Sarah Wood spends a lot of her time behind a camera, capturing the special and emotive moments in people’s lives...
From photographing weddings to sporting events and everything in between, Sarah began her career as a nurse which gave her a unique perspective on the human experience that she is able to bring into her work as a successful, self-taught professional photographer. “Coupled with my naturally inquisitive and observant nature, photography organically evolved into the career that has given me a lot of joy as well as the freedom to run my own business and most importantly the flexibility to work around my family values that I experienced in my own life,” she says.
We caught up with Sarah to see how she juggles motherhood and work as well as finding out her take on the essential components that are required to take a beautiful photograph…
Go to www.sarahwood.com.au
Sarah Wood travelled to the Bahamas to capture these magical images of India Hicks
Can you tell us about your childhood?
I am the youngest child of four. My memories of childhood seem a lot freer and less complicated to me than the lives that children seem to be living today. It sounds very 70’s but we literally used to spend our days riding our bikes around the neighbourhood with those fluttery ribbons coming out of the bike handle. My closest childhood friend, Kate, had a red dragster with a long and low seat with a backrest – gee I admired that bike! In summer, family holidays at the beach consisted of countless games of Snakes and Ladders along with tanning competitions, that often involved a bit of burning along the way. Aided by litres of Coconut Reef Oil (I still love that smell), I often was the ‘winner’ but my skin has now begun to show the signs of those early tanning victories.
Can you talk us through your career path and what inspired you to become a photographer?
After school, I nursed at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne which gave me a deeper insight into people’s lives at their most vulnerable – experiences that I was later able to incorporate into my photography. I then spent 12 years in Vaccine Sales & Product Management at Glaxo SmithKline. I often felt I had a latent creative side to me waiting to be freed. Coupled with my naturally inquisitive and observant nature, photography organically evolved into the career that has given me a lot of joy as well as the freedom to run my own business and most importantly the flexibility to work around my family values that I experienced in my own life. I have such secure and warm memories of coming home after school each day and my mother being truly ‘present’ for us. She had the amazing capacity to listen deeply – no matter how ‘trivial’ or ‘longwinded’ some of my day to day stories may have been. Photography has given me a perspective on life that is much deeper and broader than if I had not ventured into my passion and for this, I am very grateful.
What do you recall about those early days as a photographer?
I spent countless hours of learning through trial and error and scouring through endless photography books and magazines dissecting every image and camera setting. I also had invaluable mentoring by a professional photographer. It was a great learning combination. The burning desire to keep improving led me to take on almost every genre of photography that I could from sport to styling, from landscape to macro. It was a hard road with steep learning curves but the positive client feedback energised me. Being self-taught it took me a long while to feel comfortable calling myself a professional photographer. Looking back I think I saddled myself with unnecessary self-doubt in those early days. As a result of my experience, I now enjoy mentoring a number of clients in their early professional photography days.
“ Photography has given me a perspective on life that is much deeper and broader than if I had not ventured into my passion and for this, I am very grateful ”
At home in the Bahamas with India Hicks
What makes a beautiful image? What are the key ingredients?
Genuine emotion is the key to a beautiful image so when one looks back, the feeling of that moment is accurately brought to life again. Combined with soft natural light and a clean composition, at the core, there is an unspoken trust between me and the subject. “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything” — Aaron Siskind.
What advice would you give to aspiring photographers out there?
Look after yourself! Get lots of sleep, especially the night before a shoot. Photography can be deceptively demanding – physically and mentally. Devoting yourself to the job, being 100% present to capture the unique and often unexpected moments as they occur. At the end of the day guard those precious memory cards with your life! Personally, I shoot to two cards in case one fails. I literally sleep with one set after returning home late at night from a wedding.
What time of day is your favourite time to shoot?
Late afternoon on a still day in Autumn is irresistible. The beautiful backlight and long shadows give a warm feel to images. Even though early morning traditionally provides great light, I tend to think it’s a little unfair on faces and sleepy eyes! Tired parents especially don’t seem to ‘iron out’ too early…or am I just speaking for myself?
Where is your favourite place in the world to shoot?
Definitely, a place that involves a beach with sparkling aqua water, preferably palm trees, and if I’m really lucky, some sea turtles. Not coincidentally those attributes perfectly sum up Harbour Island, The Bahamas – my favourite place in the world. I’m looking forward to sharing the island experience and its warm and friendly locals at my photography retreat in July next year (for more details head to my website).
How would you describe your role as a photographer?
“One doesn’t just make a photograph with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved” – Ansel Adams. I see my role to observe and watch the tiny nuances of life that unfold yet often go unnoticed. I am by nature very inquisitive which probably drove my parents crazy. The same object can be viewed in so many different ways and I very much try to see and feel ‘out of the box’ in a way that can tell a deeper story behind the obvious. For me, I feel my role as a photographer is one of nurturing a feeling of authentic comfort with my clients. I believe in gut feel and intuition. This relaxed connection brings out their emotions naturally.
Do you have a favourite camera?
