This week I welcome George Weir. George is a Scottish born photographer who took his photographic talent to the US in 1982. American Photo magazine described him as 'unique even among photojournalistic shooters.' He has been a photographer for 30 years and has been shooting weddings for 12. These interviews are all about photographers pushing this industry to the next level with their business skills, passion for the still image and the desire to help others succeed. George is definitely one of them.
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Tell us a little bit about George Weir?
I’m the seventh child of the seventh child, (oh so close to having the gift of second sight) Born, raised and educated in Scotland, came to the US with Carol, my wife in 1982 with five suitcases & a few dollars. I have worked professionally as a full-time photographer for more than twenty-five years. We have three children, two dogs, two cats and a turtle.
Where is home?
Bayonne, New Jersey and Lancaster, Pennsylvania
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home?
In or near Edinburgh, Scotland.
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?
Wonderful and creative, I just cooked a new dish tonight “Strip-Tease”, Fillet mignon, garlic, onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli and other good stuff.
Did you go to school to study photography?
Yes, I studied photography at Napier in Edinburgh, living and breathing photography a truly great three years.
How long have you been a photographer?
How long have you been a wedding photographer?
This is my twelfth year shooting weddings.
What or who got you started in wedding photography?
It was a deliberate decision. I was an ophthalmic photographer, for fifteen years, I was doing very well as a CRA, (Certified Retinal Angiographer) with a good income and great challenges to keep me thinking, learning. I shot my first digital images in 1985 and when the very first Nikon/Kodak DSLR showed up in the USA I had the opportunity to use it at the Centre for Creative Imaging in Maine. In the mid-nineties however, I could see the way health care was going and that there were limited opportunities for further advancement so while working on an extended contract in the middle-east I took the time to research & decide between editorial and weddings. Weddings won.
How would you describe your style?
My style is simply the way I see life; moments, emotions, light, shape, or art if you will, and this is all bundled into the self-imposed challenge to capture & produce images that others don’t see.
How many weddings do you average per year?
In my first year photographing weddings I shot 14. Since then I’ve shot as many as sixty in one year and now I’m comfortably shooting around 35 or so.
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
What’s really important for me rather than any particular brand is that the body is full-frame and that it works for me. At the moment Canon 5D’s fit the bill.
Do you have some wedding images you can share with us?
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?
My light meter and yes the quality of in-camera meters today is exceptional however using an incident or a spotmeter forces me to slow down and think about what it is that I’m seeing and shooting. Using my meter to determine my exposures also gives me much more consistent results in some instances.
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
A high quality, fast 35mm lens would be my first choice as it is one that I’m very comfortable with.
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
Back of my hand
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding? I don’t use reflectors, nor do I use any video light. I never use flash during ceremonies.
With my preferred style of shooting, I use the natural, or dare I say it, the available, light as much as possible. I like slow shutter speeds, I like wide apertures. When working with the available light I’m very much aware of just how low, or slow, I can go with each lens. I rarely shoot above 1,000 ISO. It takes a lot for me to set the ISO above 800. The correct body stance, holding the camera, breathing and shooting slowly and deliberately all contribute a lot to how I shoot.
When shooting the portraits I will often use the back of my hand to asses the light and then position myself and my subjects to make the best use of it.
Flash – I do bring a few strobes with me on every job.
I use them when I just know that I really can’t get away without some supplemental light. In other words; if I suspect, even for a nanosecond, that later when I’m working on a file I’m going to wish I’d used some strobe, then I’ll pull one out and use it. That’s usually for the formal portraits or if I really do need some fill in bright sun. For the last couple of years I’ve been shooting with less to no flash at all during receptions.
When it comes to actually using the strobes, I’m using; my shirt, 3x5 cards, walls, my hands or whatever to achieve the results I need. I don’t have any cut-down milk cartons or other attachments.
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
Fresh coffee and silence go hand in hand with Photomechanic.
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
Like trays in a darkroom, it’s difficult to produce prints without either of them so PS is important as a means of replicating my darkroom style.
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?
I use a couple of Jeff Ascough’s actions in combination with a couple of PixelGenius ones, all of which are slightly modified for my tastes. Plug-ins? I don’t think I have any, oh wait I do have Noise-Ninja, I used it last year ☺
Are you a MAC or PC lover?
I love both. Neither is better. I’ve been a MAC user in the past however I’m using PC’s now. It makes no difference to me.
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on?
I’m happy with the camera equipment I have right now. I’ll be upgrading some computers etc. I’m about to switch to projection from plasma image display in my gallery, this will tie-in well with some imaging ideas I’ve working on for a while.
I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow, can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding? CF Cards are numbered and used in sequence; they stay on my belt until I arrive home. Cards are downloaded to Master Folder sorted by capture time. I first do a hard “Edit-in”, tagging the keepers, and colour coding as I go, 1=Color, 2= B&W. At end of first run through I select the untagged ones and delete them. I leave the images alone for two days, then I come back and, with a fresh eye repeat the hard edit and again delete the inverse, or untagged images. I now rename and back up to local drives. Then I sort by color code. Use ACR to convert to jpegs. Run two batch actions; one for my colors and other for my B&W. This Master-Edit is processed, posted online for proofing and backed-up on and off-site.
I use Queensberry albums, what wedding albums do you supply your clients with and do you design them yourself or outsource the design?
All my albums are custom made for me by Laguna. I design them myself, no templates plenty of fresh coffee.
How do you feel about cropping an image?
People talk about inspiration, often without saying what, if anything the result of that inspiration was.
What inspired me about Cartier-Bresson’s work was his use of the entire frame. I spent years in the darkroom printing every frame as shot, using a filed down neg holder. As a result of this I’m at the stage now where I see the final image before I raise a camera to my eye and know which lens will do the job and I know if I need to step left, right, move forward, crouch down or stay where I am to fit the image I see into my cameras. I rarely crop.
I choose photographers for these interviews because their work really inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery? Leonard Cohen’s music is always close by, for example listening to “Dance me to the End of Love” always conjures up images in my mind as does the music of many others Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
I draw inspiration from people like Marc Riboud, his “50 Years” portfolio is simply stunning and makes me revisit my thoughts and feeling on vertical images for example.
August Sander: Again, simple portraits done incredibly well and with tremendous respect evident in each and every frame.
What has been your most memorable assignment and why?
Oh gosh, there have been more than a few that have provided me with long lasting memories, one that really sticks out? I’ll never forget a wedding I shot about six years ago in Western Maryland. I thought I had arrived a day late and missed the wedding! I hadn’t. I thought I was in the wrong location. I was. There was no cell phone service. The nearest public phone would not accept coins. The wind was howling and the rain was lashing down in horizontal sheets as I reversed the charges to the only number where I might contact someone. As I waited for the call to go through I wondered what I could possibly say or do to rectify the situation. The bride answered and when she heard my voice she asked “How does everyone look?”
The couple had changed to the ceremony location! The bride’s letter to me informing of the new location went to three different states before arriving in my office three weeks after the wedding! The bride was running late, she was ten miles away as was I. GPS was non-existent. I did arrive at the correct location a few minutes before the bride. Despite the ceremony being held in an open structure it was still the darkest ceremony I have ever photographed and was the only time I can ever recall shooting my Leicas on a tripod.
The reception was in a very cold historic barn, the guests were dancing in winter coats. I dropped my Noctilux lens ☹
The father of the bride gave a toast which left not a dry eye in the house, including mine, the man was a masterful speaker and his words still resonate in my memory. I still have a copy of that album in my office as a sample. It was a truly memorable wedding.
If you could shoot a wedding with someone who would it be and why?
Not to compete, rather to compliment I’d like to shoot with Jeff Ascough as his style, though different, is somewhat similar to mine.
Also I would really like to shoot one with Mel Digiacomo.
A couple of years ago Mel called me up out of the blue, we had a lovely conversation and he then kindly sent me some images which I love. He’s recently started a wee blog and I very much enjoy his images, I like his “eye”.
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on wedding assignments?
My preference is to shoot solo although I do enjoy it when my son Tom shoots with me, he also has a great “eye” and he often surprises me, well floors me would be a more apt word, with his images.
How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients?
Currently too many! I maybe capture about 1,200 – 1,500 and now show 400 +/- to clients.
Where would be your dream destination wedding?
I’ve travelled many miles, and experienced different cultures as a photographer. When a client books me then that’s the dream destination for me. My job is to then make it theirs.
What are your favourite two images you have shot recently? Can you describe their creation in regards to location, lighting, composition etc, also your thoughts when creating the images and what they mean to you?
This image was captured last October in the Catskill region of New York State. The bride had gone to “check” on her dad and see how he was doing. I followed a few minutes later and stood quietly in the doorway as I observed them practising their dance moves. I knew that if I entered the room their behaviour would possibly have changed so I hung back and fired a few frames. Lighting was as I found it. 400 ISO, 1/60 @ 3.5, manual.
