John Collins: Blog en-us (C) John Collins (John Collins) Mon, 20 Jun 2022 17:12:00 GMT Mon, 20 Jun 2022 17:12:00 GMT John Collins: Blog 91 120 Large Format fun – LomoGraflok back for 4x5 cameras and Fujifilm Instax Wide film

Large Format fun with the LomoGraflok back for Fujifilm Instax Wide on 4x5 cameras

Getting into 4x5 large format film photography can be daunting. And while it is rewarding to work with analogue materials, there is some anxiety around wasting film as you learn the ropes. This is where the LomoGraflok is great - it puts the fun into 4x5. Let me tell you how it works and give you some tips to get right into it...

To my eye, Fujifilm Instax Wide is the best version of this instant film – not just because the prints are a good size, but they also appear to be of better quality than the smaller mini and square prints. There are three principal variants of the film - colour on a white or black border, or black and white (Monochrome) on a white border. All three are nice, I have to say that I like them all. A couple of notes before you start: the ISO of all three is rated at 800 – I meter and expose it slightly lower at 640 and like the results. The film has a narrow exposure range or latitude, so it does not do well in high-contrast light – you will have to sacrifice either the shadows or highlights. I estimate it to have around five stops of overall latitute.

The back itself is simple to use. The only real difference between this and a normal 4x5 film holder is the increased distance of the film plane from the lens. So, you get a mask to insert that lifts the ground glass further back, allowing you to compose and focus before closing the lens. You then remove the mask and ground glass, then attach the film back, securing it with Graflock sliders. Next, switch on the back and a small blue pilot light tells you that all is good. Assuming that you have some large format experience, you will have a routine something like this: meter your scene; set the aperture and shutter speed and cock the shutter. Then (only then!), remove the dark slide and make the exposure. Replace the dark slide and press the eject button to get the Instax magic happening.

A few final notes: like most Lomography products, this is made primarily of plastics and I consider it delicate enough and handle it gently. It's not going the be an heirloom, OK! It uses four AA batteries and I pack a spare set – it is easy to forget to switch the back off after you eject your print, and pack your kit away. Surprise, surprise, the batteries are dead next time you use it.

All in all, great fun and a low-stress way to enjoy the purest analogue photography in large format.


]]> (John Collins) 4x5 analog photography Fujifilm Instax Wide Large format LomoGraflok Lomography Mon, 20 Jun 2022 17:10:57 GMT
Kodachrome and the rural post office Kodachrome and the rural post office.

This feature first appeared in Grain magazine, January 2022. 

'They give us those nice bright colours
They give us the greens of summers
It makes you think all the world's a sunny day…

So mama, don't take my Kodachrome away.'

Paul Simon, lyrics 'Kodachrome.'

It was an event for the Sri Lankan village post office staff. A red-headed and bearded Irishman presenting a large envelope of films destined for Europe was worthy of all of the postal hierarchy's attention. Each person, in turn, examined the package, feeling for the declared film cassettes and placing it on the weighing scales, called a superior. An audience was gathering behind with friendly curiosity. Finally, after each had called his supervisor, the top man was summoned. He looked at me, picked up the package and inhaled deeply. Finally, with a perfect pause, he issued the command to proceed. Now the forms and loud stamping, postage stamps and payment went into action, the business of getting the package on its way complete.


Kodachrome was a film first manufactured by the Eastman Kodak company in 1935. Up to then, colour photography had proved technically elusive until the unlikely alliance of two professional musicians, Leopold Godowsky Jr. and Leopold Mannes. The duo, who were also university-trained scientists, took an interest, having agreed that colour movies up to then were terrible. After many years of experimenting with colour couplers and dyes, they were introduced to Kodak's chief scientist, Kenneth Mees and eventually worked for the company, bringing a novel three-colour material to market. It would be a mainstay and iconic film emulsion for the next 74 years.

The process of developing the film was complex. So much so that Kodak decided that it could be the only one to undertake it, meaning every roll had to make the round trip from manufacture to finished colour slide. The chemistry of the layers that made up the finished photograph is what gave Kodachrome its unique palette. Favoured by cinematographers and photographers alike, National Geographic photographers particularly championed it in the first decades that the magazine printed in colour.


I had shot my 35mm rolls in the previous days in Sri Lanka's central highlands. It was early 1989, and I was en route by sailing ship from Brisbane, Australia, to Marmaris in southern Turkey. We had stopped for rest and provisions in the port town of Galle. Having been at sea for some time with my fellow crewmates, I was keen for a change of scene and rented a motorbike, loaded my Nikon camera and hit the road. I had a handful of photocopied pages from a Lonely Planet' Shoestring Guide' and some local advice not to venture too far north as the Sri Lankan civil war was active at the time. Now back at the post office in Galle, my adventures and acquaintances committed to film were on an uncertain journey. 

In today's mass photography world, this seems like something from a bygone age. The generation of photographers who have made the transition from working with film to digital media straddles a unique juncture in the craft's history, and this film emulsion occupies a particular part in that story. After the initial success of Kodachrome for its parent, competing films with simpler processing forced stiff competition, but many creators stayed with Kodachrome for its unique drawing quality. The newer films, particularly those from Fujifilm in Japan, had a garish look to seasoned photographers and lacked the subtle nuances of the Kodak material. 


As the film and subsequent developing were combined, the initial outlay to buy Kodachrome was high. It also had other practical drawbacks – its sensitivity to light was low, requiring a tripod or a steady hand to avoid blurred shots, and a narrow exposure range, meaning it was unforgiving of poor technique. The photographs could easily be too dark or too bright to be useable. The finished product was a colour transparency or slide, which had to be projected to be viewed properly or printed by a specialist photo finishing laboratory. 

Part of the mystique of shooting film is the uncertainty of the images made at the time of exposure. With practice, the experienced photographer learned to use the proper camera settings to achieve the desired outcome. Still, once she tripped the shutter, it merely created a latent image that could only be realised later, in the darkroom. This requirement to return the film to Kodak in the neatly rolled envelope that came with the film added time between shooting the film and seeing the anticipated results. This exercise in patience and delayed gratification did little to build photographic skills unless you made notes in the field. It did, however, add immensely to the joy of seeing projected images come to life later.


Three months after handing over the films in the Sri Lankan post office, I arrived home. A lot had happened in the preceding months. One hundred and twelve days at sea, punctuated with short stops like Sri Lanka, saw the tall ship 'Amorina', tied up in her new home in Turkey. The crew that had sailed her twelve thousand miles from the southern ocean had dispersed across the world. 

S/Y Amorina under sail. Red Sea. 1989.S/Y Amorina under sail. Red Sea. 1989.

On reaching home, a neat row of yellow boxes of slides awaited me on the hall table. The excitement of realising that the film had not only made it to the Kodak laboratory in Switzerland but the finished photographs were now here, waiting to be opened. It was hard to know which one to pick first, as all were identical. I made a random choice and started to peel off the carefully applied tape that held the white lid with 'Kodak' imprinted on it. In two neat rows, there lay thirty-six possibilities, each a piece of 35mm film encased in a thin card mount. Lifting out the first one and holding it up to the light, I could see the bright reds and warm evening light of a street scene in an unknown Sri Lankan village. I was transported to a moment that had passed quickly and only had two hastily made frames of film exposed at the time. I relied on experience and instinct and hoped to get the focus and camera settings right. 


There was a celebration of some kind happening in the village. I stopped at the roadside and switched off the engine, staying straddled on the bike. I took the camera out of its bag then looked up. It felt like everyone on the street had seen the foreigner at the same time, windswept and filthy from the road, a stark contrast to everyone's neat and gleaming white clothes. A young stilt walker in a vibrant costume approached, shadowed by her drum-beating parent. She danced gracefully to the rhythm while a tractor and trailer of spectators slowed to see what was going on. The moment had lasted only seconds, but now, looking at it on a thin slice of film, it felt immortal.

Later that evening, I set up the projector and transferred each slide to a slot in the carousel, making sure to orient them the right way round and upside down to allow for the reversal of the projection lens. Places were taken on the couch, the lights switched off, and the first click-clunk of a slide being slotted into place was the only sound above the hum of the projector's cooling fan. The bright light created a dust-filled beam, a trailer for the upcoming slide show. 


Projecting these slides now, over 30 years later, they come to life on the widescreen in a timeless way. I can see now why the passing of Kodachrome was mourned by photographers when it eventually succumbed to change. The last roll manufactured in 2009 was given to National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry, whose photograph 'Afghan girl' is one of photography's most famous. A year later, the last remaining facility that processed Kodachrome, Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas, processed that final roll. The thirty-six slides are preserved in George Eastman House, the world's oldest museum of photography. The story of those last days of Kodachrome was the subject of a feature-length fictional film of the same name, screened on Netflix. It tells the story of a dying photographer making the road trip to Dwayne's with his estranged son to develop his last rolls.


If there can be a single word to encapsulate the character of Kodachrome, it is cinematic. Crystallised instants of light and time brought to a present moment in a way that feels timeless. People seem alive in light of enduring quality. 

'So Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away…'



]]> (John Collins) Mon, 31 Jan 2022 20:18:02 GMT
Underwater Photography Magazine feature

]]> (John Collins) Fri, 03 Sep 2021 20:39:10 GMT
Last Orders – photobook zine

'Last Orders' explores the social isolation and melancholy embodied in the extended closing of the Irish pub. Presented as a photobook in 'zine' format, it is a collection of 40 photographs made over the winter and spring months of 2021. 

Signed copies available for local pickup - contact me.

Also available in The Boathouse Gallery, Kinsale; and Kinsale Pharmacy.

View gallery of images and video here.

Last Orders  launch discussion and Q & A. Kinsale Arts Weekend, July 10th, 2021.

What is a photography 'zine' anyway?

– The photography 'zine' is a small circulation/print run of self-published work, usually around a concept or theme. Sometimes this is a collection of photographs with no text or captions; this presentation style allows the collected images to do the storytelling. In other words, the collected images printed in booklet format aim to tell a visual story.

What were the themes or ideas that inspired this project?

– The past sixteen months of living through a global pandemic has brought about fundamental changes in all of our lives. The first lockdown, starting in March 2020, had a surreal feel to it. Working in healthcare, I was on the move almost every day, to and from work in the pharmacy – usually on bike or foot. I did a lot of work in those early weeks, using different technologies – film, digital, black and white. This was the time when huge signs were erected asking us, "how far from home are you?" Cycling through town in the late evenings around dusk, not a single car nor any sign of human life was evident. But we forget these things quickly and move on. Nevertheless, I had a strong image imprinted on my mind from those early days when we were all unsure of everything. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a speech outside a building in Washington DC in the early hours of March 12th, 2020. This was the day after the World Health Organisation used the term 'global pandemic'. He started by saying, "Good morning everyone; I need to speak to you about coronavirus and Covid-19…." These words, where we learned a new term - 'lockdown', and that image stuck in my mind. From then on, we started to use a new vocabulary as we marched towards an uncertain future.

– Just over a year later, the one area that had remained wholly closed was our public houses, or, to be more specific, the so-called 'wet pubs'- those without kitchens or serving food. I started to notice these. The silence and darkness spoke of something more expansive, deeper – wasn't sure what – but it began to talk to me.

How do you approach or develop an idea like this?

Initially, I try not to overthink it. I started to take some work, using an old twin-lens camera from the 1950s and black and white film. I like the slow approach to working this way and the simplicity of the technology. These were all exterior images of the closed, dark pubs. These negatives had a sadness about them. I started to think about why this might be and how it might differ among people – our perceptions of the Irish public house are very diverse. For some, this can be pretty negative – in the context of alcohol addiction, perhaps or drunkenness in all its negative facets. But there are so many layers to how we interact in spaces outside our homes – are we fundamentally socialise. This core human need is often facilitated in the spaces. It could be the random chat started at a bar counter, a card game. It occurred to me that there was so much more to this than could be easily conceptualised.

How did you progress from there?

I knew I wanted to photograph interiors, just as they were, absent of people - a year of having been closed completely. So I approached some publicans and just asked for access - which was graciously and unhesitatingly given - even though they had no idea I would do with the work (I didn't myself at that point!). For me, the interiors spoke of even more profound silence - an absence. It illustrated something missing from our lives. From here, the work came relatively quickly, over just two weekends. I changed to using both film and a monochrome (black and white only) digital camera.

Let's talk more broadly about expressing ideas through visual culture...

This is the great thing about an arts festival! My own approach to photography has evolved over the years. For a long time, I put a lot of emphasis on descriptive illustrative images that were mostly published as magazine features. This evolved into my first book, which was an underwater collection titled Cool Waters Emerald Seas. All this time, I was continually making work not just underwater but landscape and street style observational photographs. These were reactive images to simply expressing my surroundings and what it means to be here right now. I think this is why I am drawn to photography through its limitations and simplicity, we can create single moments, frozen in time made with light-sensitive materials. Photography is also a language – and a rapidly evolving one given that we have had nearly a decade of everybody having access to a camera in their pocket. 

I also like the idea of photographs being both windows and mirrors – which was a concept created by MoMA curator John Szarskowski in the late 1970s (around the time I became interested in photography). It opens the idea that photographers can either express their world by projecting it outwards; or by drawing it so that photographs reflect inner feelings. So, there are two people involved in every photograph – the creator and the viewer - and there is a chasm of difference, of space between the two. The creator has no control or say in how the viewer will see or read an image.

It is these layers that I like to experiment with. On the surface, this project appears to be about the pubs themselves – how they look and appear through prolonged closure. But the deeper layer, which is personal and individual to us all, is what these spaces mean to us. In particular, how they're connected with memory, as well as how we connect with people through shared interests, ideas, or just simply idle chat.

So, how did the work make you feel as the project progressed?

The interior photographs really started to resonate with me around memory. The empty barstool and stillness - was this a reminder to represent those no longer present in our lives. Does that lead to emptiness within ourselves? The empty fireplace – the cold hearth - does this open other memories? One image that I was very drawn to was that of a few decks of cards behind the bar counter. These small gatherings to socialise and play, maybe for those less inclined to idle chat but a channel to feel easier in company. It also started to open other memories, particularly of my grandfather, and one powerful image came to the surface that I had forgotten.

So to go back to the windows and mirrors idea, a photograph looks out but it also looks in - to the eye the heart of the photographer.



]]> (John Collins) Wed, 30 Jun 2021 16:37:25 GMT
Lisbon, Portugal – two days with an Olympus OM1 and black & white film

Lisbon, Portugal – two days with an Olympus OM1 and black & white film.

Back when international travel was easy, we took so much for granted. How adding a couple of days to an itinerary could allow checking out a new city on the way to or from someplace else. On my return journey from a dive trip to Cabo Verde (which I will write about in another post), I added an extra night in Lisbon on the inbound leg.

A colleague gave me a 'heads-up' to stay and wander the narrow streets of the old part of the city, called Alfama. Here, trams rumble the cobbled streets, which exude character. To complement this vibe, I brought along a recently serviced classic film camera, the Olympus OM1, from the early 1970s – and a few rolls of black and white film.

I first shot and developed film in the early 1980s, so this was not new for me. It did feel strange leaving the endlessly flexible, computer-driven digital cameras, though. But, it was also liberating – just a paper map and a mechanical camera.


