Derek Yarra

Colorful life experiences such as BMX racing and touring worldwide with a band galvanized Derek’s start in photography as he documented his travels. Photography eventually became his full-fledged passion and he’s been creating images ever since. Check him out below.


 Say hello to Derek:

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Where are you from?  Where have you been?

I am from San Francisco. I grew up here in the Bay Area and have been living here in the city proper for just about ten years. I haven’t lived anywhere else, though I did spend a number of years in my early twenties touring in bands and spending the majority of my time living in a van and traveling all over.


What’s your favorite place in the world?

My favorite place is the Marin Headlands, just over the Golden Gate Bridge. There are hills, wildlife, a beach, and it’s an amazing escape just minutes out of the city. I am a cyclist and spend a lot of time riding over there.  It’s just an incredibly calming and beautiful place to be.

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What’s on your “bucket list” of ideas to create?

I don’t know exactly if I could call it a bucket list, but right now, most of my work is based off of singular sessions or assignments. I would like to push myself to start doing more work that is project or series based – more cohesive bodies of work rather than just individual images. I have a number of ideas floating in my head and starts to projects like this, but I need to get a little more focused on them and bring them to life, ha.


How would you describe your visual style?

I consider my style to be impactful, highly stylized, and sometimes cinematic.  I generally like a lot of texture and detail, especially if it’s more of an environmental image, and tend to use a lot of depth of field, using light and contrast to guide the eye and set the tone. I like my images to capture a strong sense of feeling, whether it be tense and moody or fun and quirky.


How do you find your inspiration?

It really can come from anywhere. As a portrait photographer, I am generally inspired by people – by their stories, what they do, where they’re from, what they’re going through. But sometimes, I can be inspired more visually or conceptually, and that can also come from a variety of places. I get inspired by films, other kinds of art, places, and stories.


Do you get photographer’s block? If so, how do you overcome that?

Yes, it’s tough but I’ve found the best way to get out of it is to just force yourself to shoot. Even if you don’t have a real plan or nothing comes out of it, just getting the juices flowing and getting back behind the camera really helps. For me, having momentum really helps to just consistently shoot and having fresh work helps keep me motivated. Last year, I did this little series for just that reason. I forced myself to get off my ass and do this quick little series on my friends who were getting ready to fly across the country for a bike race. That series actually ended up getting me a couple editorial assignments. I wrote about it here.

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You have a diverse background, including BMX racing and touring as a guitarist – tell us about those experiences.

My brother and I were always really into riding bikes and jumping off ramps and stuff. When I was ten years old, our dad took us to check out a local BMX race and we were instantly hooked. Just watching these guys (and girls!) sprinting around the course and racing each other over these big jumps and huge banked turns, I knew I had to do it.  So I raced BMX pretty seriously throughout my teenage years and that kind of evolved into other kinds of riding and racing. I still to this day race mountain bikes and cyclocross pretty competitively. Actually, until fairly recently, I was pretty focused on trying to make it as a pro cross country mountain bike racer. Music was kind of going on along side of all of that – I was into punk and metal at a young age and started playing guitar in middle school and instantaneously was trying to start bands. Initially cover bands and eventually bands actually doing our own music. All through high school, I was either going to shows or playing shows every weekend. After high school, my band started doing small regional tours  and eventually a national tour before breaking up. Through that band, I had made connections and friends, and was asked to join another band that had been hitting things pretty hard and had just signed a pretty big record deal. I went on to play and tour full time with them for a couple years. We did everything from numerous US tours to international tours in Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Russia.


Tell us about your career.  How did you get into it?

I was taking a lot of photos, both while on tour with the band and while travelling for bike races to upkeep blogs I had for each of those things. They were generally just bad snapshots on cheap cameras or phones, not really thinking much of it. A little later on, I was given a camera as a gift and a crash course on how exposure works. From there, I really started getting into it. I continued taking photos for my bike racing blog, but got into other kinds of photography as well. Eventually, I was really drawn into the more high-end magazine photography and got really into learning about lighting and bigger productions. And well, that pretty much continued on to where I am now.


