Letters after their name? A guide to awards and distinctions

When a lecturer or judge visits the club and they are introduced to members the Chairman reels off a load of letters after their name. To the regular members it is all clear, but, well, it’s just a load of letters to many.

There are two types of awards:-

1. Those granted for achievement in photography, which generally you have to apply for.

2. Those granted for services to photography probably over many years.

These latter cannot and must not be applied for and are generally done by confidential recommendations.

There are a number of organisations who grant awards or distinctions and can be national and international. The brief information has therefore been set out below, organisation by organisation for the most common, RPS, PAGB, FIAP and PSA. WHAT'S IN A NAME OR LETTERS? Read on and find out!


The RPS grants distinctions for three levels of achievement. You have to be an RPS member to hold and use any of these distinctions

LRPS - Licentiate of the RPS

The first level, Licentiate is open to all members of The Royal Photographic Society and non-members may apply. If they are successful, the Distinction will not be approved until they have become members. The Licentiate is awarded either for competence in practical photography, or by passing of an appropriate examination in photography recognised by the society. Normally you will be required to submit 10 prints, or 10 slides or 10 images on CD-rom as evidence for your application in still photography. In AV you will be required submit one or more sequences lasting not less than 10 minutes.

ARPS - Associate of the RPS

Members and non-members may apply for Associate, a more specialised Distinction. 
It is for a high degree of proficiency and a high technical and visual competence in particular categories. The Award will not be approved until membership is taken up. 
You have to submit 15 prints, Slides, images on CD-rom; or a 15 mins sequence in AV.

FRPS - Fellow of the RPS

Fellowship is the highest distinction of The Royal Photographic Society and recognises original work and outstanding ability in a specialist field. 
It is open to Associate’s of The RPS and Fellows of the BIPP, but photographers with an established reputation may apply direct, based on their CV, references, publications and exhibitions, even if they are non-members of the society. They still need to join to hold the distinction once awarded. 
In most categories you will be required to submit either 20 prints or transparencies, or 20 minutes of Audio Visual sequence, or 20 minutes of film or video.

Hon. FRPS - Honorary Fellow of the RPS

For exceptional service this is principle award of several, made annually, which may not be applied for.


PAGB Offers both Service and Merit awards, the former may not be applied for, but the latter must be.

APAGB - Associate of PAGB

This is granted to members of clubs affiliated to a PAGB Federation for prolonged outstanding service to photography. Generally at least 10 years Federation service is a minimum or at least 30 years or more at Club level is required.

Hon. PAGB - Honorary Member of PAGB

This is generally awarded for prolonged outstanding service to the PAGB usually by membership on its Executive.


The first of three awards for photographic merit. It is offered for what is generally interpreted as ‘good class’ photography. Such photographs would be of a standard whereby they might be expected to represent the club at inter-club and Federation events at least. You must have supported your Federations events for 2 years out the last 10 and must submit 10 photographs to an adjudication panels which normally convenes twice a year. You must achieve a set number of points from your images from the 6 adjudicators.

DPAGB - Distinction PAGB

This is the second highest distinction. It may be interpreted as requiring 15 photographs which are of open exhibition standard and again you have to achieve a set number of points from the panel of 6 adjudicators. You do not need to hold CPAGB to apply for this award but you must have supported Federation Competitions for at least 3 years from the last 10.


This is the highest award for photographic merit granted by PAGB and requires the highest standard of amateur photography with each of 20 photographs likely to achieve consistent success at International Exhibition level and also likely to win at least an occasional award. Requires at least 5 years support for Federation Competitions from the last 10 and cannot be applied for until 11 months has elapsed from achieving DPAGB.

N.B. The Adjudications take place in each Federation Area on a rotational basis, but you can enter for any panel in any part of the country. 
You are strongly advised to visit one of these adjudications before submitting any panel. 
Unlike RPS Distinctions, the photographs are assessed on an individual basis, mixed in with other applicants’ photographs.
The six adjudicators are drawn from the PAGB’s list of accredited Judges which is to be found in the PAGB handbook, published biennially.


FIAP grants two types of award, the first for service to photography and the second for achievement in international exhibitions and salons sponsored by FIAP. These latter awards are also linked to substantial periods of active participation in such events.

ESFIAP - Excellence in Service

Awarded for substantial service at national and international level to photography, there are never more than a handful held at any one time, rarely more than one or two per country. The fact that only fourteen have ever been issued to UK residents in over 40 years will give an idea of its standing. (Cannot be applied for)