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Water Works with Ray Collins

With tough cameras all the rage, the desire to take great photos on the beach and in the ocean has become a common aim for many happy snappers. Ray Collins has some handy advice.

Ray Collins knows all about shooting on sand and at sea – as the winner of Surfing Australia’s Surf Photographer of the Year competition, and a world-renowned surf photographer, he’s one shooter who’s well versed in the hazards of shooting on Aussie beaches.

Unlike shooting in a studio or on a regular location, shooting in the water can present unique challenges – especially for the novice shooter. According to Collins, changing conditions can often move elements of a shoot completely out of your control.

“So many things have the ability to change in the water – tide, wind, light, positioning – all these things are constantly changing. Also, in the water you usually have to kick to get above the surface to take the photo, so you need some basic fitness and ocean mindedness.”

Underwater photos also require specific conditions if you want a top shot. “For underwater, clear water really helps, that can be the difference between a good image and a great image,” comments Collins. “For above the water, just capturing the mood of the ocean can give it the ‘wow factor’. Sometimes you don’t have to do much, just be there at the right time.”

It’s not just all down to spontaneity however; preparation can be crucial for a successful shoot. Collins explains: “The preparation for me starts with weather maps, looking at storms in different parts of the world and trying to predict where the surf is going to be good. Then rechecking all of my waterproof stuff, ringing different surfers, organising flights and so on. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated for everyone. Some of my best shots are at the beach in front of my house with no planning involved.”

Apart from the logistics in an underwater shoot, Collins also says different rules can come into play in terms of composition and playing with the light. “Underwater, specifically, is a lot different to shooting on land. Your focusing distance is very short, you’re actually focusing on a ‘virtual image’ due to the small amount of air inside the port and the distance from your lens to the element, so it’s not a true to life image.”

The smallest of elements can also destroy a shot. “Water droplets can ruin a photo, so you have to keep spitting and licking the front element of the ports to combat that. I notice that after a few hours of treading water with 15kg of camera gear I start to get cramps, so for me stretching and having good fitness is important. Also, sunscreen, even when it is cloudy.

“To combat glare and things like that I always expose for the highlights. It’s important to get as much of the work done in-camera so your workflow is smooth; however with today’s post-production, small mistakes in exposure can be easily corrected in Photoshop later.

So how important is preparation? “I would say that you create your own luck,” says Collins. “A little bit of knowledge on what surf spots work in what conditions is a good start. Knowing your gear helps a lot.”

His best advice to the mums and dads of Australia who have recently purchased a tough camera and want to capture their kids’ antics is to spend time learning their gear. Don’t just open the box and expect to get a great shot. “Also, have fun with it! That’s a massively important thing. As you progress and learn from mistakes you’ll notice the ‘great shots’ becoming more and more regular.”

See more of Ray’s work at

OUTDOOR essentials

Shockproof to 1.5 metres, waterproof to 10 metres and freezeproof to -10 degrees, Canon’s next gen all weather camera, the D20, is the ideal companion for the surf, snow or skate park. A new anti-fog lens is a great addition and the built-in GPS lets you log your journey via Google Maps.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4
Equipped with an altimeter, barometer and built-in GPS, the DMC-FT4 is waterproof (12m), shockproof (2m) and able to withstand temps to -10 degrees. Armed with a Leica lens, full HD recording and Panasonic’s iA (intelligent Auto) system, it’s easy to use straight out of the box.

Olympus TG-1
With a super fast zoom lens with an f/2.0 aperture and a reinforced 3-inch OLED screen, the TG-1 provides great image clarity. It features new A-GPS technology and it’s waterproof (12m), freezeproof (-10 degrees) and shockproof (2m) as well as being able to withstand pressure up to 100kg!

 Inside Ray’s bag

  • Nikon D4
  • Nikon D800
  • NIKKOR 16mm fisheye
  • NIKKOR 14-24mm
  • NIKKOR 50mm
  • NIKKOR 85mm
  • NIKKOR 70-200mm
  • NIKKOR 200-400mm
  • NIKON SB910 Speedlight
  • Aquatech Housings and ports

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