Kinsale Community Hospital commission

July 07, 2017  •  1 Comment

Summer sea pinks at SandycoveSummer sea pinks at Sandycove Kinsale Community Hospital is a modern long-stay facility for Kinsale's older residents. The main hospital building has a long history, being over 200 years old but has been continuously developed over recent years and is now a bright, airy residential home to 40 people. During the recent phase of development, the Director of the hospital made contact with a view to incorporating Kinsale images in key areas of the hospital.

The first area we looked at was the main reception hall. The entrance to the hospital had recently been transformed into a modern, glass-walled doorway and this lead to the traditionally used hallway which is crossroads for residents, staff and visitors alike.

Kinsale Community Hospital, entrance.

Kinsale Community Hospital, main hallway.

The theme here was to bring elements of the town to the residents, to retain their sense of place and enjoy seeing Kinsale on a daily basis. After some discussion, we decided that the harbour area is one of the defining visual aspects that everybody relates to. A three piece set going from the inner harbour, marina and outer harbour has worked really well and has become a great talking point. All three images were from film originals in my archive of 30 years, which were scanned to high resolution, then printed and framed.

Kinsale Community Hospital, main entrance hallway.

The next area was the downstairs corridor, which has a nice entrance and foyer – for this we chose a seascape of Sandycove:

Summer sea pinks at Sandycove

Other areas were the main stairway, which had a small, square-shaped wall at the landing. Here, I used a fleeting moment of six swans in the inner harbour on a sunny evening at high tide.

Kinsale Community Hospital, first floor stairway landing. Kinsale Community Hospital, Six swans in Kinsale harbour. The staff room, where the hard-working nursing and support staff take their rest breaks has a panoramic canvas:

Harbour panorama, Kinsale And upstairs, in the long corridor, there is an aerial image of the Old Head of Kinsale, shot from a helicopter in the days before drones..

Old Head of Kinsale, from the air.

It has been a great privilege to work on these images and to hear back how much the residents enjoy them. I deliberately omitted captioning the year or dates that the photographs were made, as it is a great source of conversation to debate among the residents themselves, their families and indeed, the staff. The great thing about film originals is that even I cannot be sure as to the exact dates that these images were made! It was also an enjoyable project for me personally, as I have had a long association with the hospital, having been part-time pharmacist here in the early 1990's. It has been wonderful to see how this valuable resource has been so tastefully developed for the people of Kinsale.

JC July 2017.





Landscape photography with the Olympus OMD E-M1 Mark II

March 14, 2017  •  9 Comments

As sensor and camera technologies have evolved in recent years, it can be difficult to keep up with progress and to wonder if specific new features are applicable to your style of photography. Those of us who came through the film route to modern photography still marvel at what currently available cameras can do in the field. In my own areas of underwater and landscape photography, moving towards smaller format cameras has been a big attraction in recent years. In this post, I outline recent progress and current systems for my personal photography and give a reasonably detailed look at a compelling recent addition to the digital photography arsenal – the Olympus OMD E-M1 Mark II camera.

Sandstone at sunrise, Arizona/Utah border.OLYMPUS OMD E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko 8mm F1.8 Pro lens. Size and form factor are a significant consideration for both landscape and underwater photography. To house a professional sized DSLR  for underwater use, and equip it with the required optical domes and lighting, creates a very large underwater photography system. For many years there seemed to be little choice between low quality, small-sensor compact camera systems and large DSLR high quality systems. In recent times, however, some interesting formats other than the established full frame (35mm) and DX-cropped sensor have become available. I first became interested in the Micro 4/3 system, jointly developed by Panasonic and Olympus, in 2009. I bought an Olympus PEN EP2 and two lenses, using this primarily for family and general outdoor and camping photographs. Having a small sized camera with interchangeable lenses was initially exciting but the image quality from the early cameras just could not match that from my DSLR systems. This was an unfair comparison I know, but one that we all inevitably make if we are considering changing an entire system, which will involve lenses that have been built up over many years. Another area which most photographers value highly is the viewfinding system in a camera. This is our compositional sketchpad, the basis on which we refine our compositions. From the early days of digital photography, I found the idea of composing photographs on an LCD screen held at arms length to be completely unnatural and unintuitive. The EP2 camera had an accessory electronic viewfinder, but the technology had some way to go at that time.  I enjoyed using this early camera system and hoped that it would evolve to a point of having the features that I would need to create publishable photographs.

