If you’re of a certain age, you might remember the thrill of taking a roll of photos to be printed. A little gamble, each frame was a mystery before it revealed itself out of the paper sleeve. With each click there was a cost, each memory carefully chosen for capture.
That’s not exactly the case today – last time I checked I had upwards of 11,000 photos on my phone. I’m sure half of them are out of focus closeups of tiny toes, taken by my 18 month old on the run with my phone. But if you asked me to narrow down the ones that have me in them? I’m not sure I’d even have 50.
And that’s the motivation behind the beautiful work of photographer Bridget Wood. If you’re a long time reader of The Grace Tales you’ll know her work intimately. There’s a richness to it, a sense of spontaneity and an easy, natural composition which makes sense when you hear her talk about her love of nature. But above all, her work is about mothers. “When I became a mother for the first time”, she tells us, “I realised not only how precious time is, but also how much of motherhood is invisible. I really wanted my children to have photographs which showed what love felt like in our family.”
Bridget’s work has taken her to some magical places, like the 10 week working trip around Spain and France that she did in 2019, with no idea that pictures would be the closest we’d all get to travel again for a long time. “Only 6 months prior that very experience, it was a scribbled goal in my journal. It was a big reminder for me to get out of my own way and take action towards my goals”, she remembers.
But even staying home sounds like an adventure in Bridget’s world. Living on the Gold Coast Hinterland with her family, she shares that while choosing a slower life has its challenges, they’re something the whole family embraces. “Instead of a traffic jam on the way to work, we are feeding the chickens, sheep, goats and running after our new puppy. Rather than order Uber Eats which thankfully doesn’t service our area, we make woodfired pizza which we need to light a few hours before. The kids run to the neighbours and I don’t have to worry about cars because we are all on acreage, but they need to watch for snakes. Living on the land is hard work and in less than a year we have experienced animals dying from ticks, foxes and wedge tailed eagles taking our chickens, retaining walls collapsing in heavy rain, and getting cut off in floods. I would say these were all stressful, but they still align with my core values in what I want out of life, so it feels more manageable even on the harder days.”
Here, she tells us about the fog that crept up on her as a new mum, how she juggles creativity and business, why she hired a chef (hello dream!) and what it takes to make a beautiful photograph (hint: it’s not all about the perfect blow wave or well-behaved children)…
Go to bridgetwood.com.au
Motherhood is a huge focus of your photography, and you’re particularly passionate about helping mothers to exist in photographs. So often we’re the ones behind the camera, so tell me why you’ve made it your mission to capture mothers?
When I became a mother for the first time, I realised not only how precious time is, but also how much of motherhood is invisible.
I really wanted my children to have photographs which showed what love felt like in our family…A reminder of the in-between moments of mothering. I also wanted to feel beautiful as their mother. I know that sounds silly, but the transition you go through when becoming a mother is so significant. I personally found it to be the most deeply challenging and rewarding time in my life. I wasn’t sure what to expect really, and because I bonded instantly with my daughter, I thought that ruled me out of being a candidate for post natal depression or postnatal depletion.
It crept up slowly, like a blanket of fog coming over my life, and muting the world around me. I found every aspect of my day overwhelming and I didn’t want to see anyone anymore. I stopped answering calls or replied with really happy sounding texts, to not alarm anyone. I cried in the shower and didn’t know what was happening. I had incredibly terrifying thoughts about my family, which I believed if I told anyone they would come true, so I had to mentally undo them each time and keep it all to myself. It was exhausting, and when I started to realise it was not normal I went to the doctors to ask for help. They shrugged it off like it was no big deal and said I was a new mum, ‘try and get some rest and you’ll be fine’.
This left me feeling immense shame and guilt for feeling so incredibly sad and detached when I had so much to be thankful for. Why could everyone else do it when it was such a struggle for me? Now when I talk to the mothers I photograph, I am quickly reminded I was not alone in this experience. Fortunately I was lucky enough to have the means to access professional help, medical support, and a deep network of family and friends. Long story short, this experience allowed me to carry a deep empathy towards mothers in my work and it’s why I make it my mission to celebrate women in their unique motherhood journey and make them the hero of the shoot.
