Tom Woods’ love affair with the ocean defies all description, the Sunshine Coast-based photographer devoting all aspects of his photography to it. Shooting in the water since he was a young teenager, it’s safe to say he’s spent more time in the depths it as than he has on land, a sentiment that’s extremely apparent in his body of work, with Woods explaining that, “The real ocean lovers present in such a beautiful way when they are in their element and this is what excites me the most with ocean photography.”
For this week’s Frames, we, caught up with the ocean-based photographer to get the drop on his relationship with the art form, the craziest stories he has had out on the water and more. Check out the full chat (and some of his shots) below and be sure to follow him on Instagram here.
I grew up in Adelaide, South Australia. As soon as I was able, I moved to the mid-north coast of NSW and then travelled Australia & New Zealand from 2015 to 2019. Since then, I have based myself and my family on the Sunshine Coast in QLD.
The first proper image I took was with my mum’s fully manual Ricoh KR-10 with a 50mm lens. I loved how the split manual focus would come into line to take the shot. I was in my mid-teenage years when that experience started. By the time I was 19, I had my first very own SLR which was a Pentax camera. Then I transitioned to Canon and have been using their gear ever since.
My favourite thing to shoot is most definitely the ocean and the characters that spend their lives devoted to the beauty of it. The real ocean lovers present in such a beautiful way when they are in their element… and this is what excites me the most about ocean photography.
Positive, experience-based, gratitude and reverence are words that describe the energy that I put into most of my photography. Whether that translates to every viewer I really don’t know, but that’s the feeling I put into my work. Sometimes I meet my own expectations, which at the end of the day is all that really matters. The photos are nearly always of the natural environment. Light gets me excited more than the locations most times.
I’ve had many experiences in the ocean with my camera, including encounters with Manta Rays, sharks and dolphins, all of which have been pretty rad. One crazy experience I had was when I ventured out to shoot an outer reef break with a surfer friend. The reef was 1-2 kms off the coast and the surf was fairly big. Just getting off the beach was a challenge with a big shore break. It took me three attempts to get through the breakers. I normally just swim with my water housing in one hand and can punch through most times, but as I had a big swim after the shore break I took out a bodyboard and had my camera in a backpack.
The first time my backpack got ripped off and I had to return to shore to repair the strap. The second time the bodyboard got ripped from my grasp and I had to swim in again. The third time I got out there clean and started the long paddle to the outer reef.. my buddy was already out there getting a few when I reached the shoulder of the heavy reef break. We shot for a good two hours in which time we had a rain squall and a mini thunderstorm hit, but we were having fun with only us around. But then my friend Johnny said he was running late for work and we paddled in. I was actually relieved because I was so buggered from the morning adventures and the images I got hadn’t been that great anyway.
So I shot a few empty pics of the reef and then started my journey back to the shore. A journey I thought would be pretty easy… but with my already-tired body and a current that was pushing me back out to sea, I wasn’t making any progress. The wind then started to pick up and the ocean got really messy and wild. The paddle in on a regular day would only take 25 minutes, but it took me an hour and a half to get back to the shore break. But then, the wave that finally pushed me into the beach was a sweet joy! I then lay flat out on the sand for a good half hour before trekking back to my car.
There were times in that paddle where I thought I wasn’t ever going to make it in. I called up my mate Johnny who had got himself to work, done his first stint and was on his morning smoko break, and all I had done in that time was paddle in from the reef! He laughed and asked if we should do it again tomorrow and I was like, “Nah mate I’m spending the next two days in bed.” Sometimes the ocean can just do what it wants with you, even on days where you don’t expect it.
It is easily where the craft of photography takes you. I have met so many interesting people and have gotten access to places and in operations and businesses that you couldn’t even pay to have. I hear stories and people’s life works and passions first-hand and get to show that with images. I love how the camera can connect any of your passions and how it has helped me engage with my family’s passions. A camera is a great tool for an interesting life I reckon.