Aired on 2021, Feb 24th  in Podcast / Surf photography

Interview with Ray Collins

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Aloha!

Welcome to the 19th episode of the podcast!

Today with us is one of the most appreciated waves photographer in the world, from New South Wales, Australia, Ray Collins.

We discussed with Ray about surf, surf photography and much more!

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You can read the transcribe of the episode below, but please forgive us of spelling mistakes!

Mahalo!

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TTOS: Aloha Ray, welcome to the show, where are you today?

Today I’m at home, I’m on the South Coast of New South Wales, which is about an hour south of Sydney. and now beaming into your lounge rooms or to your headphones or wherever you are in the world. 

TTOS: First question that I have for you is, in your opinion, what is the most important thing in surf? 

The most important thing in surfing is being connected to something far greater than yourself, something almost infinite, something vast and something natural. 

Obviously, I’m talking about the ocean, to me that’s definitely the most important thing, that connection between the individual and nature and to me, that’s what makes surfing so special when you compare it to other sports or kind of lifestyle activities…..

How lucky are we? We get to get an energy line that originates thousands of kilometers away, and we get to ride the final stages of that on broken line, in a perfect wave until it dissipates and disappears. 

We get to take that line of energy with us through our day, that feeling of stoke…that’s what that is. That’s you taking the energy from the ocean and taking it with you beyond when you get back onto land! 

TTOS: What is the most important thing in surf/ocean photography?

There’s probably two and I’m not really sure which one’s more important, but knowing your limits, knowing where the line is that you can kind of go up to, that’s pretty important. 

If you’re always kind of pushing your own abilities, that’s great for growth, but just knowing where that is, so you, you can then challenge that that’s, that’s really important with surf or ocean photography because it’s pretty easy to be over your head. 

The other thing is knowing your gear, being able to just adjust everything, get your focus and exposure and compositions dialed in a couple of seconds as the light changes…that’s really important. 

Knowing your surroundings, being comfortable in them and knowing your gear, these are the two things.

Using the camera as an extension of yourself, I think that’s the end result that you kind of strive for.

Imagine your studio is caving in all around you and there’s whitewash and rips and rocks and just, you know, energy moving. 

You have to be able to have such a sound mind to be aware of all that and also technically do what you need to do whereas if you’re in a studio or on land, there’s a lot less going on and you can isolate the camera pretty easily…

It’s a balancing act and everything’s in flux, nothing is stationary, nothing is static. 

It’s definitely a challenge and no one sees the images that that didn’t make it, you know what I mean? You only do the success stories. 

TTOS: I guess today, with the memory cards, and the possibility to shoot so many photos, is different than maybe 50 years ago , a lot changed…. 

You really have to take your hat off to the pioneers of water photography only having, you know 36 exposures to get what they wanted, to explain and to show and then having to swim in through treacherous waves and back out when the new role yeah. 

The learning curve with digital is really quick, you can learn instantly and that’s never been able to happen in history with photography…. we’re at a pretty exciting time. 

TTOS: Those still exist? People going in in the sea with the older technology?. 

Totally, there are a fair few guys. The first one that comes to mind is a friend of mine John Hook in Hawaii, he’s always shooting with film and doing double exposures as well. He may have a Waikiki skyline and then expose over the top of that is like a shock or a perfect barrel. 

I feel like he’s really showing his individuality, which is becoming rare as more people take up photography, you have to do something different to show who you are. 

TTOS:  How do you deal with adrenaline and fear when you’re out in front of those massive waves, very powerful ?

it’s really easy to say, but when you’re in the moment, it’s often hard to do.

What I like to do is visualize, say the day before or that morning or on the drive to the ocean, what the real world is going to feel like once you jump in to the ocean. 

I try and picture other times where I’ve been in similar situations and once it happens, you’ve kind of already visited with your mind, if that makes sense.

Also just being able to be uncomfortable, in a way, like I’ve recently taken up jujitsu and that it’s kind of similar to that in the fact that you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. 

That way, when you’re tested, it’s a familiar place and if you’re not prepared whether you’re swimming or you’re on the mat, you’re, you’re you panic and that’s obviously the worst thing you can do. So just breathing….that breath….breath is life.

That is the most important thing you can do, I think that is a huge part of dealing with adrenaline and fear and just try to turn fear and anxiety into excitement because it’s a similar kind of energy. 

You should, just looking at yourself and having a bit of a scan. 

TTOS: Let’s go back to your starting days and your first surf picture, when you realized that you wanted to do this job?

I kind of bumped into photography, I didn’t really set out to do it.

I used to work in an underground coal mine, kind of with a shovel digging one kilometer under the ground. That that was my job, I would show up and work. One day I got injured and due to my knee kind of getting broken with all the ligaments and tendons being kind of destroyed…..I couldn’t walk for a couple of months. 

During that time I bought a camera and studied the manual and I’m just learning how it worked. 

I’ve surfed all my life, I’ve always been involved in the ocean and my physio therapist said that I can probably start rehabilitating my leg with swimming. I took my new kind of hobby, which was just taking photos of my dog and bought a water housing and that’s how my entry to surf photography was. 

I just shot photos of my friends, the local kind of surfers in the area and things really kind of progressed. And I found out that I enjoyed taking photos as much as I enjoyed surfing.

My friends are amazing surfers and we ended up kind of working together and getting shots in magazines and from little things, big things kind of group together…. 

TTOS: then you moved from surf photography to ocean photography, waves, right? How was the transition? 

That transition was pretty hard. It wasn’t something that I just “flicked a light on it and then woke up and said, I’m not going to shoot surfers. I’m going to shoot waves”. As I mentioned in the last question I started, I picked up my first camera in 2007 and, and shot until 2011 and, you know, kind of getting paid to travel and shoot and aiming for covers of magazines was the kind of the goal working with surfers and trying to get shots published.

I don’t know there was other things going on in my life, like just regular kind of mid 20 year old things, and I got a little bit disillusioned with photography and I came to a crossroads just in life in general. 

I found out that I was maybe wasting a lot of time partying, not partying as in like “partying with the wheels off”, but, you know, just drinking at the pub in the afternoons and being hung over in the mornings. I then quit alcohol as kind of an experiment, that was in 2012, and that’s when the time that I had where I’d normally be at the pub or be kind of sleeping in, cause I was a little bit groggy the next day I was, and I  just started focusing on the purity of the waves so I turned all of my energy, my free time and effort into shooting waves and that felt like I was going towards my calling that that was the most natural kind of progression.

And one thing it was keeping me occupied from my normal habits and it was giving me just this creative outlet….that was 2012 and it’s 2020 now…..just shooting waves… it’s my calling in life.

TTOS: you know, I have a really good friend of mine that always tells me “early morning is the best part of the day” and , when I heard you saying that I remembered and I definitely agree, mornings are amazing….

I feel like just watching the sunrise, wherever you are in the world near the ocean or not, I feel like that is such a primitive kind of important thing for us to do, there’s something in that there’s something in watching the sunrise, whether it’s symbolic or metaphorical or just literal…..it’s an important time. 

TTOS: I like this part of the conversation because, you know, in a certain way, our society or our habits, they’re pushing us to enjoy end of the day, we go to the cinema, to the restaurants, we party, but the reality is that, before going to work, early mornings are better….

If you have to pick up one photo that would represent like the totality of your work, which one would you pick 

if you asked me this in years gone by, it would probably have a different answer. As it stands, I would say is an image called “oil”. That to me is a kind of representation of how I want to show the ocean to people who have never seen it like that before. I feel like that conveys the emotion. And I feel like that shows liquid as a solid, and it just shows the intimidating strengths of how kind of brutal mother nature can look yet also so beautiful at the same time.

“Oil” courtesy of Ray Collins

TTOS: You were talking before about the equipment, which kind of equipment you use it?

I’m using Nikon D 850 and a whole array of different Nikon lenses. 

Usually I’m using prime lenses, that means there’s no zoom, it’s fixed 35, 50, 85, 105, 135, even 300mm . I tend to use primes a lot because then I don’t have to make a decision about zooming…. it just simplifies photography for me. 

My other really important part for what I do is water housing and that is basically a box or a glove kind of a fit that goes around. You slide your camera into it and then you seal up the back plate with some clips. On the back of this water housing, there are buttons that line up with the camera buttons, so you can use the camera in the water as you would on land, you have access to all the functions and you’re able to change your ISO and shutter speed and aperture and focus and whatnot, and go through the menu and change the video. That is also hugely important because cameras don’t like salt water. 

Water housing is the barrier between the ocean and the gear. Other than that, I’m just wearing generally a wetsuit I’m wearing like these natural Yulex rubber wetsuits from Patagonia, and just swim fins from Duffin what the Hawaiian and us lifeguards use and found them to be really responsive to kick and get away from, get out of the impact zone when the waves are breaking.

And then, yeah, other than that, I just put sunscreen on every day from a company called Sun Zapper. 

TTOS: If you had to give a suggestion to a young photographer, which one would it be? 

Well, I guess it could be directed at a young ocean or surf photographer, but any photography in general, it would be to shoot what you want to see, not what you think someone else wants to see.

I think that the power in your photos comes from your individuality, I know that trends in photography can come and go, especially when you look on Instagram or something like that. And it’s easy to try and replicate something, but real art comes from within. 

if you can think and plan and even dream of something and then execute that and represent that visually that’s  your power, your super power.

Shoot what you want to see. 

TTOS: I agree with you! What are your future plans? 

Well, all of my plans they fell away this year as did the rest of the world, I’ve learned to try and be present and kind of live now, but this has really sharpened up that kind of way of thinking. I did have exhibitions planned in Mexico City and Los Angeles and Canada and Europe, but obviously Australia’s closed until at least middle of next year. 

What I’m concentrating on is just making the most of this time, because for the first time in my career, I’ve had a chance to step off the rollercoaster of being somewhere and doing something and being booked to do a talk or to travel somewhere for a swell.

My plans are just to be a good husband and just kinda cruise at home and surf and appreciate the small things.

I’m always shooting sporadically when the conditions are okay, that could be a project for my next book. I would say I’ve made two coffee table books “found at sea” and “water and light”. And I think, you know, I’m probably three quarters of the way to making the third one. 

I guess that is a project that I’m working on

TTOS: we’re going to finish our interview with a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind. 

Best surfboard that you ever ridden….

Twila Zeikon six foot fish that I got about 10 years ago and it’s a little rocket ship and it glides over flatwater and it’s always fast.

TTOS:  your favorite shaper…. 

My favorite shaper is my local shaper. Well, sorry. I have to give you to Michael Carson, my local shaper and Mick Mackie, he is one of the pioneers in Australia, all the fish shapes, he kind of took that from snowboarding back in the seventies and kneeboarding and yeah, he makes some very interesting concepts and I love his boards. 

TTOS: Your favorite song….

It is the opening track on Bonivers self-titled album. I’m not sure what the song is called, but it’s the first track on the album, I actually got married to that song with my wife. It sounds like a civil war march. And then there’s like explosions and fireworks, maybe that’s in my mind. I don’t know, but they’re my favorite band and that’s my favorite song from them. 

TTOS:  Your favorite surf spot…

Oh man. I’m so lucky to deliver. I live and we have it, it would be home where there’s wedges and raves and bombings and point breaks and perfect sand barrels or raves. It would have to be home. And I guess a place called Headlands which is like kind of like a cross between V land on the North shore and shark Island……It’s just this kind of slab corner spit kind of fall and that’s my favorite wave. 

TTOS:  Your favorite surfer

You know, fabric surfer, my favorite surfer, man, it would maybe be Dave Rastovich or Kelly Slater for different reasons, obviously. 

TTOS: Your best relationship advice…

Whoa, the best relationship advice that I learnt through practice is to settle things as soon as you can and be genuine in your reconciliation and once the problem or the issue has been dealt with to let go of it and start over because you guys are tame and there’s no point bringing past hurts or keeping a score tally, 

Just dealing with the problem, whopping the slight and moving forward. That’s the best relationship advice I can give. 

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