What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?

I’m not really sure what the exact moment was, but it was in that I first started using strobes and artificial light. It was just so amazing to have so much creative control over the look and feel of an image, and I just really fell in love with it. I knew it was what I wanted to do.


Photography is competitive.  How do you stand out?

That’s a tough one. Especially in this day where there are so many photographers – so many good photographers, and there is so much access to consume photography, I think it’s getting harder and harder to really have a unique look and style. I guess I would say don’t get too preoccupied about standing out and just make work that you really love – make it a goal to always do it the best you can. From there, be a professional and a person others want to be around. Have solid work, build a reputation as being fun and easy to work with, and learn how to market yourself and get your work out there – this is what will get you places.


What is the best thing a model can do to make the most of a photoshoot?

Really, just be relaxed, fun, and open to creating. I do think a lot of that has to come from the photographer and making the shoot a comfortable and fun environment for everyone.


What was your most memorable photoshoot?

As you know, I had a deep background in cycling. Last year, I went to Italy for a week to photograph for a cycling client, Above Category. One of the assignments was visiting a very legendary bicycle frame builder, Dario Pegoretti. He is known for having built bikes for many Tour de France racers and other pros, back before everyone was racing carbon bikes, and now builds custom bikes for consumers. He’s also known for having a pretty big personality. I had really admired his bicycles for years so getting to actually meet him and photograph him was pretty incredible.

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How do you bring out your model’s personality in a shoot?

For me, it’s pretty circumstantial. Every shoot is different and every person is different, and what you’re trying to get out the photo is different. It requires a bit of reading the person, knowing how to quickly get a feel for how they communicate, and adapting as needed. I like to be pretty conversational, and if I don’t already know them, I try and learn something about them. It’s really important for me to establish a personal rapport as much as I can and put the person at ease. Usually, that helps bring a person’s guard down and open them up to working with you. While that’s ideal, it is not always the case and you have to come up with other ways to pull a moment or expression out of someone.


What kind of gear do you have?

I primarily use Canon DSLRs as well as a Mamiya 645 medium format film SLR, but I also have a Fuji x100t for travel, everyday stuff. Honestly, I’m not too particular about cameras. Canons are just what I’ve always used. I also use a mix of Elinchrom monoblocks and Ranger Quadra packs. I absolutely love my Quadras. I mean, light is light and I’d make do with any strobe kit, but these have just worked really well for me and are super portable. I use a decent assortment of Elinchrom modifiers as well. It’s hard to pick a favorite as they’re all different tools for different looks.


What’s one lighting tip you’d like to share with other photographers?

Whether you want to shoot in the studio or natural light outdoors, light is light, so I think it’s really important to just understand the physics of how light works. Learn it, know how to find it, modify it, or create it. That way, it will never be a limiting factor in your creativity.


Do you have any projects you’d like to show off?

Like I said, one thing I’d like to improve on is actually having work that is more project based. That said, I have been doing a project this year called, When Friends Drop by the Studio. I’ve basically just been trying to book time with friends to hang out and either stay in touch or get back in touch, catch up and take their photo. It’s serves both as a way to maintain friendships, as well as test new lighting looks or different film – it helps me stay motivated between shooting jobs. You can check it out here.

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What will you be doing five years from now?

Hopefully what I’m doing now, just at a bigger and better scale. I’d love to be shooting a healthy mix of commercial jobs and editorial jobs for higher profile magazines, as well as more personal projects and having gallery shows. I’d also like to get more experienced with directing motion projects. Music videos would be really cool.


For anyone that wants to get in touch with Derek, here’s some contact information:

FStop: Profile

Website: www.derekyarra.com

Facebook: Profile

Instagram: @derekyarra

Tumblr: Page

500px: Profile


Derek, thanks so much for taking the time to interview with us!

If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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