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Interview with the Pros: Talia Greis
By Matthew Sullivan, March 17, 2024 @ 07:00 AM (EST)

One of the world’s most fantastical creatures, the leafy seadragon, South Australia
 

While she may be relatively new to the underwater photography game, having only started within the last five years, Talia Greis is equipped with skills would lead one to believe she has been shooting for far longer. Take a peek through the underwater categories of many recent competitions and chances are you’ll see her name among the list of awarded shooters.

While she hails from Australia and plies her trade mostly in the waters of her home country—and rightly so; there’s a stunning array of marine life Down Under—she has traveled all over the globe making pictures underwater and has no plans to stop any time soon! Read on to find out more about Talia, her perspectives on underwater photography, her favorite subjects, the gear she shoots, and more.
 

The creatively named “stripey,” photographed with slow shutter, Nelson Bay, Australia

 

DPG: How and when did you begin shooting underwater pictures?

My underwater journey began five years ago in Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. I had just bought the latest GoPro in the hopes of creating underwater magic in one of Australia’s most cherished ocean-based locations. After browsing through the catalogue of shots I walked away with, I came away with a sense of frustration. I had visited one of the greatest dive locations in the entire world and wasn’t able to properly capture the moments I had experienced. The very day I landed back in Sydney, I started browsing for cameras and housings.
 

A curious fur seal playing in the shallows of Montague Island, Australia

 

DPG: It is a question we—actually, I, as a gear nerd—must ask everybody: What photography equipment do you currently use, and why that particular gear?

I recently switched over from the Nikon D850 to the Sony a1. I couldn’t bring myself to sell my old system; not just for sentimental reasons, but I also truly believe the D850, despite its age, delivers some of the best image quality the industry has to offer. Because of the trending movement towards mirrorless, I can say with certainty that the D850 will remain one of of the greatest DSLRs ever created.

However, my switch to Sony was based purely on my desire to get into underwater video and the attractive, logistical outlook of a lightweight, advanced hybrid camera. My favorite lens still remains the Nikon 60mm Macro, which I regularly use with the a1 and a Monster adapter, but I’m slowly growing incredibly fond of the Sony 90mm Macro, especially in the video capacity.
 

A massive grouper surrounded by baitfish on the wreck of the Yongala, Australia

 

DPG: Do you have a preference between wide angle and macro photography? I rarely get a clear-cut answer for this one!

I consider myself to be an instinctual shooter, and therefore favor wide-angle photography in most instances. There is nothing I love more than being thrown into the deep and reacting to the moments as they unfold in front of me! Whether it be the calm waters of the cenotes in the Yucatán, the serene encounters with humpback whales in Australia, or sharks jetting through the currents off Socorro, I just love assessing the scene and deciding which aspects of it are worth of making a picture.

Of course, as a Sydney-based photographer, I can't help but be drawn to macro photography on a daily basis. Not only because of our less-than-stellar dive conditions, which can make local wide angle a challenge, but also because of the plethora of macro life that gets swept out of the East Australian Current. We are so incredibly lucky to have exotic critters like anglerfish, ghost pipefish, nudibranchs and a host of unusual critters arrive at our doorstep in Sydney Harbor!
 

One of Sydney’s endemic anglers, the red fingered anglerfish, photographed with slow shutter and a snoot, Sydney, Australia

 

DPG: What is your favorite animal to encounter or photograph underwater?

I've always had a profound fascination with humpback whales. When I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the water with them last year, I finally understood why. I believe I am continuously drawn towards Syngnathiformes: seahorses, seadragons and pipefishes. Their timid nature, relatable reproductive behaviors, and undeniable beauty are all attributes that keep me coming back to photograph them. The fact that they are slow or static also allows me to get a bit experimental and precise with my photography.
 

A diminutive potbellied seahorse, Sydney, Australia

 

DPG: What is your most memorable marine life encounter or experience?

My time spent with humpback whales on Lady Elliot Island in 2023 was perhaps the most memorable few days I have ever experienced. One encounter in particular has left an indelible mark on my memory. We had a mother and calf cruise through the shallows of the island very early one morning. Clearly exhausted and in dire need of shelter to replenish their strength, the pair lay still and exposed on the surface for hours. While the calf fed, slept, and succumbed to vulnerability in the face of open ocean, the mother, though weak and running on fumes, held watch with complete determination. Guiding her calf as it bobbed like a cork, diving down to lift it back to the surface when it sank, she kept a watchful eye on all spectators. There was something relatable, instinctual and “real” about this wonderful act of nature and the care of a mother for her child.
 