This was shot at a beach wedding in New Jersey a couple of minutes after the ceremony had ended. On a bright sunny day, such as this was, I knew that I’d have needed a truckload of lighting gear, well more than I was willing to carry anyway, if I was to attempt to use fill-flash to any effect. So I used my incident meter and shot at 50 ISO. I’m pleased with the overall composition of the frame and how it captures several activites: the boy in the foreground, the “Uncle Bob” taking his wife’s photo while she is looking at the bride and groom in the background. For the record, no, the seagull’s shadow is not a composite
How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your Canon 5D?
Getting people to relax in front of my camera was one of the huge lessons I learned when photographing ophthalmic patients. The criteria are very similar; Both have a limited time available to shoot great images and no re-shoots are possible. One can’t concentrate on the task at hand if one is not completely confident in one’s equipment. If that sounds like I’m throwing a little Zen stuff in there so be it (Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is still one of the greatest books ever written).
However my point is that one can’t even begin to think about portraits until all the other elements, equipment, personalities, one’s own and those of the subjects are in place.
Once they are then it’s easy to devote all ones energy into creating and capturing decent portraits.
As far as the bride and groom go I started preparing them well before the wedding by suggesting a plan for the formals. I obtain their “buy-in” or support if you will. Come the wedding day it’s easy for me to execute this plan when the receiving line finishes or at the appropriate time. I kick-in the Scottish accent, raise my voice, introduce myself and let everyone know that I promised the Bride & Groom that we’d do two hours of work in 17, 19 or 26 minutes. Big smiles all around. Then I work quickly and deliver what I promised.
Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it?
Well as Robert Burns said; “foresight may be vain: The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley”
Things are going to go wrong, schedules are going to change, cameras and lenses fail or are damaged periodically. I smile and go roll with the blows adapt and when necessary use the back-up.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings?
Ten years ago it was incorporating “my look” into the images that clients were expecting. Five years ago, it was producing albums that I was happy with. Today, it’s keeping the “professional” in the wedding photography industry.
What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now? Awash with a profusion of photographers who, because of; a lack of experience coupled with uncertainty are producing images that are often flawed, and look indistinguishable from so many others and are often promised at non-sustainable pricing levels. In five years? I see an integrated media and a market looking for different imaging. This is indeed an exciting time to be a professional photographer.
A wedding photographer who inspires you?
I communicate regularly with Paul Gero, Tim Zielenbach, Matt Gillis & Mike Leslie who all inspire me with their words of wisdom.
It’s almost that time of year for a Taylor family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say - he took my portrait?
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
If I’m thinking about the portrayal of elegance Norman Parkinson. Great Portraits? Irving Penn
Documentary Photography? Larry Burrows, Paul Fusco and Don McCullin
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
This past January I was at Mystic4 in CT. I gave an abbreviated version of my “Sees, Shoots and Leaves” presentation.
Do you have any workshops or seminars planned for the future?
Yes. I have “Sees, Shoots and Leaves” a series of in-depth discussions based on the premise of helping photographers get past some hurdles. It is not sponsored by any third parties so there are no plugs, and no actions or DVD’s for sale. I currently have dates scheduled for April, July and November. I have also added a three dates for July in Scotland and England to coincide with a European shoots I have on the books.
I will also be returning to CT next January and giving another presentation at Mystic5, which I'm very much looking forward to.
What photographic organizations do you belong to?
One way you market George Weir Photography?
Delivering great service to my clients and from that Word of Mouth.
Do you advertise? If so where?
Again Word of Mouth works well for me.
How important is an awesome website for your business?
Very, apart from one brief foray into the realm of outside design etc. I have designed my own site for the last ten or so years. My rankings have been very high for my Philadelphia markets site, and my new New York site is almost ready to launch. Doing my own design affords me a lot of control which I am not yet ready to relinquish.
If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a marine biologist studying the great white shark during the day and a CIA agent during the night. What would you have been?
I realize that each great photographer has a particular penchant or love for photographing a particular subject whether it be nature, portraits, sea or landscapes, shadow and light, etc. as a result I would love to have you talk about and share whatever images you feel appropriate of your own private obsession in the magical world of photography.
This one has long been a favourite of mine, it was shot many years ago with a half-frame camera. I see it every day, it hangs in my office, gives me peace and brings me great pleasure.
I shot this in Edinburgh, from the top of one bus looking into another. What this image reminds me of is that one must have respect for ones subjects and also that there is, I believe a necessary, implied consent when shooting so called “street photography”.