Reflection, Checkerboard Mesa, Zion NP, Utah.OLYMPUS OMD E-M1 Mark II Olympus M.Zuiko ED 7-14mm F2.8 Pro

When Olympus announced the OMD series, beginning with the E-M5 and following with the E-M1 – I thought that this format was reaching maturity, particularly with the rapidly expanding professional-grade lenses that were released to accompany the flagship model.  The time was right to make the change when Nauticam introduced an excellent underwater housing for this camera, with full supporting ports for various lenses. I have been using this setup for the past three years and have published to magazine quality, cover and double-page spreads – and made enlargements from files that I would not have thought possible, to 800 x 600mm. For my landscape work however, my workhorse Nikon D810 and 14-24mm wide-angle lens, remained my first choice. I did use the E-M1 alongside this but the large file size and my long established comfort with Nikon systems kept me from moving over to Micro 4/3 for landscape work.

'Corkscrew' tree at dusk, Zion NP, Utah.OLYMPUS OMD E-M1 Mark II Olympus M.Zuiko 8mm F1.8 Pro

When the mark II version of the E-M1 was announced, I knew that Olympus would have made significant technological progress over the three years since introducing the first flagship model. The question would be, how relevant would these advances be to my style of photography. The emphasis seemed to be on a professional specification with high frame rates, burst speeds and superfast autofocus – areas that would be well suited to photojournalism and sports photography.  I was more interested in the fact that the new camera would have a new sensor with a greater dynamic range and low noise. Improvements in the electronic viewfinder would also be welcome as would any abilities in low light.  The question in the back of my mind was – could this camera, paired with the Olympus 7-14mmF2 .8 Pro lens, be a viable replacement for the full frame Nikon setup. 

Storm light, Canyonlands, Arizona.OLYMPUS OMD E-M1 Mark II Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 Pro with MC 1.4x.

 I was able to put this to the test on a long planned and anticipated trip to the American Southwest. I received the camera in time to assess its dynamic range using a Sekonic L-758 light meter. This would give me a direct comparison to the Nikon D810 – especially for shadow detail, which is often critical in high dynamic range landscape images at dawn or dusk. In these tests, the dynamic range is indeed greater than the original E-M1, but not as broad as the full frame sensor of the Nikon. However, given that the sensor is half the area, Olympus engineers have managed to give the sensor 3.8 stops of shadow detail (versus 4.5 stops Nikon D810).  With careful metering to protect sensitive shadow areas – while not over exposing highlights – this was very workable for all but the most challenging high dynamic-range scenes. On a practical level for hiking, the smaller system was a joy to use. I could comfortably carry the camera body with four lenses and a lightweight tripod (RRS TQC14 + BH30) and have all focal lengths from 8mm fisheye to over 400 mm in a lightweight backpack that was absolutely no burden to carry. This made scrambles up steep rock faces a lot more enjoyable, fun even – and as I began to process early work, I could see that the image quality, dynamic range and low noise were all a winning combination.

Milky Way and Joshua tree, Saline Valley, California. OLYMPUS OMD E-M1 Mark II Olympus M.Zuiko ED 8mm F1.8 Pro, post processed in DXOoptics Pro 11 and Photoshop.

Having processed some work from this trip, I can attest to the superb image quality, depth of colour and dynamic range from the E-M1 Mark II.  For some of the more challenging raw files, I used DXO optics pro 11, but for most images, I could extract the detail needed using Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom.  as the days went by, I found myself reaching for the full frame system less and less – having such a neat system, particularly for 'sketching' images handheld was just great. I was surprised how sharp the handheld images were (using image stabilisation), with shutter speeds as low as 1/40 second – and in many cases, I did not bother to reshoot on a tripod. This made me more productive, exploring more compositions then I typically would when working from a tripod all the time.