]]> (John Collins) acros analogue and black film fuji lisbon olympus om om1 photography system white Wed, 07 Apr 2021 19:51:23 GMT
Moving to Micro Four Thirds for Underwater Photography Photo by Graham FergusonOlympus OM-D E-M1ii, Nauticam underwater housing, Olympus M.Zuiko 8mm F1.8 lens, Zen Underwater 170mm dome, Retra flash. Author, John Collins pictured with the Nauticam NA-EM1ii housing for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II, with Olympus 8mmF1.8 lens and Zen 170mm dome. Photo: Graham Ferguson Moving to Micro Four Thirds

Non-diving and photography friends are great to keep you grounded. 'How many mega-piglets are in that camera now, John?', my dear friend Tony asked me one time. He was eyeing up my recently changed but strangely smaller camera than before. 'It's not so much the number of piglets, Tony; it's how clean they are, I replied. Our common interest is in theatre and lighting, and I was photographing the dress rehearsal of a forthcoming production.


The camera was the Olympus OM-D E-M1, and it was 2014. It was the Japanese manufacturer's best camera to date in the comparatively novel Micro Four Thirds format. This digital format was jointly developed with Panasonic a few years before, and this new flagship model was to offer a 'professional' option to photographers. I had used one of the very early cameras in this format – it was LCD only – and I could see its potential. If they could improve this system with a viable viewfinder and better image quality, they were onto a winner.

Fan corals on wall, Raja Ampat islands, Indonesia.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The first camera to offer this was the E-M5 model, first announced in 2012. The small form factor and a rapidly expanding lens choice made it instantly attractive to underwater photographers. Nauticam, followed by other manufacturers, quickly offered housings. They were enthusiastically taken up by divers keen to reduce their systems' bulk and weight without compromising image quality. I found this especially attractive, as I was shooting a Nikon D2 series camera in a Subal housing. It was fabulous but enormous – and ridiculously heavy for travel.


Anemone fish and shrimp, IndonesiaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

These Micro Four Thirds or M4/3 were the first mirrorless systems available for underwater photography, and I was quickly converted. The press release for the NA-EM1 Nauticam housing in UWP magazine (issue 76), reads 'while this housing incorporates some of the best features of the housing for the E-M5, the NA-EM1 is a new design, pushing the boundary further towards the ideal human-machine interface.' While the hyperbole does make you smile, this housing was genuinely innovative, well-engineered and highly ergonomic to use underwater. These smaller format cameras have many densely packed controls, which does present housing designers with a challenge. In bringing their 'human-machine interface' to market, it needed to be easy-to-use above all else. They took many of the features of their DSLR housings, such as an integrated handle system, and it did result in a housing that is easy to hold, stable and easier to shoot. This was also the first housing that I used with the vacuum system and integrated electronic vacuum leak detection – and it certainly gives peace of mind. I consider this option essential in any housing now.


A second significant change for me in this system was moving to fibre-optic fired flash. Having used the Nikonos five-pin electrical cables since 1985, I had had my share of failures along the way. The new fibre optic wet connectors eliminated these issues and gave a reliable and straightforward setup that only added to my micro 4/3 rig. I first used the system diving here at home in Ireland with a 45mm macro lens and an 8mm fisheye lens with a small dome port – the entire setup easily fitting in a shoulder bag. The image quality was certainly there, although the Panasonic fisheye lens had a little more distortion than the 10.5mm Nikon that I was used to. But there was no going back. I decided to sell my Nikon and Subal outfit and expand the micro 4/3 system.

Lionfish on coral reef, IndonesiaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Did I find other shortcomings along the way? Yes, I felt the only area that was still a little weak was autofocus, especially underwater in low-contrast, wide-angle situations. When Olympus announced the Mark II version of the E-M1 camera in 2016, I did raise an eyebrow and say to myself; this could be good. I bought the camera as soon as it was available in early 2017 and used it alongside a full-frame system on a landscape photography trip to the USA. I wrote a lengthy review of my experience of using this camera at the time, and again, its compact size and weight (mainly when hiking) were a huge attraction. Olympus had improved almost every aspect of the camera in this second model. I decided to upgrade the housing, and this is what I use today. While there is now a Mark III version available, that has other notable improvements, but many are not particularly useful to the underwater photographer. Further refinements that have made this my chosen system are water contact optics and professional-grade lenses.

Nauticam NA-EM1ii housing for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II, with water-contact optic WWL-1

My system now consists of a 60mm macro lens; a 12-32mm versatile zoom lens (for use with the WWL-C lens from Nauticam); an 8mm F1.8 fisheye lens behind a Zen 170mm glass dome; and a fibre-optic trigger for flash. Any photographs I cannot get with this system are not down to the operator rather than the instrument and optics.


As the dress rehearsal drew to a close, I shot several dozen photographs from different angles and under different lighting. I showed Tony some of the images on the LCD screen on the back of the camera - 'hmmm, not bad, he said, 'those piglets are spotless'. I decided not to enlighten him on the human-machine interface.





]]> (John Collins) housing m4/3 mft micro four thirds mirrorless nauticam olympus om-d e-m1 om-d e-m1ii review underwater photography Wed, 07 Apr 2021 19:23:28 GMT
Series V @ The Boathouse Gallery Series V –  five-panel gallery artwork

Series V.1 'Atlantis Nativus'Series V.1 'Atlantis Nativus' I've been working on a series of five-panel wall display pieces over recent months and am really pleased with the finished work. Now on display at The Boathouse Gallery, Kinsale – each piece has an overall dimension of 145 x 95cm, so needs generous wall space. The work is printed on archival canvas bonded on a solid block and is batten-hung, slightly off the wall to give added depth. 

For more, see here.

Contact me or the gallery directly for further details.

]]> (John Collins) Wed, 02 Dec 2020 12:33:39 GMT
Wild Atlantic Blue Wild Atlantic Blue ­­­− Diving Macaronesia.

This feature first appeared in Ireland’s diving magazine, SubSea, Autumn 2020.

South of Ireland's shores, as the water warms, there are many great diving islands in the eastern Atlantic, known collectively as Macaronesia. These include the Canary Islands, Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde Islands, as we near the equator.

Irish divers have long been familiar with the much-lauded 'wild Atlantic way' of our western seaboard. At these temperate latitudes, we enjoy great seasonal diving, but we often look south to warmer waters during our late autumn, winter and early spring months. As low-cost and charter airlines have opened up these possibilities, these blue water destinations have become more accessible. Geographically, Macaronesia is the name given to these widely spread volcanic islands, not to be confused with Micronesia, which is the name given to the islands in Oceania in the Pacific – best known to divers for the shipwrecks in Truk Lagoon and the scenic diving in Palau and Yap.



. The Canary Islands and Madeira.


The Canary Islands will be familiar to most Irish divers, Madeira less so. Since the 1960s, the Canary Islands has been a refuge for northern Europeans seeking sunshine in their long winter months. Tenerife is the largest and most populous island and receives over 5 million tourists each year, making it the busiest for tourism. Gran Canaria is the largest island and is considered to have the best weather and beaches. While there is diving on both of these large islands, the smaller ones tend to be more attractive to divers, particularly Lanzarote – the most north-easterly island, neighbouring Fuerteventura; and El Hierro accessed via Tenerife. Being well developed for tourism, they are easy to travel to and explore and have the great advantage of being suitable for non-diving partners or families. This can be a great advantage, as most dive centres will do two dives early in the day, leaving the afternoons free to do other things. The climate, of course, is a big attraction – the annual average temperature being 25°C, although there can be quite a variation between islands. Like most of the islands in Macaronesia, the prevailing winds are the trade winds which blow from the north-east throughout the year and are generally stronger in the summer and autumn months. Water temperature can vary considerably, and particularly in spring, it may only be between 17° and 18°C – and it is not inappropriate to use a 5mm drysuit with a light base layer. Otherwise, a cosy 7mm suit is best. Later in the summer and autumn, water temperatures will get up to 22° to 23°C, and a 5mm suit may be enough. Ashore, there are many natural attractions throughout the islands, from the stark volcanic landscape in Lanzarote to the dunes in northern Fuerteventura. Finding a dive centre is easy, as there are so many, but a recommendation or reputation of long-standing is reassuring. I have personally dived with Safari and Rubicon in Lanzarote; Punta Amanay in Fuertaventura and can recommend them confidently; also with Shane Gray in La Restinga on El Hierro, which I have written about in these pages before.

The Azores.


The Azores are a group of nine islands – the European Union's remotest outpost – and are a long way offshore, being 1500km or two hours flying time from Lisbon. The Azores are also considered to be Europe's best-kept secret – the islands are diverse, exquisitely beautiful, tranquil and welcoming. For a long time, few people thought of the Azores as a diving destination, but it is becoming more recognised, although still undeveloped and mostly virgin territory. Unlike the Canaries, it is not a destination for new drivers or try-diving, as conditions are a little more challenging and require more experience. The underwater landscape is of a similar volcanic origin, with areas of lava and volcanic debris, tunnels, arches and small caves. Visibility is a big attraction here, being so far offshore, and is generally around 30m. Dropping into such clear blue water is always a pleasure. The island of Pico is probably the most interesting for divers, with an excellent and long-established diving and cetacean observing company, CW Azores. The signature dive here is to Princess Alice banks, a seriously offshore dive – 50 nautical miles from Pico Island. The early start and two and a half-hour boat journey is worth the effort with a unique underwater landscape and commonplace encounters with Mobula rays and large shoals of pelagic fish. There are other megafauna experiences to be had nearer to Pico, particularly with blue sharks, and it is possible to snorkel with whales under licence.

The Cape Verde Islands.


While both the Canary Islands and the Azores feel European, the Cape Verde Islands – located a thousand kilometres south-west of the Canaries – feel distinctly African. This group of ten islands is a crossroads of transatlantic travel and a melting pot of cultures as a result. The islands are dispersed over a large area and it is most convenient to take regional flights between them. As with the Azores, the gateway airport is Lisbon. The archipelago is popularly divided into two groups – the Windward Islands to the north, including Santo Antáo, Sáo Vicente, Sal and Boavista, the latter two islands being the most developed for tourism. The Leeward Islands to the south are the main island of Santiago, Fogo and Brava. There is diving on several of the islands, particularly Sal, which has a variety of sites in the Santa Maria Bay. Sáo Vicente also has good diving and the seascape resembles the volcanic characteristics of other Macaronesian islands, but with the rock faces often covered in bright yellow polyps and with larger aggregations of surgeonfish, parrotfish and Atlantic big eyes. Turtles are also frequently seen, as are nurse sharks, occasionally found resting under rocky overhangs. Being much further south, water temperatures are a very comfortable 21°C to 27°C, so a 3mm suit will often suffice with a rash vest or hooded top.  Dive centres are not as numerous or long-established, so it is worth seeking a recommendation and asking details about the diving, boats and guide experience.

John Collins, underwater photographerPhoto by Graham Ferguson


]]> (John Collins) Atlantic diving Macaronesia Ocean photography scuba underwater Wild Thu, 25 Jun 2020 12:06:34 GMT
Shark stories - 1 Great White shark, Dyer Island, South Africa

If a picture paints a thousand words, as the saying goes, then this one is definitely up there. However, there is more to the story than what appears to be a lunging Great White Shark and nearby humans.

The hand belongs to Marine Scientist, Michael Scholl and the photograph was made in August 2000 at Dyer Island, Gansbaai - about 175km south of Cape Town, South Africa. It was shot on 35mm film, just before digital cameras started to become 'serious'. 

Here's an excerpt from my book, 'Cool Waters | Emerald Seas' (Atrium, 2006)

'The Great White Shark is the ocean’s most fearsome predator. It is widely distributed in all seas, but particularly in the cool waters of South Africa and Australia. They are solitary animals and we know little about them. Getting close to them is difficult, as they are essentially man-avoiders. Food, or the smell of it,

is the only way we can deliberately attract these animals into close quarters, in order to observe them. During the southern winter, near Dyer Island in South Africa, white sharks are regularly seen patrolling the waters. On nearby Geyser Rock, thousands of seal pups have just been weaned and are venturing into the sea, ignorant of the sharks. The turbid water gives excellent cover for a sudden strike and a rich meal.

On arrival at the small town of Gansbaai, the sea is white as large waves crash ashore. Dyer Island is barely visible in the distance. We listen, with raised eyebrows, as the skipper of the ten-metre catamaran tells us the day’s plan. ‘It will be a little rough on the way out, so hold on tight’, he grins. ‘Once we anchor, we will try to attract the sharks to the boat – if they stay, we launch the cage. Once you are in the water, there is only one rule: no part of you can be outside the cage at any time. You cannot see a shark come from underneath. We would be at sea for four to five hours. We might see sharks, but we would need a little luck.

Thrashing through the water, the twin outboard engines roar in protest to the high seas. In the lee of the island, the breakers smooth out to long, steep swells. The breakers thunder into Geyser Rock, the booms mixing with the cacophony of thousands of seals barking and gulls calling from overhead. Driving rain stings exposed cheeks as hoods are drawn tight. A large plastic bait box is opened and an unforgettable stench fills the air. Two onion bags, filled with offal from a local fish factory, are strung over the sides of the boat. An oily slick trickles into the current. Any sharks crossing it should follow the scent to investigate its source. At the same time, a heavy line with bait and a float is thrown aft – this lures the sharks close to the boat. On such a winter’s day, I doubt if we will see anything.

Within minutes, however, a trademark dorsal fin passes close to the bait. The shark researcher slowly draws in the line. The shark crisscrosses a path towards us. It is huge, its shape now visible in the grey water. Closer and closer, then a lunge to swallow the bait whole. The famous jaws protruding and the eyes rolling back for protection, each bite a determined attempt to take the food. The line is held tight and the enormous head clears the water and lunges once more for the bait. The rope is pulled clear as the researcher grasps the snout and lifts it upwards, the shark momentarily confused. A final, searching bite, shows her gaping pink throat and rows of serrated teeth, water swirling around the mouth as she slips quietly back beneath the waves.'


]]> (John Collins) Tue, 19 May 2020 14:28:30 GMT
Winter pinhole photography with Ondu 6x12 and Ilford Ortho 80 film


I had a chance to try out the recently released black and white film, Ilford Ortho 80, in my pinhole 6x12 camera. I really like both the camera, an Ondu 6x12 Multiformat Rise, which allows 6x6 square, 6x9 and panoramic 6x12 formats, and is a beautifully crafted wooden camera made by a small company in Slovenia.

The new Ilford film is also very nice, particularly for outdoor photography, where its ISO is rated at 80 – it is 40 for tungsten light. There is some reciprocity failure with the very long exposures associated with pinhole photography, so you will need to allow for this. The information on this is listed on the website.

There is, of course, some inevitable vignetting with the 6x12 format in a pinhole camera, but I rather like it...


]]> (John Collins) Wed, 15 Jan 2020 16:07:45 GMT
Olympus mentor announcement

i am pleased to announce my becoming an Olympus Mentor and will be giving an initial presentation in Cork on November 27th. More details to follow:

]]> (John Collins) mentor olympus olympusuk Wed, 16 Oct 2019 15:14:00 GMT
Lomochrome Purple and a Rolleiflex


Lomography continue to introduce new film emulsions – great news for photographers that like to work with analogue film materials. By coincidence, a friend loaned me a very nice Rolleiflex TLR (twin lens reflex) camera, dating from the 1950's. These older cameras can be tricky to load and use, the Rollei in particular having a metal roller, under which the film is loaded, in order to move through the camera correctly.

Once loaded, the camera is a joy to use. Much smaller than a Single Lens Reflex medium format camera (like a Hasselblad or Mamiya RB67), it sits beautifully in the hand. What makes the TLR so unique, is the viewing which is done a chest level, giving a unique perspective. The image on the viewing screen is laterally reversed, which messes with your brain at first! Move left to go right and vice versa.

The results with the Lomo purple film are fabulous: foliage becomes a rich purple; blues shift to green and all in a wonderfully unpredictable fashion. The beauty of working with film is the delayed joy in seeing your photographs (real ones!), many days after you made them.

Great fun, highly recommended. 


]]> (John Collins) analogue film format lens medium photography reflex rolleiflex tlr twin Wed, 25 Sep 2019 16:34:23 GMT
A circular fisheye

Circular fisheye lenses are fun and creative tools underwater. Unfortunately, for high optical quality they are expensive to buy and set up in an underwater housing. One lens that is affordable is by Inon Japan, and while it is not intended for circular images, with some creative zoom lenses this works fine - providing you are not seeking optical perfection. I actually like the inherent distortion in all fisheye lenses and with careful setup, composition and lighting, this Micro Fisheye from Inon a lot of fun to use underwater.

The intended use for this lens is as a close-up fisheye lens for compact camera setups, the idea being that you zoome the lens out to 80mm (35mm equivalent) and then have a very close-focussing suer wide angle view. It is sometimes referred to as a ‘bug-eye’ lens because of this extreme prespective and close focus distance, charmingly noted as 0cm in the specifications!



]]> (John Collins) circular fisheye fisheye lens Inon Nauticam Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II Underwater photography Tue, 30 Jul 2019 09:21:32 GMT
'Shortcut'- film 'Shortcut' video

'Shortcut' video film by MTM films.

]]> (John Collins) Ireland kinsale photography Wed, 24 Jul 2019 12:41:44 GMT
New book ‘Shortcut’ - launching July 2019 S


I am delighted to announce the publication of my new book,'Shortcut'. Here is the press release:


For Immediate Release

Kinsale/July 9 2019

– Photography book launch Kinsale Arts Weekend.

‘Shortcut’ by John Collins

Kinsale, Cork — In a new and very original photography book, John Collins takes us off the beaten path to explore the lanes and back streets of Kinsale in west Cork. Presented in the style of a contemporary photobook, this collection of black and white photographs presents a sequence of images that creates an intently drawn, unique portrait of the town and its surrounds. There is a wonderful interplay of random observations, largely unseen pathways and a blend of the mysterious and recognisable that has a wide appeal.

The visual journey runs a little deeper as the author ponders our universal human tendency to always seek the easy way, the 'path of least resistance' – the shortcut. These deeply embedded instincts arise most obviously in how we make our way through the built environment, especially over long periods of time in a town of medieval origin.

Our storytelling traditions are brought to mind as we move through a sequence that is at once alluring and playful. An interesting aspect presented is how the paths and lanes of old have undeniable charm, we are still creating new ones. It seems that no matter how carefully planned and structured, our built environment still needs to mould to our human ways.

The overall flow is a captivating collection of photographs, made using both traditional film and modern digital materials. Viewers are free to make their individual reading of both the photos and the sequence as a whole. While locals might enjoy working out where the different photographs were made around the town, visitors will wonder where these hidden layers of Kinsale are to be found. 

Finished as a casebound hardback, this is a book that invites a slow reading, to savour both the photographs and an understated design that sits comfortably in the hand.

‘Shortcut’ will be launched on Friday 19th July, 6.30pm at the Boathouse Gallery, Main Street, Kinsale as part of Kinsale Arts Weekend.

For more information, press only:
John Collins
(087) 2684151



Presented as a sequence of black and white images, created within a mile of my home over the winter and spring of 2018/19, this is an exploration of the paths, lanes and back streets of the medieval town of Kinsale in West Cork. The book will be available as a casebound hardback in an edition of 250. The launch will be in the Boathouse Gallery, Kinsale on Friday, July 19, 2019, at 6.30pm, as part of Kinsale Arts Weekend.

To reserve a copy for collection at the launch click here



]]> (John Collins) Sun, 30 Jun 2019 10:13:22 GMT
‘Blue’- exhibition Nine Market Street Kinsale OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

’Blue’ exhibition, Nine Market Street, Kinsale, runs until April 29, 2019.


]]> (John Collins) exhibition kinsale photography underwater Fri, 22 Mar 2019 18:48:59 GMT
Cayman Rays (1997 article)

Cayman Rays

Stingray City, the ace in Grand Cayman's hand, is arguably the world's most popular dive site, and the graceful wild animals that live there attract hundreds of divers every day. 

This site, and the nearby sand bar, both on the north shore of Grand Cayman, are home to more than 200 southern stingrays.  These bottom feeders were first attracted by the local fisherman, cleaning their catches in sheltered waters before heading ashore to market.  

Cayman waters are home to five species of rays, the southern stingray being the most famous.  Fully grown  specimens measure 1 to 1.5 m across, and they can sting using the strong barbs in their tails.  The barbs face backwards yet can sting in any direction. 

The rays appear totally unafraid of humans, and will envelope and almost harass divers as soon as they enter the water.  They seem to have learned that as divers tend to carry food, if they distract them they will get a free meal more easily. 

This is why it is best not to wear a snorkel, because the cunning stingray knows that if it knocks it, the divers mask will flood and the food will be discarded by the mask is being cleared! Stingrays one, divers nil. 

Similarly, the rays have learned that divers without suits make easy targets.  The rays do not have teeth, but a series of rasping plates  that they use to crush the shellfish on which they normally feed.  With their powerful sucking action they can give exposed skin a nasty "hicky" of that can bleed and be sore.  This is all part of the game of interacting with these resourceful animals.  A diver on the receiving end of such a kiss quickly surrenders the food - stingrays 2, divers nil !  

Southern stingrays are the most commonly seen rays in the wild throughout the Caymans. They're generally spotted swimming gracefully over the coral or foraging for food in the sand. Here, they are almost always seen with a barjack. He waits for the Ray to dig up the sand for food and darts in, getting an easy meal before the Ray gets everything.   

Of the other rays in Cayman waters, the Manta ray is more likely to be seen off Bloody Bay Wall in Little Cayman. A few years ago, a friendly female was a regular nightly visitor to a dive site called the meadows. Here Molly as she became known, would perform barrel rolls as she fed on the plankton and krill attracted to the divers torch's.  

The spotted eagle ray is also regularly seen on Bloody Bay Wall. This large elusive Ray has the same graceful flight as the manta and may initially be mistaken for one.  Eagle rays have snouts, not unlike a pigs, which they use to dig and forage in the sand for their diet of crustaceans and mollusks. However, they tend to be wary of divers and will swim away showing the spotted pattern on their back. 

The electric or torpedo ray is much smaller and a rare sight for divers.  This ray has a rounded body and electric organs that it uses to stun its prey.  These can generate up to 220 volts, more than many's a Red sea liveaboard!

Finally, the yellow stingray is the baby of the Cayman rays.  At a maximum of only 45 cm, this circular Ray will often be seen resting under coral outcrops when it is not feeding. It has a venomous spines at the end of its strong tail and so probably packs the punch of a heavyweight despite its small size. 

While the rays of Stingray City get plenty of free meals from divers and snorkelers, there are potential dangers in the interaction.  The stingray is dangerous only if trodden on or caught when it can thrash out and sting, causing serious lacerations. The danger for the stingray may be more serious as divers wearing gloves can remove the protective mucus from the fish's skin, allowing infections to develop, which can be fatal. Close encounters with these large, inquisitive and fearless animals is an interaction replete with excitement and fun for divers and snorkelers, and a great opportunity to learn about their world.


]]> (John Collins) Thu, 03 Jan 2019 16:42:47 GMT
Southern Blue – underwater at the Ling Rocks, Cork. Southern Blue – underwater at the Ling Rocks, Kinsale.Olympus OMD EM1, 7-14mmF2.8Pro lens in Nauticam underwater housing. It is a great treat to scuba dive on offshore reefs, infrequently visited by divers. On those rare days when the sea is still, tides are right and the opportunity to dive presents itself – for Kinsale and Cork-based divers, the Ling Rocks beckon. These are a series of underwater peaks that rise to within 20 metres from the surface, from surrounding waters that are 50-60 metres deep. It is an adventure in itself to prepare for the 6-7 mile boat journey out and the area can only be found with the help of GPS navigator and echo sounder.

I think the video speaks for itself, and I hope it gives a sense of how divers will often have their eyes glaze over recalling dives here...

]]> (John Collins) Wed, 19 Dec 2018 20:43:18 GMT
Re-Approaching Photography: Open College of the Arts I started studying with The Open College of the Arts​ a few months back – a Bridging course titled 'Re-approaching Photography'. One of the key questions we explore early on is: 'If the ‘production’ of photographs has skyrocketed, what about their ‘consumption’? This post explores this idea.


]]> (John Collins) Sun, 09 Dec 2018 22:25:48 GMT
Lensless Making photographs without a lens

Pinhole photography is probably the simplest form of making images with light-sensitive materials. It dates back to the earliest days of photography, using the 'camera obscura', which I'm sure most of us recall from primary school. By creating a light-tight box with a pinhole at one end, an image is formed, thanks to the marvels of physics!

I became interested in pinhole recently through the launch of the ONDU wooden camera, created by two Slovenian brothers. These are beautifully handmade, precision pieces, available in several film formats. I chose the 6x9 Classic, which takes 120 format roll film, giving 8 exposures per roll.

The simplicity of use and unpredictability of the images is an antidote to 'driving' a complex digital camera and I find the process of visualising (guessing!) how the camera sees and draws deeply creative and the slow pace is almost meditative.

In use, the camera is simple to load and comes with an engraved wood exposure chart to estimate the exposure at F133. I have also used a Lumu exposure meter with an old iPhone and a Sekonic L-758 exposure meter, which is better for colour transparency film. My favourite films so far have been Ilford FP4+ and Fuji Acros 100:

'Interdit', France.Pinhole camera 6x9 Ilford FP4plus film

Inner harbour and mast, Pier head, Kinsale.Ondu 6x9 pinhole camera, Ilford HP5 plus in Rodinal Special and scanned with Silverfast.

Inner Harbour, Kinsale. Ondu 6x9 Pinhole camera

'Surfers break', Cóte Atlantique, FrancePinhole 6x9 camera, Ilford FP4 plus film.

]]> (John Collins) pinhole photography Sat, 03 Nov 2018 18:06:58 GMT
Kodak Ortho B&W film Experimenting with unusual film emulsions is great fun – and it gets the creative juices flowing!

This old Kodak film is orthochromatic, which means that it is only sensitive to the blue end of the light spectrum. This makes it tricky to visualise how an image will look in different natural lighting. It is also very low ISO – 3, which is great for bright sunlight and fast lenses; or it is great for long time exposures – no Neutral Density filters required!

]]> (John Collins) Sat, 03 Nov 2018 17:41:39 GMT
Fuji SuperSlow Eterna film ISO 1.6 Zorki 4k cameraNikon F6 50mm F1.8 lens Fuji SuperSlow film Fuji SuperSlow Eterna ISO 1.6 film

Here's something you don't get to experiment with often – a really slow speed film. This is actually an intermediate duplicating film used in the motion picture industry, but being 35mm and not having a Remjet coating, it is easily processed in standard C-41 colour negative film chemistry. The results are contrasty, the colour is, well, all over the place – but it's great fun to use.

Being of such a low ISO, you need a large aperture (i.e. fast) lens of at least F1.8 – and lots of light. It means that you can shoot with the lens wide open on bright sunny days, lots of which we have enjoyed on Ireland's south coast this summer.

DandelionsNikon F6 50mm F1.8 lens Fuji SuperSlow film

The Market Bar, KinsaleNikon F6 50mm F1.8 lens Fuji SuperSlow film

Nikon F6 50mm F1.8 lens Fuji SuperSlow film Market Square, KinsaleNikon F6 50mm F1.8 lens Fuji SuperSlow film

Nikon F6 50mm F1.8 lens Fuji SuperSlow film

]]> (John Collins) F6 film photography Istillshootfilm Nikon Tue, 14 Aug 2018 12:02:24 GMT
Sprocket-hole 35mm film

Adapting 35mm film to fit in a medium format camera creates a wonderful look by exposing the film right out to the edges, including the sprocket holes. It is also a panoramic format when shot this way, and while there is some guesswork in composing – it is all the more enjoyable when the envisioned image is revealed on processing the film.

This is the Eiffel Bridge in Girona, Catalonia – yes, the same Gustave Eiffel of the much more famous tower in Paris.


Mamiya 6 camera, 50mm lens, Kodak ColorPlus 35mm film, re-spooled to 120 format, standard C-41 process, negative scanned on Epson v850 using Silverfast 8; no Photoshop!

]]> (John Collins) analogue bridge eiffel film girona holes istillshootfilm kodak photography slow sprocket Thu, 26 Jul 2018 20:40:50 GMT
Kinsale Arts Weekend 2018

I was delighted to contribute to Kinsale Arts Weekend 2018 with a project that I have been exploring over the past few months. 'Latent' explores the idea of image latency using traditional photographic materials and processes, in the context of the immediacy of device-driven photo taking and sharing. An exhibition of prints will run in Nine Market Street Restaurant until the end of August.

]]> (John Collins) Tue, 24 Jul 2018 12:07:49 GMT
PhotoIreland Festival 2018 Laia Abril's 'On Abortion', at the Copper House, Dublin 8. Until May 31.

PhotoIreland Festival 2018.

Now in its ninth year, the PhotoIreland festival has grown to be a major event in the Irish Arts calendar. I joined a small group of OCA Photography students based in Ireland, who co-ordinated a visit to Dublin to both meet up and share the experience. I had recently enrolled in a Bridging: Re-Approaching Photography and this was an ideal opportunity to meet other Open College of the Arts students.

Our planned day, fortunately, coincided with a Curatorial tour, which added a great dimension to the experience and also to understand some of the backgrounds of the artists themselves.

As this was the day after Ireland had voted on repealing the '8th Amendment' to the constitution, which effectively prohibits abortion in Ireland, two the main exhibitions in the festival were especially relevant and poignant. Laia Abril's 'On Abortion' is a striking, multi-layered exhibit that requires immersion and it utterly captivating. A completely different approach to the same topic contrasts dramatically with Sarah Cullen's 'You Shall Have Exactly What You Want'

Mariela Sancari's 'Moisés'was the final of the three exhibitions that we took in on the Curator's tour and is a striking creation of work born out of the artist's personal grief.

