It’s a little surprising to be chatting to 21-year-old Woody Gooch as he sits in his new home in Tokyo. Surprising because this Sunshine Coast born-and-bred surf and skate enthusiast has made a name for himself for his distinctive style of moody surf imagery, and Tokyo doesn’t strike me as a surfer’s haven.
Making the “best life change” he’s ever had, Woody’s first move out of the family home in Noosa came about after realising he simply couldn’t get enough of Japan. After visiting every other month, he made the move permanent.
“The first time I moved out of home was Tokyo so it has been a drastic life change and experience as well,” he says.
As a full-time photographer Woody’s horizon is filled with exciting opportunities, and they’re not all surf-related. “A lot of people take me as a surf photographer but I’m not really just a surf photographer,” he says. “I’ve been shooting a lot of commercial work. I just did a campaign for Dior Paris in February. I’ve also done about six exhibitions in the last six months in Japan. I’ve also been doing surf missions with some professional surfers in the last six months, some in Indonesia, some in Morocco, some in America and some back home. There have been a lot of personal jobs as well.”
From shooting for high fashion labels in Paris to surfing in Asia, Woody is relishing the opportunities that his skills behind a camera are affording him. “Photography opens up so many great opportunities, meeting beautiful people and being in beautiful places,” he says. “At the end of the day, people wanting to support you because they love what you do and you get to do those two things and make a living from it; I think it’s absolutely amazing.”
Creativity is important to Woody and so he’s also careful to keep both a balanced workload and his love of photography alive by splitting his time between commercial work and his personal and surf projects.
“I’ve had some offers in the last four to five months from some really big, high-end brands that I was quite blown away with. They’ve been keeping an eye on me for the last year or so and pounced on me to see if I could accomplish some of their projects that they had coming up this year.
“I try to utilise the amount of work coming in and then pick what I want for commercial work and then making sure I have plenty of time for the personal side of my photography as well as the other side — surf trips with friends and smaller work that’s also income as well as the commercial work.
“A strict part of my life is making sure that I give myself time to do that personal work as well as the other photography. You can get burned out otherwise.”
It’s important to focus on the areas that drive his passion for taking photos, says Woody. Having creative control and being entrusted by a client with creative direction is the ideal situation. “I’m trying to pick those jobs that give me that option of being my own creative director and working on that role,” says Woody.
Woody and his younger brother were homeschooled by his parents, and so life during his younger years meant there was time for family travel, surfing and skating, and photography. “Being homeschooled gave me plenty of time to focus on my photography, which was a very important part of my life.”
He discovered photography after picking up his Dad’s Nikon D40X and shooting his friends at the local skate park. Taking photos became a natural thing for him and the self-taught photographer says the craft began to really grow on him. “I did a couple of little internships with photographers that really inspired me … I learned a lot from those guys.”
On deciding to pursue his interest in photography, Woody says it was a simple thought of: “I wonder if I can see where it can take me.”
Now, he says, “It’s been absolutely mind blowing where I’ve been, who I’ve met and the places I’ve seen. It’s happened so quickly.”
Whether shooting the ocean or not, Woody says he looks for pattern and motion for his images. “I love lots of lines and shapes, the natural things that are happening around us. It’s more like a dramatic, moody emotion that I have running through my images. Whether it’s a gentle subject or something quite fierce, I still immerse that feeling.”
Having recently returned from a Tourism NZ gig, when we talk, Woody’s next stop is Fuji Rock Festival in Japan where he’ll be taking photos of Australian band Flight Facilities. It’s then on to Europe to shoot skaters in Copenhagen. “I’m just trying to focus on each next thing,” he says. The Flight Facilities opportunity means getting a little out of his comfort zone, which he’s looking forward to.
“I’m going to have to focus on a lot of things: the crowd, the people themselves as individuals that are playing in the band. It’s one thing I’m trying to get into a lot more; photographing people correctly. I think it’s going to be a challenge to capture those in-between moments of the guys in the middle of playing their music. I’m really excited to have a test.”
When it comes to gear, Woody currently uses a Nikon D4 for action and commercial work. In his kit are the two trusty lenses that he’s maintained since he began shooting: a NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR and a NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II.
“I don’t have anything too big or anything too wide. I’m sitting in the middle of those two focal lengths. I absolutely love my 24-70. I rave about that lens to anyone that is getting into photography. It’s so useful for any subject pretty much. It can shoot action to wide mark to pretty much anything you want if it’s not too far away.”
Woody’s photography tips
- Don’t pick up a camera and expect you will make money and a career from it. It’s more important to live in the moment and see where it takes you. I believe it naturally happens if it’s meant to happen. Before you know it, people are willing to support you.
- Hard work and persistence. The two common things I’ve gone by since I was a young boy are hard work and persistence. It always pays off.
- Always shoot something that you enjoy.
- Open your wings and be open to shooting any genre of photography as well. A good photographer can photograph anything the right way; they can make people stop and stand and look at the photograph for half an hour and still find it mind blowing.
In Woody’s bag