The ocean is fleeting, it is ephemeral, and it never repeats itself. Fascinated by the ocean since the very beginning, Ray Collins finds it equally challenging and rewarding to shoot amidst the salty water.
“You can’t ask Mother Nature for a reshoot in the studio. My favourite thing is the 1000th of a second, when I capture a moment that will never happen again.”
Collins started his photography journey in a rather untraditional way. “I was working in an underground coalmine about 1 km down into the Earth’s crust when I slipped into a hole and suffered a pretty bad knee injury. For six months I couldn’t drive, or really walk for that matter.”
Forced to find a way to battle the mental challenges of being chained down he took up photography, it was something that always had been on his to-do list. Collins’ rehabilitation specialist recommended him to start swimming as therapy, and that same week he bought water housing for his camera. To Collins it was the biggest blessing in disguise: “I knew I needed to stop partying, stop working and stop all of the other distractions in my life and my injury made me do it.”
Through an organic process, photography became Collins’ main passion. Today, it is his very livelihood. “I’m always having these ‘pinch me’ moments. The places I’m lucky enough to go and the people I get to meet that are really rewarding.”
Beneath The Vortex - The underwater view of a fellow photographer - Nikon D4, ISO 640, f/9, 1/1000 seconds, AF Fisheye-Nikkor 16mm f/2.8D at 16 mm
Blue Curve - Liquid as a solid, almost like a stone - Nikon D4, ISO 400, f/2.6, 1/640 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G at 85mm
Convergence - Birds eye view of a breaking wave - Nikon D4, ISO 160, f/6.3, 1/1000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II at 200mm
Eagle - Nature resembling Nature - Nikon D4, ISO 64, f/6.3, 1/1250 seconds, AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2D at 135mm
Holocene - One of my scariest moments in the ocean happened within seconds of me capturing this - Nikon D4, ISO 250, f/4.5, 1/1250 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G at 85mm
The style of Collins’ photos is centred around different moods of the sea. Being colour-blind is something the Australian photographer sees as his strength as it has forced him to rely more on compositions, shapes and textures, rather than the saturations of the colour gamut. Another interesting insight about Collins’ style is that he prefers not to have a plan when he shoots. This allows him to be open-minded to what reveals itself in front of him, instead of forcing the photo with preconceived notions. This way, he captures the moment between the moments.
When Collins started his journey, the first thing he did was to get an understanding of light. According to him, light is the main influence in any photo. The way for one to differentiate one photographer from another is by the light manipulation. “Light is what drives me to get out of bed in the dark each morning because I know different light will yield different images, and that in itself is limitless.”
Oil - One of Ray’s personal favourites. He loves how the folds and the light interact - Nikon D4, ISO 250, f/3.2, 1/1000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G at 85mm
Portal - A perfect circle, never to be repeated again - Nikon D4, ISO 80, f/3.5, 1/1000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G at 85mm
Rumble - Even from a helicopter you can still ‘feel’ the force of the huge waves crashing - Nikon D4, ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/1600 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II at 165mm
Snow Mountain – One of Ray’s most popular image to date; waves resembling mountains - Nikon D4, ISO 400, f/2.2, 1/800 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G at 85mm
Triumph - Storms are Ray’s favourite time to go for a swim. He tends to get the most dramatic images then - Nikon D4, ISO 64, f/4, 1/1600 seconds, AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2D at 135mm
Collins’ usual kit for his excursions consists of the Nikon D5 or D810, fast lenses such as the Nikon AF Fisheye-Nikkor 16mm f/2.8D and his Aquatech water housing, which keeps his gear dry while he shoots. When it comes to editing, Collins prefers to keep it simple. In his opinion, it is a lot easier if you do the majority of the work in the camera with the right manual settings, instead of having to spend hours on post processing. On the computer, he uses Adobe Camera Raw for editing,colour and contrast correcting, and Photoshop for smaller adjustment like dust spots.
According to Collins, it is far easier to copy and be influenced by others than to truly create something unique. It is crucial to steer away from what everyone else does because that is the only way one will find his or hers creative voice and signature style.
The best piece of advice Collins has ever received is: “Shoot what YOU want to see. Not what you think OTHERS want to see”.
Wrath - A huge wave explodes in the midst of one of the biggest storms of the last 3 decades - Nikon D4, ISO 500, f/7.1, 1/1000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II at 400mm
Impetus – Ray’s aim is to capture the unseen. He believes this photo did a good job of showing his vision. - Nikon D5, ISO 64, f/6.4, 1/1000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II at 70mm
Orbit - A water droplet from an exploding wave - almost a galaxy within a galaxy - Nikon D5, ISO 50, f/3.2, 1/3200 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED at 105mm
Kiss - Ray feels an intimacy with the ocean - like it can bare its soul to him in their quiet times - Nikon D4, ISO 200, f/7.1, 1/1000 seconds, AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2D at 135mm
The weather plays an integral part in Collins’ work. Therefore, he makes a habit of monitoring different weather maps from all over the world in order to keep track of storms, map the sun and tides, as well as to see where the waves will hit the coastlines. That being said, Collins admits that the ocean is an unpredictable force, and there are many obstacles during his excursions.
“Imagine swimming in a washing machine with a bag of concrete, and lifting that bag up to your face so you can focus, compose the shot, get all of your shutter settings, aperture and ISO right. Plus getting no water droplets on the front element while the ocean is pushing, pulling, gurgling and crashing all around you. It can be physically exhausting at times.” The only thing Collins can do is to minimise and prepare for the risks.
One of Collins’ wildest memories was from a time in Iceland. “Swimming off the coast of Iceland was pretty wild. It was -20°C, the whole landscape was white and snow was falling on my face and hands whilst swimming and shooting the waves.” Never in his wildest dream did the Aussie photographer think that he would be in a situation so unique.
Being his own harshest critic, Collins does not have a favourite ocean photo of his. “My favourite photo does not exist because it hasn’t been captured yet.” Instead, he focuses more on the emotions his photos can stir in its viewers. He wants people to feel something; it can be everything from anxiety to calm. It is all about interpretation and that is what Collins loves: “We all take something away from it”.
Ray Collins is 34 years old and hails from Australia. He bought his first camera in 2007, and within a few years, he has become a recognized photographer working together with companies such as Apple, Red Bull, National Geographic and Patagonia.