Automotive freelance George Williams, 20, has already forged an impressive career, with high profile clients such as Toyota, McLaren and Top Gear Magazine. He speaks to David Land about his unique ‘ style, and the pros- and cons of achieving success so young
“I like to be a bit wild and wacky, such as having a large shadow behind the car but with the car perfectly lit”
Surrey-based automotive free¬lance George Williams produces work with a strong style which, to the untrained eye, might be mistaken for CGI. However, he is adamant that he wants to keep his work ‘real’.
“I know CGI has its place, and I respect that”, he says, “but when the manufacturers release real pictures, it looks so much better. My work has a balance; it almost looks computer generated, but it’s all real — it’s just been enhanced in Photoshop.
“You can always tell when images have been computer generated, because they never look quite right. It might be the edges, or the perspective might not be right. You can’t pinpoint what it is, but it never looks real.” Williams adds that he enjoys giving his images a slightly surreal look, saying,
“I like to be a bit wild and wacky, such as having a large shadow behind the car but with the car perfectly lit.”
Aged 20, Williams never went to photography college. He was given his first camera, a Nikon D50, when he was 15, and from then on his interest in car photography blossomed.
“I had always been a big fan of cars”, he says, “so when my dad gave me that camera, I instantly started to shoot his car. It was a Caterham 7 kit car. Initially, I just used the photography as an excuse to drive the car around the driveway!”
He soon moved onto other cars, and up¬grading his DSLR to a D300, began to pho¬tograph on location, shooting cars for private owners. “My first proper shoot was in an old vineyard in Surrey”, he says. “That was a 2005 Mustang, and the week after that I shot an Ultima. It got to my fourth shoot — a TVR Tuscan — and the owner offered me money.”
Williams began a photography A level, but decided after two months that it wasn’t going to be beneficial, so he went on to commence a degree in Computer Science at Nottingham University at the age of 18.
“I hadn’t thought of making photography into a career at that point”, he says. “It was always a backup. I thought I would do something in IT.”
A year into his Computer Science course however, he realised it wasn’t for him. He had undertaken paid shoots and built his portfolio and contacts book simultaneously with taking the course, and by the time he moved back home from Nottingham to Surrey, he’d decided to turn his part time interest into a full time career.
“It seemed like a good option at the time, and I’ve never looked back”, he says. ”I contacted Toyota GB through one of my private clients, and began to do its press- work, which was a good job to start with; and got my work out there using social media sites like Facebook. That’s how Car Magazine contacted me.
“Through having done Computer Science, I understand the technical side of social media, and how people will interact with it. If you post in a certain way, you will get better results.
“It’s all about interaction figures and getting new ‘likes’, so you need to inter¬act with people so that they will comment, share and ‘like’ the post.
“You can always tell when images have been computer generated — they never look quite right. It might be the edges, or the perspective might not be right”
“There are two ways of approaching social media. The first is the numbers game: getting masses of likes and followers. The second is getting the relevant people to like it: people who are going to give you work.”
Williams treats his website as separate from social media, utilising it to showcase his best work to potential clients.
“I link the social media to my website, but I think of them completely separately”, he says. “I use social media to capture people, and to get them interacting with their contacts and friends.”
Despite never having any formal training, Williams has gone from strength to strength, teaching himself, and learning from feedback he obtains via the internet. As his business has developed, the scale of the jobs he has landed has grown.
Shortly after we spoke, Williams went off to photograph the Gumball 3000 European car rally. He says, “The biggest job I was working on a year ago was Toyota press and a few magazines. Now, I’m go¬ing to Bahrain under McLaren, which is on a different level. It’s the only place out of Europe that I have been to so far, but I’ve got a bit more work booked in the Middle East, and probably something in America.”
When it comes to talking of other photographers, Williams cites music and fash¬ion freelance Perou as a major influence, saying, “His work is very natural, and perfectly lit every time. It’s fascinating.”
I comment that, given that Perou isn’t known for his car photography, this is per¬haps surprising.
“He doesn’t do cars, but it’s very important to understand other fields as much as you can”, says Williams. “If you can there¬by learn techniques that you can apply to your own field, you can create unique work.