Running until the end of May – highly recommended:

]]> (John Collins) Mon, 28 May 2018 12:21:40 GMT
The Giants and Fingal - Of Causeways and Caves Giant's Causeway at SunsetGiant's Causeway at Sunset The Giant's Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland is one of our island's great natural wonders. It isn't, however the easiest to photograph. I have visited many times and it is rare to find moments when there are few people around, as almost a million visitors now make the journey to the north coast to see it. Couple this to the vagrancies of weather, wind and tide and the challenge of creating compelling images grows further.

On these visits, both alone or leading workshops, I have often wondered what the Causeway might look like underwater - could the seascape beneath the waves be equally compelling and do the basalt columns also appear on the sea floor? To answer this, I visited what is considered to be the geologic far-end of the Giant's Causeway - Fingal's Cave on the island of Staffa in Scotland's southern Hebrides.

Fingal's Cave.

One of the best descriptions of this geologic wonder is in the Atlas Obscura – one of my favourite living room bookshelf residents. Here, we are told that "legend holds that they were the end pieces of a bridge built by the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill, so he could make it to Scotland where he was to fight Benandonner, his gigantic rival". Ireland's myths and legends gives more detail: "Finally early one morning Finn’s path met Benandonner. Finn was delighted and was about to run across to find Benandonner when he saw him coming over the hill. Finn was shocked!!! Benandonner was twice his size as he looked twice as strong. Benandonner had not yet seen Finn so Finn ran back to his house. Finn asked Oonagh to help him hide. Oonagh was very clever and she thought of a cunning plan. She disguised Finn as a baby and put him into a huge cradle. Benandonner knocked on the door and Oonagh it. At that moment Finn dressed up as a baby pretended to cry. When Benandonner saw the size of the baby in the cradle he was terrified. If the baby was that big his father must be enormous Benandonner thought!! Benandonner turned as fast as he could and ran, ripping up the causeway behind him so that Finn would not follow."

Getting to Staffa is not as easy as driving to the Giant's Causeway in Antrim, however. The most usual starting points are boat trips from the island of Mull. These photographs were made on a diving weekend with Aquaholics, based on Ireland's north coast.

Underwater Fingal's CaveFingal's Cave, Staffa, Inner Hebrides, ScotlandAn over-under split image at the entrance to Fingal's Cave, Staffa.

Underwater Fingal's CaveBeneath Fingal's Cave, Staffa, Scotland.Dappled light at the underwater entrance to Fingal's Cave on the Inner Hebrides, Scotland.   Basalt columns, Staffa, Inner Hebrides, Scotland. A diver's view of the entrance to Fingal's Cave, Staffa.

]]> (John Collins) celtic legends fingals cave giants causeway underwater photography Wed, 16 May 2018 08:42:20 GMT
Meeting an Old Flame – the 1979 Pentax ME Super Photographers rarely forget their first 'real' camera. It's probably a tricky concept for those brought up in the digital era where cameras change so often. But in the late 1970's, in Ireland, SLR camera ownership was pretty low, I would reckon. I had shown interest in making photographs in my mid-teens and my first camera was an Agfa pocket model that took 110 format cartridge film. These made a small negative and could realistically only print to 5x7" at best.

Around that time, Pentax had a slogan 'Simply hold a Pentax', which tried to embody the tidy design that really does fall comfortably to hand, especially when compared to similar cameras from the same era. My early photographs from this camera, both black and white and colour, really introduced me to seeing the world through a lens and evokes fond memories.


]]> (John Collins) Sat, 05 May 2018 14:17:38 GMT
Photographing fireworks using Olympus OMD E-M1ii Live composite and photoshop St. Patricks Day Maritime Parade and fireworks, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland.Composite multi-exposure image of fireworks in Kinsale Harbour, St. Patricks Day, 2018. Photographing fireworks has always been a challenge and even today, with modern digital cameras, it requires some planning and technique. Here are a few tips to get you on the right track.

A great innovation in the most recent Olympus cameras are the 'Live' long exposure settings. This essentially draws a preview of your image as it is captured, not unlike seeing a print develop in the darkroom. There are three settings: Live bulb, Live time and Live Composite. The latter is the most useful for fireworks as it really helps to keep the exposures from over-exposing.

It really helps to speak to the organisers of the event beforehand. If you know where the fireworks are being launched from, you have a better idea of where the best photographic viewpoint is likely to be.

]]> (John Collins) Tue, 17 Apr 2018 13:38:47 GMT
Cool Waters Emerald Seas, Atrium 2006. Cool Waters Emerald Seas, Atrium 2006.Cool Waters Emerald Seas, Atrium 2006.


2006 article, SubSea magazine.


The Making of Cool Waters, Emerald Seas.


This month sees the publication of a major new book on diving temperate waters, Cool Waters, Emerald Seas by long-time SubSea contributor, John Collins. This is a beautifully produced, full-sized coffee table book with over 140 photographs from the world’s temperate seas, shot around Ireland, Canada, Tasmania and South Africa. We caught up with John as the book was going to print.


SubSea: You must be very excited to see this project to fruition, how did it come about?

JC: I really enjoy diving home waters. I think it is the variety and sheer profusion of life on good dive sites, like the Skelligs or the Aran Islands that keeps Irish divers coming back for more. Most of us bemoan the plankton blooms that reduce visibility on dives but it is the green phytoplankton that we have to thank for such a rich diving ecosystem. I felt that this diving is much less celebrated than its tropical counterpart and worked towards a book on it over the past few years.

SubSea: There certainly does not seem to be many coffee table books on cold water diving, did you have difficulty persuading a publisher to take it on?

JC: I came up with the idea about three years ago, though I had wanted to tackle a book for much longer. It was then a case of putting together a compelling portfolio and draft of the text that would present a publisher with a solid proposal. I was fortunate that an Irish publisher, Cork University Press, took it on under their Atrium imprint.

SubSea: Take us through the process from working on the photographs to writing the text and then publishing...

JC: I started with the pictures that I had from home waters and expanded that field to temperate seas worldwide, starting with a trip to Vancouver. With the material from home and Canada, I put a portfolio together and started work on the text. The narrative I had in mind was aimed at a general audience, not just divers. Once I had done a first draft of the text, I put a proposal together and thought about how I would complete the package. I was anxious to include temperate waters from the southern hemisphere and planned a short trip to Tasmania – along with a season’s diving at home – this would give me the photographs I needed to complete the book. Once the proposal had been accepted and refinements agreed, the book went to a designer and the process from that point took about 9 months.

SubSea: So the book is aimed at a wider audience than just divers?

JC: I am sure most Irish divers will agree that it is difficult to explain to non-diving partners, families and friends, what it is we get out of diving the Atlantic around our shores. It is mostly perceived to be wild, barren and forbidding and that diving it is, well, a mild form of madness. I know that’s what my own family think! So the book is a visual journey through our cool seas and a personal narrative on what it is like to dive it. At last, our mothers will get an idea of why we are so addicted to diving...

SubSea: The book certainly is a visual treat, the photographs are stunning. But the text, and particularly the quotations and extracts, are also inspirational. You obviously spent some time researching these?

JC: I love books myself, particularly diving books, and I have quite a library of them at this stage. I re-read many of the classics, particularly those of the early scuba diving pioneers – Cousteau, Hass, Tailliez and reckoned that the sense of adventure and discovery that is scuba diving is the same for every new diver. I have vivid recollections of my own early experiences in the water and so I compiled some extracts and quotations from other writers to insert among the photographs and reinforce this idea.

SubSea: What photographers and writers have influenced you most?

Well, anyone growing up in the seventies will remember ‘The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau’. His films, television series’ and books are superb, and an amazing record of our discovery of what lies beneath the surface of the oceans. One of Cousteau’s contemporaries, Philippe Diole, wrote one of my favourite books on diving, The Undersea Adventure, published in the 1950s. David Doubilet, a National Geographic photographer, has been an inspiration to a generation of underwater photographers through his articles and books. And another American photographer, Chris Newbert’s work is always a joy, particularly his first book, Within a Rainbowed Sea.

SubSea: How have you compiled the book – are there specific themes or chapters?

JC: The book is divided into six sections, each with a chapter of writing and accompanying photographs. The first two are an introduction to temperate water diving, the seasonality of cool waters, as well as personal observations from my own diving. Then there is a chapter on meeting the bigger animals, like dolphins and sharks and some nice images of Fungie (from his early days in Dingle) and some striking shots of great whites from South Africa. A wreck section, with a few favourites like U-260; and a more abstract, artistic section entitled Sea Dreams, completes the photograph portfolios.

SubSea: Congratulations and best of luck with it, we look forward to seeing Cool Waters Emerald Seas on our bookshelves.


]]> (John Collins) Tue, 17 Apr 2018 13:29:45 GMT
U-boat UC-42 Scuba Magazine feature

The story of the loss of World War I submarine UC-42 appears in this month's Scuba Magazine UK, with photographs that I shot in 2011.

]]> (John Collins) diving photography scuba shipwreck u-boat underwater Thu, 12 Apr 2018 15:12:34 GMT
Theatre photography Dancers, Lucy French School of Dance.A contemporary dance performance is particularly visual with dramatic stage lighting.

Theatre Photography using Micro Four Thirds (MFT or M4/3) Olympus cameras and lenses.

I have been actively involved in community theatre with Rampart Players for many years, both on and off stage. My photographic background leads to a natural inclination towards the visual elements of performance, particularly lighting. 

In photographing performing arts shows over the past couple of decades, I realise that I have picked up a lot of experiential knowledge and skill in theatre photography. Over the past three or four years, as I moved from using full-frame digital camera systems to smaller micro 4/3 systems, I found that this modern system does make capturing performance more fluid and productive.

Rampart Players 'Dinner at Larrys',A contemplative aside in 'Dinner at Larry's, Rampart Players Kinsale.

Here are a few thoughts and practical tips to improve your theatre photography:

All photography is about painting with light, and this can be especially challenging in the theatre environment. Flash is a major no-no for good reason, in that it both distracts the performers and audience members, but also destroys the look and mood that the set and lighting designers have worked hard to create. So getting to view a rehearsal, and speaking with the designers is the first step in doing your background work. I also like to see the opening performance and enjoy it as an audience member without thinking about it too much in photographic terms. Somehow the feeling of the visual aspects of the show's sink into your 'photographic brain' and when you come to photograph the show you have a reasonably instinctive sense of anticipation and timing.

Rampart Players, 'An Evening with Noel Coward'.

Understanding the look and design is one thing, but the practical realities of photographing theatre light are inherently challenging. There will be extremes of brightness and darkness, and you will need to be able to react to these changes quickly to get the technical aspects of your images right.


Your choice of lens is also crucial. In discussing the show at a rehearsal, or making other background enquiries, you will get a sense of where you can be positioned and therefore what lens or lenses will be a good choice. Fast aperture, bright lenses are the name of the game in theatre, as you will be using your lens wide open or stopped down by only half to one stop. In my current system, I use an Olympus OMD EM-1 markII camera, and the best lens for theatre photography is the Olympus 40-150mm F2 .8 Pro lens. In full-frame terms, an equivalent lens would be a 70-200mm F2 .8 or a fast telephoto prime lens.

Rampart Players, 'Twelfth Night'.

Your choice of camera settings is also a key component of getting technically correct photographs. I use either Aperture priority mode, or full manual mode – and use the aperture as wide open as possible. I will keep an eye on the shutter speed and adjust this depending on the level of movement of the performers, and merely adjust the ISO to its low lowest usable setting. Typically, this works out at F2 .8, ISO 1600 and a shutter speed of between 1/100th to 1/250th of a second. It is also essential to shoot in Raw as this will allow you to correct colour and white balance back at the computer. It can be challenging to get the photographs right straight out of the camera.

Rampart Players, 'Noises Off'

It is difficult to shoot with more than one camera and lens, but if you can manage it, you will be more productive. If you can handle this, having somebody to help you is useful.


Kinsale Arts Week, 2007 – 'Hamlet in 15 minutes'.

One of the significant advances in mirrorless cameras is the ability to use a completely silent electronic shutter. For quiet performances, this is essential. When a play reaches a moment where you can hear the proverbial pin drop, the last thing you want to hear is the shutter and mirror slap of an SLR camera. Of course, modern cameras can shoot many, many photographs, and it is wise to overshoot – bearing in mind that someone has to edit your trigger-happy inclinations – probably yourself! 


Rampart Players, 'Arsenic and Old Lace', 2017.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OMD E-M1 Mark II

There is something deeply satisfying about capturing the look and, more importantly, the mood of theatre performance. The actors, director and creative team involved and are sure to really appreciate an excellent photographic record of what are one-off, unrepeatable live performances.

Rampart Players, 'Arsenic and Old Lace', 2017.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OMD E-M1 Mark II

Night scene, 'Arsenic and Old Lace', Rampart Players, 2017.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OMD E-M1 Mark II

Rampart Players 'Pilgrims'(C) John Collins Kinsale Rampart Players Kinsale, 'Lady Windermere's Fan'©John Collins Rampart Players Kinsale, 'Lady Windermere's Fan'©John Collins Rampart Players Kinsale, 'From Both Hips'

]]> (John Collins) Wed, 11 Apr 2018 10:05:38 GMT
Hand-held 10stop ND long exposures with In-Body-Image-Stabilisation (IBIS)

As improvements continue to be made in-camera image stablilisation (IBIS), photographs that could only be made using a tripod become possible hand-held. Particularly when the camera stabilisation is complemented with lens stabilisation, hand holding a camera at near-impossible shutter speeds becomes a reality. The above image was made using a Lee filters IRND 10 stop, which has no colour cast, and a handheld 2 second exposure.

]]> (John Collins) Fri, 02 Feb 2018 14:45:34 GMT
Night and Day – Skagsanden beach Aurora borealis, Skagsanden beach, Lofoten, Norway. 2014.

The saying "the difference between night and day" is commonly used to express how opposite things are. This struck me as I was reorganising the archive of my processed images and came across these two photographs, taken at Skagsanden beach in Lofoten, Norway, a few years back.

This group of islands in northern Norway is well known among photographers for its incredible winter landscapes. The contrast between the dramatic, snow-covered mountains reaching all the way into the sea and long sandy beaches is both fascinating and stunningly beautiful. 

Becoming familiar with a location by day certainly makes it easier to move around and set up at night, for the occasions when the aurora borealis –Northern lights – are looking like they will be active. These two images are taken on opposite ends of the same beach – the drama of the frozen sands contrasting with this simply incredible night-time light show. 















]]> (John Collins) Mon, 08 Jan 2018 10:05:31 GMT
Six Swans Kinsale, 20th Anniversary Limited Edition Framed Print

Six Swans, Kinsale Harbour, 1997.

Six Swans, Kinsale Harbour, 1997.

Limited Edition framed print 500 x 500mm box frame.

This has been one of my most admired images of Kinsale and it is hard for me to believe that it was made twenty years ago now. Like most strong images, the moment that it was made it clearly imprinted in my mind. For younger photographers who have not experienced making photographs with medium or large format film-based equipment, the will seem like something quaint from a century gone by.

My primary camera system at the time was a Hassleblad 503CX. This was slightly more refined version of a workhorse camera for a generation of photographers, both professional and enthusiast, the square format 500. It took either 120 or 220 roll film, a larger format than 35mm, and along with wonderful Zeiss lenses, created superb images. It had no electronics, had a waist-level viewfinder and was really at its best on a sturdy tripod. 