Photographed in the Bahamas when I was dragged, almost kicking and screaming I might add on a cruise. Oh how silly we men sometimes are. It was a superb vacation on personal and professional levels. I took some time each day to simply wander and shoot whatever I felt like. I was relaxing and energizing, I started to “see” a lot more.
Periodically I’ll set myself a project to shoot some activity repeatedly over a period, maybe weeks, maybe months, whatever it is I’ll return to the same place or event and shoot with one body and one lens, and one small CF card.
A couple from a series I’ve recently started on the faces of Bayonne. Lewis and his son at the barber shop and another one from the car wash.
New York is one of my favourite places. I often take one body and one lens with me when I go into New York. On this occasion I took the 24mm just for practice.
Lately I have wanted to photograph silverback gorillas in the Republic of Congo. Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?
I’m currently working on a couple of projects, one here in New Jersey documenting the “Faces of Bayonne” and the other is a pipe-band in Philadelphia. I’d also greatly enjoy going back to Saudi Arabia and spending two weeks documenting the Janadirayah Festival. Time permitting this summer I hope to return to the West Coast of Scotland and spend some time photographing the area and people where I grew up.
When I was 2nd shooting I was picking everybody’s brain, I still am actually. That’s why I love these interviews so much. Every interview I learn something that makes me a better photographer. What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue wedding photography?
1. Learn to work with the equipment you have.
Know and understand it completely. Don’t buy into all the exhortations to buy all the latest & greatest gear that you might read or hear.
Only when you have truly outgrown it is it time to consider moving up.
2. Great wedding photography does not have to mean wedding parties skipping gaily through the air clicking their heels or Samson style brides holding up columns or window frames and don’t make the groom look like a dork.
3. Go find images. There are enough of there at each and every wedding.
Understand people. Understand yourself. Understand your clients.
4. Come up with a mission for your business; make this your “True North” – it will steer you in the right direction.
We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?
Inspiration comes from many sources. There are photographers who demonstrated many things about photography for me; some the power of photography to effect change, some who made me believe that I wanted to be a photographer, some who convinced me that I had made the right choice.
Some made me really think about people, the equipment, the effort and struggles to get it right.
As for continuing inspiration I have to say that my wife, who can’t shoot for doodly, truly provides me with my most valued inspiration to date especially when she tells me “… you’re a great photographer. Quit whining and get on with it.”
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
Yes: I’d have resisted the advice that I needed medium format to shoot weddings and should have started with Leica rangefinders earlier than I did.
Name one photographer you would like to take a portrait of?
Name one sports player you would like to take a portrait of?
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera...
I’d spend it in the souks somewhere.
I’ve learned the most from…
My eldest brother, Andrew, who placed a camera in my hand and really helped me begin to understand the lens and seeing.
What talent would you most like to have?
To play Spanish guitar well.
Something you’re still learning?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
What is your greatest fear?
Despite the temptation to say “I have no fear” I do fear, spilling coffee on my shirt on the way to a wedding.
In 1989 I drove a Landcruiser over an entire year’s back-up data literally hours after shipping out a defective computer with the original data. Fortunately it was early in January and I had the previous year’s discs available so I only had two weeks of a database to rebuild. Since then I do fear having no back-up! The greatest fear I have however is that when I'm leaving a voice message for someone I'll forget that I'm communicating with a client and I'll sign off saying "...Bye, LOVE YOU!!"
Something that is overrated?
Textures and flare
Something you’re saving up for?
Our next Regrouping cruise.
What item do you wish you had designed?
Smilies or Post-it notes
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be?
Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?
If not shooting I’ll be in the kitchen cooking dinner.
Your favourite film (movie) of all time?
16 Years of Alcohol - The composition of so many of the scenes really made reconsider how I shoot portraits with couples.
Who would play you in a film (movie) of your life?
Richard Thomas, he played "John Boy" in the Waltons
First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Be absolutely flabbergasted, I don’t buy lottery tickets; they are an additional tax on people who were not paying attention in math class.
Which five words would your friends use to describe you?
Loyal, artistic, compassionate, realistic, independent.
What ambition have you not yet achieved?
To repeat our wonderful three month honeymoon
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
Meeting and exceeding my clients’ expectations.
And the last question, if you had one wish…
That the devil who stole our bags, on honeymoon, would return all our exposed film, keep the cameras and everything else.
Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next George Weir?’ What would you say?
“Are you daft?”
Seriously though I’d suggest really learning how to get the best from your equipment and tools. Define who you are. Have the eye of a hawk and never stop seeing images.
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