The Origin of It's Worth a Shot
I'm just gonna jump right out and say it... Most of life, I was a bit of a loser. By that I mean, I had no direction, no real passion or excitement for the future and I never excelled academically, either. I mucked around during school, spent more time in detention than I did at recess or lunch and had absolutely no interest in most of the subjects I was taking, excluding music and art. Out of the 6, or however many subjects we were forced to take during our time at school, there were only 2 that I had even the slightest amount of interest in. And guess what, they were 'creative' subjects.
So, I guess from a pretty early age, I'd always been somewhat creative. I played piano and drums throughout primary school and high school, which inevitably lead to my interest in guitar. From the moment I was old enough to hold a pencil, I was drawing, sketching or making my own comic books. That later evolved into digital art and graphic design, a career path I strongly considered taking when I finally completed high school. In fact, I even study it for 2 years, I actually have a certificate somewhere that states I have completed a Diploma of Graphic Design and Communications. But there was just something that didn't feel right for me. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy that form of creativity, or felt uninspired by it, it was more that I couldn't see myself doing it for another 40 years - or even 5 years for that matter. This left me in that state, yet again, of feeling like a loser; not knowing what I wanted to do, let alone how I was going to get there.
It wasn't until very recent years that I discovered a new passion, a passion that felt so unparalleled and life changing in comparison to those other creative outlets that I'd previously explored. That passion, as you probably guessed, was in photography. It's not just the act of pressing a button and recording a single moment in time that excites me, even though it does. It is literally every single thing about photography. From the taking of the photo to the editing of the photo and everything in between, I love it all. One thing that stands out to me above all else, however, is that opportunity I now have to share my experiences, stories and passion to people all over the world. And most importantly, inspire those people. All through a single image.
A good friend of mine, who just happened to spend a few of those detentions with me, recently asked if he could write a piece on me for an upcoming uni paper, a 'profile' if you will. I questioned his decision, but obliged with his request and answered the questions he had as best I could. It wasn't until a few weeks later that he sent me the final paper. I don't mean to sound like a tool here, but reading my experiences, in his words, made me that much more certain that this IS what I want out of life. That photography is not just a hobby, or a job - it's my life. A life that I CAN see myself exploring for the next 40 or 50 years.
Here is the paper, written by Dean Blake.
The cold bites at his fingers, surrounding the lone photographer in a vast, desolate landscape of endless winter. The night sky is surprisingly bright, the stars above shining uncontested by the harsh, overpowering light generated by modern cities, creating a cosmic scene made more beautiful by the dancing borealis above.
Through the lens of his camera, held steady by a tripod resting on the frozen earth below his feet, photographer Matt Donovan surveys the landscape for the shot he is after.
He waits; quiet and still, watching for the moment the light becomes 'just right'.
He may wait for half an hour before a fleeting moment he considers worthy arises, he might even leave with an empty camera if it never does, but the journey to find the location is often worth the effort; the photograph an added bonus.
This scene is emboldened in Matt Donovan’s mind. It is a reminder of what he strives for, day after day, week after week: to capture the incomparable beauty of nature at its best. One day, he hopes to live this dream – that of photographing one of the seven wonders of the natural world – but for now, he finds himself in a world so different from what he is used to it is forcing him to reshape, and relearn, his craft.
A seaside photographer lives and breathes by the ocean: from using the calm, serene waters to capture images of extreme tranquility, to the unbridled fury of a storm to show the destructive power of the sea. So when a seaside photographer finds himself parted from his focus, it can be a difficult situation. Such is the transition facing Matt right now, having abandoned his home of Sydney for Alice Springs – a city surrounded by red desert. The difficulties of this move are not lost on Matt, but he is determined to use it to increase his abilities as a landscape photographer.
Long ago, however, he didn’t have an interest in photography. Born in a town called Minto in the western suburbs of Sydney, Matt was moved at a young age from his school and friends to a place called Woronora Heights - a suburb in an area south of Sydney affectionately known as ‘The Shire’. The move was a literal new start for the boy - he was an only child, and therefore had no siblings to rely on in this new environment.
