Wildlife photography as art
For most people making a living off photography is a dream and quite a few people keep chasing their dream and shooting all kinds of photographs without relooking at the philosophy behind their photographs.
Yes. Learning photography is just not enough – there is a philosophy that needs to shine through the pictures and only then will there be a value to them. This applies to any kind of photography – wildlife photography, portrait photography, wedding photography or any other.
David Yarrow is a photographer whose photographs sell for as much as £ 14,000 (Source: The Daily Mail) How did he do this? By rethinking the way he took photographs! He thought of Robert Capa's quote “If your photographs aren't good enough, you are not close enough!” and changed his way of shooting. He says that if you are into wildlife photography and you are “looking down” on your subjects – then they are nothing but snapshots that you can show to your children.
To turn his photographs into works of art that sell for astronomical amounts, he really gets up close and personal to his subjects. He takes photographs by placing his cameras really close and triggers them via remote.
In this interview given to YouPic, he talks about all this and much more that defines his photography. GMax Studios is proud to be associated with YouPic in bringing you this interview with David Yarrow. Watch it to truly get inspired. We guarantee it will inspire you – no matter what kind of photography you do.
TRANSCRIPT OF THE VIDEO
[SOUND] [MUSIC] We bring together for you, the best photographers in the world. [MUSIC] >> Andy Warhol said, my favorite color is white and my favorite color is black. So use the whites, use the blacks, don't have fifty shades of grey. We'll have that as well, but use the blacks and use the whites.
[MUSIC] I got fascinated in sharks because I felt that sharks hadn't been photographed well. After about 30 hours dedicated in the water to this, I got the big shot of the shark and a seal. And I still think it's the strongest picture of shark predation that I know, and it's pin-sharp.
[MUSIC] And then someone said to me, do you see that picture in the Daily Telegraph, can I get a big one for my office? Because I want anyone that comes into my office to be very scared of me, and the best way of doing that is to have a big shark eating something behind my desk.
And he said, how much would it cost? I said, I don't know, but we'll put in a nice frame may be for 5,000 Pounds. And he said, okay, I'll have two. And that was when the penny dropped that the way to make money from my kind of photography was in fine art. Producing limited edition fine art prints that were aesthetically strong enough, or evocative enough that people would put them on their wall.
[MUSIC] I think the mistake a lot of photographers, wildlife photographers make is that they go on a trip without any specific idea of what kind of African animal they're gonna be shooting. And for me you go, you choose the animal, and then you know where you're gonna go to photograph the animal.
And by far and away, the best place in the world to photograph elephants is Amboseli. Wildlife photographers, many of them use telephotos far too much. If you're gonna be photographing a beautiful woman, you're never gonna shoot her with a 400 millimeter lens or even a 200 or a 300.
You'd shoot her with a standard lens or a wide angle, and it should be the same with animals. It's then just the logistical issues, how you get yourself in a position to do that whilst remaining safe. [MUSIC] The great beauty of elephants is there's no animal where their predicted path can be determined with greater clarity and assurance than an elephant, they tend to walk in straight lines.
So if you see a herd walking across a dry lake, you get 200 yards ahead of them, and you know probably where they're gonna, within a yard, where they're gonna come. You got the peak of Kilimanjaro peaking out over the top of the clouds, and the light's getting better every five minutes, these are probably not bad circumstances.
You can see the big guy with that big tusk over there on the left, sadly that's about 8 grand in the local market, and that's 60 grand in China. You put the remote down, and you prefocus and then you get the hell out of there, so that they're in no way detoured by you. And they probably don't see the camera until they're about a foot and a half away from it, which is perfect because that's what you want.
So you want proximity and a ground level perspective. Okay, so I'm gonna get out of the car, I'm gonna set up the remote. [MUSIC] I walked into a little bit of elephant manure. Okay, let's get out of here. [MUSIC] Okay, let's go and grab it. [NOISE] There's nothing I wanna do less than photograph with blue sky and sunshine.
I want moody, almost sort of impending doom in the skies, and you get that in Amboseli in October. It's the best canvas on which to paint with light, and take pictures of anywhere in the world I think. [MUSIC] The behavior of elephants has changed because of cattle. Because the Maasai brought their cattle in, in big numbers into the park, and that's resulted in more humans and more lions.
So the elephants don't behave in the way that they used to, and lake crossings are rarer. [MUSIC] I position scouts on the hills overlooking Amboseli dry lake, and as soon as they see the beginnings of a herd crossing the lake, we'll find out. And on this occasion it was the middle of the day, which doesn't tend to suit my style because the sun's too high, but gratifyingly there was quite a lot of cloud cover, and it was a big herd, it was 25 elephants, and I didn't even have my photographic clothing on.
I was just hanging around in swimming trunks and loafers, but we charged there to the lake, and must have been going goodness knows what speed. And this series is about 15 minutes, but there was one lovely moment where I was lying on the ground, and the elephants were about 60 yards away from me, and they just didn't know whether to go left or right of me.
They don't tend to charge there because there is no vegetation, so they're not surprised, they know the human is there. The time you gotta be careful of an elephant is when you surprise it, but in Amboseli you're quite safe, relatively. And they just huddled together, and I knew as soon as when I pressed the trigger, I thought this composition is coming together rather nicely.
And then when I got back, I knew I'd got a very big image. [SOUND] My approach is two-fold. Firstly, that you have to be close, and borrowing from Robert Capa, if the pictures, if they're not good enough, you're not close enough. Ansel Adams also said that the lens looks both ways.
It's truer and truer as the lens gets shorter and shorter. I don't think the lens necessarily looks both ways with a 400, it's more likely to look both ways with a 50 or a 35, just staring right back into your soul. I think also if you're photographing a dangerous animal, if your line of sight is higher than the eyes of the animal, that immediately hints at an artificial encounter.
It hints at the fact that you're higher than the animal. No more so than Polar bears, and I've wasted so much time photographing Polar bears. Because normally if a Polar bear comes up to a boat, and you photograph it from the deck looking down at the Polar bear looking up at you, that's just pulp.
There's nothing interesting in that photograph, other than for it to show your kids when you get home. So we did a lot of research as to the best place in the world to photograph Polar bears, and for me to get close and be safe. And we found a place where for about a week, there's very strange behavior in that the Polar bears seem to be in collaboration with the humans because the Inuits are whaling, and they bring whales in.
And the bears now know that the humans are their friends because they can feed off the whale carcasses, and for about two weeks you can get very close to the Polar bears. And there's one picture I've got which was printed in the Telegraph recently and sells very well, where I actually managed to take a selfie of myself in the Polar bear's eyes because I was a foot and a half away.
And I had an Inuit fisherman behind me saying, I think you're okay with this one, and it was almost the ultimate example of putting trust in someone else because the Polar bear was two feet from my lens. [MUSIC] I think with lions, again I want to photograph lions from the ground up.
But a remote control is very much the way that I like to photograph dangerous animals, I can't really see any other way to do it. You gotta be a bit careful because the cameras can be eaten. Or Nikon are fed up with me because whenever I bring it back, a damaged camera, normally you've got all these boxes to tick like dropped it, or it fell in the water, and I have to fill in new things like kicked by elephant.
[NOISE] Or eaten by a lion. So they find it quite, [LAUGH] Whenever I go down to see them in Richmond they go, which box are you gonna tick this time? But they quite enjoy it because I guess it's a different experience for them trying to mend a lion-eaten D4S, or whatever. The key to strong photography of the kind that I do, not doing a fashion shoot for Vogue, is access.
It is about putting in the spade-work logistically and research-wise to find yourself in the right position at the right time, to then use that conduit, and use your heart and your brain and your eye. But those things are all secondary to getting yourself in that position, whether it be with an individual, whether it be with a dangerous animal, whether it be in a scene.
And so I think the actual art of pressing the trigger is maybe 5% of the job, 95% of the job is finding yourself in the position where you want to then go and take the trigger. I'm just trying to get the silhouettes with the dust flying up, which is quite scary. [SOUND] Nearly, bloody nearly.
Not quite, I think nearly. And I also admire photographers who understand that if they come back from a trip with 200 good photographs, that's too many. I think plurality is the bane of many photographers. I think I've taken this year, this year, I think maybe 4 good pictures, and maybe 2 really, really strong pictures that will stand the test of time.
So that's 6, 6 in 12 months. I know people will look and say, [LAUGH] Well, that's not very good. [LAUGH] But the whole point is that's what you're looking to do. If it was that easy, then how on earth could you be selling a picture for a huge sum of money, if you can just leave Heathrow on Monday, and take a picture on Tuesday? You can't.
[MUSIC] [SOUND] Be inspired, be better, be great. [BLANK_AUDIO] [SOUND].