For professional use I use two Canon DSLRs with my favourite the 70-200mm IS lens. The zoom allows me to unobtrusively stand further away from the action without interfering with the natural flow of events. In my personal life day to day, I take photos on my iPhone8+. The portrait mode is amazing. But ultimately the “best camera” is the one that you captured an otherwise lost moment.
What, or who, do you love photographing the most?
I love photographing day to day life, not curated or contrived. I particularly enjoy photographing ‘a day in the life’ of people, for example, the extraordinary and energetic India Hicks or the insightful illustrator Kate Knapp (Twigseeds). Weddings stand alone as a unique blend of love, celebration and human interaction – and, as I often get asked, no, I can honestly say I have never had a bridezilla.
Photographer Sarah Wood
How, in your opinion, has the photography landscape changed over the last decade?
There are more photos being taken than ever before but my concern is that this generation will have the least to show for it. Despite the quantity, digital images are rarely printed and can often be lost, or devices corrupted. Each year I endeavour to collate a snapshot of my family’s life – warts and all, in a printed book. Assistance with preserving and printing digital images is a common request during my one on one tuition so they can enjoy their own beautiful images in their home.
How do you juggle work with motherhood? What kind of support do you have?
Even though I have two sons at university and one daughter at school, I like to be present for those day to day unplanned conversations that can often be some of the most important. It helps that my studio is separate to our house and is a peaceful sanctuary where I can immerse myself in my work. I like to use a lot of home delivery or service companies such as YourGrocer & Dryz for dry cleaning and ironing.
Talk us through a typical morning in your home…
My husband leaves home soon after 7.30 and drops our daughter at the tram on his way to work. With the other two children at university, there is no longer such a thing as a predictable morning, as there used to be when the three were at school all day. With university lectures and part-time work, their comings and goings now seem endless. After exercise, I whip the house back in shape and adjust plans for the rest of the day before heading into my studio.
How do you unwind at night?
We try to have as many family meals around our large American Oak dinner table (Artveneta). This can be a great way to unwind although sometimes it can wind one up depending on the various conversations and dynamics at play! I enjoy listening to audiobooks in bed although I end up missing large chunks because I’ve fallen asleep before the end of the chapter!
A selection of some of Sarah’s favourite photographs
What are three time management tips you swear by?
Time management is something that I’m forever trying to improve and I’m often on the prowl for a new app or device that can ‘solve all’! I did find a great app called Calendars 5, which allows us all to run a joint diary on the go via our iPhones. It’s colour coded and is incredibly helpful to be able to see at a glance who is home for dinner and how the week is shaping up. etc. Plan and plan again, especially for tightly timed shoots, but then there comes a time when, despite best-laid plans, one must loosen the expectations and adapt, rolling with changes as they occur. I endeavour to remember to build in space for ‘unexpecteds’ which can always occur, e.g. illness but even an unplanned phone call or delay in chasing up a supplier delivery can very quickly steal time from what has otherwise been a ‘perfectly’ planned day. Remove distraction and block off time chunks where effective hyperfocus is possible without having to multitask. I especially do this when editing a large shoot which can entail literally 1000+ images.
What is your approach to health and wellbeing?
I grew up with balanced eating but those were the days prior to how much we know now about the importance of diet and the effect it has on total wellness. I tend to be much more mindful of what fuels me – not necessarily obsessively but tipping the balance towards “clean eating” as much as possible. This includes organic fresh produce. I can’t quite totally cut out wine or my favourite cocktail, cosmopolitans, but I do actually buy organic rosé. After reading Shannon Harvey’s Book, The Whole Health Life, it became even more apparent to me that food and exercise alone are only of limited use if we also don’t address what is going on in our minds. This is where mindfulness and meditation have thankfully become a lot more accepted and adopted more widely in recent years. Added to this is the work of Brene Brown and others which highlights that vulnerability, positive emotions, gratitude, and other inner strengths lower stress, and contribute to well-being. I do my best to get the balance right but as we know, often easier said than done! For daily exercise and to give my eyes a break from the screen, I get out into nature and walk in our local, hilly, parkland. This combined with my strength training at Kieser keeps my photographic muscles strong and healthy. Previously running around at weddings with two cameras, for up to 12 hours was great exercise. I’m sure my muscles are missing it!
Sarah’s little list of loves:
Springtime and my annual apple blossom My private tuition clients – helping them to enjoy their innate creativity in not only taking great photos but also getting those memories off the computer and into print. It’s especially such a delight recently to help a home come to life with a stunning photo wall full clients images printed on matte metal & box framed at Print 2 Metal Designing my new website and choosing a selection of my favourite images which will be available to purchase in my print store Planning a fabulous programme for my upcoming Luxury Photography Retreat in the Bahamas in July next year Learning to roll with the ups and downs of living with teenagers (young adults) – another stage of parenting that despite its challenges often does bring a lot of warmth and fulfilment Laughs with old friends, even if some black humour is needed at times; I’m always up for a good laugh. Speaking of laughs Russel Coight being back on television, priceless. I’m lucky enough to be able to call our previous longterm babysitter one of my closest friends. She has just had her first baby, called Kiki, and I’m loving her to bits already. Ultimately… ‘the little things, the little moments, they aren’t little’ (John Kabat-Zinn)