Six Swans, Kinsale Harbour.Six Swans, Kinsale Harbour. The evening that this image was made was one of those rare, perfectly still early summer days when high tide coincided with warm evening light. I had seen this coming and was setting up for a nice composition near where the mast and monuments are today, with tripod just where I wanted it and I settled to watch the light bathe the harbour at the end of the day. From the corner of my eye, I spotted a couple of swans swim under the Kinsale Yacht Club marina walkway and only then saw four more a short distance behind. There was no time to move the tripod, so I quickly released the camera and lens and ran down the Pier Road and managed two exposures before the line of six broke up and wondered on, oblivious to the art being made above them!

Transparency film was a tough medium to work in – it was extremely intolerant of incorrect exposure and it was very much a case of the colour, shadow and highlight detail either being right or completely wrong. I'm sure there are many film-era photographers will relate to this as they recall chucking transparencies that they thought were going to be perfect in the bin. In the case of this shot, I had already read the exposure for the film using a handheld light meter (Fujichrome Velvia 50) and had no time to re-think or calculate this as the moment passed. And while the composition of the photograph still pleases me today, the slow shutter speed (probably 1/30 of a second) renders some movement blur in the swans. The finished image, when printed, is a moment – not a spectacular instant of light or anything – but unique and unrepeatable.

I have asked my colleagues in Strand Framing in Clonakilty to produce a special frame for this limited edition print, the overall size being 500x500mm (20"x20") and I have printed the scanned image on Permajet Fine Art Royal, heavyweight archival paper. I take great pleasure in individually finishing and signing each one.

I hope you enjoy this moment as much as I treasure it.


John  C. December 2017.



]]> (John Collins) Wed, 20 Dec 2017 23:12:25 GMT
Loaded Landscapes portfolio

Nice compilation of Patagonia work on Loaded Landscapes:

]]> (John Collins) Thu, 12 Oct 2017 13:19:38 GMT
Framing the Wild West – the landscape photography of Timothy H OSullivan

One of the great photographic pioneers of the nineteenth century was Irish born Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Often referred to as America’s forgotten photographer, this private man created a remarkable and varied body of work, from the brutal battlefields of the American Civil War to the arid landscapes of the western wilderness. As such, he was one of the earliest landscape photographers, his technical and artistic achievements establishing a justified reputation as pioneering artist in the new medium of photography.

The remarkable fact that so much of O’Sullivan’s work survives and is held in the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institute in the United States, contrasts with the sparse details of his short life. A great effort to learn more about him was undertaken when the Smithsonian and Library of Congress joined forces to put together a collection of O’Sullivan’s work on the American west. It seemed that the harder the researchers looked the less they found and the more questions they had.

What is certain is that O’Sullivan was born to Jeremiah and Anne O’Sullivan in 1840 and went to the United States two years later on an emigrant famine ship. The young family settled in Staten Island in New York, where Timothy grew up. As a teenager, he was taken on as an apprentice to Matthew Brady, a fellow Irishman, who had a successful gallery and studio in the emerging art and science of photography. When the American Civil war broke out in 1861, Brady had just expanded his venture to Washington and was perfectly placed to send photographers to document the unfolding events in and around the battlefields of Virginia and Maryland. The 21-year-old O’Sullivan and a Scot named Alexander Gardner loaded their cameras and darkroom on to horse-drawn wagons and headed west. In July of that year, an overconfident Union Army received a bloody baptism of fire at Manassas, Virginia and O’Sullivan recorded the aftermath of a stunning Confederate victory. Years later, he lamented his failure to fully capture the Battle of Bull Run “close up” – a rebel artillery shell, O’Sullivan explained, had blown away one of his cameras.

O’Sullivan and Gardner were to become the first war photographers, bringing the horror of the battlefield to the front pages of a shocked American public. If anything, Timothy O’Sullivan is best known for this work and several of his plates are most iconic images of this grim time in U.S. history. In particular, the image of bodies strewn across a battlefield, titled ‘A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 1863’ remains a stark and grim record of the reality of war. From a photographic perspective, this work was not merely documentary, O’Sullivan demonstrating a rare compositional talent in constructing his images and leading the viewer on a journey. In the above image, both the foreground and background elements are out of focus, concentrating the eye on the uncomfortable reality of the war dead. It was this honesty of vision coupled with technical expertise and an ability to work in extremely challenging environments that would lead to his later work in expeditions to explore the west.

Gardner and O’Sullivan had a falling out with Brady, not for business or money reasons, but because Brady insisted on crediting the work collectively to his studio and not to the photographers individually. Given that they were literally putting their lives on the line, it is understandable this was a reason for them to part company. Gardner set up his own studio and O’Sullivan continued his work on the civil war in the employ of his colleague. Their co-operation yielded a remarkable and now rare book of images, ‘Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War’, and it is this work that shows the photographers individual images, all of which are individually captioned and credited. O’Sullivan is credited with 44 of the 100 works published in this two volume work.

After the war, where O’Sullivan obviously proved himself in the field, an opportunity to join two survey expeditions to the American west was a welcome reprieve from the horrors of the Civil War. The first of these surveys was undertaken between 1867 and 1869 and was led by Clarence King. The expedition explored a swath of wilderness 100 miles wide, stretching along the 40th Parallel between the Sierra and the Rocky Mountains. The second survey expedition under George Wheeler, covered a vast area of the American Southwest between 1871 and 1874.

It is the landscape images from these expeditions that have endured and are remarkable to view, even today. The collaboration between the Smithsonian and Library of Congress brought together both their individual catalogues to create a remarkable portfolio. This project culminated in an exhibition of the curated work and the publication a book, ‘Framing the West’, in 2010. Given that he was the first photographer to visit most of these wild places and had no previous work to draw from – the resulting catalogue of images are wonderfully crafted and testament to great talent.

O’Sullivan once again shows a superb eye for composition and detail in capturing the deserts and mountains of the American southwest. The images have a haunting reality in capturing the light, land and native people of the largely empty wide open spaces of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. That the work has survived and is in such good condition is something that will pass down the generations as an enduring record and artistic representation of the wild west. It is all the more remarkable to have survived, given that the work was largely forgotten until its rediscovery by the great landscape photographer Ansel Adams in the 1930’s. Adams credits O’Sullivan as one of his earliest and greatest influences, a fine testament indeed from one of the most respected photographic artists of the 20th century.

His personal life is a different story, however. Having survived being a front-line war photographer – including the aforementioned occasion when his camera and wagon were struck by an artillery shell – his life outside of this and the survey expeditions was perilous. This is where so little is known of his life, only that is was unsettled and carried its own tale of tragedy. On leave from the West in 1873, O’Sullivan married Laura Virginia Pywell, the daughter of an English-born livery stable operator in Washington, D.C. Timothy likely met his future wife through her brother William R. Pywell, also a Civil War photographer whose work was also represented in Gardner’s ‘Photographic Sketch Book of the War’. In addition to marrying outside his ethnic background, O’Sullivan was also abandoning whatever bonds remained to his Catholic upbringing – the marriage being officiated by Reverend David Jutten, a Protestant Minister in Washington, D.C.’s East Street Baptist Church.

After his final return from the West, in late 1874, O’Sullivan was employed printing the negatives from his survey work. His brief career at the Treasury Department, from 1880-1881, was abruptly terminated in March 1881 by the onset tuberculosis. While Timothy was convalescing at his parents’ home on Staten Island, his wife Laura succumbed to the same disease on October 18th, 1881 in Washington, D.C. She was 31.               

Timothy returned to Washington for the funeral and buried his wife alongside the couple’s only child, a son stillborn in 1876, in the Pywell family plot in Rock Creek Cemetery. In late December, he returned to Staten Island and was placed under a doctor’s care. Timothy died at his parents’ home, aged 42, on January 14th, 1882.


The legacy of Timothy H. O’Sullivan’s work, both of the American civil war and of the wide open landscapes of the southwest is enduring. His body of work and life story were very much on my mind during a trip to photograph the American Southwest in early 2017. Given the iconic work of O’Sullivan and Adams and the many photographers since then, I had longed to see these landscapes for many years. As I set up for a sunrise shot in the Navajo lands after an early hike, my small backpack of equipment a far cry from O’Sullivan’s darkroom wagon, pulled by four mules, 150 years before.

]]> (John Collins) Mon, 11 Sep 2017 15:31:43 GMT
Clare Island in Black & White Clare Island – a monochrome study

Ireland's offshore islands have always been deeply inspiring to my photographic eye. Here are a selection of favourite black and white images from a few days on Clare Island, in Clew Bay, Mayo.

Clare Island, Atlantic cliffs at dusk.Panasonic GH5 with Olympus 7-14mmD2.8Pro lens. Silver Efex Pro 2.

Ancient pine, Clare Island.The remains of an ancient marine pine forest have become visible in recent times as levels of bogland have changed. Some are estimated to be 7500 years old.

]]> (John Collins) Sun, 10 Sep 2017 09:40:15 GMT
Kinsale Community Hospital commission 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.





]]> (John Collins) Community Hospital Ireland Kinsale landscape photography Fri, 07 Jul 2017 15:44:04 GMT
Landscape photography with the Olympus OMD E-M1 Mark II 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.




]]> (John Collins) Tue, 14 Mar 2017 22:30:27 GMT
Protecting Philippine Reefs, cover and feature SubSea Magazine, Autumn 2016

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.

]]> (John Collins) Wed, 23 Nov 2016 20:09:04 GMT
Golden hours Kinsale 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.


Dusk, Castlepark and Charlesfort, from Compass Hill.


Dawn, Long Quay, Kinsale.


First light in the sky, Scilly, 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!

]]> (John Collins) Sun, 02 Oct 2016 19:40:58 GMT
Late dive season favourites – 2008 article This article first appeared in SubSea magazine in 2008.



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...

]]> (John Collins) Sat, 03 Sep 2016 13:00:00 GMT
Galapagos, chaos in Darwinian world. This article first appeared in SubSea magazine in 2007.



Galapagos – Chaos in a Darwinian World




High on every diver’s wish list, the Galapagos Islands in the eastern Pacific have some of the very best diving on the planet. But in 2007, the politics and pelagics of this Ecuadorian possession exposed its fragility as never before. John Collins reports on some extraordinary diving and bizarre bureaucracy in the Galapagos National Park.



Words and Photographs by John Collins, Kinsale.


My dive buddy on a liveaboard trip a few years ago was a German dentist who advised me to go the the Galapagos Islands – ‘the diving is really great but go soon, it is changing’, he told me. Like most advice from dentists, I listened at the time but soon forgot about it. His words came back to me, however, when I read early last year that 2007 would be the last year in which 10-day dive trips to the Galapagos would be allowed by the National Park authorities. It was time to try and get on a trip there.


This proved to be far more difficult than I had anticipated – even ten months ahead all trips were booked out. So, I put my name down on a few cancellation lists and hoped for the best. I was about to give up hope by the time September came around when a single male bunk became available on an October run to the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin, whick was exactly what I had hoped for. I jumped at it, not quite believing my luck because the summer had seen a lot of bureaucratic shenanigans with dozens of dive trips cancelled at the stroke of a government pen.


Diving trips stopped

On July 10, 2007, completely out of the blue, the director the Galapagos National Park ordered that all dive boats immediately stop operations.  This was done with complete disregard for those that were in Ecuador, indeed on the islands themselves waiting to start their trips. Why this was done is still unclear, though there are a few theories. Of course, this caused chaos for the dive and tour operators as well as their representatives around the world. Initial pleas for reason fell on deaf ears, the hardline approach being that the boats did not have the correct permits or ‘cupos’ for their itinerarys or their diving activity. After much stress and grief for the dive boat owners, their crews and all of the extended interests in the dive industry, a moratorium on the dive ban was announced on August 23rd. This basically allowed the boats to resume operations until the end of the year, when new arrangements would be announced.


After all this, I could hardly believe my own good fortune of landing a bunk on the ‘Deep Blue’ as she steamed 150 miles north of the airport island of Baltra on my first day. The boat had been chartered two years previously by a group of very experienced divers from New Jersey, who had a nervous few months of uncertainty not knowing whether the trip would ever happen. So, it was with a huge sigh of relief that we slipped into the water in the aptly named Shark bay of Wolf Island for our first dive. Within seconds we were watching scalloped hammerhead sharks cruising just off the rocky wall and we quickly adjusted dive kit, camera housings and eyes to take in this truly extraordinary piece of ocean.


The Diving

The water here is always moving, currents hitting three knots at times – so descents are quick and efficient and dive briefings must be adhered to. The general routine was to descend, find a comfy ledge to hang on to and watch the show. This is chiefly shark action – certaintly the best I have seen – and happens much shallower than on Cocos Island, to which the Galapagos are often compared. On most dives, you rarely have to go deeper than 25 metres and hammerheads can be seen in as little as 5 metres. It’s not just the thrill of seeing the large pelagic animals that makes Wolf, and particularly the arch Darwin island special – it’s the sheer mass of sea life that gathers here that make it unique. 


On any single dive you are practically guaranteed seeing hammerhead and galapagos sharks but it is also highly likely that you will see clouds of creole fish, big eye trevally and green sea turtles crusing the blue. That’s before you look around the rocky reef itself and find moray eels, king angelfish, barberfish and schools of  Peruvian grunts. If this is not enough to take in, there will be what I call bonus sightings on almost all dives. From April to November the emphasis is on whalesharks which cruise close to the reefs very regularly. The dive routine in this season is to hang out on the reef for half an hour then swim out into the blue and hope for the best. Our odds were amazingly good with whaleshark sightings on eleven out of fifteen dives in the northern islands. Many of these were rare, fully grown pregnant females in the 12-15 metres range – an awe-inspiring sight. Other ‘bonus’ sightings included swim-by’s of dolphins, spotted eagle rays, schooling barracuda and the formula-one fish of the ocean – the mighty yellowfin tuna. And it is this mass of life that also attracts the many fishing interests that would only love to legally fish here.


Overfishing, tourism and population pressures

The fame of the Galapagos has grown steadily since Darwin first visited in 1835. The unique wildlife, different from island to island has continued to fascinate naturalists and tourists alike and the islands are a huge conservation challenge. Given the actions of the park authorities in stopping diving last July, it is fascinating to try to put together the reasons that might be behind it and speculate on the future of the islands.


As long ago as 2004, the nonprofit International Galpagos Tour Operators association (IGTOA) warned in a report, that despite strong tourist numbers, ‘at the peak of their popularity, the Galapagos are in trouble’. Pressures are coming on all fronts – controlling and eradicating invasive plant and animal species takes huge resources, introduced goats being the biggest threat. Government and political wrangling has led to poor management with eight park directors coming and going in one two year period alone. The explosion in population is probably the catalyst that is fuelling the biggest threat to the marine ecosystem however, thousands of fishermen from mainland Ecuador having moved to the islands in the early 1990’s to exploit the sea cucumber fishery.  Having decimated the sea cucumber and lobster fisheries in a few short years, the fishermen now want to fish the marine reserve for lucrative and highly profitable shark fins. It has been predicted that if this frontier mentality of ‘grab what you can before it is all gone’, which has done so much damage to the fisheries in the islands, was to be unleashed on the shark populations, there will be no sharks in 10 years time.