I was also pleasantly surprised how low the image noise is at higher ISO’s – in this case, for night sky shooting. Typically, I shoot these at ISO 6400, F2 .8 and 15 seconds. Using the Olympus 8mm F1 .8Pro lens, I was able to use ISO 3200 and get really clean images of the night sky and Milky Way. The only downside I found in using this camera for landscape work, was using the camera in very cold weather – the four-way trackpad and button on the rear of the camera was difficult to use with a gloved hand. The improved electronic viewfinder is really excellent and I used this most of the time, although I did find the articulating rear LCD screen also extremely useful for more unusual angles or very low camera positions.

Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona.OLYMPUS OMD E-M1 Mark II Olympus M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm F2.8 Pro with MC 1.4x.

Overall, I am hugely impressed with this camera system which will become my primary photographic tool for the foreseeable future. It is a truly professional grade camera body, being fully weather-sealed and I was not concerned about using the camera in challenging environments such as rain or blowing sand. The more I use the Micro 4/3 system, the more I like the 4:3 aspect ratio, especially for vertical compositions. For landscape photography, the Olympus OMD E-M Mark II, combined with the Olympus 7-14mmF2 .8 Pro lens is a superb combination. Recently, specialist filter manufacturers have made it possible to use neutral density, polariser or graduated filters on this wide-angle lens. This was the lens that I used most on this trip. For a standard, all-round zoom, the recently introduced Olympus 12-100 mmF4 Pro lens is really good, though a little long and heavy for my liking, on such a small body. However, to have the equivalent range of 24mm to 200 mm (35mm equivalent) and have such serious optical quality and image stabilisation is pretty unbelievable. Another favourite lens for more distant landscapes is the Olympus 40-150 mm F2 .8 Pro, which I also used extensively with the MC 1.4 X teleconverter. The latter really does not reduce the image quality significantly, although I like to stop down an extra stop to be safe. A final consideration would be what “dream” lenses could Olympus develop? I think a super-wide fast prime (e.g. for night sky), perhaps a 12mm F1.4 or F1.2; and a tilt–shift lens would make my Nikon full frame system pretty much unemployed (even though there is keystone correction in the software of the camera, the image delivered is a JPEG and not a RAW file). One or two other thoughts specific to landscape shooting are: the live bulb/time/composite shutter speed setting –  this is a really nice idea for long exposures where the image builds on the LCD screen, not unlike a print developing in a darkroom tray, along with a histogram. However, I found this somewhat limited for a night sky work, as the maximum ISO with which this works is 1600. I also found having custom banks (C1-3) really useful, given that these cameras are so customisable. Having a base camp to return to that holds a range of favoured settings, makes it quicker to refine technical considerations quickly in rapidly changing lighting conditions. Finally, another huge improvement over the original E-M1 is battery life. I never had to change a battery during a day’s shooting, although I always kept one spare. As you can gather, mine is a hugely positive overall impression after a week of extensive use, particularly given my lifelong 35mm/full frame and DX camera use and an early E-M1 adopter. The form factor and handling of this camera are simply unbeatable and it delivers unquestionable professional-grade results. The lenses are outstanding and the camera is built to take the elements when outdoors in all weathers that crazy landscape photographers go out in.




Protecting Philippine Reefs, cover and feature SubSea Magazine, Autumn 2016

November 23, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Protecting Philippine Reefs
The community-managed Marine reserve of Apo Island

Words and Photographs by John Collins

It can be hard to find good news stories on the subject of marine protection. On a recent trip to the Philippines, I was heartened to hear the story of a small island community who have become a model for community-managed marine reserves worldwide.

Apo island is a small, steep volcanic island surrounded by a narrow band of fringing coral reefs. It is a short distance from Dauin on the large island of Negros and its waters are home to 650 species of fish and 400 species of corals. Like many coastal communities in the islands in the Indo-Pacific, fishing is the major livelihood for over half of the population. Apo Island’s 750 residents rely on the abundant marine life teeming in its waters but have carefully managed this resource for three decades.