The other part of this story, that I haven’t really shared before, is that I am adopted. Once I became a mother myself, I only then started to really understand the love and sacrifice which both my mum and my birth mother would have gone through to bring me into this world and raise me into the person I am today. Telling the story of other mothers has been so healing to my own journey.
You have over a decade of experience as an editorial photographer working with major brands. What have been some of your most memorable moments on set?
Oh gosh, there are so many, but a highlight was definitely a ten week working trip we did around Spain and France in 2019. Waking up in the mountains in the North of Ibiza to shoot the Country Road Resort collection was pretty special. Only 6 months prior that very experience, it was a scribbled goal in my journal. It was a big reminder for me to get out of my own way and take action towards my goals.
Was it your own journey into motherhood that inspired you to shift the focus of your photography, or did it just happen naturally?
Yes absolutely. I found that out of all of the photographs I took of my daughter, my favourite ones were actually the unposed and less traditional. I also wanted to get some photographs of my motherhood journey which felt effortless, real and timeless (despite not having slept properly!)
I couldn’t seem to find the exact style I was looking for. It was either a straight documentary, which was not always flattering, or overly posed and traditional styles. It kind of just happened naturally with my background in commercial and editorial photography, woven together with my experience of being a mother. My goal is to have photos which tell a story of the person’s life and loves, imperfectly tangled in emotion and beauty.
Tell me about your first memories of picking up a camera. Was it love at first sight?
Not exactly. I didn’t discover photography until my twenties. I woke up one morning and had the thought crash into my head from what seemed like nowhere, that I should become a photographer. A few days later I was at dinner and my friend mentioned a two day photography course she was doing, and that I should join. So off I went, and couldn’t believe how easily it clicked and felt natural to me. I was due to go on a 3 month trip around Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos so knowing my personality and the fact I am a dreamer sometimes, I said if I still want to be a photographer when I return, then I’ll go for it….and many lessons later here I am.
Creative careers are notoriously difficult to make a living out of, so I want to know how you went about this. And as a mother now, how do you manage the juggle of work that is unpredictable and unstable, around the responsibilities of family life?
I did try to go straight out into photography originally. I was so naive thinking that work would magically knock on my door, but I’m also grateful for this as it was the leap of faith I needed to take at that time. Thanks to a creative job application, I managed to get a job with a local fashion magazine in Brisbane. They were long hours, and many tears were shed, but I soon got very good at working under pressure, dealing with clients and understanding light and different photography styles.
On my second day, I remember going to a press conference to photograph the prime minister and just pinching myself that someone was paying me to take photos. Although looking back now at the photos I would cringe, I was so proud at the time. Gradually I started building up my own photography brand until it just was no longer sustainable to do both. I was working before work, after work and all weekends.
“ We live in an age where we are meant to be able to do it all, and it is one of the biggest disservices we do to modern parents. ”
When I had Azalea there was no maternity leave pay, so in hindsight, I probably threw myself back in the ring a little too early, which is when the wheels started coming off. I was charging a bare minimum for my work, doing everything myself, and rarely making a profit.
The photography part came easily enough to me. What was causing the most damage was the low self worth, money beliefs and imposter syndrome. This is so common in any small business, because it is not just your job; you put so much of yourself into that role.
Nowadays I have a pretty strong process around my work. I run on systems and I am getting better at setting boundaries (although this one still trips me up). I have a wonderful team and family that support me and I am now at a place where I don’t care what people think if I ask for help. Some nights I do have to go work after my kids go to bed, but there are also days where I can volunteer in the classroom or make the kindy concert. Safe to say I don’t think I’d ever be employable again.
You live in the Gold Coast hinterland and your life looks picture perfect with your gorgeous children, veggie patch, pet sheep, chickens and now baby goats and slow pace of living. What’s the reality like, and despite having consciously chosen a simpler life, do you still have to deal with stress?
I am very focused on leading an intentional life, but it doesn’t always come naturally to me. I am inspired by beauty and nature and I want to fill as much of my life with things that truly are important to me, something I found harder to do in the 9 – 5 city life. I absolutely still deal with stress and anxiety, but surrounding myself with different anchor points is helping to carve a new reality.
Instead of a traffic jam on the way to work, we are feeding the chickens, sheep, goats and running after our new puppy. Rather than order Uber Eats which thankfully doesn’t service our area, we make woodfired pizza which we need to light a few hours before. The kids run to the neighbours and I don’t have to worry about cars because we are all on acreage, but they need to watch for snakes. Living on the land is hard work and in less than a year we have experienced animals dying from ticks, foxes and wedge tailed eagles taking our chickens, retaining walls collapsing in heavy rain, and getting cut off in floods. I would say these were all stressful, but they still align with my core values in what I want out of life, so it feels more manageable even on the harder days.
The amount of personal work I do is pretty high. I’m sure some of my friends would love to run for the hills when I talk about manifestation, shadow work, the enneagram or human design, but it gives me so much pleasure learning about these topics and applying it to my life. I am constantly auditing the areas in our life that add stress, and how to have more magic moments with my family. Recently we discovered that dinner times were adding major stress. We both were working too late and cooking dinner was stressful and rushed with hangry screaming kids. It wasn’t pleasant and it of course continued through into bath time and bedtime.
I put an ad on gumtree asking for an apprentice chef looking for some work, and was amazed by the great results. We now pay someone to help grocery shop and meal prep once a week, and my kids have delicious home cooked healthy meals ready to go before the hanger strikes. We don’t eat takeout and we share dinner together as a family which is so nice. We soon discovered we were saving money because I was no longer doing the grocery shopping (hello middle aisle). I totally understand that this is a very privileged situation, but I want other mothers to know it is ok to ask for help.
We live in an age where we are meant to be able to do it all, and it is one of the biggest disservices we do to modern parents. Asking for help can also look different for everyone. You need to figure out what your pain points are in your family, and go from there. If you aren’t in a position to hire someone to help cooking, make sure you dedicate some time to batch cook so that it is ready to go through the week, drop your clothes off to a laundromat, or arrange to share dropoffs or pickups with a friend, join the yoga class, ask a friend to babysit.
Another stress hack is to do a quick brain-dump of everything that is bothering me. It might be that the front door squeaks, the seedlings need to be planted, the dog needs a walk, the phone bill needs paying, there is washing that needs to be hung, swimming lessons to be booked, respond to Sally about the birthday party. Whatever it is, big or small, I like to spill it all onto the page. Even if you can’t take action, getting it out of your head is amazing. When you have time, you go through the list and delegate, delete, defer, or do now if it is a less than 5 minute task. I can’t remember where I learnt that, but I use it all the time and it really does work.
Your life wasn’t always like this - what inspired the tree change?
The year before we moved, I was continually getting very sick with acute tonsillitis. It got to a stage where I was in hospital every 2 – 4 weeks. I knew deep down that I was rejecting my current reality, and there was somewhere else we were meant to be. I believe the universe is always giving you signs like that. We popped down to just have a look at some of the houses on offer that weekend, and fell in love.
Here they play outside until the sun goes down. I am always coming across mud pies and magic lands and flower potions. They are 3 and 6 years old, and collect the eggs by themselves, and feed all of the animals. We really wanted them connected to nature and seasons and to have space and freedom to explore and see the world as a beautiful place which needs love and protection.
You’re also active on social media and you’ve photographed some major celebrities and influencers. What’s your relationship with social media like? Do you ever fall into the comparison trap, or is it just another community for you?
I acknowledge social media for helping my business grow into where it is today. I don’t have a personal social media page, only a business one, and I do often (especially at the moment) go weeks without posting.
I think it is easy to fall into the comparison trap, but I do really try to only follow brands and people who I find inspiring. I used to feel bad about unfollowing people, but now I just see it as an energy exchange, and if I am sending back bad energy to a person about a post, I will also take some of that energy and then it is like a ripple effect. I would rather protect my space as much as I can and send good energy from afar.
