Tom Woods is a talented local photographer who has turned his passion into a successful career. Focus caught up with him to find out about his recent travels with his family and to see what it takes to make a living with a camera.
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?
Sherrin and I have lived on the Coffs Coast since 1999, after picking this as our ideal place to live in Australia after doing a 14-month “research” trip around OZ.
When did you start taking photos?
My parents brought me a Pentax SLR film camera when I was 19, and I very slowly started to learn the craft from there. It was when we did our big loop around OZ in 1998 when I really started to fall in love with photography.
What made you decide to take it up as a profession?
I made a choice when I was around 14 years old that I wasn’t going to do a job that I didn’t love. I didn’t personally know anyone who truly loved to go to work every day. It was all about waiting for the weekend and getting “Mondayitis”. I admired anyone I read about who defied society and lived a full life on his or her own terms. It took me years to make it into a profession, but I got there, and the leap of faith that Sherrin and I had to take is paying off so amazingly well now.
Over the last few years you have travelled around the country. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, Sherrin and I have been travelling with our two kids for over a year now. In 2016 we did photography jobs (mostly in tourism, resorts, magazines and holiday parks) from way down in Victoria right up the east coast to Cairns in Queensland, then ventured all the way back down and spent six weeks in Tasmania. The Tassie trip and the week swimming with turtles and Manta Rays on Lady Elliot Island were the definite highlights. Going somewhere different every week has been an inspiring, adventurous and family bonding experience. We plan to keep travelling throughout 2017 and expand our library of images.
How would you describe your style of photography?
Positive, with a deliberate use of nature’s colours. I am definitely drawn to beautiful things in beautiful light. There is so much amazing art/photography that comes from grief, injustice and misery, and I do applaud the artist in communicating that, but I want to show joy, inspiration and how gorgeous this world is and encourage people to explore, nurture and appreciate how good we have got it.
Are there any photographers you look up to or draw influence from?
Adventure – Landscape photographer Chris Burkhard does jaw dropping photography in challenging climates and has an exceptional business plan behind his work. In Australia, guys like Sean Scott and Warren Keelan are inspirations, because they are so open with sharing their knowledge and ideas with everyone. They deeply love their craft, and you can feed off their energy. Matthew Smith shoots astounding wildlife images from the water. He has a bluebottle jellyfish picture that will blow your mind. More than the pictures though, I’m inspired by the way of life that the photographers lead; that’s more important.
Where is your favorite location to take pictures?
In the ocean.
Do you spend time looking around a location to choose the best time and angle to take the shot you are after?
Yes, I do a lot more of that now. Sometimes I have to wait four seasons to get back to the place with the right light. There are locations all along the east coast that have yet to be shot in the right light, but I will get there.
You spend a bit of time in the ocean taking surfing pics. How fit do you need to be to stay out there to get the shot?
The fitter the better. You have to be in good shape; it’s three times more taxing on the body than surfing. I have done breath-holding courses to help with heavy hold-downs and surf and swim as much as I can to keep in some sort of shape. I still would like to be 50% fitter than I am right now though.
Is it difficult to get the right angle when you’re swimming?
Depends on the wave. Sometimes it’s fairly easy, but I have had many sessions where I swim around chasing the shot for two – three hours and come in with only one or two good photos to go with my cramping legs and dehydration.
Who are some of the local surfers you like to photograph?
Anyone who loves to be in the ocean. You can’t beat that surf-stoke joy that beams through the lens when you get them at the right moment. There are five year olds up to 60 year olds along the Coffs Coast who all have that deep love for the waves, and they are the best to capture. The three most talented chaps I regularly shoot with are Brett Caller, Johnny Craig and Harley Ingleby.
As far as equipment is involved, can you tell us about your tools of the trade?
I shoot with Canon cameras and lenses and use Aquatech water housings.
Is it an expensive business to be involved in?
It is fairly expensive, I guess. Lenses last for a long time, but the digital cameras keep improving, so they need to be updated regularly. Also, hard drive storage and backups are a constant cost, and we go through a lot of Mac computers and pay high insurances.
How long do you spend retouching images after a shoot?
All digital cameras have a wide latitude, so post editing the colour and contrast levels is required. With some of our wide format landscape images, stitching multiple pictures together is time consuming. Half the workload would be in basic post production.
Is retouching a difficult process to master?
I was so lucky to work in a photo-processing lab (Camera House) from 1999 – 2004. It was here I learned so much about getting correct colour balance and the entire photographic process from developing film to the printed product. It was in the transition time from film to digital, so I learnt both old school film practices and the new world of computer based editing. This experience was invaluable, as I moved into programs like Photoshop and Lightroom, because I had such a solid grounding of the principles. I’m still learning different techniques all the time.
Do you take pictures when you’re not working, or do you prefer to take a break from behind the lens?
It’s good to put the camera down at certain times and focus on other pursuits, but a lot of what we are shooting lately doesn’t feel like work for us. What we love to take pictures of is now crossing over to paid work, and that will certainly be the model for our career moving forward.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering photography as a career?
Make sure it’s something you absolutely love. Know that the road to success will probably be slow and sometimes fickle, but so worth it if you end up jumping out of bed each morning with a love for your life.
What are your plans for the future?
Keep travelling with my beautiful family making pictures along the way, but more importantly, making priceless memories.
Where can people find out more?
We sell our prints, canvases and glass-mounted images through our online shop.
Our website is updated once a week, with fresh pictures and travel blogs. You can email subscribe at www.stsurfimages.com – I deeply thank everyone who already has. You can also follow daily pictures on our instagram feed @stimages