Reef protection began informally in 1982 under a marine conservation program initiated by Silliman University in the Philippines. At this time, fish stocks had dwindled and project staff presented an idea of protecting the reefs to address this problem. One of the cornerstones of this proposal was to establish a sanctuary where all fishing was prohibited – a complete ‘no-take’ zone – and this idea was initially met with a lot of resistance. However, agreement was reached to begin the project in a small way and its progress was closely monitored. Within three years, the island community saw a marked improvement in fish catches and this gave the impetus to the island community to formally establish the sanctuary, declaring the waters surrounding the island up to 500m from shore as a marine reserve and critically, a portion of the south-eastern coast to be a totally protected area.  Once the community could see the benefits of allowing fish stocks to regenerate, they were fully engaged in managing and defending their marine resources.

Another key initiative from the outset was getting fishermen to abandon destructive and illegal fishing methods such as muroami (reef pounding and netting), cyanide and dynamite fishing. Like many parts of Southeast Asia, these rampant and destructive fishing practices prevailed for a long time. Destructive fishing ceased completely around Apo Island by the mid-1990’s and since then the fringing reefs around the island have flourished. The marine habitat outside of the ‘no-take’ zone, but within the marine reserve, is termed a traditional fishing area where all destructive fishing methods are prohibited but traditional fishing methods such as hook and line and bamboo traps are permitted. The benefits to the local community from this marine reserve are increased fish catchers in less fishing time; larger predatory fish have increased eight fold in the reserve and species diversity has increased dramatically. Both green sea and hawksbill turtles frequent the sanctuary along with bumphead parrotfish, occasional whale sharks and large schools of jacks.

There are also a few rules related to diving and snorkeling – you must register and pay a small fee; gloves are not permitted and there is a limit of 15 divers including three dive guides. Boats must use the fixed moorings where provided and only use anchors in designated areas. Rolling over the side of the dive boat and descending on to these reefs is a joy to behold. It is obvious that the reefs have been protected just by looking at the density, size and variety of both hard and soft corals. Similarly, the variety of fish life is simply too long to list but includes a diversity of both reef dwelling and blue water species, including trevally, dogtooth tuna and schools of fusiliers.

I think the photographs illustrate more than words can describe but it is easy to see why Apo Island has become a model of marine reserve management worldwide, thanks to both the forward thinking and open-mindedness of its community and Silliman University’s centre of excellence in coastal resources management. With a thirty-year record of sustained marine protection existing alongside a fishing community’s needs, this is a living inspiration to other islands in the Philippines and beyond.

Diving the Philippines

The Philippines is an archipelago of over 7000 islands set in the blue waters of the Indo Pacific. It forms the northern part of the coral triangle considered to be the centre of marine biodiversity in the tropics. However, its neighbours Indonesia and Papua New Guinea seem to get more attention as diving destinations. This is perhaps due to the destructive fishing practices of years gone by and the perception that the reefs were not what they should be.

I travelled to the Philippines with Dutch operated Worldwide Dive and Sail and dived from their liveaboard boat, Philippine Siren. This was an excellently run diving operation and a very varied eight-day itinerary from Malapasqua at the northern end of Cebu Island to the southern part of the archipelago, known as the Visayas. While the bizarre and wonderful marine life of muck diving is well known in the area south of Dumaguete city, I was both surprised and amazed at some of the scenic reef and wall dives that we experienced – they were truly world class.

The "holy grail" of Philippine diving is Tubbataha reefs, a strictly protected marine area well offshore that is only diveable three months of the year. Both the dive guides onboard and other divers on the trip testified to the pristine nature of these reefs and how it is one to put high on your bucket list.

Golden hours Kinsale

October 02, 2016  •  3 Comments

Fog at first light, Kinsale.Fog at first light, Kinsale.

Golden Hours Kinsale

We photographers often refer to the 'Golden Hour' - the hour or so of light just before sunset and sunrise. Long shadows and warm tones are its immediate attraction but as the sun sets or rises, it leaves part of the landscape bathed in cooler light and the juxtaposition of both warm and cold is unique. On a fine autumnal weekend when both the sunrise and sunset are at very civil hours, I set about trying to capture this idea from an evening to a dawn.

Sunset, Bandon river.


Dusk, Castlepark and Charlesfort, from Compass Hill.


Twilight, inner harbour, Kinsale.


