My Journey with The Master Photographers Association (MPA) UK

My Journey with The Master Photographers Association (MPA) UK

For those of you who have already been following me on Twitter and Facebook back in early November 2010, you would’ve seen my updates on passing the grade as a Licentiate of The Master Photographers Association (MPA) UK.

In this article, I share about my experience in preparing for The MPA’s qualification judging session. I prefer to call it a journey and this journey started somewhere around the middle 2010 where my friend Benjamin introduced me to The Master Photographers Association.

I wasn’t keen on it at first but after putting some thought into the matter, I thought I’d give the qualification a shot. After all, I’m always challenging myself to improve on photography.

I approached The MPA via E-mail and they introduced me to Jim Liaw, who happens to be the only Malaysian with a Fellow (highest level) qualification from The MPA and is one of Malaysia’s top wedding photographer!

I am very grateful for having him as my mentor during the course of the application. 😀 It’s amazing what you can learn from these seasoned professionals. Case in point, we have an MPA review session at Jim’s studio and THAT was the point that I find my photos inadequate.

Despite putting so much effort in choosing my best 20 photos, and even adding a few more – it was dismal, at least to me.

Brian brought in his food shots for comments. I love his composition, but was let down by his understanding of lighting and contrast which is important in food and products photography.

The bulk of the photos were taken from my food blog. Looks nice on the blog and for general purpose but it just isn’t MPA quality, with failure mostly from the lighting part. I have other decently good photos but they many were all very similar to one another, pointless to have the same plate and compo with only the subject changed.

On the bright side, I made people hungry that day and I think I’m notorious for that already.


For the application, we need to prepare 20 of our photos to present. And it’s not just a random placement of 20 pictures, we need to consider the color (colored vs black & white), the composition (subject heavy to left? right? center?) and even the orientation (portrait vs landscape).

In my photo selection process, I decided to have 2 popular stock photography websites act as a preliminary filter. Only photos that have been approved by at least ONE (1) stock photography site will be marked as candidates that are worthy to be considered for my final 20.

The rationale behind this exercise is to have un-biased 2nd opinion on my photos of choice. Stock photography websites are certainly meticulous when it comes to screening submitted photos and only accepting photos that they deem having commercial value, i.e. subject correctly focused, sufficient depth of field, balanced lighting, minimal noise, and so on so forth.

The photos that pass the screening of stock photography websites clearly have a vote at least 2 votes of confidence – one from myself and one from whoever it was that approved the photo.

Here’s what I ended up with……..

My Journey with The Master Photographers Association (MPA) UK

These photos were printed to about 8″ x 12″ size, mounted on 16″ x 20″ sized board.

My photos were judged by Jim Liaw (MY) Colin Buck (UK), Ryan Wong (SG), William Ng (SG) and Skye Tan (SG) – all Fellow MPA.


I must say that the most challenging part through the course of preparation for the MPA application was the print process.

In my case, the first problem face was regarding print quality. Initial test prints were done by a long time friend of mine who provides printing services. The print output looked alright but on close scrutiny, it was not as sharp as I hoped for, which isn’t a good thing as I’m showcasing photographs of food and I most certainly would expect the output to hold as much of the fine details as possible.

Good thing for me, luck was on my side when it comes to sourcing for another print agent. I was introduced to such an individual and the print output was very satisfactory but it was not without hiccups – that’s the second problem.

Fortunately the second problem was confined to only one photo in particular, where an area of print that was supposed to be bright orange ended up looking like pink on print. The print specialist helped me on this matter by determining a color profile that resembles the “unintended” output very closely. With that, I color-correct the image to match as close as possible to the intended output and the print turned out alright.

Gears Used

The all important question – what gears did you use?

I used the following equipment
Camera Body : Canon EOS 350D, 500D and 550D
Lenses : Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, EF 50mm f/1.4, EF 85mm f/1.8 and EF-S 18-55 IS f/3.5-5.6
Flash : Canon 580EX II and 430EX II

Yup, you guys read that right. Entry-level bodies and non pro-grade lenses (eg Canon’s L-series line up). Of the 20 photos, most of them were taken with the EOS 550D + 430EX II + EF 50mm f/1.4 combo. The muffin photo was the one taken with the EF-S 18-55 IS f/3.5-5.6 lens. 😀

🙂 It’s unbelievable how people say that Canon’s 50mm f1.8 and f1.4 are lousy when in fact the image quality is really good for passing the grade for stock photography sites and even used for large print for the MPA qualification.

What was more interesting was that the judges thought I used studio strobes for the bulk of the photos when I only used a single body-mounted 430EX II. 😀 It’s amazing what you can produce if you know HOW to use it.

I think I’ve proven the capability of entry-level bodies and non-L lenses are just as awesome for taking good photos. For newbies who keep thinking that their entry-level gear isn’t enough? Perhaps they should read my other article.

A Learning Experience

You don’t need some approval to be a great photographer but getting a qualification as such is not about being a great photographer. It’s about the learning experience. Whether or not you passed the grade, the preparation process alone already makes you a better photographer at the end of the day.

The preparation process for the MPA application was a truly rewarding experience. I’ve learned many things, not just through my preparation but also the preparation of others.

I understand better in what type of photos hold commercial value. I understand better on the post-processing aspect and how it is related to presentation, for example the consistencies between the shadow and highlights of a series presented. I’ve also learned how the composition of the photo plays a role in the placement of the arrangement of the photos to be on display, deciding their position based on the placement of the subject, to identify which side the photo heavy towards. I learn to pay more attentive towards details and appreciating them like never before, taking note of the details in the shadows and highlights.

Besides meeting Jim Liaw, I also had the opportunity to meet with Patrick Low and Teng Wei who are Associates (2nd highest qualification grade) in the MPA, and have learned much from their sharing as well.

Award Winner

To end the article, one of my images for the MPA panel also won the print competition under the Commercial / Industrial category for MPA South East Asia Annual Photo Convention 2010.

My Journey with The Master Photographers Association (MPA) UK


And since this is my last article for the year, Happy New Year! May 2011 be a good year to you!

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  1. Good article, Brian! You are one of my most admired photographers. Reason? Your gears aren’t the top class ones but your photos are in the top class. This is really something. Those 20 photos you selected were really fantastic!

    Good job, I’m sure getting such qualification was one of your greatest gifts in 2010. Happy New Year and may you have a better year ahead!

    p/s: I still have many to learn from you, if you don’t mind. 😀

  2. Congrats Mr.Brian, really like your works and you’re one of the least photographers in Malaysia I really respect. Good job!

  3. Author

    Thanks people, 2011 looks nice so far. 😀

    I’m gear limited, so I focus on the craft. Don’t let your passion for photography be bound by your gear.

    Can’t buy new stuff? Be creative and see what NEW photos you can create using your old stuff. 😀

  4. Such an inspiring artwork taken by a simple+down to earth photographer with limited gears…
    Kudos for you man…. Truly talented

  5. Do you have advices for taking the photograph of vaginas?

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