Peter Hurley believes he has the coolest job you could ever have. He arrived at his headshot photography career through trial and error. Just like most anyone picking up a camera for the first time, he didn’t know anything about aperture, light, or flash sync speed. He started from scratch.
Over the years, Hurley has made a name for himself by developing a distinct style. Learn more about his headshot photography techniques here:
Hurley started his portrait photography simply. He used a south facing window as his light source, adding diffusion panels on sunny days. He’d stand between the window and his subject, and he loved the results of this lighting setup.
Later, when he moved into a studio with no windows, he faced a huge problem. How would he achieve his preferred lighting style without his natural light source? His solution was to set up continuous lights in front of his subject and then shoot through the lights, a style for which he’s now known.
He achieves his look with the following equipment:
- Kino Flo lights
- Hasselblad H5D-50 medium format camera
- Hasselblad HC Macro f/4 120mm lens
- Profoto Air Remote Transceiver
- Tether Tools JerkStopper Camera Support
- FEISOL Elite CT-3472LV tripod
- Arca-Swiss Monoball PO ball head
Peter Hurley uses the equipment he uses because it’s what he’s accustomed to, and he is confident using it. But he stresses that the gear and technical details of a headshot are less important than being skilled at working with the people you’re photographing.
When working with subjects, Hurley makes them comfortable. A former model himself, he doesn’t assume that models know what to do in front of the camera. Instead, he has developed his communication skills in order to capture true expressions. He thinks of his job as coaching. He must constantly give his subjects direction to eliminate any stiff, unnatural interactions that ruin a headshot.
Shooting tethered helps Hurley coach his models. After taking a few images, he can show his subjects the pictures and give them specific directions on what to do differently in the next shots.
One key directive that Hurley uses with all models is to bring the jaw forward. Drawing the chin forward tightens the skin on the jaw and neck to flatter all face types. He then divides the face into four quadrants and gives the model information about what to do with each facial feature. Meanwhile, he thinks about how he wants light to fall around the different parts of the face.
When all of his techniques work together, Hurley gets just what he’s looking for: people who look like they’re engaged with the photographer, not simply staring through a camera.
Though his headshot photos make him look like he’s mastered this art of working with models, Hurley says he’s still always working on improving and fine-tuning what he says to people while he’s shooting.
“That’s why I call myself 90 percent therapist, 10 percent photographer.”
Clearly, there’s more to portraiture than technical skills. Once you’ve learned how to use your camera and lighting properly, there’s still a lot to learn about working with your subjects. Peter Hurley’s headshot photography techniques are useful to any portrait photographer with a drive to keep improving.
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