unsuccessful applicants receive a feedback letter giving the reasons why they were not recommended.)

On 26 October 2017 Kathy’s Certificate was issued. She had found the ARPS process pretty tough. But she had learned a great deal from the experience and, apart from the Certificate itself, she felt that it was the challenges and the learning that had been important. The overall journey had definitely improved her as a photographer.

To finish, Kathy showed how some of her images had been developed from original RAW files through to the final edited versions. Processing included cropping, rotating, resizing, recolouring, adjustments to hue and saturation, and plenty of other “twiddling”. The aim was to have a balanced panel with consistent colours, tones and so forth.

Kathy encouraged anyone who is at a good club standard of photography to have a go at getting a Distinction. They would need motivation and perseverance. But they should do it for the challenge, the personal achievement when successful, and the gain in knowledge and skills.


RPS Distinctions

There are three levels of RPS distinctions and they are achieved by submitting panels of images (prints or PDIs) for assessment by the RPS:

  • Licentiate of the RPS (LRPS) – Requires 10 images which reflect your ability as a photographer. Applicants must show variety in approach and techniques but not necessarily in subject matter. Demanding but achievable for most dedicated photographers.


  • Associate of the RPS (ARPS) – Requires a body of work/project of 15 images of a high standard and a written Statement of Intent. At this stage, creative ability and personal style (what makes your work unique to you), along with complete control of the technical aspects of photography must be evident. Work must fall into one of nine specified categories.


  • Fellowship of the RPS (FRPS) – Requires a body of work/project of 20/21 images of a distinguished photographic and creative standard accompanied by a Statement of Intent. This is the highest level of distinction (and ARPS is a pre-requisite). More about the RPS distinctions can be found at

Kathy Chantler ARPS Panel