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  • Conquering land and sea: Ray Collins shares his inspirational story on tackling the deep blue

  • The ocean is both mighty and meek, characterised by its unpredictability, and Ray Collins has been drawn to it for as long as he can remember. An excruciating accident 30km underground led his discovery of a beautiful world 50ft above it. They say that when you hit rock bottom, the only way is up. In Ray’s case, this was straight to the top.

    Collide: a seascape image of green and blue waves colliding, captured by Ray Collins using a Nikon D4
    Nikon D4 + AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2D | f/8 |135mm|1/1000| ISO-50 | © Ray Collins

    Water and Light

    I was scared to jump into the world of photography, as I wanted to keep it as a fun hobby – but after I was accidentally launched into it, I wouldn’t go back.’

    Ray spent ten years working for the local industry as a coal miner in Australia before an awful knee injury led Ray to take his camera into the sea. Doctors said swimming would aid his recovery, so Ray took this suggested physio as an opportunity to spend more time in his favourite place. A close early connection with the ocean fostered a respectful relationship that would later lead Ray to unveil his talents. It started with capturing images of friends swimming and surfing, but quickly became an award-winning ability to freeze waves in seascape photography.

    The challenges Ray faced don’t end there: Ray is also colour blind. It is easy to appreciate the extent of these visual barriers when he uses the example of losing a red golfing tee in green grass. Nevertheless, Ray has never known any different, and seizes this unique opportunity to see the world. His two inspirations in life are water and light, which form the organic process by which he takes his photos – and it’s this process which sets him apart. Although Ray tackles everything with charisma and enthusiasm, his job is far from effortless. The lengthy equation of weather maps, tide charts and sun tracking all contribute to that one single shot. As viewers, we are only privy to the final product and often unaware of the 5-hour flight and sub-zero temperatures endured. That being said, Ray never underestimates the role of ‘Lady Luck’ as sometimes, it’s that split-second strike of metaphorical lighting which can take the biscuit.

    Eagle: seascape photography from Ray Collins
    Nikon D4 + AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2D | f/6.3|135mm|1/1250| ISO-64 | © Ray Collins

    A dangerous game

    For Ray, the sea has always been a place of comfort – but that doesn’t make his shots any less dangerous. The photographer often finds himself chasing storms to achieve the dark, volatile lighting needed for his distinctive style – in his words, “capturing a personality that you don’t see on postcards”. Yet on more than one occasion he has been forced to turn back.

    Sharks are just another contender, yet Ray holds a refreshing viewpoint that we shouldn’t fear nature when there is so much madness surrounding us in the world.

    There is something truly adrenalin-inducing about the experience of plunging into the sea unaccompanied at 4.30am, surrounded by darkness and roaring waves”.

    Fury: seascape photography from Ray Collins
    Nikon D4 + AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G | f/2.2 | 85mm | 1/800 | ISO-640 | © Ray Collins

    What’s in Ray’s Kitbag?

    Of course, a photographer is nothing without his kit. Whilst dodging 50ft waves, Ray must ensure all his equipment is entirely waterproof, which does not come cheaply or lightly. If he had to use one lens for the rest of his life, it would be the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G. The lens’ ability to work in different sectors, whether that be shooting portraits or in the waves, makes it the real deal. Alongside this is the trusty Nikon D5, which for Ray is “like metaphorically driving a Ferrari while others are driving a Ford or a Mazda”.

    In terms of making edits, Ray mirrors his organic process of capturing images to a minimalist approach for post-pro.

    ‘My workflow involves opening the raw file and adjusting the contrasts and balances. Once I’m content with the outcome, and what I appreciate is good lighting, I’ll open it in photoshop to tidy up dust spots or anything distracting. And that’s it.’

    If the above isn’t testimony to his incredible work, his trophy cabin certainly spells it out. The bountiful list of awards and glowing reviews from the likes of National Geographic and Forbes seems impossible for someone who only first picked up a camera 10 years ago.

    Impetus: seascape photography from Ray Collins
    Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 70-2200mm f/2.8 ED VR II | f/6.3|70mm|1/1000|ISO-64 | © Ray Collins


    What’s next?

    His first self-published book, ‘Found at Sea’, details his adventures from 2007 until 2015. Naively, he lacked confidence in his own abilities and only ordered 500 original copies – which sold out in 11 hours. He is currently working on a second book where he hopes to show how his style has matured, which should be dropping around August time.

    Pearls of Wisdom

    Ray’s parting advice is deeply encouraging for those looking to achieve similar seascape photographs.

    “It’s about shooting what you want to see, not what you think other people want to see. If you’re trying to please others, there’s a high chance that you’re not truly pleasing yourself. Aspiring photographers should look at the ocean from their own perspective. There’s something about the ocean that speaks to us all – at the end of the day, we’re 80% water, and we have a connection to the thing we’re majority made up of.”

    Cosmos: seascape photography from Ray Collins
    Nikon D4 + AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4G | f/2.2| f/3.2|105mm|1/3200| ISO-50 | © Ray Collins