Qualifications with The National Photographic Society are split into three distinct sections.
The first section is our Diploma In Photography. This is for enthusiast photographers and those thinking of starting a career in photography. It is a digital prints submission only qualification and the judging parameters are fairly loose. This qualification is designed as a starting qualification and no designation is conferred upon candidates. It’s aim is to separate the amateur photographer from those who have an understanding about the basic concepts of photography such as exposure and depth of field. It is free to submit images for Diploma consideration. Click here for our Diploma Guidelines
The second section is our Licentiate and is aimed at the entry level photographer who is starting out in photography as a profession or those who have not long been a professional photographer. It is a digital only print submission like the Diploma but has higher criteria including composition, lighting and presentation. It costs £35 to submit a Licentiate panel (resubmitted panels cost £20 if resubmitted within 3 months). Click here for our Licentiate Guidelines.
The third section is a lot more involved and is without a doubt the most comprehensive, stringent and modern system in existence today, the Master of Photography. This recognition of achievement rather than qualification as such was created by Martin Grahame-Dunn and the training, judging and awarding of this is dealt with by his company EIP (Excellence in Photography)
The following is an in-depth description of how the whole process works from the EIP’s own text.
So how are images judged? Well this too varies considerably but in those countries who have adopted the numerical scoring system images are ‘judged on the box’, which is to say using five judges who enter scores on a keypad attached to what is essential a big calculator that averages out the scores that are announced by the Chairman of the panel. If there is a significant variance in the average scores by a margin of 10 points or more the machine goes into overdrive, begins flashing and alerts the Chairman of the anomaly.
At this point an ‘Automatic Challenge’ takes place by which the judges are called upon to justify their respective scores. This process is certainly one of the most valuable and entertaining in ‘open judging’ where so much is to be learned by an eager and enthusiastic audience hoping to glean words of wisdom and interpretation from esteemed ‘experts’ that constitute the panel of judges.
Wherever and whenever an electronic system is unavailable then there is an option to score manually, using an Excel spreadsheet or similar to undertake the calculations. This is quite straightforward. Some countries are in the process of developing or having already developed systems to function as Apple iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch applications that basically equate to the old ‘electronic box’ option as originated in the USA.
Lighting for viewing the images will be a constant 1 second at f16 @100 ISO. – The ‘International’ standard. It is vital that your print density matches the aforementioned lighting condition. It goes without saying that your monitor must be calibrated with professional calibration software. Eye One Match, or Colour Munki, prior to such an important commitment to print. Photographs should ideally be printed at the same time, this again is paramount for consistency, if possible with the same batch of paper, this will ensure colour fidelity and contrast levels are all the same. If black borders are to be used, ensure that they are in fact black and not displaying a cast of some description, cyan, green and blue can occur, if the laboratory does not have a supported colour management system in place.
These are the ‘Mechanics’ of judging and scoring a traditional ‘Print’ Competition. It is our decision to stick to proven methods and maintain standards that are in danger of evaporation within our industry. So, in short, no digital submissions for the Academy.
THE JURY OR PANEL
How is a ‘Panel of Judges’ selected and composed? Essentially there must be a minimum of three and maximum of five ‘Qualified’ judges, with additional judges for rotation wherever possible, selected by the Chairman. Above all, the Chairman must use all of his or her skill and judgment to select the best possible and ‘open minded’ range of judges that are best suited to the task in hand. Each Judge must have clearly demonstrated that they have an ‘open mind’, able to accept and assess, without prejudice, bias or personal preference, all genre’s of Photography. They must also show a healthy respect for their fellow judges and be prepared to change an opinion on any given image when suitably presented with compelling or ‘enlightening’ evidence.
The Academy will utilise a panel of a minimum of five judges plus the Chairman. These will initially be selected from the “College of Fellows” with Kevin Wilson as their Chairman.
