Molly Wallis: Marine Biologist & Photographer
Updated: Mar 10, 2022
We met Molly whilst shooting with her partner in crime Ben Hartly a few weeks ago at Watergate Bay.
She told us about her love for the ocean and about her new found love for photography and film.
She is rad and we wanted to know more, so we asked her a few questions:
Name: Molly Wallis
Local Break: Secret spot in the South West of Cornwall
Craft of choice: camera and log
Molly in her natural habitat
Did you surf before you started?
My dad is a massive surfer and would often take me out on his log but there were no local surf beaches near me growing up, so I never really got into surfing properly until I moved to uni in 2019. Since starting 3rd year of uni though, I’ve put the board down and I find myself reaching for my camera instead, but I am really hoping to get back into surfing this summer/ autumn as I finish my last year at uni.
What made you pick up a camera?
During the lockdown in late 2020, I was going through a really tough time mentally due to just getting out of a very toxic relationship and I was struggling with the isolation of lockdown. I bought my first camera and underwater set up and I found that it really pushed me to get outside and in the water more which really helped me both physically and mentally. I did a lot of marine photography to begin with (which really helped with my degree as I study Marine Biology and I found that I learnt a lot more through this than my degree that year) but I started doing surf photography in March 2021 after rediscovering my love for surf.
You haven't been in the game for long, but you have captured some amazing pictures, what's your secret?
My secret? I wish I knew myself to be honest haha! Some people don’t consider photography as a form of art because it doesn’t require you to be skilled with a brush, pen, or pencil – however, not everyone can pick up a camera and take great photos; it requires an eye for detail and an appreciation of the natural world. My Grandma taught me the beauty in nature, and I think this really helps me line up the perfect shot.
Molly captures Cornwall in all its glory
Are there any female surf photographers who inspire you?
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough female surf photographers and there are far fewer female photographers that shoot from the water. At my local reef break, I can only name maybe one or two other female photographers that will get in and shoot on a decent sized day. However, I look up to Aline Arnold (a_.arnold on Instagram) as she has not only brought out her own magazine (Blu.) but has also collaborated with Daughters of the Sea to help release their first magazine and she is just such a down to earth and honest gal really. Other female surf photographers that inspire me (but aren’t in the UK) include Megan Gayda from Ireland and Christa Funk from Hawaii.
Is there something your dying to capture on camera or film?
I would really love to either capture dolphins on my drone or whilst I’m freediving (Mike Lacey ha an amazing shot of two dolphins from one of his paddle-boarding adventures). However, I have seen a a surf photographer called Ben Thouard get these amazing through-the-wave shots of surfers or landscapes which are taken from underwater – to nail a shot like that would be a dream!
You have shot in some heavy, barrelling conditions, any scary moments?
Oh, some of the days I’m standing on the edge of the reef, watching these 8ft sets rolling through and I think to myself ‘what the f**k am I doing?!’ I could just turn around and get changed again but I know I would beat myself up after not getting in.
There is one moment that will stay with me and it was on a February dawny at a secret cove – there was no one else in the water with me and I was already frozen through. I had gotten in at the wrong time and the tide was pounding against the rocks meaning that getting out would either mean me or my camera being smashed up against the cliffs or I would have to swim an hour out around the headland against the currents to the nearest beach. I managed to time it just right getting back in, but it could’ve ended up a whole lot worse!
However, I find that having Ben out there with me helps for sure, we both look out for each other, and we give each other the confidence to push our limits
Your partner Ben Hartley is also a surf photographer, do you find yourselves competing for the best position in the line-up or are you both happy sharing?
Definitely! It’s all healthy competition though, promise! Although be both position ourselves in roughly the same spots, Ben sits a lot deeper than I do so it works quite well – plus we’re both super competitive so we push each other to get deeper and take riskier shots. However, we hype each other up when we know that we got ‘the shot’ and it’s that positive back and forth that allows us to collab so well. If Ben throws me over the falls, I’ll just dunk him as the next set comes – I couldn’t imagine anyone I’d rather share a line-up with.
Partner and fellow photographer Ben Hartly AKA 'Green helemt man' - Pulling faces at Molly
What's your favourite spot / wave to shoot here in Cornwall?
If I told you my favourite spots, I’d get murdered by locals but I do love to shoot Gwithian – whether it be from land, in the water, or with the drone, it always produced some absolute beauties, especially when there for a sunset!
Bring submerged for hours, you must get cold! How do you survive the winter months when shooting?
I feel the cold an awful lot so shooting in winter is always a challenge – I’ve just about survived this winter in a very holy Ripcurl wetty but recently, I treated myself to a lovely new O’Neill that I’m yet to try out. I don’t go any thinner than a 5/4 wetsuit and I’m kitted out in thick gloves, hood, and socks. A pint after in a local pub always sorts me out though!
Any embarrassing moments in the water?
People seeing me in a hood is embarrassing enough – I look like a right nugget! I think the most embarrassing moment though was when I was out and there was another female photographer in the line-up too; I thought she was talking to me (as you can’t hear anything with a 7mm hood on) and so I had a full blown conversation with her – turns out she was talking to her boyfriend behind.
Any other hobbies? Dancing, Pokémon cards, pottery?
I love to just chill and play guitar (although other life commitments mean I don’t pick it up nearly as much as I should), I design the odd skateboard here and there and I do a lot of road cycling. Nothing beats grabbing my longboard skateboard and going for an evening cruise, especially as the days are getting longer now.
Molly made a friend - A Cornish common harbour seal
What camera and housing are you using at the moment?
I currently use a Sony a6000 with a 16-50mm lens in a Seafrogs housing.
Any advice for anyone wanting to get into surf photography?
Just send it! Like, I completely understand how expensive it is to get started (a good wetsuit, camera, housing, etc will set you back over £1,200), but look to buy second hand (my whole camera set up is second-hand, but it is an absolute beast) as you can save a lot of dollar. If you’ve never surfed before, I would recommend either taking the time to watch surfers, surf videos, or getting into surfing, as it will allow you to ‘read’ the waves, know the path the surfer will take and it will allow you to position yourself in the right place. Learn how to be safe in the sea – being able to identify a rip current and how to get out of one is essential in keeping yourself safe. Swim training also helps a lot as it exercises a lot of muscles you wouldn’t normally use. Other than that, hand fun! There’s no better place to be than in the sea and that feeling you get when you know you’ve just nailed ‘The Shot’ is unbeatable!
Thank you so much Molly and we cant wait to see you in the water soon!
Check out Mollys instagram page and keep up to date with her adventures: