Sharing Photos Around the Globe

 opsmile2014-11-of-63 Justin Weiler

Justin has given away hundreds of photos around the world. Born in Portland, Oregon, he has a degree in Documentary Filmmaking and Journalism. With 15 years of experience, he has shot and produced a library of short films for a range of different clients in the corporate, commercial, charity and luxury travel world. His striking images have garnered him over 43,000 followers on Instagram. Follow him @justinweiler

When did you start giving photos? 

I’ve been giving photos away for years and years. It started with rolls of film, then polaroids and then I occasionally returned to destinations with small printers. When I started doing it in my professional career it was years of taking photos and flipping the camera around to show people, but not giving them away. I felt like it was an unfair cultural exchange.

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I always felt guilty because I was the one who would leave with all these great images and stories and the person I was photographing was left with a lovely smile and maybe a story, but nothing to prove the day or the experience. I decided to change that. When these digital polaroids came out, I realized that they were huge conversation starters and that was the big motivation for me. These instant photos could create a friendship in a split moment.

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What motivated you to do it?

Photography for me, is less about photography and more about conversations. It is a way to start a dialogue with somebody who wants to know what you are doing or photographing. It is a really easy way to start communicating with people. Your language doesn’t matter, where you’re from doesn’t matter, it is just about visual storytelling. Both parties can enjoy the experience and go away with a smile.

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I always felt guilty as I was taking all these photos and I got to walk away with them. The individual I was photographing walked away with a story but no proof that it had actually happened. Once the Polaroid digital camera Z 2300 entered, it was game over. I was giving those Polaroid prints out left, right and center.

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What equipment do you use and why? 

I carry in my bag two 5D Mark III’s and one 5D Mark IV, a GoPro, a Polaroid camera and obviously my iPhone. So I usually have about 5 to 6 cameras with me at all times.  And I use that equipment because I think it’s the best compact option to tell the most stories.

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I used to carry large format cameras and then they became really problematic and when the 5D came out it was a game changer because as a photographer/filmmaker I was able to create beautiful images, both stills and video, and I could share them quickly, upload them quickly, and it was a really simple process for me. I think that’s a little bit overkill for most people and my spine will probably hate me. It does now and it will probably hate me in 20 years. But I feel like that is the most compact that I can be for what I want to be able to create.  

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Can you share one memorable story with us about your experience sharing photos? 

I’ve got thousands. Every time I look at one of these photos it brings back all sorts of memories. It just opens the floodgates from moments where I’m sitting on the street in Tibet and these guys have walked hundreds of miles. They’ve been walking for 2 feet and then laying flat and then walking for another two feet and laying flat and they get to the finish line and here’s me handing them a photograph of themselves. The pure joy on their face just to have a photo is what I take for granted because I’m just so used to having my photograph taken and seeing photos of myself.

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But it’s a real treat to be able to give that to somebody else. I work with a lot of organizations and charities, like Operation Smile and you have moms seeing their kids in photographs for the first time.  You take a photograph and it’s something they put in a precious little box in a special place.

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Do you have any suggestions for people who would like to give photos?

Yes, do it! Go buy a Polaroid, go buy a Fuji, go buy whatever you want that you can give photos away with because it’s one of the easiest ways to start a conversation and it’s one of the most beautiful experiences to be able to give a photo away. As a photographer I have the  luxury of being able to photograph hundreds of thousands of people all throughout the year but nothing compares to being able to hand somebody a photograph that they get to take back to their family and friends and share the experience that we just had — a fleeting moment that can last a lifetime. And that’s not something that I take lightly because it’s so special.  I see people commenting on Instagram I see people commenting on Facebook and they’re like what’s that. And I say, ‘Do It! It’s great!’ Copy it, use it, share it. I love to see the photos so send them over to me.

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