These judges are recognised experts within their chosen disciplines, they will be expected to adjudicate in a professional manner. He or she will be willing to display an open mind and be willing to accept all genres and styles of photography. They will also be expected to uphold the stringent standards required at this level and will demonstrate a sincere respect for their fellow judges, taking in both positive and negative attributes of imagery, thinking out of their comfort zone & looking beyond their own individual genres.
During the discussion of a panel, they will be expected to change their opinions when evidence is presented that is clarifying & enlightening. The chairperson will be responsible for the behaviour of his judges, he or she will ensure that the submitted image is assessed in the correct manner. He or she will also go to extreme lengths to make sure each judge has his or her views listened to and no judge will be allowed to dominate.
Rules? What Rules? Photographers have nearly all experienced a degree of ‘education’ from numerous books, internet resources, so called ‘Guru’s’ and ‘Legends’ in the industry. The monotonous references to ‘rules’ are almost endless. But do many photographers and judges honestly know what they mean or indeed, their origins? And just how are some of these ‘rules’, that were conceived centuries before the advent of photography, even applicable?
Should they be determining, rigid criteria in the scoring of competition images? If a team of judges are presented with an outstanding image that appears to ‘break the rules’ or simply does not adhere to the principles with which they have been indoctrinated and yet, still score it highly, does that not seriously question the ‘rules’ in the first place? A lesson here is to let common sense and emotion prevail. Common sense in the application of a judges technical knowledge of the mechanics of photography and the only valid rules…the laws and physics of light. Emotion, in the effect that the contents of the image itself has upon the viewer and invokes a positive response.
In essence, let go of life rafts that are full of holes and take the plunge into the unknown in your evaluations. Above all, the Chairman is totally responsible for the behaviour of the judges and the effective management of his or her panel. He must be prepared to show discipline and authority if any judge ‘steps out of line’ and only intervene in the process if it is evident that there are prejudicial elements at work.It is a harsh fact that in the history of Judging there has undoubtedly been evidence of ‘cheating’. Often this is manifested in the conspiracy of one or two Judges who are determined to pervert the natural course. Again, it is the Chairman’s responsibility to be the Policeman and if necessary, Judge, Jury and Executioner by removing any offending Judge who has demonstrated clear evidence of corruption.
What is the Criteria for a “Master of Photography” qualifying Image?
To ask a judge, or indeed a chairperson to describe and more importantly, attempt to perhaps quantify this achievement is a truly difficult task to explain, however, it is often said, ‘Judges’ know one, when they see one. We identify with this view. It comes from experience through the both taking of photographs that are ultimately successful in gaining a “Master of Photography” distinction, or indeed Fellowship, or Master of another recognised professional body, and then the learning process in the art of judging. This usually follows as a natural progression from the acquisition of your “Masters’.
We would also add that it is true that when you attempt to enter images for your “Master of Photography” Award, it would be wise to seek the assistance and guidance from those who have already reached that standard. In essence, a mentor (In our case, a Fellow or Master of a recognised ‘Professional’ awarding body, that has a proven track record in your discipline. We have such ‘Mentors’ within the EIP Academy. Their wisdom could well be the making of you, and of course ultimately determining the outcome of the print scores you receive. It would be unwise and foolhardy and totally disrespectful of the Academy’s Distinctions and the system if you were not to avail yourself to this facility.
SCORING IN ACTION
So what exactly do the scores received relate to? I hope that in the matrix below the terminology may shed light on some of this mystery. This matrix that may be used to gauge the scores you may receive in an image competition but the descriptions and point breaks may vary slightly but nevertheless is pretty accurate worldwide.
Image Judging “Master of Photography” – A FULL range of scoring
0 - 49
Below acceptable ‘Professional’ quality in any area
50 – 59
Very poor but with evidence of some potential
60 – 65
The beginnings of understanding required technique
66 – 69
The absolute basics of technique are understood but largely ignored
70 – 75
Competent in the expectations of professional quality
76 – 79
Well crafted and demonstrating potential
80 – 85
Images of particular distinction – a ‘General’ collection image receiving 1 MERIT
86 – 90
Images of exceptional quality, a ‘General’ receiving 1 MERIT. Worthy of consideration for ‘Gallery’ status
91 – 100
An image of outstanding quality immediately qualifying for a ‘Gallery’ status – 2 MERITS
In many countries a score of 80 points would be the mark at which an actual award is made and may be called a ‘merit’. The achievement of a ‘merit’ may honestly denote the ‘Artist’ as an ‘Award Winning Photographer’ but certainly not below this internationally recognised benchmark. As to what constitutes a score of 80 and above is concerned, that will always be a ‘moveable feast’ dependent on the general overall quality of submissions into any given competition. A skillful and experienced Chairman will always run the previous years winning entries (if available) in front of his current panel of Jurors to ‘warm them up’ to the judging process. It is therefore essential to set the benchmarks as early as possible to ensure a smooth and effective judging.
The “10 Category” assessment system
The essence of image critique is based upon a ‘10 category system’, which is used widely to assess submissions for Image Competition entries and in some instances Qualifications. Theoretically, each section is divided into 10 points giving a total of 100 points. We shall apply this system within the EIP Academy.
So the next question is, how do the judges arrive at those scores? Below is a step-by-step division of the constituent elements of an image used notionally to arrive at those magical figures.
“Is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion.”
2. Creativity & Style
“Creativity is defined as the external expression of the imagination of the maker by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought. Style is defined in a number of ways as it applies to a creative image. It might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognisable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject. It can impact an image in a positive manner when the subject matter and the style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.”
“Is important to the design of an image, bringing all of the visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.”
4. Image or Print Presentation
“Affects an image by giving it a finished look. The mats and borders used should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.”
5. Centre of Interest
“Is the point or points on the image where the maker wants the viewer to stop as they view the image. There can be primary and secondary centres of interest. Occasionally there will be no specific centre of interest, when the entire scene collectively serves as the centre of interest.”
“The use and control of light refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is manmade or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.”
7. Colour Balance
“Supplies harmony to an image. An image, in which the tones work together, effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Colour balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.”
8. Technical excellence
“Is the print quality of the image itself as it is presented for viewing. Sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting and correct colour all speak for the qualities of the physical print.”
9. Photographic Technique
“Is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, ‘digital negative’ exposure, film choice (If used), digital output to file, paper selection and more are part of the technique applied to an image.”
10. Story Telling & Subject Matter
“Story Telling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image. The subject matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.”
“TEN” in Depth – POWER-COMBINATION-TECHNICAL
Now follows a more in depth look at the ‘Ten’ criteria, but first I want to take a brief look at what I have described as ‘combination elements’, ‘power elements’ and finally, ‘technical elements’ that all contribute to the decision making process.
The “POWER” Elements
The ‘Power’ elements combine strongly to become the greatest influencers on any given score. judges are historically more likely to be more forgiving of certain technical deficiencies when presented with what they determine to be a powerful image. As an example, an image which has what may be described as a Wow! factor will inevitably contain subject matter that invokes a strong emotional response.
When combined with great lighting skill, powerful composition and pleasing aesthetics, images of this type result in very high scores and prompt extremely emotive discussion. The question then often begs, ‘Is it creative?”. In such cases where the judges overwhelmingly decide it is then they are immediately inclined to disregard minor technical deficiencies. On the other hand, the ‘Power’ factor can be extremely negative.
This is often manifested where the subject matter itself is deemed to be either, shocking and distasteful, evoking powerful negative emotions and sometimes, repulsion. In this scenario, the judges must be very careful to strongly assess the other essential factors. As an example, a powerful documentary or press image of an atrocity that contains vital and important social narrative must not be underscored due to personal revulsion or taste. The maxim, ‘If it tells an important story and must be seen” must be applied and an appropriate score given.
Jurors must remember that it is down to the hosting organisation to set the criteria for entry and not for any judge to criticise where the submitted image has been deemed suitable for entry. In such cases a good Jury Chairman will simply instruct his jurors to simply “Judge what you see!” Judges will have been selected on their ability to assess what is and is not a great use of lighting technique and should be sufficiently versed with the technical as well as innovative aspects of lighting. In digital assessments, poor lighting technique will become even more obvious due to the increased contrast ratios incurred in digital projection.
Composition is a subject that is endlessly debated and an area where Jurors must be extremely careful not to impose their own values and notional ‘Rules’ when making their assessments. Many of the so called ‘rules’ in photography are simply notions that have been translated, moderated, shaped and moulded to fit photography, which in the course of time and art, is still in its infancy. Essentially, great judges ‘feel’ a composition is right without the need to quantify what is almost a genetic imprint of what we as human beings find pleasing or disturbing. Images that demonstrate a great deal of symmetry and balance induce feelings of peace, calm and equilibrium. While poorly composed images invoke feelings of disorder or chaos that we found both displeasing and disturbing.
The “Combination” Elements
- Creativity & Style
- Centre of Interest
- Story Telling & Subject Matter
These are elements, which when coupled with the more powerful emotive factors can affect a score in both a positive and negative manner. These are in place to ensure that images that contain a high degree of technical excellence, even though the genre may have been seen a thousand times before, or indeed become labeled with descriptions such as “Classical”, “Old School”, “Dated” or other perceived negatives, are judged and scored with the respect and reverence they deserve as true examples of the art and craft of photography.
The “Technical” Elements
- Technical Excellence
- Photographic Technique
- Colour Balance
- Image or Print Presentation
These ‘Technical’ elements really speak for themselves and all are essential to the fine workmanship that must go into every ‘successful’ image. As discussed earlier, Image presentation, particularly in digital projection must have a degree of latitude and understanding by the Judging Panel. The remaining elements are essentially, camera craft and retouching technique and suitably qualified Jurors must have themselves demonstrated a good degree of understanding in these factors. A Juror that says “Sorry, I am not very technical and don’t understand XYZ” is not a good choice as pointless discussion that is best reserved for the bar may ensue during a judging session.
Impact can be a momentary emotional response to an image triggered by its content. There are any number of adjectives that can be applied, all of which illicit an emotion or range of emotions. To list but a few, Shock, Horror, Wow!, Intrigue, Beauty (which of course can be individually perceptual), Narrative and Tranquility. It is essential that any Judge takes sufficient time to assess the image so the “IMPACT” does not become the overriding factor in determining their score. It is inevitable that the longer the image is visible that the impact does in truth, diminish. In such cases there is a clear tendency, often rightly so, to dig deeper to assess other critical factors. Some images will undoubtedly stay with us or even haunt us for weeks, months, years and even for the rest of our lives. This is evidenced in the fact that ‘once a great image, always a great image’ is an adage that is most appropriately applied. In practice, this tends to allow extremely well crafted images where the subject has “Been seen before” to still achieve the respect, reverence and score it deserves.
2. Creativity & Style
This is indeed the Million Dollar question. Is an image creative and if so, how do we attempt to define creativity? It is without question a thought process that demonstrates some degree of individuality or at the very least the desire for the artist to be ‘different’ from the masses. This is one of the ‘combination elements’ that can both positively and negatively affect an overall score
So, what are the visual elements that make a great composition? My contention is that our pre conditioning as human beings makes us deeply receptive to all of the elements of geometry that surround us in our daily lives. It is how we bring together elements within a photographic image that makes it either pleasing or displeasing. The phrase, “What’s the point?” springs to mind. For if the compositional elements fail to draw the viewer to the critical viewpoint, or more familiarly, the point of the image, then it has in truth, failed. To briefly examine the compositional elements and tools I will refer to a useful and ancient text. A point. The first mark an artist makes on his canvas? The point of view? The critical point of interest?. It is undoubtedly the beginning and the end of an image, the ‘whole point’ if you like. In progression, once the artist has made his first mark this often extends into a line. Lines are like railroad tracks or Motorways. They take you from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ where you know point ‘B’ exists even if you cannot see it!.