These conservation reports from international bodies gradually gathered momentum in recent years and in early 2007 the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa decided that strong measures would have to be taken to protect the archipelago. An emergency decree was signed into law, with the intention of ‘pushing for a series of actions to overcome the huge institutional, environmental and social crisis in the islands’. Shortly afterwards he ordered his government ministers to come up with proposals. This coincided with a United Nations delegation visiting the islands to determine whether the World Heritage site should be declared ‘in danger’. The following few weeks saw greater pace happening at a political level leading to the dive ban in July.  There are a few theories as to why diving activities were targeted so directly and I leave it to you to decide which is most likely.


In June 2007, UNESCO designated Galapagos an endangered world heritage site and soon afterwards the director of the national park decided to strictly enforce all rules and regulations.  Unfortunately, many of these rules,  as well as the permits under which the operators work, date back to the 1970’s and have been changed numerous times making interpretation difficult. The current park director decided that in the absence of specific mention on permits, diving was an ‘illegal activity’. Each boat’s permit also has a basic itinerary listed, though each cruise itinerary must be specifically approved before departure. All of the dive boats, with the exception of two, did not have Wolf and Darwin listed on their basic permit and so were deemed to be at those islands illegally, an aircraft having photographed them there. How the resources to do this aerial photography came about is not clear to me as the islands have a much greater problem with illegal fishing.


This was dramatically highlighted by the Sea Sheperd Conservation Society ship, ‘Farley Mowat’ which had been in the Galapagos throughout June. On July 1st, the crew retrieved 30 miles of longlines with 270 hooks, 10 miles south of Isabela Island and 30 miles inside the park boundaries.  Over the previous month they helped confiscate 19,000 illegally caught shark fins with the cooperation of the Ecuadorian Environmental Police. This clearly upset fishermen who had also been lobbying for an interpretation of a 1998 law calling for the specific issue of diving permits, to which they claim they have sole rights.  Of course, the fishermen do not have the dive boats nor the technical expertise to run a dive operation but they could lease on their permits to the existing diving operations – ‘money for nothing’ to quote the Dire Straits song. The fishermen had also been lobbying for some time to legalise the sale shark fins, caught ‘accidentally’ in Ecuadorian waters, President Correa capitulating in late July. This left a situation where shark fishing remains illegal but the sale of shark fins to Asian buyers is not. In the absence of a means to determine whether a shark was caught accidentally or intentionally, this move is seen as a green light to fish sharks, to the dismay of conservationists worldwide.


While many of these events do not themselves tell us the full story, they do illustrate the complexities of  life in South America where politics and bureaucracy make conclusions difficult. However, it is clear to me that early in the 21st century, the magnificant sharks and sea life of the Galapagos islands need more protection now than at any time in their 4 million year history.


John Collins.

]]> (John Collins) Fri, 02 Sep 2016 13:00:00 GMT
Fitness for divers - SubSea magazine article 2016 Fitness for divers

Are You Really Fit for Diving?


When RNLI Lifeboats initiate a campaign on diver safety you know they must have good reason. Their stand at the Birmingham Dive Show last October was dominated by graphics and information to do with diver fitness – specifically heart health in the over 50’s.


Most divers consider themselves fit to dive if they have successfully passed their diving medical. CFT divers undergo a medical examination on first joining as a diving member; on reaching the age of 35; three yearly from the age of 35; and annually from the age of 55. The final guideline on the medical form also suggests a diving medical if the diver’s health status has changed since their last medical. However, there is a world of difference between being medically fit for diving and being physically fit and in good health. The purpose of the diving medical is to ensure that a person does not dive using scuba equipment if they have an underlying medical condition that would expose them to risk. More general physical fitness is a personal responsibility that we all have to ourselves.


The Dive Safety campaign came about through research which showed that over half of all diving deaths in the UK in the 2013 incident year were in divers aged 50 and over. British sub Aqua club (BSAC) figures showed that 8 of the 14 diving deaths (57%) that occurred in the UK during this time period were male divers in this age category. In addition, over the past two years, all nine diving fatalities attributed to medical causes were of divers in this same age range. As a result, the RNLI decided to run a campaign to encourage divers aged over 50 to make sure they are fit enough to cope with the rigours of diving.


Nick Fecher, diving safety lead at the RNLI, said: ‘Divers in this age range are likely to be experienced, safety-conscious divers who are aware of the risks involved in diving. However, the greatest risk they face is their health being able to cope with the demands of diving. I would encourage all divers, especially those aged over 50, to carry out a realistic and honest self-assessment of their health. Diving can be a demanding on the body and if you have a medical emergency when you’re mid-dive, the consequences could be fatal. Don't be afraid to say no to a dive if you have any concerns about your health, even if you're just about to enter the water’.


As a diver in this age group, this struck a chord with me and got me thinking not just about my own health, but that of my diving colleagues. I think it is fair to say that many divers over 50 approach the diving medical with a sense of foreboding, hoping that nothing will show up that would prevent them from diving. It's almost a case of keep your mouth shut and hope for the best, breathing a sigh of relief when you see the doctor sign on the dotted line. My personal approach has always been a little different, being a health professional myself as a pharmacist. In any healthcare role, you are always grateful for your own good health in helping others to overcome their health difficulties. As I approached the dreaded 50, I was undergoing regular medicals as a crewmember and helm on Kinsale lifeboat. On the smaller inshore lifeboats, the retirement age is 50, and on my last medical the doctor did flag raised blood pressure and suggested that I make some lifestyle changes to look after my health. I subsequently visited my own GP and got a thorough medical checkup which showed elevated cholesterol, a poor lipid profile and confirmed the raised blood pressure, putting me in a pre-hypertensive category and at risk of cardiovascular disease. At the time, I was also overweight, with a BMI of just under 30. I realised that it was time for a serious change in lifestyle.


My personal journey into better health over the past two years is one that I have really enjoyed and see it pay dividends on many levels every day. I shed the excess kilos and got fit. That improved fitness is a real benefit in diving as you are more nimble on the dive boat and in the water, as well as being stronger in lugging the gear. I found the guidance of a personal trainer invaluable and was most surprised at what I did not know about the importance of nutrition in our health. This has encouraged me to take this further and I am currently studying for a Nutrition Diploma. I would really encourage all of my fellow 50-something’s to take a hard look at your health and bite that bullet of doing something to improve it – you might be pleasantly surprised at how much you will enjoy getting fitter and healthier.



]]> (John Collins) Thu, 01 Sep 2016 13:07:49 GMT
The wreck of the 'Aud', 1916 – Sir Roger Casement's gun-runner (2005 article & video)


The echo sounder shows blue water and a seabed of jagged red. The engine hums quietly while we follow a fixed search pattern, akin to mowing a lawn. As the minutes pass, we cannot help wondering if the given positions are accurate. We have a set of numbers for the bow and another for the boiler, both of which have been carefully entered into the Global Positioning System (GPS) unit. Suddenly the regular pattern of the rocky seabed spikes and a red rectangular shape builds across the screen, unmistakably man-made – the boiler. A weighted line and buoy, the shot-line, is dropped over the side and rapidly makes its way to the seabed, thirty five metres below.


We don our dry-suits, make final checks to equipment and agree the final details of the dive plan. Our objective is to shoot some Hi-Definition Digital Video of the wreck of the Aud for a forthcoming television series on Cork Harbour. I know from many years of diving the wreck that this may not be easy. Lying just off the Smiths Bank outside the harbour, the wreck is often dark and rarely has clear water. Mostly it is diving in low visibility with powerful underwater lights to pick out details of the ship. But on this August weekend, we are optimistic, having fine weather, a calm sea and a planned low tide to give us maximum bottom time. I put my face-mask in place, signal ok the the skipper and roll easily over the side.


As the bubbles from my splash subside, I notice the clarity of the water here at the surface and smile – it looks great. The camera system is handed down, I power it up, check it and swim to the buoy marking the wreck site. My buddy joins me and we signal to descend, releasing air from our buoyancy jackets to begin the dive. Looking down the line as we swim, the visibility is holding up – it is the clearest I have ever seen here. We arrive on the seabed to see wreck debris, always a relief as this wreck is an easy one to miss. Most of the superstructure has been flattened through repeated depth-charging and wire dragging. I adjust the camera for the lighting conditions and check the monitor only to see a free-swimming conger eel casually approach. These hefty steel-grey residents are numerous on the wreck, but mostly hide under metal structures or in pipes. It is unusual to witness the grace of their movement through the water. We check our compasses briefly and agree the the main wreckage lies to our north.


We soon begin to see more substantial pieces of wreckage and our first bullets on the seabed. No matter how many times you see them, their silent testament to a time gone by is poignant – a snapshot of the 1916 struggle for Irish independence. Swimming on, the pages of history keep turning and as I build images of the wreck to share with others, I think of how difficult it is to communicate just how it feels to be here. Making still or moving images of wreckage that tell something of the story is always a challenge, despite the clear conditions. Suddenly, I notice my dive buddy discover a small box of bullets, the cardboard long since rotted away. The sea has fused them together to become a single time-capsule. This image of a diver’s discovery and connection with another time is a powerful one in my mind and I visualise it on film. I signal, and my dive buddy holds station where she hovers over the wreckage. I frame a sequence of this tactile connection to the brave men and women who gave so much of themselves for our freedom and think, yes, this few seconds of film will tell much of the story of Roger Casment, Karl Spindler and the crew of the SMS Libau, – alias, The Aud.



]]> (John Collins) Thu, 01 Sep 2016 12:38:56 GMT
Marine Protection in Scottish Seas Marine Protection in Scottish seas

(This article first appeared in SubSea Magazine, Spring 2016)

John Collins reports on recently granted Marine Protected status for the Sound of Mull.

Marine Protected Areas are a hot topic throughout the European Union. All countries are obliged to protect some areas of their waters under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive or face substantial fines. On a recent trip to dive the Sound of Mull – a longtime favourite among divers, the announcement that the waters most popular for diving had just been granted protection, was great news for divers and dive centres alike. This prompted the question as to what possible areas in Ireland might be protected in the future and how this might affect popular dive sites.

I had joined a group of friends from Dalkey Scuba Divers for a long weekend’s diving from Ballycastle, taking in Rathlin Island and the Scottish Isles, with Richard Lafferty of Aquaholics. Frequently billed as the “best diving weekend ever!”, this group has been doing the trip since 2008. Conditions do vary of course each year, but the diving in the Sound of Mull and the neighbouring islands is always something special. This year, the water was unseasonably cold for mid June – a chilly 9°C – and the visibility was down on previous years but that did not dampen enthusiasm. There are some really nice scenic dives but the highlight of diving in this area are the shipwrecks.

After the 60 mile crossing from Ballycastle to Oban, the first available wreck is that of the ‘Breda’, a short distance from the town. This is quite often a ‘green’ dive as the area does not get a significant wash of tide each day but, being intact and upright, it is an easily navigated and enjoyable dive. The same cannot be said for the wrecks in the Sound of Mull itself – really strong tidal streams restrict diving on most of the wrecks to slack water. This does make them biologically high energy sites and all the of the wrecks have wonderful encrusting marine life.

The human stories behind the wrecks are always intriguing and some of the shipping losses have occurred in comparatively recent times. One of the most dramatic wreck dives is on that of the ‘Rondo’. Built towards the end of World War I, she had started life as the ‘War Wonder I’, but as the fit out was not complete until September 1918, she did not see any war action and was renamed ‘Lithopolis’. She was renamed twice more with ownership changes, firstly to ‘Laurie’ in 1930, and then to ‘Rondo’ by its Norwegian owners in 1934. In January of the following year, she was making her way from Glasgow to Dunstan in ballast to pick up a cargo destined for Oslo. Sailing north into the Sound of Mull, a savage winter storm forced her to take shelter from a blinding snowstorm in Aros Bay near Tobermory. Unfortunately, the anchor chain parted and she was soon drifting helplessly eastwards down the Sound by gale force winds and strong tides, until being swept on to the point on Dearg Sgeir, narrowly missing the small lighthouse. By dawn, the Captain and 22 crew realised that they were high and dry astride a rock. Attempts at repair and salvage failed and the ship eventually broke up and slipped into deep water. Today, the ‘Rondo’ lies almost vertically in the water, with the bow at 50 metres, while the stern and rudder post are just a few metres from the surface. This dramatic incline makes it a cracking visual tour, criss-crossing the decks from your chosen depth up to the shallows and your safety stop.

There are enough wrecks in the area to keep a diver occupied for several days, including the ‘Hispania’ and the ‘Shuna’. However, it is even better to venture outside the Sound to the nearby island of Coll, as the visibility increases dramatically in the open water. Weather does not always favour diving the wreck of the ‘Tapti’ and it is quite a long boat journey offshore, but it is a rare treat to dive a wonderfully varied wreck with beautiful marine life in easy depth. It is the most recent of the wrecks in the area, having been lost in 1951. This 6600 ton cargo vessel was also in ballast, making its way from the Mersey to the Tyne to pick up a cargo bound for India, when she was caught in a violent storm and was driven up on the rocks at Soa Island on the south end of Coll. As well as being a fantastic dive in its own right, the area is known for its abundance of both seals and basking sharks.

There was one final wreck that everybody was looking forward to diving back in the Sound itself – the 1887 Belfast built ‘Thesis’. Details of the loss of this ship in October 1889 are vague but it is known that she did strike a reef towards the southern end of the Sound. All eleven crew managed to make it safely ashore but the ship sank in deep water within a few hours. The wreck lies on a steeply sloped shingle seabed between 20 and 35 metres depth. It has always been enjoyable as the decks and iron plating have fallen away over the years and all that remains is the hull. Visibility is often excellent and as the light penetrates, the many openings along the hull create a visually stunning wreck-scape. This is how we recalled this dive from previous years but heard locally in Tobermory that a scallop dredger had damaged the wreck last winter. 

As we descended the shot line, we were greeted with an unrecognisable wreck that had been badly damaged. This was only my second Scottish Isles trip with Richard – I had done just one dive on the ‘Thesis’ on which I shot video – but I could not recognise this as being the same wreck at all. Back on the boat, everyone agreed that the wreck had been hugely damaged which opened the conversation as to what type of fishing equipment had caused such destruction. Later, we went ashore for a lunchtime surface interval and asked the staff at Lochaline Dive Centre about the damage to the ‘Thesis’. The answer was a mixture of disappointment and disbelief but allied to the recently announced Marine Protected Area for the Sound of Mull – there was an air of optimism that the marine life and shipwrecks in the area would at least get a break from now on. 

We also chatted about one of the scenic wall dives that we had done near Tobermory, as a few divers noticed a lot of damage to the seabed just off the wall. It is hard not to conclude that bottom trawling and scallop dredging in particular are seriously destructive. Stopping these alone would be a good thing for the marine environment. I have asked many people since then about Marine Protected Areas and Special Areas of Conservation and it is both a complex and contentious area. Fishing communities will rarely agree to changes that restrict long held practices but, without buy-in from locals, any imposed restrictions seem doomed to failure. A case in point is Lyme Bay in Dorset where a decision to close off 60 square nautical miles of the bay to scallop dredging and bottom-trawling in 2008, had been a complete failure, as it resulted in the doubling of other fishing techniques. In 2012, a collaborative approach was taken by the British Blue Marine Foundation who sought to engage with the local community and have successfully got fishermen from four ports to sign up to a voluntary code to restrict the amount of gear used by any one boat to 250 crab and lobster pots, 500 whelk pots and individual nets of a maximum 600m. The partnership, which is more “low impact” than “no-take”, aims to “boost tourism and the local economy”.

