If there’s one instantly recognisable movie scene, it’s Cary Grant running from a crop duster in North By Northwest. There’s only one photographer we know who’d take on the challenge of recreating it with the new Nikon D6. That’s Nikon Ambassador and wildlife and fine art photographer David Yarrow.
Lockdown Gets Creative
We asked David what first inspired him to recreate this classic Hitchcock scene from North By Northwest in South West England.
“I’ve always wanted to recreate that picture. It’s got a bit of suspense to it and we had the backdrop to tell a story. My lockdown was spent at my family home by the sea in Devon, England. The coast, anywhere in the world, offers a chance to add an extra layer of narrative to stories, and we were determined as a team to find a project that could exploit not only my knowledge of the area, but also utilise our many contacts. It was important to regard an unusually long stint in one location as an opportunity for new content and not as a threat.
There was a default position to try to be positive and energised every day. There was no alternative and, as restrictions eased, our focus intensified. I’m sure that many will identify with these emotions. I always want to attack. We were emboldened by the success of shooting a scene from The Birds to move on to recreating the single frame of Cary Grant being chased by the crop duster. It grabs the attention and holds it as well as any movie.
We don’t need to be in the Serengeti to get creative – indeed, quite the opposite. It’s in your own back yard where creativity is needed. Places like East Africa and Alaska offer such special moments that a lack of visual preconceptions can go unpunished, but not, perhaps, so much in your own back yard.”
Finding Cary Grant And A Crop Duster in Devon
There was never any hesitation for David about who could take on the role of Cary Grant, but the crop duster proved a little more elusive.
“My plan was to unapologetically replicate the shot. I hadn’t seen this attempted elsewhere, and that fuelled my desire. Stepping into the shoes of Cary Grant is an onerous responsibility and we needed the very best, so I called on David Gandy – one of the most celebrated male models of our time. I knew that David would not only relish the opportunity by also give me exactly the look that the image needed.
Replicating the crop duster was harder, due to flying regulations in the UK and the rules of basic personal safety. We explored a range of possibilities and rightly involved David in the process. After all, he was going to be at far more risk than me. The wind was a key factor and the shoot was postponed twice, as it was simply too strong – as is often the case on the Devon coast.
There are so many people to thank for making this happen, especially Nick Johnston, who allowed us to film on his estate, but the biggest credit goes to David – who really does give Cary Grant a run for his money.”
Choosing The Camera And Lens
When it came to kit, the choice was simple for David – shooting with the new Nikon D6 and one of his favourite prime lenses.
“The D6 is the most powerful camera I have ever held in my life. If you just listen to how quick the shutter is, it’s so quick. The autofocus is also very fast, which is exactly what I needed. With Nikon, it removes the blame from anyone else other than me, because it does its job. The focusing is incredibly strong.
For the lens, I went for the AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VRII. We needed to play with perspectives and the plane had to look like it was bearing down on David very closely, while still maintaining safety standards. You don’t want to be the one who puts David Gandy at risk. The 200mm is optically so strong and it compresses distance to give the feeling that the plane was very close.
I shot handheld, as I almost always do. It’s why I like the light AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens too. It allows you to shoot handheld with a longer lens. There’s a lot going on and you have to be reactive and allow for spontaneity. I always prefer handheld.”
After the first couple of attempts were called off due to strong winds, finally the ideal conditions were met.
“I prefer to shoot 45 degrees either side of where the sun is, and when the sun is low, so it had to be an evening shoot. The most important thing was that there was no wind – even more important than a great sunset.
We had a few failures before we got it right. The guy who flies the plane performs in championship air shows, so he knows what he’s doing. David nails the run every time, so it’s really about me and the plane.
The focusing on the D6 and the frames per second is stronger than anything I’ve worked with, and the autofocus is very crisp. I was using the AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VRII, which is such a sharp lens. It was chosen to compress the distance between David and the plane, because we needed it to look big and close to David.
Ultimately, it was all about collaboration: a great model, fantastic countryside, and a lot of people on the ground in the community. It proves yet again that it was a success in spite of me, rather than because of me. It’s the collaboration that makes it work.
The biggest challenge of the day was safety. It’s always more important than getting the result. You don’t want to be the guy who decapitates David Gandy.”
See Behind The Scenes
Such a monumental undertaking deserved to be recorded, giving you the opportunity to take a peek behind the scenes of the making of this iconic shot.
“The final shot, taken on the cliffs above the English Channel, could never tell the full behind-the-scenes story, so we’ve made a small film just to give proof that this actually did happen.”
Video Directors - Fuego Films https://www.instagram.com/fuegofilmsldn/?hl=en
See more of David's work at https://davidyarrow.photography