Arts & Entertainment

Stories behind the art: A chat with David Yarrow

September 13, 2023

Stories behind the art: A chat with David Yarrow

David Yarrow

Photographer and conservationist

David Yarrow, world-renowned photographer and conservationist, talks through his most famous photos.

What happens when you combine wild animals with supermodels in an old western bar? In a special episode of the Walker Webcast, we were joined by world-famous photographer and conservationist David Yarrow who weighed in on this and the stories behind many of his famous photographs.

Although best known as a photographer, David has had a rather interesting career path, as he started in banking and has spent time as a hedge fund manager. David touched on everything from watching a football match from a helicopter to how he imagines, produces, and captures his iconic images.

David’s earnings from his early photos

After taking one of the most iconic photos in the history of sports with Maradona at the World Cup Finals in Mexico City and receiving a measly royalty check of just $3, David was unsure of how much money was truly in photography. Although his next famous photo, a great white shark breaching the water to bite a seal, netted him $15,000, David realized that it cost him roughly $28,000 to capture this moment. That was when he realized that he would never be able to turn a profit if he kept operating the same way.

Turning his passion into a profitable business

Not long after David took this famous shot, he received a call from a lawyer inquiring about the photo of the great white. The lawyer wanted a large print of the photo for his law office, and when David quoted him $7,000 for one print, the lawyer happily ordered five of them. David then had the realization that to turn photography into a profitable business, he had to work at the high end of the industry, focus on taking 5-6 impeccable shots per year, and heavily restrict the number of prints.

The United States — Land of opportunity

While David has traveled the world and experienced countless cultures, he believes that the United States is still a land of opportunity. He attributes this to the tremendous amount of geographic mobility this country offers. In many countries, people are often restricted in where they can move, with a large percentage of the world’s population never moving outside of the town in which they grew up.

However, in the United States, many people have children in their 20s and 30s who have moved all over the country, sometimes thousands of miles away from where they grew up. This is a privilege that many countries (even countries in Europe) don’t have, and it opens up areas of opportunity that are uniquely American.

Capturing the true essence of photography

Although many people believe that it’s the camera that makes the photographer, that’s not what David believes. Instead, he believes that photography is all about access and your heart, as photography is an outer manifestation of your inner soul. While many believe that beauty can’t be found in places like North Korea, great photographers like David are able to capture breathtaking photos of things that many people just walk by on a daily basis. This shows itself in a captivating photo he took of a steel mill just outside of Pyongyang.

How to take a wonderful picture

David finds a lot of inspiration from a person that most would regard as one of the greatest photographers of all time, Ansel Adams. One of his favorite Adams quotes is, “You don’t take pictures; you make them.” This means a photographer might have to go to great lengths to get the perfect shot, and of course, having the right access helps with this. To take his famed photo, “Mankind”, David traveled all the way to South Sudan in the middle of a war to capture an image of the cattle camps. However, setting up the photo wasn’t as simple as hopping on a plane. David had to travel with a ladder, traversing rugged terrain and crossing the crocodile-infested Nile so he could have the proper elevation to take his famed shot.

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