This is manifested in many ways in an image as a ‘Vanishing Point’ or simply a line that leads us directly to where we as artists, wish the viewer to arrive at the critical point. A careful use of ‘Leading Lines’ within an image makes for a very powerful composition indeed. Lines when joined together in a two dimensional form become surfaces and surfaces become solids perceptually but the application of light that results in making a two dimensional medium into a three dimensional vision. Therefore, directional light combined with strong lines, surfaces and points have become the essential elements of any composition.
4. Image or Print Presentation
In the case of a Print submission, presentation is essential to the success of any image. Not only choosing the right surface or texture of the medium chosen for output, but to the main subject placement on the paper, the addition of a Matte or indeed the type of board it is bonded too. Other factors such as surface lamination, spraying and retouching must all be undertaken with extreme care and finesse. The paper surface can make or break an image. As an example, what may be deemed to be a ‘Fine Art’ image should be presented on a Fine Art medium. Be mindful that in such cases the colour gamut of Giclee far outstrips traditional photographic printing and the perception of texture can be a strong factor in increasing a score. When submitting digital images for projection is essential that the artist has taken every care to achieve the best possible file at the prescribed resolution with the widest possible contrast range commensurate with the subject matter to attempt to make some allowances for the deficiencies of digital projection.
5. Centre of Interest
The message should be so clear within any given image that the judges are immediately drawn to the centre of interest. Here we go back to ‘Combination Elements’ that conspire to achieve the artists aim in securing the judges undivided attention. Therefore it is clear that powerful composition combined with a strong message, or as it is referred to here, “Narrative”, must draw us to the ‘Centre of Interest’. It really is as simple as that!
Lighting is a subject upon which numerous tomes have been written and it is not appropriate to expand upon it here. Suffice it to say that as a Juror, you are expected to be what could best be described as a “Master of Light”.
7. Colour Balance
Colour Balance has always been a difficult assessment criteria for we all see colour in different ways. Clearly, one can assess neutrality ‘on the numbers’ within Photoshop or by use of colour checking equipment both on monitor and physical print. But in the end we are forced to make visual decisions based upon what we see either in print or digital form. Perhaps the word ‘pleasing’ may be more appropriate in many cases. Where there is a clear adverse colour cast that adversely affects the ‘feel’ and presentation of the image, it should be identified and penalised accordingly, particularly where that affects subject skin tones. In instances where cool tones have been used for ‘effect’, then it is the Juror’s responsibility to assess if that ‘effect’ has, in their opinion worked visually or contributed to the narrative of the image.
8. Technical excellence
This element is all about Camera Craft or those essential skills required to produce ‘Professional’ standard images. Is it sharp (where it needs to be), is there clear evidence that the artist has used the compositional advantages of the 3:2 proportion if presented full frame, is the ‘digital negative’ clearly properly exposed. All things we took for granted as image makers in the days of film. When it comes to a physical print, has the artist taken responsibility for the outcome by delivering a properly colour managed file, selecting the appropriate surface and mounts?
9. Photographic Technique
“Is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, ‘digital negative’ exposure, film choice (If used), digital output to file, paper selection and more are part of the technique applied to an image.” – This at first view appears to be a duplication of the ‘Technical Excellence’ section but should be viewed as a more complete approach that just like ‘Creativity & Style’, distinguishes one image maker from another. Application of chosen techniques must be viewed as appropriate to the outcome or success of the image.
