After a four-hour trip to London and only being able to catch whatever sleep I could during the uncomfortable journey down, I met with Peter Hurley and immediately felt welcome. For those of you who don't know, Peter Hurley is a headshot photographer based in New York City. Hurley once had a career as a model and was also part of the U.S. Olympic sailing team. He is known for his clean, white background headshots and for coining the phrase "squinch," which has now become relatively mainstream thanks to news channels and shows like Orange is the New Black. To many, Peter is known as the best in the business and this may be true, but, what is Peter actually like to work with?
Working With Peter
On September 16, 2017, I had the immense pleasure of being able to attend one of Peters workshops in London. Sleep deprived and relatively exhausted from the week, I took my seat, removed my iPad from my overly packed backpack and started taking notes. Peter has a lot of energy and a huge amount of passion for what he does and this was immediately apparent. In normal circumstances, if you were to put me in a dimly lit classroom, I would fall asleep, there is no question about that, however, Peter has this ability to grab and hold on to your attention which was very impressive. There wasn't a single dull moment during the whole time I was there. There were approximately 15 other individuals in the room, varying in regards to their experience and skill which actually helped the atmosphere.
Peter has a very casual approach and this is something I really appreciated. At any point during the day, if you had a question, you're welcome to ask and Peter would happily answer it for you. This is one of those little things, that really makes the environment more pleasant and friendly. I really do believe that a learning environment needs to be open and Peter does this really well. His demeanor also lends really well to create an environment where it's easy to learn.
As an architectural photographer, I don't shoot very many portraits and my skills in this particular area are severely lacking.The technical aspects of photography come easier to me but photographing people is much more than just knowing where to place the lights. A few YouTube videos and some practice can help anyone to improve those skills but that's not what makes Peter the photographer he is. I would go as far as to say that I probably know more about the technical nerd stuff than Peter does, however, he is a significantly better photographer than I am.
Why is that?
Well, it mostly comes down to knowing your subject and understanding how to get the best out of them. Most photographers have had someone compliment their camera when they see the images they produce and this is considered a slight. The reason for this is because, the majority of the skill, talent, and results have very little to do with the technical capabilities of the camera itself.
I can personally attest to Peter's incredible talent because I finally have a Peter Hurley headshot, something I've wanted ever since I saw his first tutorial all of those years ago.
My previous headshot was taken using the Leica S 007, a medium format camera with the incredible 180mm f/3.5 APO lens. The current Hurley headshot was taken with the lowly Canon 24-105 f/4L II, yet still, it is a significantly better image. The lens may not be as sharp and the image may not have 16-bit color or as many megapixels, but all of those aspects are not as relevant because what really matters is the engagement. Peter is an absolute master at this and teaches his techniques and know how in his workshops. This kind of information is extremely valuable and I doubt its availability anywhere else, especially not at this level. He is simply amazing at being able to open his subjects up and get the best out of them. Only Peter has the confidence and talent to speak absolute gibberish, make you burst out laughing, and then nail the shot.
You may be wondering what the cost is, well, for a two-day intensive headshot workshop, the cost is $1,500. Some of you may gasp at that price but let me assure you, this is a steal. Peter currently charges $3,000 for an hour-long shoot, so based on that this is genuinely incredible value for money. Of course, value for money is very different from affordability so there is an alternative, his current tutorial "Perfecting the Headshot."
To many people, it may seem like Peter is the poster child for being an extrovert, his out there, huge personality is very easy to spot from afar. I, however, don't think that this is the full story. I believe Peter is a deep introvert and has simply learned to adapt. If you pay careful attention you may catch him in his quiet, thoughtful moments from time to time and his big personality appears when it's time to "perform." He also seems very calculating but not in an ominous way, more in that he is very switched on. He clearly understands how to present himself in the best possible light and this is something that lends really well to his ability in knowing how to manage his subjects. This is also one of the areas where "psyphotology" comes from. It would seem that Peter has this innate ability to see the beauty in his subjects almost immediately. Obviously, this is a skill he has learned and developed over the years and it's quite astonishing.
I think the most fascinating thing to look at on planet Earth is the human face.
Peter's talent and success mostly come from his ability to adapt, change and improve. He was named the best photographer in New York City, and this was several years ago but if you look at his work then vs now, there's a distinct difference. The reason for this is because he now only competes with himself which is a little more difficult that one may imagine. Even early on in his career Peter wanted to accomplish great things and wanted to prove his detractors wrong. Considering what he wanted to accomplish there seemed to no shortage of detractors. One of the individuals that didn't fully support him during his early part of his career was, unfortunately, his mother, and this is something that many of us have probably experienced. Parents will, of course, want their children to be safe and "risky" careers aren't what they consider safe. It must be noted that Peter had a fantastic relationship with his mother and dedicated his book to her memory. His mother did become one of his biggest supporters.
The reason why this is relevant is that many of us will experience hurdles and even people very close to us who don't believe in what we want to accomplish. It's not difficult to give in to the detractors because sometimes it can become too much. Often times when we look at the best in the industry, we see their current position without the context or history of how they accomplished what they did. Chances are, the majority if not all of the people that we look up to regardless of what industry they're in, have been through similar problems and faced similar hurdles. Becoming the best in any field is an incredible accomplishment and one that is extremely hard earned.
So to answer the title of this article, how do you become the best in the world, well, you start by learning from the best, and Peter Hurley is, in fact, the best studio headshot photographer in the world.