“Perou gets the best out of his subjects. Although he shoots people, I can apply this to my work, as there is a stage in automotive photography where people are brought into the equation to give a more lifestyle feel. It’s important that I know how to interact with people, even if I don’t have to do it all the time.”
Williams met Perou at Focus on Imaging 2013, where they were exhibiting their work side by side. Perou introduced him to Hasselblad’s Global Photographer Relations Manager Paul Water worth, who was very impressed with Williams, and agreed to lend him some Hasselblad gear.
“The number of individual frames that go into a finished image varies. Night images tend to comprise quite a few — up to about 30”
Williams currently has a H4D40 Hassel- blad body on loan, with 28, 35 and 50mm lenses. Says Waterworth, “George has a raw talent.
«He’s driven and grounded, and it’s impressive that he’s even getting his foot in the door with people like McLaren, Jaguar and Lexus, which is 80% of the battle. He’s a 20 year old photographer, who comes across like he’s been in the business for years.” “Paul has been very generous”, says Williams, «and I am enjoying getting to grips with the Hasselblad kit.”
Williams keeps his workflow as simple as possible. “I didn’t want to change the straightforward workflow I originally had”, he says, “so I’ve kept to Adobe Bridge and Photoshop. I use Bridge for looking at and prioritising the images, and then I open them up individually in Camera Raw.
“The number of individual frames that go into a finished image varies. Night images tend to comprise quite a few — up to about 30, but the lighter sets can just be the one.
“Inside, when using flash, I make about 10 exposures and then merge them. My recent work in Bahrain for McLaren comprised very few frames, because the light out there was so perfect.”
Most of Williams’ work takes place on location. It is where he feels most comfortable, and has the added benefit of being much simpler to light.
“I enjoy shooting on location, partly because I like seeing the world, and also because it’s quite boring spending all your time on the computer”, he says.
“Studio lighting is a lot more difficult than location lighting. On location, you have a massive lightbox above the car, which lights up the whole car, unless it’s at night, and then you light it by whatever means you want. You have a lot of control.
”I find it easy to light a car, as I’m very used to it. Silly as it sounds, I find it a lot harder to light a person — it’s just not what I’m used to.”
With regular work coming in, Williams is already in the enviable position that he doesn’t need to go out and find it. He says, “In a typical week, I spend about two days on location. The rest of the time is spent liaising with clients, working on new stuff, or behind the scenes. I do all of my own retouching, so that takes up a bit of time as well.”
It is unusual to achieve Williams’ level of success so early in your career, and I ask him whether there have been many obstacles for him to overcome due to his age. “My age isn’t an issue now that I am no longer a teenager”, he says.
“The only annoying thing is the insurance premium being too high for me to drive certain cars. I get around this by bringing along an older assistant who can drive. They tend to be my friends, and they get to drive quite cool cars, so they aren’t exactly complaining!
“My age is actually working to my ad¬vantage now. People tend to think, ‘He’s young and creative. We’ll support him’ — that’s been good for my career.”
Car insurance is just one aspect for Williams to consider, and is typically covered by his clients, but he also has public liability and professional indemnity insurance through Towergate.
The next steps, says Williams, are finding an agent, and getting his first advertising campaign. “I’ve had feedback which suggests I’m not far off the point where an agent could take me on”, he says. “I just need to get specific images in my portfolio, then I can move to the next level, although I need to do these shoots off my own bat and out of my own pocket, so it will be a bit of a slow process.”
With the industry changing rapidly, and Williams very much at the start of his career, I wonder how he views the future for an automotive photographer such as him¬self. “I’m not a huge fan of the iPad editions, because things look so much better in print”, he says, “but with fewer people buying printed magazines, only the really big publishers will survive.
«The still image will always have a place though, for things such as billboards, but if the time comes when I need to learn video, I’m sure I will get the hang of it.”
For now however, Williams is content, determined to appreciate every moment of a career that has brought him such satisfaction.
“I want to enjoy myself”, he says. “I don’t want to take it for granted that I’m doing amazing things every day. I love every aspect of photography, and if I can carry on making a living out of it, then great.”