I joined the Photographic Society of America a while back in order to participate in the photo salons and circuits they are affiliated with all over the world. These contests are an excellent way to put one's art out there into the world and have it evaluated and assessed by fellow photographers. I wish there were more opportunities for specific feedback, but over time, at least, you can get a sense for what works and what doesn't, as seen through the less partial eyes of someone other than yourself.
There are local clubs, too, of course, and someday I hope to participate in the one closest to me, in Puyallup, though that's a 45-minute drive one-way and at the moment, working full time, that's a lot. Maybe in a few years when I retire.
In the meantime, along with the satisfaction of having photos accepted and published in the catalogs of various salons, the Photographic Society also has three different programs for gaining titles, of a sort, that mean something within the photographic community. These programs are called Star Ratings, ROPA, and Portfolios. Being the competitive person I am, of course I am participating in all three!
"Star Ratings" are based on the number of photos you've had accepted by PSA-affiliated salons. For these purposes, it doesn't matter if you just barely made the cut or if you were the overall gold medal winner--an acceptance is an acceptance. If there are multiple judgings, you can collect multiple acceptances. You earn Stars by listing all of these and turning them in for review. And, there are five different digital categories, all of which are judged separately: Open Color, Open Monochrome, Nature, Travel, and Photojournalism. (There are print categories as well, but it's a lot harder to participate in those except when they happen to occur in cities nearby.) You may have seen references to these categories in previous posts, usually by abbreviation: PIDC (Projected Image Digital Color), PIDM (Projected Image Digital Monochrome), ND (Nature Digital), PTD (Photo Travel Digital), and PJD (Photojournalism Digital). Sometimes you'll see a reference like "Portrait PIDC," which means that the salon is looking for a Projected Image Digital Color photograph that is, specifically, a portrait. Or "Birds ND," a Nature Digital image specifically of birds; or "Sports PJD," a Photojournalism Digital image of a sporting event.
Star Ratings get harder and harder the higher you go. It only takes 18 acceptances to earn Star Rating 1, though they have to represent 6 different images (i.e. an average of 3 acceptances per photo, though some may have more and some may have less). Star Rating 2 requires double each of those (36 acceptances representing 12 photos); Star Rating 3 is twice that; Star Rating 4 is twice that; and Star Rating 5 is (you guessed it) twice that, for a total of 288 acceptances representing 48 different images. And it goes on from there, but now switching from "Stars" to "Galaxies" (1 through 10) and then "Diamonds" (1 through 10). That's enough to keep anyone busy for a lifetime, with Diamond 10 requiring a total of 5,163 acceptances representing 1,096 different photographs! And remember that you collect these separately in five different categories.
For the record, I've currently reached Star 4 in both PIDC (color) and PIDM (monochrome), and will be applying for Star 5 in PIDC soon. I'm only at Star 1 for ND (nature), PTD (travel), and PJD (photojournalism), closing in on Star 2.
It's a lot to keep track of. So that brings us to "ROPA Distinctions." ROPA stands for Recognition of Photographic Achievement, and combines the Star Ratings into a single set of recognition categories. Once you've collected those Star Ratings, in other words, you can turn them in for ROPA Distinctions, which are based on the total number of acceptances, regardless of whether they come from a single one of the digital categories or all five (and print categories are eligible as well). The first four categories, going up in proficiency, are "QPSA" (Qualified), requiring 54 accumulated acceptances documented by Star Rating certificates; "PPSA" (Proficiency), with 288; "EPSA" (Excellence), with 700; and "MPSA" (Master), with 1500. There are levels beyond that, including Master 2, Grand Master, Grand Master Bronze, Grand Master Silver, Grand Master Gold, and finally Grand Master Platinum, which requires a whopping 11,000 acceptances.
Daunting! But who wouldn't want to put a title next to their name indicating that they are "Qualified," or that they have "Proficiency," or better yet, "Excellence?" After that, becoming a "Master" seems like a great ultimate goal. (Becoming a "Master 2" or a "Grand Master" seems more rarified and less meaningful to the average person.)
I reached QPSA status last year, pretty quickly. In the past few weeks, I've finally reached the next level, PPSA, which means that I can now put "PPSA" next to my name when posting photos or entering contests. And I'm on my way to EPSA, Excellence.
And in the meantime, PPSA status gives me the right to post a portfolio of ten images on the Photographic Society of America website. Here's mine! (Note: the "embed slideshow" option doesn't seem to be working at the moment... if all you see below is a big blank white space, then follow this link instead.)
The final type of distinction is a "Portfolio Distinction," achieved by entering a portfolio of related images for review by photographic experts. This is a serious and detailed review; it typically takes up to two months, and if successful, results in a "BPSA" title (the "B" standing for "Bronze"). And then, a year later, you can submit a larger portfolio to be considered for "SPSA" distinction (Silver), and then "GPSA" (Gold).
I submitted my portfolio for BPSA review a month ago, so hopefully soon I'll be able to list myself as both PPSA and BPSA. And next year, maybe EPSA/SPSA! And then MPSA/GPSA!
Now aren't you impressed by all those letters?!