Matt Yardley – Where It All Began

I clearly remember that day that I decided to throw in the clipboard at my comfortable retail job and walk out the doors to pursue a career as a safari guide.  It was a really hot and humid day and I was dressed in formal wear which was required by the company. I had to attend to a delivery truck that had arrived and as I walked outside, I had a sudden realisation of how unhappy I was with where I was. The next day I came into work my resignation letter and forever bid farewell to my 5 year long retail career.

You see I was born and raised on a sugar cane farm in Zululand, South Africa. My days were filled with tracking wildlife, removing snares, riding motorbike, fishing, birding and so much much more, so I was never cut out for suites, ties and four walls especially after 5 years of it. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to work in nature either as a farmer like my father, or as a 'game ranger'. I went to boarding school in Pietermaritzburg at the age of 13 which was tough because it took me away from my beloved farm life and Zulu friends and family whom I loved so dearly. Towards the end of my high school stint I had to attempt to make some career choices and I flirted with ideas of becoming a Civil Engineer followed by journalist and I think I even wanted to be a radio DJ at some point. However I always knew I wanted to be in the African bush but the perception of a the bush being a career choice in those days was not ever thought of, however, before I had to make my final decision on my studies, I had an incredible opportunity to study Audio Engineering (music is a great passion) in Melbourne Australia to which I jumped at immediately. After nearly 2 years in Melbourne I returned home and took a temporary job in a retail store as a shelf packer and soon rose through the ranks. Fast forward 5 years later to "my moment" at the receiving bay and to my 'drop the mic' moment (it was probably not as dramatic as that).

The first game reserve I applied to was Phinda Private Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. I was fortunate enough to make it through the first round of interviews and was asked to join the ranger training course. I distinctly remember arriving at the Rangers training camp, getting out of the vehicle, and smelling that all familiar bush smell that I've known my entire life and seeing a Bateleur Eagle flying overhead felt poetic and thats when the realisation hit that this is exactly where I was meant to be. What my future and my career path looks like, I have no idea, but I'm happy I'm here.

Passing the guide training course was not guaranteed. You could be sent home any at any point in the six-week intense programme. I was very fortunate to make it through and I felt this was just another clear sign that it was exactly where I was meant to be. I was so in love with what I was doing. I was absolutely besotted with the natural world and the wilds that surrounded me. Great sighting after great sighting and what I quickly realised was that I was having these incredible sightings unfold in front of me with no way of really capturing them to tell the stories back home as some sightings were too grand for words. So, the obvious choice was to take pictures of the sightings, right? But I had no money. As in no money! Luckily a friend of mine at the time lent me one of his very cheap cameras. A cheap no name brand “point and shoot” camera. All I could afford at that point was a memory card, and so I bought myself a 16 gig very slow SD card and began taking pictures. Needless to say, the first couple of pictures I took were over saturated, terribly composed, overexposed and noisy but I was happiest when I had a camera in hand. And it wasn't long before the penny dropped that this is the growth that I've been looking for, and this is the passion that I want to pursue.

I still very new in the industry and so salaries and tips weren't great (arguably because my guiding wasn't so great at this point) so what I would do instead is take my SD card from friend to friend and borrow camera after camera, learning the intricacies of each one I borrowed. I had no editing software and no way of improving these photographs so what I shot, is what I got. Yet still, with little experience and only a handful of photographic skills. I went to the head Rangers and management and put my hand up to drive and guide photographic safaris. My theory was simple. If I drove photographers then I could learn something from them? Lucky for me management allowed me to explore this idea of mine (to which I am eternally grateful) and the plan worked like an absolute charm. I drove some amazingly talented photographers from all sorts of backgrounds and different styles of photography, and I became a sponge to their tips and lessons shared. It wasn’t long before I became more comfortable in guiding and photography skills.

I was now at a level in my photography that I felt it was time to buy a camera. So I saved what I could and bought a Canon 70D and a 70 - 300 mm kit lens. Around the time that I bought this camera, I started to learn more about photographic companies and how to take photographs by watching them online and social media was starting to boom so it was also around this time that I discovered fine art photography. This once again revolutionised the way I looked at photography and was fuel to my flame. I found that fine art was such a great way to portray emotion from those sightings that I once could not describe in words. Now with my confidence bursting I began to wonder what it may be like to be a photographic guide like I had seen on social media and the internet.

A few years went by when one day I came across Wild Eye on social media for the very first time. You could see from the beginning they were different from other companies and there was definitely something special in the way they did things. Over the years that followed I started bridging the gap between my fantasy and the reality of actually becoming a wildlife photographic guide all the while keeping a very close eye on what the guides at Wild Eye were doing on social media as I saw them as my benchmark in photography and guiding. Eventually the moment of truth arrived when the life's plans and timing allowed me an opportunity to open my own photographic guiding and private guiding business. For two years I battled it out as all start-up businesses do and learned so much about the industry. When I learnt that Wild Eye were looking for guides, I jumped onto it with no hesitation. This was a dream of mine from all those years ago but why leave my own some what successful business for Wild Eye? For me, it was simply a case of why not? For years I have looked up to them as industry leaders and now I have an opportunity to join them. When it was decided that I was to join the team I realised the power in that decision that I had made.

As I recall my journey from care free farm days to where I sit now, memories come flooding back in huge waves and I can only sit here in absolute gratitude and bewilderment of how I got so lucky. To think that I am exactly where I dreamt I would be and to think that I get to share what I love most with guests from all over the world is far beyond anything I could have imagined. Wild Eye has opened up the entire world to share and explore. I now have the same feelings as the day I arrived at the guide training camp and to be able to say that this is just the beginning, makes me wild with excitement.

Lion On Safari
Wild Eye - Matt Yardley Gallery Image

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8 thoughts on “Matt Yardley – Where It All Began

  1. Sharon Yardley

    says:

    Beautiful life story, how few of us find our absolute passion!

    • Matt Yardley
      says:

      Thank you so much 🙂

  2. Victoria

    says:

    Wow !what an amazing and beautiful journey Matt, love your inspiring story , thank you for sharing. It’s so awesome

    • Matt Yardley
      says:

      Thank you so much Victoria.I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Alan and Gill Smith

    says:

    You were made for this life you have. Privileged to know you and we wish you all the very best.

    • Matt Yardley
      says:

      Thanks so much Alan and Gill. Really appreciate it and look forward to seeing you in the bush again.

  4. Grant Fowlds

    says:

    great Blog- well done Matt and to Wild Eye for choosing a talent! Goodluck in the Same field but with a new brand

    • Matt Yardley
      says:

      Thanks so much Grant. Really appreciate it.

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