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There are few photographers today as charismatic as Peter Hurley. In fact, it is his personality that charted a clearly successful path for him as a headshot photographer in an industry dominated by high fashion, commercial, and wedding photographers. We’d heard about the legendary Hurley charisma long before our interview with him in Las Vegas during WPPI 2014. What we didn’t know was how a world-class-sailor-turned-Ralph-Lauren-model-turned-pro-photographer could be so… modest.

Peter will be the first to tell you that it is not his shooting techniques or the technical elements of his photography that separates him from the pack. “I shoot on the same camera, I’ve shot at 6.3 at 1/80 of a second at 200 ISO for years and years,” says Peter. While we’re sure he mixes it up on occasion, Peter’s message is clear: The quality of his photography is based on more than technical tinkering. According to Peter, his success lies almost entirely in his ability to read people, help them relax, and coach them to the perfect pose. “Our jobs as photographers is to make people comfortable and bring life into the camera…I take ownership of the person’s expression.. Until I direct someone, I don’t feel like I own the picture.” In other words, Peter believes that if a subject is stiff and lifeless in front of the camera, it is the photographer’s responsibility to bring out their true character. “If you can get that person to be alive and create something interesting that others want to view, those are the pictures I want to take,” says Peter.

Watch our full interview to learn more about Peter’s headshot philosophy and tips for working with subjects: