Making a splash

Thu, 18th May 2017

Noosa photographer Liz Harlin is the Australian Institute of Professional Photography’s Queensland documentary photographer of the year.

Liz Harlin
Liz Harlin

First job? 
Paper route, age 13.

What are you currently working on? 
I just returned from a scuba diving expedition to the Socorro Islands, so I’m currently writing a story and editing images for magazine submission. The tiny archipelago is in a remote corner of the eastern Pacific, and the diving there is very exciting: massive schools of fish, giant manta rays, loads of sharks, stunning underwater volcanic topography, mixed with plenty of current and ocean swells to keep the adrenaline going.

Your family includes...   
My parents and a younger brother.

Do you have a nickname?
Lizzy. And one or two others that reference my epic clumsiness. 

First car? 
Toyota Corolla hatchback, still driving it.

What are you reading now? 
I have big piles of coffee table books on photography. They’re all over my house. Underwater stuff, as well as portraiture, travel photography, street photography, all sorts of genres. Almost daily I’ll pick one up and flick through the pages for inspiration.

Best advice you’ve been given? 
A mentor once told me not to specialise too much. She said that generalists can be more flexible and resilient in the long run.

If you could tell your 18-year-old self anything, what would it be? 
Actively work on your health and happiness. And wear sunscreen, of course. 

How long have you lived on the Sunshine Coast? 
Ten years.

Why do you live here? 
After travelling through quite a lot of the world, Noosa and the Sunny Coast jumped out as the best of the best. The perfect climate and the relaxed beach community struck a chord.

If you could change one thing about the coast, what would it be?
I’d love to see much more effort to clean up the fishing line pollution underwater on rock walls and other popular snaggy fishing spots. Over years and decades, this growing mass of fishing line and hooks continues to entangle and kill marine life and fishing birds. It’s heartbreaking to see this when I’m underwater. Unless you’re a diver, you’re not aware of the carnage; out of sight, out of mind.

Best day in your life? 
There have been plenty of stellar moments underwater, especially the encounters with big animals such as humpback whales, minke whales, and whale sharks. But one of the best encounters was with a wild bottlenose dolphin in Mexico. There was a small pod of them in the water, near our little group of divers. One of the dolphins broke away and swam over to us. He positioned himself vertically upright in the water, just hovering there next to us, at arm’s length. We patted his belly and rubbed his back, and he loved the attention. He stayed with us for quite some time. It was incredible that a wild mammal would choose to interact with us like that. We were all delirious with joy.

You are happiest when? 
Underwater, with my camera in hand, when the conditions are optimal and there are lovely subjects to photograph. I’m extra happy if I can enjoy the experience with my closest diver friends.

What is your favourite place on the Sunshine Coast? 
A-Bay, Noosa.

What achievement are you most proud of? 
Nine of my underwater photographs were licensed by the Solomon Islands Philatelic Bureau for a postage stamp collection. Each of the images showed one of the nine species of anemonefish found in the nation’s waters. I was pretty proud of that.

Tea or coffee?
Being from the UK, it’s gotta be English breakfast tea with milk—a few too many cups a day. But sometimes it’s straight green tea. Or, an espresso macchiato on the occasional morning when I want to feel wired.