Into the Wild

David Yarrow doesn’t take pictures; he makes them.

WORDS Jess Swanson
October 2019

All Photography David Yarrow

Critical of typical, documentary-style wildlife photography, the British fine-art photographer is known for getting up close to his subjects—even when they’re apex predators. “The biggest difference between art and reportage is proximity and emotion,” he says. To achieve that difference, Yarrow might face a charging elephant, wait for the perfect 10 minutes of light, or spend 99 hours tracking a tiger. His new eponymous book features 150 of his most compelling photographs. Here, he tells American Way the stories behind his favorite shots from around the world.

Jigokudani Monkey Park

The Japanese macaque monkey is the northernmost nonhuman primate, and they often bathe in natural hot springs. Yarrow purposely visits the site on cold days to capture the most impactful shot. During this shoot, there was limited light, so Yarrow decided to focus on the wisps of frozen hair instead of the monkey’s eyes. “It was the best chance to convey the conditions,” he says. “He looks miserable and reminds us of us,” Yarrow says of the image. “It’s human.”


When Yarrow and his team worked with an apex predator, their professionalism and precision kept the model calm during the shoot. To Yarrow, though, wolves are just “big smelly dogs,” and his inspiration for the shot was Thelma & Louise as opposed to the Big Bad Wolf. In fact, the hardest part had nothing to do with the canine, but mastering the light as it cast across the tremendous landscape of Monument Valley. “We closed the road and shot between 7:20 and 7:30 a.m.,” he says. “By 8, the light was too harsh for the photograph.”

Dinka Cattle Camp
South Sudan

The Dinka are a pastoral group from South Sudan, a country that’s been recovering from civil war. Located 200 miles north of the capital, the Dinka cattle camp wasn’t easy to reach, and took meticulous plotting to bypass red tape and miles of flood-ravaged roads. Before even arriving, Yarrow envisioned his shot to look like Dante’s Inferno. “It wasn’t easy to reach the camp,” he says. “I brought a ladder to silhouette any key detail against the smoke, which the Dinka use to fend off mosquitoes.”


“I’ve always found that giraffes look best when photographed in the company of other giraffes, but I’ve never had this number of giraffes all within 100 yards of me. This is a nice congregation—it’s almost like you’re in the center of Chicago. You also get a slight mirage effect because of the heat,” says Yarrow. “Giraffes are the least vertically challenged species of all. They remind us just how remarkable our planet is.”

Volcanoes national park

Yarrow knew that finding and photographing a rare silverback gorilla was a big ask on his part. He felt it was a numbers game: the more times he spotted a troop of gorillas, the greater his potential for achieving the close-up shot he envisioned. But after 10 encounters, he still didn’t get his shot. “They were all in the jungle and I couldn’t get close enough,” he says. His guides then suggested a new area with ridges, vistas and less dense vegetation. After a grueling 90-minute uphill hike, Yarrow spotted the troop, which was on the move. He focused on the lead silverback, moved close enough to use a relatively short 58mm lens, and got his shot.


“I’ve had a hard time photographing polar bears—you can only create art five percent of the time,” says Yarrow, who notes that though this is not a typical shot of a bear’s face, the negative space and the bear’s anonymity elevate the image. “This is a very emotional picture that means different things to different people: We are never going to see each other again, or he’s walking away to write his own story.”

Ranthambore National Park

“We were seeing a lot of tigers at watering holes, but photographing a tiger in that situation is very dangerous and you tend to be looking down on them. It’s not a good shot,” Yarrow says. After hours of driving around the park, he was getting discouraged. Suddenly his guide spotted an adult male taking shelter from the heat in a cave. “He was in the best-lit spot I can remember ever with any animal,” says Yarrow, who, as calmly as he could, set up his camera at eye level. “If the tiger moved a yard either backward or forward, the light would be gone. We kept our cool, and therefore so did the tiger.”

Jess Swanson

Jess Swanson is the senior editor at American Way and Celebrated Living. She graduated from Columbia University School of Journalism. Her reporting has taken her from the python-infested Everglades swamps to a bubbling onsen in Tokyo to a lava-spouting volcano in Nicaragua.


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