Peter Hurley is an icon in the portrait photography world and has made a name for himself by specializing in a specific type of portraiture called headshot photography. In his new book titled The Headshot, Peter explains his process for creating his own iconic and timeless headshot portrait.
His book is chock-full of beautiful photographs showing off his skills as a headshot photographer. The book is designed to outline the entire process from start to finish on how to set up studio lights to how to work with models to how to get the facial expressions that make the shot.
I think one of the best things about his book is his detailed description of how to talk to clients in a way that helps them produce the most compelling look. Peter talks a lot about how uncomfortable clients can be and how our demeanor as photographers impacts the flow of the photo session. After many years of experience, Peter has perfected the art of banter with the client so that they are able to put their best look forward.
Peter makes it clear that the key to getting great portraits is developing a strong rapport with your subject as fast as possible. To that end, he spends a large portion of the book describing different ways to keep the banter flowing during the photo shoot. Peter even includes an entire chapter at the end of the book titled Hurleyisms. This chapter full of different phrases you can use to elicit various expressions from your subject. He uses a ton of photographs demonstrating the different expressions people come up with after he makes a statement like, “Give me a look like you are impersonating a blowfish on crack.”
Not that I necessarily want to copy other photographers but when another photographer has a solution that works then I might as well use it. I’m going to steal some of Peter’s best lines for my own work. Thanks Peter!
He covers a great deal about the elements of a good portrait and has multiple chapters on specific posing methods. For example, one chapter is focused on working with posture, another chapter on perfecting the smile, and another chapter on producing his famous squinch. Towards the end of the book, he dedicates a full chapter on how to put everything together in what Peter calls “The Hurley System”.
My favorite posing tip in the entire book is what Peter calls “holding the sub.” Holding the sub is a wonderful slimming method for women and yet it is super-simple to implement. You’ll have to read the book to find out what holding the sub means, but it is really a great idea and I’ll start using it immediately.
Peter talks a lot about a process he uses called Sherlock Holmesing. Basically every portrait customer is a problem that needs to be figured out. What makes this person tick? What’s the best side of the face? Where are their flaws and how do I hide them? How do I draw out their personality? He makes it clear that there is no single answer in setting up the perfect pose; rather every person’s face needs to be figured out independently.
The big part of his book is learning how to get the perfect expression and Peter lays it out fairly clearly by explaining that the perfect portrait results from a combination of confidence and approachability. He calls this the C&A approach – confidence and approachability. Every great portrait shows off the subject’s confidence, while also displaying their approachability.
Peter makes it clear that the photographer’s role is to own the subject’s expression for them. It’s not good enough to just create a technically sound photograph. You have to capture the C&A look, so you need to work hard to get exactly the right expression. He says that we are our subject’s mirror and we have to tell them exactly what their face is doing while continually tweaking their expression until we get it just right.
I have to admit that I am a technical guy and I really gravitate to diagrams, figures, and gear. You won’t find a lot of tech in this book because so much of great portraiture stems from the relationship you create with your client. Understanding how to deal with people is just as important, if not more important, than the gear you use in the studio. Peter advocates spending copious quantities of time getting the technical side correct so that it doesn’t get in your way during the shoot. Once that is done then the remaining part of your photography is finding that perfect expression.
Peter uses a lot of funky terms and one of them is SHA-BANG. He uses this word throughout the book to describe the scenario when everything comes together. For example, he’ll say, “… SHA-BANG the absolute crap out of the shoot.” or “Shabangin’ the shot makes you want to stare at that sucker.” His enthusiasm and passion for headshot photography is evident, and you won’t be bored reading his book.
The Headshot is an excellent book for photographers who want to specialize in this specific genre of photography. The Headshot is laser focused on this one specific portrait technique and Peter Hurley is truly the master of this domain. If you’re looking for techniques on a multitude of studio photography methods or a book on a myriad of posing techniques, then this is definitely not the right book for you.
If you want to read the master’s thesis on headshot photography then look no further. The Headshot SHA-BANGS it out of park!
The Headshot, The Secrets to Creating Amazing Headshot Portraits is 223 pages and printed in full color. Buy your own copy in paperback or Kindle format here:
I’ve posted PDF versions of our famous setup guides for the Nikon D800/D800E and the Nikon D4 cameras. The guides show my personal recommendations for setting up menus, buttons and dials in four configurations: Travel/Landscape, Portrait/Wedding, Sports/Action, and Point and Shoot.
The guides are free to download and print out for your own use. If you are interested, you can order laminated copies from us for $6.50. Order instructions are on the setup guide web page.
Here are the direct links:
We also have setup guides for most of the other popular Nikon dSLR cameras including the D7000, D700, D300, D300s, D3s, D3, D3X, etc. Click this link to go to our Nikon camera setup guide page. Scroll down to the bottom for the camera setup guides.
New photographers often ask me what is the “best” lens for their photography. Often, they own the standard kit lens with their new SLR and are concerned that it isn’t good enough for great photography. This assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that the lens is far less important than the skill of the photographer.
Here’s an email question from a reader from Bangalore this morning:
I was on your webpage and found it inspiring. I really enjoy photography and so far I’m doing some experimental work with my Sony Cyber Shot digicamera.
Recently I brought the Nikon D7000 with 18-105 Vr lens. Since I’m just getting into photography, can u send me some suggestions for the young growing photographer?
Photography is my hobby. I’m basically an architect. Would you please suggest some lenses that I can use for portraits and landscape photography? I’ll also be using it on occasion for weddings. It will be good if you suggest me lens and flash devices.
With Best Regards
Hi Ed –
The key to getting better photos doesn’t have much to do with the lenses you buy. It has much more to do with practice and determination. My biggest advice for you is to take pictures every day. Also, take pictures with a purpose. For example, decide that you want to document your neighborhood and the people who live there. Spend two months doing this and you’ll see the quality of your photographs improve exponentially.
I use all kinds of lenses including the Nikon 18-105mm. I have macros, telephotos, wide angles, f5.6, f2.8, f1.8, etc. Each has a different purpose, but again, the key to great photography is knowledge and experience. The 18-105mm will work great for portraits and weddings. In fact, I was at a wedding last weekend where the official photographer used this specific lens on a Nikon D80. There are just too many lenses out there to suggest a specific one for you. I encourage you to shoot with the 18-105mm until you find an actual need for another lens. Once you find the 18-105mm is limiting your creativity or capability, then it is time to buy a new one that solves your problem.
For flashes, I like the SB-900 and SB-700. Both work well for most of my lighting requirements.
One last suggestion: go back through my previous newsletters and participate in our monthly GOAL Assignments. These will encourage you to keep practicing and growing your skill set.
Follow the link below to download the new Nikon D7000 Setup Guide. This PDF shows how I recommend setting up the custom settings menus, shooting menus and autofocus system for four different shooting scenarios.
We also have setup guides for many of the other popular Nikon dSLR cameras posted at this link: