Clouds, waves. Above the world, below the surface. Scene from the sky, scene from the water. These are the extremes Karim Iliya somehow moves between in his photography.

His feed is full of contrasting images. A smattering of islands amid the bluest of water next to a shot of divers exploring the underworld of the ocean. A close-up of a delicate seahorse among coral beside an aerial shot of someone laying on a black-sand beach.

Karim’s pictures capture two undiscovered worlds — not an easy feat, to be sure, but one that came naturally to him.

Though he considers Hawaii “home,” Karim grew up moving around the Middle East, Asia, United States, and England. After he finished school, he lived in Japan and Cambodia before basing himself — for the time being, at least — in Maui and Colorado. Given how much he’s moved, Karim feels comfortable almost anywhere. As long as there’s room for all of his stuff, he’ll be fine.

And maybe it’s that very movement that fostered his interest in the extremes.

Karim has been a photographer for over half his life — he got his first camera at age 13 and is now just 27 years old. He used that first point-and-shoot to photograph everything — surfers, sunsets, bugs, palm trees, you name it. He was never good at drawing or painting, but photography clicked.

As he got older and his skills improved, he wanted to experiment with more scenarios and types of photography. He played a lot of video games and spent plenty of time by the water during his summers in Maui, so aerial and underwater photography seemed like a natural progression. And he kept a camera with him wherever he went, a habit that has continued into adulthood.

Taking quick shots of swimming turtles led Karim to his first photography job, as an underwater photographer for snorkel trips. Eventually, he found his way to freediving (diving without any kind of breathing apparatus), which changed his life. He started spending more and more time in the water, taking photos all the while.

The underwater world was strange and full of beauty, with a magnetic kind of pull on Karim that has yet to fade. He loves discovering new ways to capture the light beams in the water, the way waves break on the shore, and the marine life that lives below the surface. More than anything else though, he loves whales. Each year, Karim travels to Tonga to guide snorkel trips and photograph humpback whales.

Underwater photography is one of the medium’s most difficult forms, but Karim doesn’t see that as a bad thing. The difficulties are constantly challenging him, which means he’s always learning and evolving as a photographer.

Naturally, Karim is continually aiming his camera at animals of the underwater kingdom. Photographing oceanic wildlife has taught him to be patient — animals don’t care about photographers, which can be great because they won’t be self-conscious, but that also means they don’t pose or wait around for you to get the perfect shot.

When Karim isn’t underwater, he looks to the sky, sending a drone into the air to find intriguing and interesting landscapes to photograph from above. His aerial goal is to figure out how to make flat landscapes look interesting. In particular, he’s drawn to drone videography and the opportunity for exploration it provides.

Head in the sky, heart underwater. Karim’s photos reveal Earth’s hidden worlds.

He wants viewers to see his marine life photos and be connected to the underwater world, as it’s more important now than ever before to make an effort to save these landscapes and species from suffering the effects of humankind’s ravaging for resources. He tries to make every shot — underwater or aerial — beautiful and uplifting, but he knows and accepts that meaning is best left for each individual viewer to interpret.

Though he grew up in locations around the world, photography has once again taken Karim on the road. He’s visited ice fjords, volcanic landscapes, thundering waterfalls, and many, many more wild places, but he’s far from finished. Karim wants to work for the BBC or National Geographic and has his sights set on Antarctica and outer space.

“We live in a crazy, diverse world,” Karim says. “And the more I see, the bigger it gets.”


Follow Karim on Instagram, learn more about his swimming trips and photography workshops, or visit his website.