It did make me wonder about protecting some of our popular diving areas, and how this might affect the marine life in years to come. One of the longest established Marine Reserves in Europe is Lough Hyne in Co. Cork. Established under the 1976 Wildlife Act, its protected status dates back 1981 we in Ireland have much to protect around our coastline since then, in establishing Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s) and Special Protection Areas (SPA’s). These go some way towards meeting our commitments under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive but the hard work of establishing fully protected marine areas is only beginning. Getting agreement from fishing communities is going to be difficult however, judging by just one example in west Cork. Efforts to draft a management plan for Roaringwater Bay – deemed a site of exceptional conservation importance, supporting diverse marine and terrestrial habitats – have not reached agreement after prolonged discussions.

It is difficult to be optimistic after reading about and discussing these topics with Marine Scientists. Perhaps the only viable protected areas will be those where a boost to tourism would outweigh fishing revenues and where communities would take a longer term view. The recent designation of 30 new Marine Protected Areas in Scottish seas, increasing the level of MPA’s and marine conservation zones to over 20% of Scottish waters, is estimated to have a “scenario-based” value of between £6.3 billion and £10 billion, boosting fish stocks, biological diversity and tourism revenues whilst generating employment for coastal communities in sustainable employment programmes. And while it is too late for the previously wonderful wreck of the ‘Thesis’, at least the Sound of Mull and other Marine Protected Areas may preserve the marine environment for future generations of divers to enjoy.

]]> (John Collins) Wed, 31 Aug 2016 17:00:22 GMT
Underwater Monochrome – Black & White

One of the great joys of scuba diving and exploring our undersea world is the colour that is revealed by our dive lights. Marine life in both temperate and coral seas has a startling variety of colours that are remarkable to witness. But in general, the wider view and experience of being underwater is that of a monochrome setting – primarily of a green hue in temperate latitudes and of a blue hue in the tropics. The latter has often struck me as being similar to traditionally printed black and white images that are then selenium toned – a favourite way of working for me back in the chemical darkroom days.

Seeing in this way is akin to paring back an image to its most graphic simplicity and one that I enjoy exploring. The line and curve of light are of a different nature when colour does not distract. Here are some black and white underwater moments to ponder...

]]> (John Collins) Wed, 17 Aug 2016 15:03:43 GMT
Basking in early summer sunshine – our visiting sharks

Late spring and early summer brings oceanic visitors to temperate shores. Here in Ireland, we have recently enjoyed some great early summer weather and the calm seas and plentiful plankton have allowed numerous encounters with Basking Sharks. These are the second largest fish in the sea – only the tropical water Whale shark is larger. Despite their large size (6-8 metres), they feed only on plankton and small fish, and it is this pursuit of food that brings them close to Irish and British coasts. Every year is different, so there is always an element of surprise and wonder when we are given an opportunity of a close encounter.

Along the Cork coast here in Ireland, there have been reports of hundreds of sharks seen by fishermen, sailors and divers. On hearing that there were several sharks visible from shore in Baltimore, I took a drive down and arrived late in the day to meet with fellow underwater photographers who had great luck in snorkelling with these gentle giants.

The sharks were clearly visible from the beacon in Baltimore, so I donned freediving gear and headed out, hoping for the best. They seems quite leisurely late in the day, no doubt with full bellies of plankton soup, but are still a challenge to get near and keep up. Despite the short encounters, you are left in awe of their size and grace in the water, and savour such a special moment in the sea.


]]> (John Collins) Mon, 06 Jun 2016 21:30:26 GMT
Taking a wider view – Panoramic Photography


Panoramic photography has an enduring appeal that goes right back to earliest days of photography. Once images of outdoor scenes could be made with consistency, there was a desire to capture the widest vista possible by combining images in print. Some of these are remarkable to look back on - there is an amazing collection in the USA Library of Congress.

This remarkable image of Lusitania arriving in New York harbour in 1907 exemplifies the panoramic format and was made from just two plates. The eye has so much exploring to do and it is this visual journey that sets the panoramic format apart. 

Kinsale harbour at dusk: Stiched panorama made from seven individual images.


]]> (John Collins) Wed, 04 May 2016 14:27:32 GMT
Inon GoPro lenses and filters

Inon Japan have just announced a series of filters to compliment their excellent GoPro lenses. This really gives us superb options to make the best underwater footage an photos from these amazing action cameras. 



]]> (John Collins) Tue, 05 Apr 2016 10:16:57 GMT
Causeway Coast and Fanad workshop report I like to compile a few notes for workshop participants after a photography workshop while the locations and topics covered are fresh in everybody’s mind. Well done to the recent group that joined me for a wonderful few days on our north coast – for working hard, both physically and creatively  – we actually walked over 10 km on Sunday! You were a great group and as well as getting on with our photography, we had a laugh over the weekend.

The Great Pollet Arch, Fanad, Donegal, at dawn. 


When we first met on Friday afternoon, I mentioned that there are three areas that are important in your photography: I would summarise these as being:


 Vision, Field craft and Processing.


 From our first shoot at the Forest Park and waterfall, I encouraged you to explore a scene and look for compositions before taking out your tripod and camera. Using a simple frame or an optical viewfinder, it gives us the freedom to explore more angles, heights, perspectives and encourages compositions other than that from the full height of your tripod. Some compositions are just harder to visualise than others, particularly with extreme wide-angle lenses or for panoramas for example.

 Camera or Field Craft

 Being outside in nice locations and with nice light is the core element that has attracted us all to photography. We just like to savour this sense of place, moment and light and to capture how that feels to us in our photographs. In refining our skills in the field, or main job is to capture the best raw file possible and I enjoyed seeing everybody grasp that concept really well. Our light meters, especially in low light, or with strong neutral density filters, only give us a starting point. As we make our exposures, we assess our histograms, not just the main luminance but all three colour channels, to ensure that we do not lose any data in our capture. This often means that the raw file looks underexposed but as we saw this gives us the best starting point for our processing later.


​This is an excerpt from the full pdf of notes from the workshop. Check the workshop pages for upcoming dates..


The 'Dark Hedges' at Dusk.

]]> (John Collins) Tue, 05 Apr 2016 10:14:19 GMT
Underwater Photography workshop report, Sharks Bay Umbi Village, Red Sea, Egypt. Underwater Photography Workshop

Oonasdivers – Sharks Bay Umbi Village, Red Sea – September 2015


 John Collins


The following notes are a summary of those given to workshop participants by John Collins at the end of the week’s workshop at Sharks Bay Umbi Village, Red Sea, September 2015 .


Having arrived to searing heat and realising that we were in the midst of a sandstorm, the surface conditions for diving were going to prove challenging. This was indeed the case as we did almost three days of shore diving on the house reef in Sharks Bay, before the boat jetties along the coast were reopened for diving. This gave us an opportunity to work on various techniques on a familiar, easy dive site and was actually a great way to start the week.


At the outset of the workshop, I described to everyone what I consider the three pillars of good photography – Vision, Craft and Finishing. Because underwater photography is so difficult and complex, the craft element tends to dominate proceedings. Core diving skills need to be second nature before you can give your attention to your photography. Good buoyancy control, finning technique and taking care on delicate reef areas are important skills to master, before we become immersed in our camera work. In turn, underwater photography has two distinct genres: close-up or macro photography; and wide-angle scenic photography. The approach, mindset and technique differs substantially between the two. The three golden rules that I mentioned at our first presentation were: Get Close, Shoot upwards, and Take Control. These hold true even when you come to very advanced underwater photographic technique.


On equipment, we discussed fundamental maintenance and protecting our equipment. We noted that not all O-rings or O-ring grease are the same; the older hard rubber type O-rings use a stronger grease, whereas the modern fluorosilicone (soft) O-rings use a lighter grease. Having a routine of assembly and check for each stage of building and assessing your rig is a good workflow, so that you don’t omit a step. The core things to check are: focus, exposure controls (aperture and shutter speed), flash synchronisation and the final housing integrity check after everything has been set up.

Reviewing Fundamental camera controls

Much of modern photography, particularly underwater, involves “taming” the camera. Camera systems are so complex, with so many choices and options, and increasing automation, that it makes them difficult to simplify for use underwater. Knowing your individual camera, its lens or lenses and understanding all of its menus, settings and custom controls is really fundamental.


We mentioned that the two things that change regularly when we are shooting in a housed camera system are focus and exposure. With modern autofocus systems being so reliable we can use them to our advantage underwater. However, we must know and understand all of the autofocus modes settings and controls so that we can use the focus system in a way that suits on water shooting. We did not dwell on camera basics e.g. aperture, shutter speed and so on, because all of you have a very strong fundamental knowledge of how cameras work on land. For our purposes in making photographs and see, use fully manual controls over exposure with a single exception of using Aperture priority when shooting macro. The latter works because we do not have to consider ambient light when shooting small marine life – the lighting comes exclusively from our strobe strobes. For wide-angle, we set the exposure for the ambient light to give a correct tonal representation of the water background and we use subtle fill in lighting for our foreground. I have found that centre -weighted metering for this purpose works best.

A basic workflow underwater

As a basic approach and workflow, we work by deciding on what lens aperture to use first, to give us the depth of field that we would like. We then begin by setting the lowest usable ISO and using the light meter in the camera, we set the shutter speed to render a pleasing porn to the water background, generally pointing the light meter towards the upper third of the frame, but not including strong highlights from the sun overhead. Finally, we adjust the power output and position of our strobes to give the most pleasing foreground lighting. If you want to go about this methodically, have a workflow where you meet and set the ambient light exposure and take a frame, reviewing the histograms – before you power up your strobes. Then turn on each strobe in turn, making an exposure and adjusting the power until you get nicely balanced light.

Lighting techniques

You will recall the lighting presentation, as most people find it really helpful on these workshops. When we bring a full camera system strobes underwater, we are effectively bringing studio lighting and using it to photograph seascapes and marine life. The same principles that apply in the studio apply to us when we are driving.


And just as a photographer in his or her studio would soften studio lighting using umbrellas or soft boxes, we control our lighting with the use of diffusers and by varying the power between two flashes (when we are using to). In the studio, we would have a 2:1 ratio between the main light and the fill light and this principle can also help us underwater.


Avoiding lighting particulate matter in the water, which is what causes backscatter, is also a key consideration for us. The main thing to watch out for is stirring up the seabed with our fins and creating particles that our lights can pick up; in other words, don’t make your own backscatter! The technique that we use to avoid backscatter is to not light the area between the port of the camera housing and the subject with direct lighting from our strobe(s). When we apply this principle to twin flash lighting, we position the lights so that the edges just meet in the centre of our frame and do not light a triangular area inside the beams between the subject and camera housing.


Similarly, it is important to remember to move your strobes closer to your housing as you move closer to your subject. If you do not risk leaving dark area in the centre of the frame because your lights are too far apart.


 Other lighting techniques we discussed, were raising the lights higher into what is called “rabbit ears” position; and inward or diagonal lighting to create more texture and contrast. These are really worthwhile techniques to explore, so that your photographs do not always have the same lighting.

Advanced techniques

As the week progressed and we became more proficient, we introduced some more advanced techniques with close focus wide-angle and macro/super macro. In our Close Focus Wide Angle Masterclass, we reviewed the origin of this technique going back to National Geographic photographer Jerry Greenberg. This technique uses extreme wide-angle and fisheye lenses to create an image with a dominant foreground subject and a subtle far subject. The two elements need to link in a visual, creative or storytelling sense. We are now working very very close to a dominant subject – in the range of 10 to 20 cm and both the equipment required and the technique in capturing images requires consideration. Small domes, typically 4 inches/10 cm work best.


Visualising these images can be tricky and you will need to train your eye to recognise suitable combinations of a near and far subject combination. This can be difficult without using the lens and its super wide view to “sketch” the image. When you see a potential setup, try to critically examine whether the image has a feeling of depth from foreground to distance and a three-dimensional feel as a result. To make this close focus technique work, we need suitable water conditions – calm water, clear visibility and good ambient light. We are also shooting at a considerable upwards angle, generally greater than 45°. This is where an angled enhanced viewfinder comes into its own.


To create the balanced lighting that we discussed with Cousteau’s “kiss of flash” – we work as follows: consider the ambient light first, its direction and quality; next decide on your aperture/shutter speed/ISO and make a quick exposure to assess the exposure of the ambient light. Next, switch on your flash or flashes and working from their lowest power and closest positioning to your housing, make some test exposures to give suitable foreground lighting. The power and position of your strobes are key to creating really compelling images.


With macro and super macro photography, remember that lighting comes exclusively from our strobes or flashes. Aperture is our primary consideration – we want as much depth of field as possible. Shutter speed is set and fixed between 1/60 and 1/250 second – and our strobe power and position determines our exposure and lighting. With supermacro, where we are adding a dedicated underwater dioptre, typically between +5 and +15 power. Our depth of field becomes extremely limited with these supplementary lenses, so “paralleling the subject” by having the front of your macro port in alignment with the plane of focus of your subject will help to retain as much depth of field as possible.


I do hope that you have enjoyed the week and I know that I have seen improvements in everybody’s skills, creativity and technique. Please feel free to contact me with any questions that come to mind as you review your images again when you get home and thank you all so much for coming along on this workshop.


Continued success in your underwater photographic adventures,


John C.

]]> (John Collins) Tue, 05 Apr 2016 10:13:44 GMT
Underwater versatility – wet lenses

  Most 'serious' underwater photographers aspire to using a large sensor camera like a modern DSLR or Mirrorless interchangeable lens (MILC). The image quality and lens choices are significantly better than with a small sensor compact camera. If you have built up dedicated underwater compact system, however, there is one significant advantage with a compact – you can change lenses underwater.

The recent introduction of a high quality wet wide angle lens from housing manufacturer Nauticam opens this versatility to systems other than compacts. This is seriously compelling for mirrorless users, so I decided to put it to the test on a recent trip to Lanzarote. I bought adapters and port fittings for my existing Inon wet lenses that I use on a compact Canon S110 outfit. The images in this blog post were all shot on a single dive with Safari Diving Lanzarote and show that the versatility of being able to change lenses during a dive opens up a world of possibilities...

]]> (John Collins) Sun, 27 Mar 2016 20:56:16 GMT
The 'real' inventor of scuba...

This image, taken off the south coast of France, has inspired me to read up about the man whose bust lies on the seabed a short distance offshore. Looking out from the port of Golfe Juan on the French Riviera, towards Île Saint-Marguerite, you will see a small striped lighthouse, La Pierre Fourmigue. The rock on which the lighthouse is built has several popular dive sites but one has a rather special link to diving history. Le Sec de Miro (Le Grotte de Miro) holds the bust of Commandant Yves Le Prieur, who was an officer in the French Navy.