I have a 30 minute limit per day on Instagram, which alerts me, and I am always surprised that I reach that most days. I do worry about the impact it will have on my children, growing up in this filtered world where mistakes and flaws are not celebrated or seen. We have just started going around the dinner table telling each other the mistakes they made today or the failures we experienced, instead of how was your day. I think seeing that modeled by us is really important.
Your photography is all about capturing the in-between, natural, un-posed moments. Why do you think they’re so beautiful and so powerful?
I’m not sure exactly, but for me it is almost a metaphor for life – which is really just a series of little moments. It is in these little pockets of time and space that we truly come alive and forget who we need to be, just who we are.
Like most of us, you hate having your photo taken! What are your tips for getting comfortable in front of the camera?
Choose the right photographer for starters! Having a sense of trust in the photographer will help immensely with how much you can relax in front of the lens. Make sure you not only connect with their work, but look at their social media, website and read testimonials.
The second tip would be to turn up for your shoot prepared, and avoid leaving yourself until the very last minute! I learnt the hard way on this one for my own family shoot. I was so busy getting everyone else ready, I ran out of time to get ready myself. I also needed a haircut, had forgotten to take off old nail polish and my dress was crushed. Throughout the shoot, I found it more difficult to relax because I knew it could have been so much better if I was a little more organised.
The biggest one though, and what makes my job a hundred times easier, is being present. If you can leave your to-do lists, expectations of how your children should behave, and truly just connect to this precious time with your family, I can’t statistically prove it but I would say it increases how photogenic you are by 99.99%. Most of my clients are able to do this due to how we prepare them in the lead up, and it is always amazing at how the experience of the photo shoot itself ends up being a beautiful memory.
They say you should never work with children or animals, but you’ve done both. How do you deal with the inevitable toddler meltdown or other disasters during shoots?
The beautiful thing about children is that generally speaking they are more fluid with their emotions, so if they are given the space to express what they are feeling it is not long before they are back in the swing of things. What has also worked for me is just letting the littlest child be the leader and go from there. Making sure they are well fed before the shoot is great, and it is not uncommon for us to stop for a snack mid shoot. Having animals in a shoot is always great because it gives the family something to focus on and I find family pets make it so easy to interact naturally and are grounding. I try not to have preconceived ideas of how a particular shot will look, but rather sit quietly and see what I can observe and gently guide them if need be.
It takes a lot of bravery and determination to start your own business, in any field. You’ve made such a success of it, so do you have any advice for women - and especially mothers - with a business idea?
Establish your core values (in business and life) to really gain clarity on what lights you up and what doesn’t. Every decision you make in your business should be governed by these core values so you remain true to yourself and the reasons you wanted to start a business in the first place.
The other part I would get comfortable with is hearing the word no. I could not tell you the amount of times I have been rejected, missed out on jobs, or fell short.
Sometimes it is hard to imagine ever being as successful as someone else. Use them as a vision for what you can accomplish, and remember that they also started where you are and most likely had to go through the same learning curves. Some things do take time and can’t be fast tracked but don’t forget to celebrate your wins.
The last two years have been such a difficult time for everyone, and I know your business was affected due to lockdowns and travel restrictions. How did you weather the storm, and have you had to pivot in any way?
When the first lockdown happened and my shoots were cancelled, I felt very lost and unsure of what to do. I also saw a lot of really talented photographers lower their prices to a place where I knew it would not be sustainable for my business or my family. So, I took the time to work on my business, figure out my pain points and deep dive into how I could deliver a superior service with greater results for my clients.
I also had just hosted an in-person retreat for mothers with my business partner and friend Kaitlin Tait, which we decided to turn into an online course.
I am also launching a course for photographers and creatives to help them achieve a multiple six figure business without burnout. I was really afraid to do a course on this, as I have actually had burnout, breakdowns and all the things…but I have learnt so much about being a mother, photographer and business owner and now the mess is my message to hopefully help others.