10. Story Telling & Subject Matter
This is definitely, after ‘Impact’ the most determining factor in the success or failure of a competition image. There is an old adage that “A picture is worth a thousand words” and although in many cases this can prove true, what happens in the case of a more passive subject? A landscape for example? In such cases a belief by the viewer that one could live within the image is a powerful emotional response. This is augmented by the ‘mood’ achieved by colour, tone, texture, depth and density. An experienced Juror will be actively looking for clear narrative within the image. How accurate that story may be is down to personal perception as it is our nature to make up stories that suit us and our personalities. In essence, if an image has a meaning to a Juror, he or she will score it appropriately. The subject of an image may not always be the choice of the artist. On a professionally commissioned image, the artist should demonstrate that they have made every effort to integrate the subject into an appropriate location with a mood of lighting to support the narrative. Not all images need to be manufactured for entry into image competitions and where it is clear that a properly commissioned portrait or wedding image for example has been submitted, due respect for the artist and their working conditions should be taken into account when scoring
MIND & HEART
In conclusion, the essence of great judging is “Mind & Heart”. I was asked recently by a very knowledgeable and talented photographer who is now involved in judging, “When should I disregard the ‘rules’ and let my instincts take over when I feel I am looking at a great image that breaks rules?”. My answer to him was simple. Use your mind to assess the Technical elements that are essential – Exposure, Focus, Lens selection, Colour, Print surface, Mounting & Presentation and use your heart to ‘feel’ the image, see the stories, bathe in the light and if it stirs your soul, regardless of any so called ‘rules’ into which you have been indoctrinated over the course of your photographic career, go for it! Score high and celebrate a fantastic image.
Achieving YOUR “Master of Photography” Distinction
Much thought has gone into this process using different models from all over the World. But we at the EIP Academy agree that the best method is by a gradual process of continuous professional development. Initially to achieve your Distinction, you must amass 25 MERITS (Exactly the same as a PPA Masters Degree) of which at least 13 MUST be PRINT MERITS acquired in the AWARDS assessment sessions, which are held THREE times in every calendar year.
At each AWARDS assessment session, members may submit a ‘case’ of up to FOUR prints. Regardless of the number of images submitted in a ‘case’. Initially a fee of £25 will be applied. It is therefore, in the members’ interest to submit a full ‘case’ on each occasion. Each image must have a completed entry form affixed to the back in the orientation in which the image is intended to be viewed. This form will also require a title for your image which will be declared to the judges as the print is revealed. A completed application form listing all entries, titles and the entry fee must be included in your case together with a CD containing High Resolution images at 8”x10” at 300DPI of each image.
Images that score 80 points or over, automatically qualify for One MERIT as a ‘GENERAL’ print. Images scoring from 85 to 89 points will be considered as a ‘GALLERY’ print and will automatically receive One MERIT but if successful, will achieve an extra MERIT in recognition of its ‘GALLERY’ status. Lastly, images that score 90 to 100 points will automatically be acknowledge as ‘GALLERY’ prints and be awarded Two MERITS.
All prints receiving a MERIT will receive a certificate
FELLOWSHIP of the ACADEMY
Fellowship of the EIP Academy will automatically awarded to ANY Fellow of the BIPP, MPA, IPPA, PPANI, holders of a Master Craftsman of the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) with an aggregate of 100 combined MERITS and holders of the SQM qualification in Denmark. As and when other suitably qualified members of other PROFESSIONAL bodies are identified, they too will be considered. Please note that THIS IS NOT A QUALIFICATION OR DISTINCTION, rather a ‘recognition of achievement’ and ‘distinguished service to the Photographic Industry’ Worldwide.
All Fellows of the EIP Academy are actively encouraged to enter the AWARDS to achieve their “MASTER OF PHOTOGRAPHY” Distinction so as to not be seen as ‘gifted’ with a Distinction, or ‘Gongs for the boys!’ None of us that have worked so hard to achieve in the past want something for nothing or reciprocal agreements. We are determined to be seen, as the most prestigious and fair Distinctions for Wedding & Portrait professionals in the UK & Europe.