It seems Monsieur Le Prieur had many talents as he was the first Frenchman to earn a black belt in judo, and invented many things including a rocket launcher to take down observation balloons and the first self-contained underwater breathing apparatus – or scuba, as the world knows it today.

Commandant Yves Le Prier's 1934 French patent for scuba apparatus

The concrete bust of Le Prieur was created by an artist called Amaryllis, is 80cm high and weighs 100kg. It was submerged at this location in 1985. 

]]> (John Collins) Sat, 02 Jan 2016 15:18:24 GMT
Dive 2015, Birmingham Dive show report Dive 2015 – the Birmingham dive show is the largest and longest established scuba diving event in the UK. For more than 20 years, Diver magazine has organised both this event and a spring event in London. These shows are a great way to see new products, innovations, destinations and have great speakers. My interest is obviously in the underwater photography and video side of the show and this year I brought along a small video and microphone setup to share some of the new products and ideas from the show.


]]> (John Collins) underwater photography video Mon, 26 Oct 2015 17:15:00 GMT
'Love Your Coast' Photography Awards 2015 Absolutely delighted to have two images shortlisted for the 'Love Your Coast' Photography Awards 2015 run by An Taisce, here in Ireland. Even better to win the runner up prize in Coastal Landscape for the image 'First light, Bandon river, taken around this time last year. I posted this short blog post at the time.

2nd Place, Coastal Landscape.'Love Your Coast' Photography Awards 2015

Kinsale Cork Ireland Finalist, Underwater category, 'Love Your Coast' Photography Awards 2015

]]> (John Collins) Ireland kinsale photography underwater Fri, 16 Oct 2015 08:11:58 GMT
A rainbow at sunset..

Sometimes, as a photographer, you find yourself in the most amazing light but in completely the wrong place. As these early autumn rain showers were passing last evening, I thought that there might be a possibility of a rainbow. But I hadn't planned on going out shooting, so I enjoyed watching the light change until this most incredible and complete rainbow formed right over my home town of Kinsale.


Having taken an initial and disappointing phone shot in panorama mode, I made a dash and got a full frame camera, wide-angle lens and polarising filter. Five frames later the rainbow had disappeared and a moment of magic had passed.

]]> (John Collins) Wed, 02 Sep 2015 14:19:50 GMT
Olympus 7-14mmF2.8 Pro Lens & Nauticam underwater housing Olympus 7-14mmF2.8Pro lens

The highly anticipated 7-14mmF2.8Pro M4/3 wide-angle zoom from Olympus is now available – I've just been checking the lens out and how it might fit in a Nauticam housing. There have been expressions of concern on Wetpixel and other forums as to the physical size of the lens and the fact that it might not fit in a housing at all. I am happy to report that it does – and while Nauticam have yet to confirm optimum port options, I reckon the 180mm dome with the correct adapter/spacer will work, just as it does for the Panasonic 7-14mm. Looking forward to testing this underwater...

Olympus 7-14mmF2.8 Pro Lens & Nauticam underwater housing from John Collins on Vimeo.

Some landscape images from the new lens:

]]> (John Collins) Tue, 09 Jun 2015 20:02:43 GMT
Lusitania 100th Anniversary 7th May, 2015.


There have been many commemorations of the sinking of Lusitania in the Cork area today. For divers, this shipwreck with its associated human and historical importance, has a particular intrigue. Lying in almost 100 Metres depth (300feet), it is well beyond the depths of normal sport diving (30-40m), so being out of reach retains a fascination.

I am regularly asked if I have ever dived the wreck, and I have not, but did assist on an Irish diving expedition in 2004. Here is the resulting article, published in the Irish diving magazine, 'SubSea':

]]> (John Collins) Luistania scuba diving Thu, 07 May 2015 19:38:07 GMT
Inon Lenses and Flash Lighting Underwater While undergoing Instructor training with Inon UK, I've taken the opportunity to shoot with a compact camera (Canon S110) and maximise its potential underwater using dedicated accessory lenses and lighting. In learning to teach others about underwater photography, even an experienced photographer must revisit the basics and apply them to modern compact cameras that are available to today's divers.

The difficulties facing a novice underwater photographer, even if they are experienced land photographers, are getting completely comfortable with diving skills and working with really wide-angle or close-up lenses. The latter is only possible with dedicated optics that minimise the distance between the photographer and the subject. With larger, housed Digital SLR cameras, this means fitting a specific lens for the dive while with compact cameras these are 'wet' lenses that can be fitted and removed underwaterwater. The two images above were shot on the same dive, using completely different lenses.

This final image was taken with a micro-fisheye lens that gives really wide view and very close distances and gives a very unique perspective.

]]> (John Collins) Fri, 01 May 2015 15:33:07 GMT
Lucy French Dance Show 'Variations', 2015. Spectacular and thoroughly entertaining show from Lucy French School of Dance: Full resolution photographs are in a private gallery, accessible with URL link and password. Contact me for details.

'Variations' April 23-25, 2015.

Posted by John Collins Photography on Monday, 27 April 2015


]]> (John Collins) Tue, 28 Apr 2015 06:02:49 GMT
Partial Solar Eclipse


There's been mounting excitement about the eclipse over the past few days – 'would the skies be clear?'; 'how to view it safely', but not much mention of how you might go about trying to photograph it.

There is really only one photographic tool that can be used and that is what's called a 10-stop Neutral Density filter. This looks like a completely black piece of glass, not unlike welder's goggles, and it reduces the light passing through it by 1000 times. That's a lot of light blockage!

Another technical challenge is accurate focus. Autofocus will simply not work well on such a bright object, so using manual focus with Live View to check accuracy is the only sure way to get a sharp image of the outline of the sun and moon as the pass each other.

Fortunately the heavy cloud of early morning did thin somewhat - just enough to witness a rare celestial event.


]]> (John Collins) Fri, 20 Mar 2015 11:02:40 GMT
Revisiting Film I used film in various formats for many years. The 'go-to' was, of course, 35mm which I shot in Nikon SLR's and Leica M rangefinders. Larger format film, typically 120 roll film gave much richer transparencies which really do stand the test of time. This image is a favourite, shot in the 6x9cm format in a large rangefinder camera made by Fuji. The considered, slow pace of working with this type of camera with its single, fixed lens and manual controls helped to refine the image in your mind's eye before tripping the shutter.

Working with film in low light had its challenges too. Calculating exposure for transparency film required accuracy at the best of times, but in low light became a technical exercise in allowing for what was called reciprocity failure. Each roll of film in this camera made 8 exposures on 120 film or 16 on 220. There was no feedback as to whether the exposure was right or not and as soon as the photograph was made in camera, the job was done. No review on the camera's LCD screen or examining histograms. Instead, I recall savouring the moment on this particularly beautiful west of Ireland summer twilight.

Fuji GSW690III camera, Fujichrome Velvia film.

]]> (John Collins) Ireland photography Sun, 15 Feb 2015 20:29:51 GMT
Moonlight and Mast, Kinsale. Christmas 2014.

The rising moon and recently rigged lights for the mast in Kinsale harbour. Makes the town especially festive this year. The yacht club marina looking well too!



]]> (John Collins) Fri, 05 Dec 2014 23:02:36 GMT
Supermacro Underwater

The term 'supermacro' is often used to describe making photos of small subjects that make them appear larger than life-size. In other words, photographing really small life and making it dominate the image. In the above portrait of a seahorse, taken during a recent workshop in Lanzarote, the face is about 2-3 cm, so getting this close to the animal and then making the photo require some special equipment, techniques and lots of patience.

I find this kind of photography also requires a particular mindset – you have to be mentally prepared to work slowly and calmly or else it can be super-frustrating rather than supermacro! You also need to have put in some preparation to plan what types of animals, marine life or absract studies you visualise in your mind, before the dive. Ideally, you will have dived the area and are familiar with the site and these dives must not be technically challenging in terms of depths, times, current or tide. It is zen and the art of photographing small things underwater.

Equipment-wise, you need a macro or close-up lens to start, and then add a magnifying dioptre to allow you to focus really close. I use the Nauticam Supermacro Converter (SMC), which is a threaded 67mm fitting and a flip dioptre holder to allow this to be quickly moved into place. A really good focus light is essential and I will use 1-3 flash (strobe) guns to light the subject, one of which will have a snoot to create a really narrow beam of light.

]]> (John Collins) Tue, 02 Dec 2014 21:36:36 GMT
From the Archive.. Sportdiver Magazine May 1991 article

Here's one from the archive, which I am slowly getting around to scanning. This article on diving in Ireland appeared in Sportdiver magazine (UK) in the May/June issue, 1991.

]]> (John Collins) Fri, 07 Nov 2014 16:15:00 GMT
What does colour add?

The recent mist and fog has heralded in the winter in Kinsale and had a feel of pirates, smugglers and shipwrecks . It reminded me of some work that I printed a while back and how thinking in black and white can be a challenge for photographers. The image is that of the MV Plassey, lost in 1960 on the smallest Aran Island, Inis Oirr (Inisheer). There is a great account of the event here.

I shot this one on a Burren, Cliffs and Isles tour (2015 dates to be announced soon); and spent quite some time walking the area, watching the light and clouds and eventually settled on this composition. It appealed to me because of the rockpool and the reflection of the stern, the dramatic lines and atmosphere in the sky. The image 'felt' black and white to me. 

In trying to work out if an image would work better in monochrome, there are a couple of things that can help. The first is to simply as of your composition 'what does colour add?' In this case the rusting hulk of the wreck is quite nice, as are the rocks that have become rust-stained. But it is a more powerful, graphic image in black and white.

Here is the original image, for me the black and white wins, hands down. Add your comment below...


]]> (John Collins) Ireland photography Thu, 30 Oct 2014 15:10:29 GMT
Dive 2014 Bermingham - Show Report


It's been quite a few years since I've been to the UK's largest Dive Show in Bermingham. These shows are a great showcase of new and innovative products, up and coming dive destinations and are great to make new connections in the dive world.

I was really impressed by the Hollis Explorer Rebreather - a recreational unit that brings modern electronic controls to a fixed gas Nitrox unit. Having dived a Drager Dolphin for ten years or so, I could see the value in this unit as a modern version of a 40m rebreather.

Inon have a couple of wonderful new lenses for use with GoPro cameras underwater – I hope to test these soon on an upcoming workshop to Lanzarote. There were numerous offerings in the ever expanding LED lighting sector, from powerful wreck diving lights to soft beam, wide flood lights which are much better for photography and video.

There were many great presentations at each of the three stages; my personal favourites were those by Freediver Emma Farrell and Underwater crime scene invesigators Claire Gwinnett & Laura Walton-Williams. Many of the presentations were on experiences from different worldwide destinations, my personal favourite being that by Marine Scientist Charlotte Caffrey on Antarctica.

I was delighted to make a connection with Oonasdivers and plan to run a Red Sea workshop with them in 2015. Some lucky person won a dive trip for two to Papua New Guinea - I was hoping to get the call!!


]]> (John Collins) Tue, 28 Oct 2014 16:02:13 GMT
Tres Amigos - forgotten Anemone fish found with fresh eyes.

There is something to be said for editing photos after some time has passed. The enthusiasm and 'heat of the moment' of editing quickly after shooting can make you overlook images in your haste to find the gems. I recently went through some work shot over five years ago and was amazed to find some of the more hidden gems. I particularly liked these three anemone fish, photographed on a 'shake-down' dive at the beginning of a dive trip to Indonesia. This was really a dive to check self and equipment before immersing in the days to come and there certainly was some fantastic diving throughout the trip around the Komodo and Rinca islands. Looking back at the early dives, there were some wonderful surprises. It's always worth looking back through your catalog with fresh eyes.

]]> (John Collins) photography underwater anemonefish Indonesia Komodo Wed, 15 Oct 2014 20:43:04 GMT
First light, Bandon River, Tisasson, Kinsale.


Photographers often make image ideas and carry them around in their heads. Many of these imagined moments are combinations of visual construction and perfect light and are unlikely to ever come to fruition. Just once in a while though, some of these elements do blend perfectly and this is where the imagined image helps to refine a composition quickly in rapidly changing conditions. When momentary light rises, the preparedness of creative imaginings and technical craft allows a magical moment to live.

It is on chilly, first light morning sojourns that landscape photography has most meaning for me. On one hand, you feel that you are alone on Earth savouring and being present in a perfect moment. On the other hand, it is immensely satisfying to craft something that your fellow beings might equally savour on imagined journeys of their own.

As the sun rose and the mist began to disperse, I took a moment to take some video for online sharing:


]]> (John Collins) Ireland kinsale photography Sat, 11 Oct 2014 09:57:33 GMT
Freediving in blue water, Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia.


GoPro video of Freediving course with Blue Marine Dive Centre and Apnea Total, Gili Air island, Lombok, Indonesia.

I had done some freediving before, with Freedive Ireland, but happened on an opportunity to join a course with a different training agency (Apnea Total) while travelling earlier this year. The breathing and relaxation techniques were quite different and remarkably effective. I reached personal bests of 24.4 metres (free immersion) and 23.7 metres (constant weight). Many thanks to Shane and Carlos and all the crew at Blue Marine.


]]> (John Collins) Fri, 03 Oct 2014 09:51:17 GMT
John Dory (St Peter's fish) - Feeding Kinsale Cork Ireland

The John Dory is a fish sometimes encountered by divers around the Irish coast. Mostly solitary, I came across this juvenile on a shallow dive, off the coast of Kinsale. Initially timid, hiding among the kelp fronds, it eventually relaxed to my presence and no longer feeling threatened, started to feed. It would stalk small fish and lunge forward, seemingly dislocating its whole jaw in the process - the insides of its gills clearly visible...


Kinsale Cork Ireland

]]> (John Collins) John Dory scuba diving Ireland. Sun, 10 Aug 2014 21:11:30 GMT
Midsummer's dawn, Sandycove, Kinsale. Sandycove from the South, dawn.Sandycove from the South, dawn.Kinsale Cork Ireland


Early morning light, Sandycove, Kinsale, Cork, Ireland.

Simply wonderful mid-summer's weather and light make early mornings a time to treasure. To me, this is when I have a little piece of Earth all to myself. At this time of year, at our latitude, both the dawn and dusk twilight hours linger and sun seems to rise and set at a leisurely pace. I much prefer first light though – the quiet and simple birdsong as you set up tripod and camera are almost meditative.

Nikon Df, 16-35mm lens, no filtration, processed in Capture One.


]]> (John Collins) Kinsale Landscape Sandycove. dawn first light morning photography Sat, 14 Jun 2014 08:23:29 GMT
Making the best of the light right now. Sandycove, Kinsale, at low tide, early summer 2014.Sandycove, Kinsale, at low tide, early summer 2014.Kinsale Cork Ireland

Great to get some moments in the first burst of summer over the past couple of days. Many landscape photographers eschew the flat, overhead light in the middle of the day but I am more of the 'make the best of THIS light' school of thought.
The great thing about the recent generations of mirrorless cameras is that you can always have a camera and a couple of lenses with you, in a tiny bag.
Sandycove, Kinsale, at low tide. Olympus OMD E-M1, with Lumix 7-14mm lens, no filtration.
]]> (John Collins) Sat, 17 May 2014 06:48:40 GMT