3 Essential Headshot Tips From Peter Hurley

peter hurley headshot tips
Photo: Peter Hurley

What was once the provenance of Hollywood actors and Fortune 500 CEOs is now in high demand by every professional with an online profile – and that’s pretty much all of us. Thanks to every social media platform that requires a user photo, not to mention every company website that asks for a portrait of the employees, interest in headshot photography is surging. Photographers, says industry veteran Peter Hurley, should take note.

“It’s a game every photographer should want to be in,” Peter explained during his CreativeLive Photo Week segment. It’s a game he’s been in for more than a decade; Peter’s portfolio is teeming with celebrities whose faces you know, as well as seriously high-profile commercial shoots. His YouTube videos on how to look better in photos have garnered millions of views. But Peter’s business isn’t just about shooting pretty people — it’s about making everyone look their best.

During his Photo Week class, How to Take the Perfect Headshot, Peter was emphatic about the beauty inside every person and the photographer’s duty to skillfully capture it. While he shared lots of gems, the message boils down to three simple every headshot photographer should follow:

1. Be real. And Peter isn’t talking about personality – for that he advises having a schtick — but instead, he’s talking about your final images. Peter encourages you to keep the retouching to a minimum, because, in his mind, retouching (lines, wrinkles, etc) changes the face. “Every single person has beauty in their face. You are taking away people’s beauty by changing people’s face”

2. Make it interesting. “My point is to make a person look like they are up to something.  I like expressions that are off-kilter.” For Peter, the measurement of a good photo is its “lookability” — the image’s ability to secure attention from an onlooker. When you find your subject’s most attractive side and emphasize that with an expression that looks alive, you get the ultimate in lookability.

3. Be the pro in the room. Your subjects are looking to you for direction, guidance, and inspiration. Don’t let them down. Focus on positioning your subject and directing them to adjust the three things on their face that you can change: mouth, eyes, and eyebrows — don’t get mired in the technical stuff, have that down before they walk in. Spend your time behind the camera connecting with your subject and keeping them feeling confident and connected.

If you want to watch Peter put these principles to work, you can see him shoot during How to Take the Perfect Headshot.

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Rachel is the content marketing lead for the CreativeLive Craft Channel. Her side hustle is floral design and her day job is awesome. @ms_gregarious.