Headshot Photography

The thought that renowned headshot photographer Peter Hurley puts into creating a basic headshot, isn’t very basic. As a former model turned professional photographer, Hurley knows what it’s like to be in front of the camera and behind it. He’s used his experience to perfect his trade and has been kind enough to share his insights with us via a seminar hosted at B&H and this one is certainly a standout. Even at two hours long, the seminar is entertaining and very informative:

Hurley is capable of keeping things upbeat and moving along. If you’re interested in improving you’re headshots, watch the video in full. There’s countless bits of information dispersed throughout that can help you progress as a photographer.

Some things to remember when photographing headshots:

  •  Keep it simple – The only thing in the photograph should be the subjects head. Shoot only one person at a time. If you’re not shooting against a solid color background, throw the background of focus so the eye is naturally drawn to the head.
  • Cropping is crucial – Crop selectively, it’s better to crop out the top of the head than crop out the neck and shoulders, much like in the photo below.
  • The rule of thirds – Always keep the eyes above the center line.
  • Give Direction! – It’s your responsibility as a photographer to make sure your photographs look the best the possibly can. This often means directing your subjects so that they are in a flattering pose.
  • Lighting setup – Hurley uses Kino Flo florescent lighting on the subject and 2 Alien Bee’s to light the background. He then throws in a kicker light  highlights. He recommends using a square setup for women and banking lights 2-4ft on either side when photographing men.
lighting for headshot photography

Ideal lighting setup for professional headshot photography.

headshot photohow to take headshot photos

One last essential piece of information the Hurley said during the seminar can be said of any style of photographer. To quote him:

“A professional is at his best regardless.”

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13 responses to “Headshot Photography”

  1. Brian says:

    Do you proof read your articles before you publish them? “One last essential piece of information ‘the’ (sp?) Hurley said during the seminar can be said of any style of photographer. That is one of many errors.

  2. Don Fox says:

    I’m sorry but except for just a few shoots the portraits are washed out. There’s no soul in his shoots, nothing candid, not much more than just being alive. Its as if all his clients are from the same planet, the same herd. The lighting is to hard, to rigid.

    I knew Ansel Adams when I lived in Big Sur many years ago. Ansel wasn’t all that into portraits, but he knew how to use natual light in all his subjects. He once said to me in casual conversation “its all about natural lighting, and in landscapes it can be the time of day.” If you’d ever been in his home studio in Carmel Heights you know what he met about light in all types of photography

  3. Mike says:

    I agree with Don Fox. The portraits at best are ok..ish. For anyone who has experience in portrait photography and attended the seminar should ask for a partial refund. The rule of thirds applies as a guide, it is not written in stone. If you stick with this rule of thirds, then all creativity is lost. As for the part ‘it often means directing your subject’?? You should have a rapport with your subject even before the shoot starts. This helps them to relax and helps the photographer to capture the portrait, not the picture. You should engage with your subject all of the time, not as described above.

    My advice is for this person to study the histories of photography both past and contemporary. You may then get an idea of what photography is about, especially the portrait.

  4. bycostello says:

    brilliant tips, thanks…

  5. Gotta love some of these comments…

    Did you guys watch the video or just look at the sample photos?

    I knew Ansel Adams…, blah. blah,…creativity lost, blah, blah… study history, blah blah… bad spelling…geez!

    These are Headshots people! Not character portraits! Commercial headshots for actors – and for that, they are perfect (and why he is successful at it)… they are to show the subject’s face and potential in one simple photo in a clean and effective manner – not show the subject’s character (or the photographer’s for that matter).

    If you are a small town photographer… and you don’t have any actors there you still might try his techniques… even small town people will like to *look* like actors.

    I found a lot of what he said to be common sense for any professional photographer, but that is often overlooked, and put together in a very entertaining video. Well done.

    Gee… I hope I didn’t misspell anything!

  6. Mary says:

    Kudo’s John.

  7. Amy says:

    Awesome information, I always love free information and ideas. I am not sure why people want to dump on him. Every artist has a style if you don’t like it then fine, but why say it SHOULD be one way or another, art is sort of subjective right? :P
    Also yes I agree that someone should proof their articles before publishing, I don’t know that we need to all be so bitchy and grumpy all the time about it though.
    Are people never happy? Thanks for the info and the video!! :) Breath, smile!

  8. Shelly says:

    I found it useful! Thanks for the information. Im trying to improve my technique and this was very helpful. I love Ansel Adams but give me a break! Youre doing too much with the “I knew Ansel Adams” crap.

  9. Trish says:

    I find any information very helpful, it may not always apply to what I want to achieve but I find it all very interesting. I’m only very new to all this and I would appreciate any feed back as to what I’m doing wrong.

  10. MARK S SCHROEDER says:

    Peter Hurley passes along some good information, however, 2/3’s of the time was spent on his personal stories and name dropping of people the audience, myself included, never heard of and didn’t contribute any useful information. I have given many seminar presentations from aspiring to experienced Actors on the necessities and tools for an Actor to be sharp and on point throughout their career. Sure, I incorporate working related stories into the presentation, but I make sure that each story provides useful and factual information that the Actor will actually use throughout their career. I have given 1/2 hour to 4 hour Seminars on the Acting Profession and I always feel, “if I only had a little more time, I could pass on so much more vital information.” And, I never felt like I wasted any time with dialogue or story’s that really had no direct contribution of practical information. I learned a lot from feedback I received from people who attended the seminar’s and received a lot of praise for keeping on point, giving an immense amount of information, which was more than they received from attending a few different seminars put together.

  11. To Mark Schroeder:

    Just saw your comment come in and it seems you missed one thing. This video was not directed at actors it was directed to photographers, probably most of whom did recognize the “dropped” names. Having done a few seminars myself over the years I have found that my audience (other photographers) are VERY interested in the side stories and interesting experiences and challenges encountered during my work that have absolutely nothing to do with the technical aspect of photography.

    I doubt there were too many at his talk that walked out feeling cheated.

    I think the “Comments” section in most forums and certainly on Youtube should be changed to “Criticisms” as that is what the overwhelming majority always seems to be… It seems everyone knows better.

  12. adri vreeke says:

    I did see the DVD ! wow four hours to go for the whole story.

    Hurley is a great sportsman, actor and very entertaining and the results of his business is fantastic so who can complain about anything he does.

    I like the briljand soft light where the custumors need to take place, I like the white white white background so much and i did notice the results trying the people to look the best they can.

    1100 dollar for a 3 hour headshot, i think he realy has a market we cannot compeet.


  13. Sarah Smallwood says:

    I found it useful and I have to say how many of the detractors are shooting with a Hasselblad. Probably non, I’m just out of college as a mature student and I meet a million people who tell me stuff I already know, shoot raw, do this do that you’ll never need a 50mp camera you won’t need that much detail blah, blah, blah. Some people use photography as an excuse to crap on other peoples work and guess what they ain’t that busy. Keep up the good work

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