Wildlife and celebrity photographer reveals the secrets of his most iconic shots

Jacobo Brisco, CNN

when David Yarrow Capturing one of the most iconic sports photos ever, he was, by his own admission, “just a fan of a camera.”

The 1986 World Cup final was in Mexico, and at the age of twenty, he was sitting on the side of the field. Yarrow – who has made millions from his work since then – had only started taking pictures of football matches in Scotland for a local magazine the previous year, while at university. He traveled to the World Cup as a freelance journalist, unexpectedly receiving accreditation from the Scottish Football Association after arriving. But thanks to a rule that allows every country to have a certified photographer in the field – and the fact that he was the only Scottish shooter stuck after his country was wiped out – he found himself in a fortunate place.

Immediately after Argentina beat West Germany to win the title, fans crowded into the stadium and the winning team raised its captain, Diego Armando Maradona. Yarrow rushed to the scene and snapped his now famous picture of Maradona in the air with his arms raised and smiling. The image continued to be promoted and appeared in publications around the world.

“It’s a private photo,” Yarrow said in a phone interview. “I was lucky. My wide-angle lens wasn’t great, but he looked straight at me. It showed the importance of getting close.”

Surprisingly, this did not immediately start Yarrow’s career as a photographer. In 1988, he took a job at a bank instead, and later funded his hedge fund. But when the financial crisis hit in 2008, his world collapsed. Photography was always at the back of his mind, and he began plotting his path to it as a career.

“I had financial responsibilities. I had to be a photographer who was making a lot of money to be able to take care of things in my life.” “So I spent four years working toward the day I knew I could earn enough income as a photographer that I could take that risk.”

life in pictures

The turning point came in 2015, when he took a adorable photo, “Humanity,” showing Dinka herders in a cattle camp in South Sudan. “I knew I could sell it for a million dollars,” he said. “It has depth and emotion, it’s raw, it’s deep, and it’s still probably one of my most coveted photos. And I was right: people are paying $100,000 for that one photo now.” (Yarrow usually prints his best pictures in two sets of 12 each, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.)

From there, Yarrow continued to make his name in photography by capturing more sports stars, models, landscapes and wildlife, becoming a passionate conservation activist. His new book How I Make Images is a very practical pocket-sized guide with his best tips for making it big as a photographer, but it also chronicles his journey from hedge fund manager to fine art photographer – because although he’s more famous for his wildlife work, he rejects the label.

“I have never considered myself a wildlife photographer. I am a photographer. I never understand why the subject I photographed tends to be associated with it afterwards with the word photography — it doesn’t really happen in any other profession,” he said.

Perhaps his main lesson is the importance of planning, which applies to all his great shots including “Human”, which was the result of careful staging and, most importantly, bringing a ladder to gaining advantage point.

“It was Ansel Adams who taught the world that there are two different kinds of photographers: the people who take pictures, and the people who make them — and he was the picture maker,” Yarrow said. He added that the research and the process that takes place before the camera is captured is what matters.

Another principle of his approach is that you should get up close, as evidenced by Maradona’s historical shot, as well as his many stunning photographs of adorable animals, such as leopards, buffaloes and polar bears. He said eye contact equals passion.

The book goes on to cover everything from equipment to prints (“Make it really hard to get your photos,” he said), with plenty of practical examples and a good summary of his work, mostly in black and white.

Above all, says Yarrow, the photographer must be bold, because the best photos have two main factors: that you can look at them for a long time, and they probably can’t be taken again. “The bottom line,” he said, “is to go the route that is least crowded.”

David Yarrow: How I Make Images by Lawrence King.

Add to queue: Into the wild

Read: Wild Encounters: Iconic Photographs of the World’s Vanishing Animals and Cultures (2016)

For enjoying Yarrow’s wildlife photography in a larger format, this comprehensive 2016 edition brings together all of his most significant images from his wildlife work across seven continents.

Read: Endangered (2017)

A massive book for a huge project, “Endangered” is the result of several years of photographer Tim Flach’s work documenting the lives of threatened species, including primates dealing with habitat loss and elephants being hunted for their ivory. An astonishing 180 photos, often taken against a plain black background, are presented by eminent zoologist Jonathan Bailey.

Read: Microscopic Sculpture: Pictures of Insects (2017)

Drawing on the collections of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, photographer Levon Pace has created a one-of-a-kind photographic study of insects. Using microscopic lenses, Pace imaged each sample by focusing on sections, before pooling up to 8000 different images to create each image. The result is a stunning display of insects collected from the wild 160 years ago.

Watch: Night on Earth (2020)

Filmed in locations as diverse as urban and woodland, this six-part Netflix documentary was shot entirely at night with special cameras capable of operating from the faintest moonlight and in full colour, as well as heat-sensing ones that give another world depiction of the savannah. . Filmed in 30 countries, the series’ production challenges are accompanied by a one-hour documentary (“Shot in the dark”) detailing the extraordinary technical aspects of the series.

Watch: The Green Planet (2022)

David Attenborough’s latest BBC documentary focuses on the world of plants, but makes use of some great camera technology that basically shows plants as moving and breathing objects. The main innovation is a device that allows time-lapses while photographing plants, to speed things up while still performing complex movements around a subject or forest floor, making exceptionally dynamic shots showing static lifeforms like you’ve never really seen before.

Top photo: Diego Maradona’s famous photo of Yaro in the 1986 World Cup Final in Mexico.

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