The biggest mistake wildlife photographers make, says David Yarrow, “is that they ignore contextual detail in the background”. This results in what the world-famous photographer calls “loose” images. “These are caused by not being close enough to the subject. You’ve got to have your principal subject very close.”
Yarrow says he is different from other wildlife photographers in that he favours wide-angle lenses over traditional longer ones. “I practise immersive, rather than telephoto photography, which makes my style very distinctive.” In fact, the use of wide-angle lenses is what Yarrow calls his “repetitive tip”, along with need for a “well-positioned remote-controlled camera to capture dangerous wildlife”.
Invest in a camera
Yarrow has been using Nikon cameras for three decades and he has seen every iteration in its DSLR history. At the moment, the Nikon ambassador is putting the new D850 through its paces. He says that the combination of the camera’s huge, full-frame 45.7 megapixel sensor with the capacity for shooting up to nine frames per second (fps) “reduces the binary decision between sacrificing either resolution or motor-drive frequency” – a compromise he has previously had to accept.
“Because my pictures end up as very large prints”, Yarrow has tended to opt for resolution over frame rate. But the D850 “ameliorates this compromise”, he says, by offering the best of both worlds.
For the enthusiast, the key to taking their wildlife photography to the next step is investing in better equipment. “I’m always surprised to see keen photographers flying out to Africa business class, but taking with them sub-standard cameras or lenses for the job. Why not fly economy and invest the money you save in the best equipment? You should also always use primes [fixed-focal-length lenses] rather than zooms, because their performance is that much stronger.”
Know your lenses
Another tip, says Yarrow, going back to his “repetitive tip”, “ is to spend money on wide-angle lenses”. Experience has taught Yarrow that it is “very rare indeed that you’ll get a great photograph with a large telephoto lens, purely because they compress distance, and reduce the emotion and atmosphere of a photograph.”
Study the greats
Finally, Yarrow says you should spend less time reading the camera instruction manual and more “learning about the great photographers and seeing how they got things right”. He quotes legendary US landscape artist Ansel Adams, who thought that photography should be about photographers not cameras. What’s more, he says, “over the years wildlife has become boring, because there is a content overload”, adding that we seem to have forgotten that less is more. “If I can get four good photographs per year, then I am happy.”
Seriously, get close
But the advice Yarrow keeps coming back to is the importance of getting tighter proximity to the subject, at which point he quotes another of his photographic heroes, Robert Capa, who famously said that if your photos aren’t good enough you’re not close enough. “If he could get those images in on D-Day, then I should be able to do it with wildlife.”