A humpback whale mother and calf rest in the shallows off Lady Elliot Island, Australia

 

DPG: What is your favorite image you have ever captured and the story behind it?

This is a bit like being asked to choose your favorite child! Each image has its own unique story behind it. However, I can't help but being drawn to my photo titled “Aethereus.” Going back to my experience in the water with that previously mentioned mother and calf humpback, this particular image encapsulates their vulnerability, relationship, and her motherly instincts perfectly. The calf’s belly exposed to the elements of the ocean, while the mother humpback guides her progeny with a sturdy pectoral fin. The kicker of the picture is the prominent “cross” created from the intersection of mother and calf, which adds a sort of religious, divine, and even spritual element to the marvel of Mother Nature.
 

A tender moment between a mother and calf humpback whale, Lady Elliot Island, Australia

 

DPG: What destinations or animals are still on your bucket list?

Antarctica and the Arctic are at the very top of my list, not just for diving and underwater photography, but also very much for the topside photographic opportunities as well: polar bears, seals, orcas, whales, penguins, and so on. I also have a few local projects lined up with some creatures close to home which I will try to prioritize in the years to come.


DPG: What other underwater photographers inspire you?

Without a doubt, my all-time favorite photographer is Paul Nicklen. His astounding imagery can only be attributed to his attention to detail, his passion for wildlife, and his willingness to experiment with new and exciting techniques. Viewing his photography transforms me into the time and space where his pictures were taken, which is the ultimate goal of photographic storytelling. I also can't neglect to mention those whose work I've followed throughout the years: Alex Mustard, David Doubilet, Matthew Smith, and more recently, Henley Spiers.
 

A southern blue devil, sheltering beneath a cave near Second Valley, South Australia

 

DPG: First of all, congrats on all your recent competition success! Has that success opened up new opportunities for you or allowed you to go on new adventures?

Thank you so much! It was quite an honor to win the Macro category this year for Underwater Photographer of the Year, especially on the heels of my win in the Head On Photo Festival, and to become a part of their established history in the underwater arts. It has definitely opened up a substantial sum of opportunities, as well as created a bountiful foundation of media attention and exposure. I think the real reason people like myself get into this industry is primarly for recognition and respect. When a win like this comes from a shot taken in your own backyard, you can’t help but be overwhelmed with a sense of pride.
 

“Smorg” won the Macro category in the 2024 Underwater Photographer of the Year Competition. It features a podbellied seahorse from Bare Island, Australia

 

DPG: What advice would you give up-and-coming shooters who want to improve their photography skills?

I think the best advice I could impart is to never stop learning. When I decided to pick up a camera, I booked one-on-one tutorials with about six different established underwater shooters, all of which were able to impart their own little nuggets of wisdom. Begin by reading as many books on the fundamentals of underwater photography as you can. Branch off into the minds of shooters you admire, and whose style you want to adapt, and transform into your own. Before any of this, I’d strongly advise making sure your diving skills themselves are up to scratch! Good diving skills are crucial to good underwater image-making.
 

A pair of jellyfish and their companions, Lady Elliot Island, Australia

 

DPG: You’re from the Land Down Under—to us in the northern hemisphere. What are your top three animals or dive sites in Australia?

Wow, what a question! Honestly, I’m so fortunate to live where I do: Not only does Sydney have an endless number of dive sites within a 20-minute drive of my house, but our country is rich and diverse and ready for the taking! But, if I had to narrow my list down to three, it would be the following:

(i) Leafy seadragons in South Australia: These beautiful creatures are otherworldly and thrive in the cold waters around Second Valley and Rapid Bay. If you visit Seadragon Dive Lodge in Second Valley, Pete and Illona will show you exactly how to scope out these mystical creatures and get that killer image you’ve always dreamed of capturing. I visit them every year and always walk away with a fresh catalogue of images.
 

A “speedy” leafy seadragon photographed at Second Valley, South Australia
 

(ii) Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia: Where it all began for me! If you visit this region during the autumn months, you’ll experience encounters with whale sharks, mantas, and enumerable shark species. It is also home to the acclaimed “Navy Pier” dive site, which has been listed as one of the best dive sites in the world!

(iii) Southwest Rocks: If you love sharks, dramatic underwater topography and caves, then this is the place for you. It is home to one of the largest aggregations of gray nurse (sandtiger) sharks in the world and also home to massive schools of fish and wobbegong sharks. If you visit in the warmer months, between November and February, you may even be blessed with passing schools of hammerheads.
 

Beautiful lillies stand tall in Cenote Carwash in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
 

To see more of Talia’s award-winning work, please follow her on Instagram or visit her website, www.taliagreisphotography.com.

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