“It would have been cool to grow up with someone my own age around the house,” Matt tells me, "but that’s what friends are for, right?”
It was here that Matt would grow up loving skateboarding, exploring the bush-land near his house and generally enjoying his time with new friends made at his time at school.
"The Shire gets a lot of crap from a lot of people, but I honestly couldn’t think of a better place to grow up."
As Matt got older, he began to take an interest in more creative endeavors - learning to play the piano, drums and guitar, as well as deciding to take up a graphic design course in 2009, in which he took a photography elective. Although here he learned the basics of what he would one day dedicate his life to, he didn’t have much interest in professional photography until 2012.
"I started to take things a little bit further and more seriously,” he recalls, "starting a 365 project where I captured, edited and uploaded a photo every day for 1 year. This is when shit got real."
Taking a photo every day of the year sounds like a pretty simple task – but when coupled with editing the image to be the best it can possibly be, or to evoke a particular emotion, and then uploading it by the end of each day, the task quickly can get out of hand.
The images Matt captured during this year range from photographs of his various instruments, to close-up shots of spiders (probably a result of living so close to the bush). From images of his wife, to colour studies involving Matt putting himself in strange situations through clever use of Photoshop.
Toward the end of the experiment, a clear focus on landscape photography appears, with many of the final shots framing beautiful seaside landscapes captured at opportune times of the day.
Matt completed the '365 Project’ without too many issues, learning much about the intricacies and skill it takes to be a good photographer, but during this process a problem arose - he had had to teach himself much of what he learned through trial and error. The majority of photography websites chose to focus on showing the photographers product, rather than teaching aspiring photographers how to better learn the craft.
"For some reason, a lot of established photographers like to keep everything they know a secret. I’m not saying that all photographers are like this, but I wanted to be one of the ones that wasn’t".
This lack of resources was frustrating, but led to a life changing decision to start up his own landscape photography website - one that he could use to promote himself, sharpen his budding abilities as a photographer, and use as a platform to teach others the ways they can improve their own work.
It was something he hadn’t been able to find when he needed it, as he assumed countless others hadn’t before him, so he made a decision to step up and provide a service for a community he was quickly becoming a part of.
Matt created a landscape photography website, titled “It’s Worth a Shot”. It would be a place to share the knowledge he was gaining with other, like-minded photographers; where he could share his photographs with an audience who wanted to understand how, and where, he took them.
Eventually, he would begin offering one-on-one workshops, where aspiring photographers in his audience could pay to have his undivided attention and expertise to give a more on-hands learning experience.
‘Its Worth a Shot’ currently has 3,454 followers on Google+, 3,883 on Facebook, and a whopping 25,500 on Instagram. This seems like a large number for a website that has only been active for a few years, but Matt regrets that he came into these platforms later than he would have liked, since “a lot of photographers that got on early with platforms like Instagram and Google+ have made a big name for themselves. Social media platforms tend to have a first in best-dressed kind of structure.”
As much success as Matt has had with his website, he knows it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of his wife, Petrhyce – more commonly known as Pip.
“[She] was always there to help me through the confusing world of social media and starting a business as a whole. I was a creative that just wanted to be creative. I didn’t want to hear that I couldn’t just take photos and expect to make money. Today, I am not only much more savvy as a photographer, but also a businessman.”
For all of the opportunities that starting ‘It’s Worth a Shot’ has afforded Matt – from travelling to incredible destinations, to receiving brand new products for review – there is one that stands out as the best part of the job he has yet experienced.
In 2014 Matt was given an all-expenses paid trip to Dubai, courtesy of Dubai Tourism, to capture some incredible images to show how beautiful the city could be. He wasn’t alone, however, as there were 21 other ‘photography influencers’ who were tasked with the same goal.
“The trip as a whole was extremely memorable; from the 7 star hotels, VIP access to some of the most luxurious facilities, hot air ballooning over the desert at sunrise… The list goes on.”
But, Matt knew he needed to do something different, unique.
“Myself and two of the other photographers set out on our own mini adventure into the CBD in the early hours of the morning. As you could imagine, sending a large group of photographers out to shoot a location would result in some very similar photographs, but we took it upon ourselves to find that unique shot - that’s what the client wants, after all.”
Unfortunately, through an inability to communicate with their taxi driver, who spoke next to no English, the three photographers were dropped off in the middle of a highway – literally miles from where they had intended.
“With sunrise fast approaching we knew we were going to have to make a run for it. After a solid 30 minutes of running through desert-surrounded city (it’s bloody hot) we finally made it to the location - in time for sunrise, too! Even though the photo was nothing to write home about, it was the experience behind it that made the 3:30am wake up call, and 4 kilometer run across the city, all worth it!”
This trip was one of the moments that helped influence Matt’s decision, in 2015, to quit his full-time job to focus on his photography business. Leaving the promise of a steady paycheck in order to fully commit his time and energy into growing ‘Its Worth a Shot’ was a difficult decision, but it’s one that he doesn’t regret making.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and it still isn’t. Heck, it probably never will be easy. But when a business that you’ve started from scratch, literally from nothing, starts to gain traction, it’s an overwhelmingly great feeling”.
This decision was made partially due to Pip being offered a position at Northern Territory Tourism. The job would necessitate a move from the coastal city the pair had grown up in to a far more alien, desolate landscape – that of Alice Springs. It was time to leave his job, and home, for a new horizon.
Deciding it was too expensive for both of them to fly over, and to ship both cars, the pair agreed that Matt would instead drive the almost 4,000 km journey from Sydney and Alice Springs – his trip dotted with photography opportunities along the Australian coastline. It wasn’t the most efficient path, but it would allow him the chance to capture some of Australia’s most beautiful scenery, and would give him one final chance to capture the ocean before he found himself land-locked by the endless red desert.
“Leaving Sydney, my first stop was about 5 hours south in a town called Bermagui. I stayed here overnight to shoot Horse Head Rock and Camel Rock for sunrise, before I hit the road again for my 8-hour drive to Phillip Island, Victoria, where I shot The Pinnacles at Cape Woolomai.
The next morning I was off again to visit the 12 Apostles along the Great Ocean Road. I shot the sunset, and sunrise the next day, before making my way west to a very small town, just North of Adelaide, called Port Wakefield. From here on, the camera stayed in my bag and I was just focused on making it through the next two days of solid driving to Alice Springs.”
“As a landscape photographer, a place like the Northern Territory is an absolute dream, but as a landscape photographer specializing in seascape photography - it does have its difficult moments.” Matt understates the change, instead choosing to focus on the potential benefit of such a move, “I really love the challenge of shooting things that are not necessarily within my comfort zone. I think in the long run it will definitely help me progress, creatively, as a photographer.”
With such a difficult move completed, and the full-time job of growing ‘It’s Worth a Shot’ underway, Matt is free to think about the future – about living out his dream.
“I love travel, so I’d like to think I’ll be in some exotic location - photographing the Northern Lights, in the middle of the night, meters from the edge of a 60 foot waterfall. Yeah, that’s where I see myself.”
I guess what I'm trying to achieve by writing all of these words and sharing this paper, as cliche as it may sound, is to tell you that you NEED to follow your dreams. Don't be another pencil pushing, desk dwelling, office inhabitant if that's not what you want to out of life. If that is what you want, great! If I can follow my dreams, albeit a short-lived dream so far, then anyone can! Don't be scared to follow and explore your passion, because you honestly never know where it will take you. I mean, I've been fortunate enough, in the last year or so, to travel all around Australia and to the other side of the world, simply because I followed my passion. You certainly don't want to be looking back at your life, 50 years from now and thinking, "Man, I should've listened to that Matt dude." Because, don't forget; he's a loser, right?
And, guys - this is just the beginning. Nothing excites me more than to see how far I can get physically, emotionally, financially, heck - even spiritually, with this passion. Don't let fear or failure, or fear OF failure, get in your way of doing what you love.
I'm sorry if this post seems ranty or braggy, but that is not my intention. I started writing and the juices started flowing - I couldn't stop! I guess that's what happens when you're this passionate about something.