Peter Hurley's Google+ Keynote: How To Take The Perfect Headshot

If you are a regular reader of Fstoppers then you know how many times I've said this, "Peter Hurley has changed the way I photograph people more than anyone else". During his Google+ Conference Keynote Presentation, Peter explains why it is the photographer's job to make every person look amazing while they are in front of their camera. Photographers cannot rely on a model's good looks, perfectly crafted lighting, their own technical prowess, or old fashioned luck to produce a great portrait. Instead, great photographers use psychology and interaction to bring the best out of their subjects.

It's amazing how often I'm reminded how much my rapport with a client makes for great images. As photographers I think we second guess ourselves too often. We often spend a lot of time tweaking lighting, second guessing our own talent, hoping for better natural light, regretting the wardrobe change we just requested, or on other minute details that do not necessarily produce inspiring and captivating imagery. We fail to notice the actual vibe a person is giving the lens of our camera. What I love about Peter Hurley is he is a constant reminder that what you are saying and expressing to your clients verbally is what is actually making your work unique and interesting.

As I watched this video, I was reminded to acknowledge the feeling of anxiety that everyone brings with them to a shoot. We need to tackle it, redirect it, and overcome it. Photographers cannot settle for mediocre photographs that have their names stamped on them. We should not leave the expressions on our models' faces up to chance or luck. By sharpening our directing skills, we can continue to master our craft and ultimately create images that are stronger and more interesting.

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Nicholas's picture

"You can have the best light, your technique can be down. But if you don't have an expression you don't have a shot." Incredible points he made here. Not only does Peter Hurley teach people how to lighten people up for a shot, he teaches photographers how to lighten up to shoot. 

Sean Shimmel's picture

Here goes:

I was intrigued when I'd first heard about the DVD. 

But $300? I had to wait. 

So I scoured all the Peter Hurley sites I could find to read any free tips and tricks and then watched all the free teasers and trailers available. Watching, re-watching and writing down endless observations.

Then I pieced it all together for a Saturday shoot involving over 50 portraits.  

I was thrilled with the results. (And that was before I bought the DVD):

And now that I have bought the DVD? It easily matches up to all the hype without a bit of hype at all. Nearly 4 hours of solid, compelling wisdom fleshed out through words and visuals.

"It’s amazing how often I’m reminded how much my repore with a client makes for great images."

"Repore" should be "rapport".

Patrick Hall's picture

Thanks, reminds you why proof reading at 2am is never failproof!

Andreas Feustel's picture

Great work Sean!

What kind of light did you use? I don’t believe that you bought a stack of Kino Flos’s for your work, right!? ;-)

I really like Peter Hurley and his work and he definitely knows what he is talking about. Many thanks to for making this DVD and for posting all this useful stuff!

Unfortunately it’s a little bit too much of effort to come to the US from Germany just for joining one of his workshops. NY is sold out anyway.

Sean Shimmel's picture


Thank you for the kind words:Clamshell lighting:1. On top... Westcott Spiderlite TD5 (constant lights) in a medium soft box.2. On the bottom... large, silver Westcott 5 in 1 silver reflector3. White backdrop... portable cloth/un-foldable background 4. Rear lighting, on the background: 2 Nikon SB 800's with Neil van Niekerk's "black foamie thing" flagging the spill

Andreas Feustel's picture


Thank you for the bts explanation of your light setup!

That’s what I basically expected. No high tech fancy stuff is needed to make high quality headshots like yours.

Btw, instead of Neil van Niekerk's "black foamie thing" I’m using a 1$ mouse pad from IKEA. Both sides are usable because it has one black side and the other side is white. With an additional piece of Velcro I can easily fix it on my Canon flash guns. ;-)

Sean Shimmel's picture

Innovation continues  :)

Thanks for the Ikea addition.

Peter is brilliant.
(there is no more)

I'm at 15 mins and all Peter does is talking about some funny anecdotes and the great camera he has / people he shot. Peter, to me, looks like someone who knows how to do a thing very well (I love his headshots), but in this video, he sure sucks at getting to the point. Which is what I would appreciate if I'm trying to learn something. 

[Edit: I've managed to watch the whole video now. I learned *nothing* about how to interact with people, or maybe if I wanna be generous: about 2 usable tips for the whole hour of video. During which told to "don't do that!" about forty times, and I sure hope Peter doesn't say "don't do that!" to his clients as much as he said he would in this video. Seriously, worst talk I've ever watched - mostly also because of the shameless self-plug of his own products at the end that had nothing to do with the rest of the talk.]

Unfortunately I would disagree. You can't watch only 15 min and justify your comment. All the things your think he talks about that are insignificant to you, all play a big part in the whole picture. And NOWHERE did he talk about how good his camera was.

I can listen to Peter for hours and there are always nuggets of wisdom that I can find in his words. Thanks for posting this video.

Tobias Solem's picture

Peter is the man, self-taught and shows a lot of personality in his shots. :)

Thank you!!!

It's not about the lights or the camera, it's about relaxing your client into giving you an expression that isn't normally captured.  At the same time making sure they are in the optimal position that the expression isn't overpowered by chicken neck or no chin.
Such a refreshing difference from technical teachers.

I'd like to see a way to post photos to Google + without having to give them rights to the photos.  In other words, Google Plus needs to stop the rights grab in their Terms of Use.  When you post to Google + they claim the right to commercially license your work!

This Video is not worth an hours time watching, you could derive 25% of what it provides simply by reading the intro from Patrick.

He tries too hard to identify and put at ease the audience, but it was he who was nervous not them. He doesn't seem to get the feedback he was hoping for and feels lost. Next he continues by throwing out a few hats and leaves most people who wanted one to go without. So he totally alienates everyone, and that is his manner throughout; slightly arrogant and rude.

Sometimes he just throws something out there and sometimes he spends a lot of time discussing a topic but he talks around it and avoids actually providing the info needed, then he moves on to the next topic leaving a void.

Example: He tries to identify with people by saying that if you've taken a picture of people with a Camera or yourself with a cellphone, then your a headshot photographer (later he esentially denies that would count as such).

Having opened up the topic he should have told how to take your own photo with cell phone. Use a mirror so you can see the display on the Cellphone. Hold your arm up and out as far away as you can but with your elbow still bent. Now lift your other arm so your shoulders look equal when you look at the Cellphone's display in the mirror. Frame your shot, and using a 2 second self-portrait delay, gently press the shutter.

He mentions inportant topics like makeup and lighting but does not spend 30 seconds on them (remember this is an hour long Video).

He provides incorrect Tips. Example: The Camera height should usually reflect the height of the subject. If the person is tall the Camera should tilt up slightly and if they are shorter the Camera should tilt down slightly; that is if you want the photo to portray the person the way everyone actually sees them (which he says is important, "you don't want to look like you are 12").

There is no technical info until 29 minutes and no subject modeling info until 33 minutes but the "suction cup" Tip was probably helpful. He then ruins anything he has acomplished at 40 minutes with the sales pitch and the name dropping.

When asked questions he really says he is put on the spot and has no real answer. The answers were almost arrogant or insulting, "why are you asking me this ?", this is what I want to say, even if it is not your answer; I will just keep talking.

He says he intends to end by throwing out a few T-Shirts, wonder where the Pants and socks are ?

Really NOT worth watching and probably not going to be worth $300 for his DVD. If your earning what he charges per hour there is no chance you want to watch this Video, you would be a fool.

Rated 1.2 out of 10.

Thanks for posting. Peter takes great head shots. Always entertaining