Preparing a Qualification Panel

by | Qualifications, Royal Photographic Society

Preparing a qualification panel

Now that you’ve decided you’re going to print your qualification panel the next step is to think about selecting the images and how you’re going to present them.

Selecting your panel images:

You’ve spent the lovely summer months photographing your images and now need to select the ones you want to use in your panel. The images you select must be able to demonstrate the following main points:

Good composition

Good camera technique

Correct focus and exposure and suitable depth of field.

Choice of appropriate shutter speeds.

An understanding of light

Good processing techniques (where applicable) and appropriate use of manipulation

Good image finishing.

Repetition of similar images should be avoided.

Depending on the Association/Society, for Licentiate applicants must show variety in approach and techniques but not necessarily in a particular subject. However, for Association applicants the subject matter must meet the requirements of your chosen category.

Compiling the images:

The aim of a qualification panel is to show off your style and skills using images to form a complete body of work. Each image will be assessed in its own right but also how the image sits within the panel is also taken into consideration. The panel must sit together and flow to be a successful, cohesive body of work. Recently I heard this described as the 11th one (or 16th or 21st/22nd depending on how many images are in your panel) – in other words the view of how the panel looks as a whole.

There are a few things to take into consideration when positioning your images:

Image position: It’s best to start and end a panel row with images facing inwards with forward facing images placed in the middle of the panel.

Image rotation: There are no hard and fast rules on this one but the point to remember is how the panel will look when presented, particularly a printed panel. A panel will look odd if it has 9 landscape images and one portrait image indiscriminately plonked anywhere on the top row; it would be far better to have two either in the middle or one at the beginning and one at the end to indicate the start and finish of the panel. I suppose you could say it’s all about creating balancing patterns that are pleasing on the eye and enhance the presentation of the panel.

Crop: Again there are no rules on crop but if you have included for example a letterbox crop try to include two and strategically place them so as to keep the panel balanced.

Strong colours: Images that are predominantly red should ideally be central as the eye is automatically drawn to them, placing them at the beginning or end or a row draws the eye away from the rest of the panel.

Colour or Mono: The consensus of most judges is DO NOT mix the panel; stick with either colour or mono. Having said that, there are plenty of mixed panels that have passed with flying colours, particularly at Licentiate level.

Processing techniques: If you use processing techniques try to stick with the same technique on all images. A panel with several different processes applied will look messy and can hinder the flow of the panel.

Award winning images: Whilst it’s nice to have images that have won awards or been recommended in the panel, it won’t make the panel an automatic pass. The panel has to sit together as a complete body of work so if 90% of the panel is butterflies on flowers then to include a single landscape, just because it has won an award, will look odd and unbalance the panel.

Stick to the criteria of the panel: i.e. if you are submitting a portrait panel of people, ensure you have sufficient images to fulfil the requirements, do not throw in a pet portrait to make up the numbers as a mixed panel will be frowned upon!


A panel of mixed sizes, inconsistent finishing, with very little thought to the cropping or positioning of the images.


The same images as above but with the same size and colour border and key-line finish applied to them and presented in a more balanced arrangement.

(The images shown are for a digital submission but the same principles on layout and finishing also apply to a printed panel.)

I appreciate this is a lot to take in and sometimes it helps to have something visual to look. The RPS has a gallery of recent successful qualifications, including the hanging plans, that might help with one or two points.

Panel presentation:

Now you have selected your images you need to think about how you are going to present them. In the last blog, Digital v Print, I covered things to look out for when printing your images so I won’t repeat them again but rather concentrate on the finished look of the panel.

Image Size:

Prints: the general rule of thumb for the minimum recommended size is 10 inches on the longest side. Most image sizes are normally between 10”x8” (254mm x 204mm) and 20”x16” (508mm x 408mm).

Mount: Depends on the size of the print and whether you are using a frame mount but the most popular sizes are 16×12 and 20×16


Mounted onto card: If done with great care and a lot of accuracy prints mounted onto card can look good but if not done properly they can look very messy and sloppy. This method is the cheaper of the options, if you’re on a tight budget, and you can create the illusion of a frame by extending the canvas size and adding a keyline.

Mount Aperture Frames: I have seen images attached to mount frames with tape on the back side. This is great for an advisory day as the mount aperture frame can be re-used, however, I would advise against it for a qualification submission. Frames offers some support to the image but they are prone to buckling and flopping under the heat of the lights. Also, the outline of the tape underneath can give the illusion of banding on the print.

Mount aperture frame complete with a backing board: More expensive but using a backing board gives the print rigidity. I would also recommend using the self-adhesive backing boards as they prevent the pictures from “moving”.

For me personally, if you’ve taken the time to select images and submit a panel the very least you can do is present them at their best.

The final thing to do is to label each image. Carefully follow the instructions provided by your Association/Society and list the details requested. Images that look good as both portrait and landscape need to be defined so the judges know the correct orientation.  It”s good practice to include an arrow on the label pointing to the top edge to prevent any confusion.

Where do I get my mounts and frames from?

I order them online from Cotswold Mounts; very reasonably priced and great service. PLUS, one of the advantages of buying them all at the same time and from the same place is the frames are likely to be from the same batch with very little variation in the colour. It’s surprising how the colour of a black frame varies from different suppliers and between batches!

I know it seems a lot to think about but really, ever little bit helps. It’s also worth remembering that the first thing a judge sees is the overall picture before they look at individual images so WOW them from the very start 🙂

The next thing to do is to create and print your hanging plan in Lightroom or Photoshop or your chosen software.

** Disclaimer Notice: Please note that the views and observations in this series of posts are purely my own and are not in any way, shape, or form sanctioned by the Royal Photographic Society, The Societies or any of the other photographic organisations or associations. So please check the criteria of your chosen organisation before submitting for your qualification – Good Luck.


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