Seeing The Light - Shane Hurlbut’s Philosophy On Success

Seeing The Light - Shane Hurlbut’s Philosophy On Success

What sets you and your work apart? Having a clear idea of this is critical if you want to develop your work but when was the last time you actually thought about it? Shane Hurlbut is a veteran Director of Photography and today shares his thoughts on his career and success. Whether you work with stills or motion, his approach sets him apart and we can all learn from him.

Shane is a veteran Director of Photography, having worked in the business for over 20 years and been DP on Terminator Salvation, Act of Valor and Need for Speed amongst others. I had the opportunity to sit down with him before he headed off on a tour across the US. My aim was simple. I wanted to find out where his success had stemmed from, and what we could learn from him.

One thing is absolutely apparent the moment you see Shane at work. He loves, and is totally obsessed with, light. All of his work is built off of this as it’s foundation

Today, we’re in a large post production house in downtown New York. Shane is working with a colorist to color grade ‘Father and Daughters’, his latest feature film due out next year.

He turns to the colorist, Sean Dunckley, and asks him to up the exposure on the scene ever so slightly, a third of a stop or so. It ever so gently brings out the light pea green in the walls behind the main actress, Amanda Seyfriend. Shane’s eyes light up.


Shane is almost unable to control himself, as the small exposure gain brings the scene to life. This is a man who is obsessed with light and the effect it has on “his” subjects. Controlling it is truly his passion.


Find Your Passion

Most of us, whether we’re being paid for it or not, love an aspect of creating video or stills. But some self-analysis is required because at some point you need to ascertain what particular aspect(s) of the work you truly love.

Is it capturing a moment? Perhaps it’s travel and seeing new places. For me, I love how video combines with music and how the visuals work with the emotional connection I have with music.

What drives your passion?  

Shane’s love of lighting – and his ability and willingness to share this love – is what drives him. But more than this, he is a translator. He knows how light, color and the application of both relate to an emotional feeling. It is this, more than anything, that is a key component to his success. His client list speaks for itself.


Add Value

Shane is talking to Sean the colorist, again.

She’s baring her soul to him, this shouldn’t be so cold – we need more yellow and red in there. Aaron [Paul] needs to look cleaner as he’s hearing this – let’s bring that green on him down to a more cool, minty look, not so pea green.

I’ve spent 15 minutes in the room with Shane as he goes through this process on a few shots and his approach is immediately obvious. The color and light, and it’s subtle adjustment, is his voice and the way he finesses his final vision of the Director’s interpretation of that part of the movie. It’s really very much like watching a skilled painter or sculptor work.

We need to work out how we can add value once we’ve found what it is that drives our creative process. This doesn’t just mean do a good job technically, and meet the client requirement – those aspects should be a given. Rather, we should use our passion to understand what a client (paying or not) is asking for, and then interpret that in your own way. These are your brush strokes and will be your way of setting yourself apart, just as Shane does.

This allows us to begin to formulate an approach, or style to your work. It’s this interpretative process that will have clients coming back again and again.

For Shane, the beginning of this approach started when he was young, growing up in a rural farming community in upstate New York. This is where his love of light came about.

“It was incredible. We would have a sunrise and sunset that was out of this world, a twilight that would last for 2 hours. This amazing energy and fragility of beautiful light that I grew up with is directly related to how I light, how I look to accent each character on set and as a result, how this elevates their performance”.

It’s Shane’s ability to understand how his lighting brings strength to the acting that we see ultimately when we sit down to watch the final production. This is transcending the purely technical – he works out how the technical elements can be brought to bear to push the emotional connection we have with the character at a point in time, which elevates their performance, and drives the story. This is what has accounted for his success across both feature films and in the world of commercials.


The Future Of Gear For Stills And Motion

For Shane, the future, if you’ll excuse the pun, looks bright. He’s clearly excited about where camera sensor technology is going.

We’ll finally be able to deliver the light I’ve been trying to create my whole career. We’ll just be able to let the light in the room take us on a journey and drive the theatrics. Night exterior and studio work, the stuff in low light, these areas are going to completely change.

He also thinks this technology is going to continue to drive people to film making, to want to create content, especially when large light sources are not necessarily required.

There’s going to be more and more content, more people who will have a voice with something to say and these tools are going to give them the ability to do it cheaply and easily.

Part of the reason Shane and his wife set up his Inner Circle education platform, as he calls it, is to meet this growing demand from new film makers who want to be able to successful realize this vision.

This is another reason Shane is currently on tour across the US with his Illumination Experience workshop series where he is teaching his fundamentals to help other film makers realize their own vision.

This workshop is providing those of us who are interested in lighting and creating stronger motion work with the tools and know-how that has served Shane over the years.

Final Thoughts

Shane is a master of light and motion yet it’s in his passion and how he interprets the world around him that is fascinating. His ability to take his lighting and DP expertise and interpret this as a set of emotions is where his strength truly lies. It’s an approach we could all adopt to add value in our own way to our own work. If you truly want to set your work apart, you’ll need to find your own way of interpreting what you see around you.

Find what drives you in your creative process and work out how you can translate this into a vision for story telling, or just creating an emotional connection in your audience. You’ll find it will help provide clarity to develop for your own work, as well as draw clients back for more.

If there is one thing we absolutely must be committed to, it's eliciting an emotional response from our audience. If Shane is right about more people shooting and creating content (and the last few years of democratization of the craft of photography and video do show that we're headed that way), then the imperative is truly on each of us more than ever before, to find our voice and work out how we can use this to better connect with our target audience, ultimately driving us forward and helping foster an environment for our own personal success stories.

Special Thanks [Shane Hurlbut]


David Geffin's picture

David is a full time photographer, videographer and video editor based in New York City. Fashion, portraiture and street photography are his areas of focus. He enjoys stills and motion work in equal measure, with a firm belief that a strong photographic eye will continue to help inform and drive the world of motion work.

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