George Washington Wilson studied art in Edinburgh and London before moving to Aberdeen in 1849 to pursue a career as a portrait miniaturist.
Wilson established a studio in Aberdeen in 1852, and soon became a popular portrait photographer. In 1860 he was appointed Photographer to Her Majesty Queen Victoria in Scotland, and by the 1880s he had become one of the world's largest photographic publishers.
Pioneering the development of techniques for photography outside of the studio and the mass production of photographic prints, he moved increasingly from portraiture to landscape photography in the 1860s. He also produced stereoscopic pictures whose main characteristic was that exposures were very short. By 1864 he claimed to have sold over half a million prints. At the time of his death in 1893 (he had handed over the business to his sons, Charles, Louis and John Hay Wilson in 1888) the firm employed 40 staff and was one of the largest publishers of photographic prints in the world, competing with James Valentine, who was also a prolific photographer, with a large company in Dundee. The business survived until 1908, when it was wound up at auction