Dawn, Long Quay, Kinsale.


Fog at first light, Scilly, Kinsale.Fog at first light, Scilly, Kinsale. First light in the sky, Scilly, Kinsale.


Fog at the fort, Kinsale.Fog at the fort, Kinsale. James Fort, picked out by the early morning sun. Kinsale.


Fog at first light, Kinsale.Fog at first light, Kinsale. A heavy fog lingers above the Duggan Bridge, while Compass Hill and the Pier are lit by the warm morning sun.


Once the sun has risen above the horizon, the warmth of the light dissipates and a bright, crisp Sunday morning is underway. Time for photographer's breakfast!

Late dive season favourites – 2008 article

September 03, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

This article first appeared in SubSea magazine in 2008.

UC-42UC-42(Copyright) John Collins



Late Season Favourites



Poor weather at the height of the summer meant a late season for many Irish divers. John Collins reflects on some late season dives on the south coast.



Words and Photographs by John Collins, Kinsale.


Late December is the traditional time to reflect on the year that is about to finish and Met Éireann tell us that despite the washout of a summer, this year has been the warmest on record. This will come as little consolation to those of us that had planned our diving days around mid-summer, when each passing weekend seemed to bring an endless cycle of non-diving conditions. I had started the season with great enthusiasm in April, testing a high-definition video set-up, which showed great promise for a planned home-waters film.


With little more than a few minutes of useful video clips, late August was looming – complete with talk of schoolbooks in our house­  – and I was beginning to think the entire season was going to be a washout. But the rain clouds eventually gave way to blue skies and settled weather in late August and continued into September and all was not lost. Here, on the south coast, this coincided with the launch of a very promising dive charter boat ‘Oisre’ (pronounced ‘osh-re’ – Irish for Oyster) which opened up the possibility of some late season favorites from Cork harbour to the Old Head of Kinsale, including the marvelous Ling Rocks. 


The boat is an Excalibur 880D built by Gael Force Ventures in Cork and is powered by a 260HP inboard diesel engine. She is quick, stable and very comfortable with plenty of room to kit up and stow delicates like camera housings. Even long runs from Oyster Haven to the wreck of the ‘Santo’ east of Cork Harbour passed quickly and wise use of GPS, echo sounder and experience put us spot on the dive sites. The ‘Santo’ or ‘Sante’ is a popular harbour wreck in 25 metres with plenty of recognizable parts of the ship to keep you occupied for a nice nitrox NDL time. It sank in 1900, just after Christmas and according to Tony O’Mahony’s excellent, she was bound for Taiwan on her maiden voyage from the builders yard in Scotland. It was a stern bucket dredger, clearly not designed to take a battering from a winter storm off our south coast and sank with the loss of twelve lives. It is a tidy wreck and is easily navigated as the line of dredging buckets gives visual and directional orientation.


An equally easy dive is the wreck of the ‘Clifton’ in 33 metres, not far from the ‘Aud’ off the Smiths Bank. Visibility is usually better here and this tidy wreck is home to some lovely schools of pouting or bib. She was a 125 ft, 250 ton armed trawler pressed into minesweeping service during World War I and sank rapidly after striking one of the mines she was trying to clear, leaving only a single survivor. The wreck is broken but not flattened, leaving some nice exploring to be done. I filmed this very picturesque wreck over a couple of dives and enjoyed it immensely, getting some nice footage to boot.


We also managed a couple of late season dips on the Ling Rocks, six miles south of Oysterhaven. These rocky peaks, rising to 20 metres from depth, are probably the best scenic dive east of Galley Head. Sheer rock faces are blanketed with plumose and jewel anemones and are surrounded by superb fish life, with large pollack keeping a wary eye on divers while curious cuckoo wrasse bounce off your mask, they are so nosey. As a second dive, or to seek shelter from an easterly sea, the west side of the Old Head of Kinsale is never dull. The wreck of the ‘City of Chicago’ lies in a handy 16 metres and the surrounding rocks and reefs are always lively. An added novelty over recent years has been the addition of hundreds of golf balls from the links course that runs along the cliffs above. You can’t help thinking they need more lessons...