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Tips & Tricks

Lighting a Portrait On Location With Peter Hurley

By Hanssie on May 27th 2015

Peter-Hurley-3Having built his career with a knack for making people look amazing using some subtle angling of the face and various lighting techniques, what makes Peter Hurley really stand out is his charisma and the way he can bring the best out of his clients in his images. As a photographer, getting real emotion and posing them to look their best is only half the battle (a tough half at that), the other half is the technical know-how to get the job done.

A few years ago, Peter Hurley teamed up with Fstoppers and released The Art Behind the Headshot, which focused on interacting with your subjects and how to understand the face to get the most interesting facial expressions for photos. He followed that workshop DVD up with ‘Illuminating the Face,” a comprehensive tutorial offering over 4 hours of instruction on lighting the face. In that tutorial, Peter took us into his NYC studio and showed us how to various lighting and light modifiers.


Peter-Hurley-2 Peter-Hurley-1

Late last year, Profoto partnered with Peter to film a tutorial using the techniques taught in “Illuminating the Face,” and took it outdoors. In the following tutorial, “Illuminating the Face –  On Location,” Peter goes through various scenarios a portrait photographer might face while in a less controlled setting than a studio. He takes us on a rooftop with harsh midday light to photograph an actor against the backdrop of NYC. He takes us into the woods to create some dramatic images and brings us to open shade for a few more techniques.

There’s a lot of information packed into the 40-minute tutorial, but the most valuable thing to me in all of Peter’s videos, including this one, is watching him interact with clients. The confidence he exudes in his posing direction and in getting natural and real expressions from his subjects is inspiring. I picked up a few tips to use in my next portrait session in just that. Now I’ll have to watch it again for the lighting tips.

Watch “Illuminating the Face on Location With Peter Hurley

Peter uses some pretty pricy gear in the video – Phase One and Profoto B1’s, but as the saying goes, “The best camera is the one you have on you.”

If you are in need of a lighting set up, make sure you enter our Profoto Mega giveaway to help you get started.

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Stephen Glass

    Just love Peter’s work.

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  2. Rafael Steffen

    He is a true great photographer who helps all of us improve our skills. I love this workshops and tutorials.

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  3. Ralph Hightower

    Peter Hurley is always an entertaining and informative instructor!

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  4. Moise Oiknine

    “There’s a lot of information packed into the 40-minute tutorial, but the most valuable thing to me in all of Peter’s videos, including this one, is watching him interact with clients.”

    I agree with you more on this point. I think there was more to gain from his communication techniques than from his technical techniques.

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    • Stan Rogers

      There’s really no other way to put this: photography is easy; it’s taking pictures that’s hard. Most of us get that backwards, turning the technical part into some sort of dark, barely-comprehensible voodoo, worrying about whether or not we’ve pronounced the spell properly and used the right potion and wand movement (camera settings, etc.), while somehow expecting the thing we’re pointing the camera at to transform itself into an appealing photograph (possibly because it should somehow know that there’s a Vebloflex 99000 with a 150mm/0.95 Sharpogon Z* pointed at it, and therefore should react in a manner befitting the equipment). As National Geographic photo editor Bob Gilka put it: “Kid, if you want to be a better photographer, you’re going to have to stand in front of more interesting stuff.” With people, we’re usually responsible, at least in part, for *creating* the “more interesting stuff”.

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    • Rafael Steffen

      I try to learn more about iteraction every day to make people have a wonderful time when shooting.

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    • Rafael Steffen

      Thanks so much for sharing his work in this forum! Great!

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  5. Robert Eilers

    Peter Hurley certainly is one of the greats. Honestly the focus he puts on interacting with clients is so helpful.

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    • Rafael Steffen

      Interacting with clients is one of the most important aspects to get an amazing portrait session done in a shorter time.

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  6. Graham Curran

    Excellent tutorial with useful tips.

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    • Rafael Steffen

      I really love how he explains how the different shutter speed affect the overall scene. Really helpful.

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