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Peter Hurley Style Headshot Lighting on the Cheap! Headshot Lighting with a Strobe and Reflectors

By Pye Jirsa on July 22nd 2013

Shoot Background

At Lin and Jirsa Photography, our primary photography business is wedding, family and couples portraiture. However, we often have the need to shoot headshots. Often times it is for our own staff, while other times it is one of our clients requesting headshots for their business use.

Since our main business really isn’t shooting headshots, we don’t have the need to invest in expensive lighting setups such as Kino Flo constant light systems. A set of these lights like the ones that Peter Hurley uses for his headshot lighting can easily set you back more than $5,000. Since we can’t justify that expense from a business standpoint, my goal was to find a cheaper way to mimic the clean square lighting look a la Peter Hurley. So, we will be creating our lighting setup with a simple strobe and a few reflectors.

Just as a note, I am sure Peter Hurley wasn’t the first photographer to use this square lighting setup. But it is a look that has become synonymous with his name and awesome style of headshot photography. Hence, we are going to dub it “Peter Hurley Square Lighting.” While this tutorial is going to give you a simple and approachable way of lighting your headshots, I still can’t say enough good things about the Art of the Headshot workshop on DVD. Lighting is simple, learning to pose and instruct clients to coax out amazing expressions is what sets apart the good photographer from the great ones like Peter Hurley.

Here is a quick preview of one of our final shots.


Watch the behind the scenes video, and then read the article below for more details on equipment, lighting, production and more!

Watch the Behind the Scenes Video

Equipment & Software Used

Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mark II
Primary Light: Einstein with Parabolic Modifier
Primary Light stand: Matthews C Stand
Background Light (Optional): Bare Einstein
Modifiers: westcott 40-inch 5 in 1 reflector (Silver Side)
Modifier Stands: 2x Manfrotto Reflector Holder
Raw Processing: Lightroom 5 + SLR Lounge Lightroom Presets v5.

How We Shot It

The goal of the shoot was quite simple. I wanted to create a large amount of light, and direct most of it forward and into our subject’s face while using large light modifiers to create a softer look to our light.

Keep in mind, I could have used a smaller pocket strobe such as a Canon 580EX II attached to an umbrella for my primary light source. However, the Einstein and parabolic was already setup, and I was also concerned with just having more space to work with. So, if budget or equipment is a concern, then just grab a pocket strobe and an umbrella for your main light.

In the image below, you can see the 3-reflector setup with our parabolic feeding the light into the entire scene.


Another option would have been to use the softer white side of the Westcott 5 in 1 Reflectors. This would create a light with less overall contrast and specular highlights. But, I dug the higher contrast look of the silver side so I went with that look instead.

I added an optional background light which I mentioned in the behind the scenes video above. I felt like the background light, when used at a very low power setting, added a nice little “kiss of light” to the background giving us a natural radial highlight and vignette to the image, which in-turn drew attention into our subject. Again, we don’t need to be using an Einstein for this background light, any small strobe will work just fine. In the image below, you can see the placement of the background light right behind our model.


We are using a gray seamless for this shoot, just to give it a slightly different look from the typical white background in a Peter Hurley headshot.

At 1/200th of a second, F/8 and ISO 100 we took each of the following shots on our Canon 5D Mark III equipped with the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mark II lens.

At F/8 and ISO 100, we are maximizing lens detail and the color/dynamic range of the camera’s sensor.

Post Production

Post production was quite simple. Since we aren’t blowing these images up into huge prints, we just stuck with standard raw processing and retouch within Adobe Lightroom 4/5 using the SLR Lounge Lightroom Presets v5.

We actually have recorded a full Lightroom retouch of one of these headshots which we will be releasing soon. So we will include that tutorial below as well as soon as it is available.

Final Images

Here are a few more shots using this same setup:






In conclusion, while I had a blast trying to come up with a cheaper way of achieving Peter’s lighting and look, I’ll be honest and say posing for headshots is so much different from anything else I have done. In between sessions, I found myself pulling out my Art of the Headshot DVD to listen to Peter’s coaching and advice when it comes to posing. It is an amazing workshop on DVD, and you can check out SLR Lounge’s full review of Art of the Headshot here.

We hope you enjoyed this article and tutorial! For more information on the Peter Hurley Headshot DVD and the SLR Lounge Lightroom Presets v5, please click any of the links in this article.

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Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Matt Cain

    Has anyone used the Peter Hurley tutorial on  F-Stoppers? Anyone used the ones from Creative Live? Curious which is the better buy, thanks!

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  2. Corey Dregier

    Any Chance you’ve uploaded the post production video? I want to take this lighting recipe to photograph business portraits. It’s awesome! Thanks!

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  3. Joe Hudson

    Beautiful light on the skin but I would like to add a light to really get the eye colors to pop. How would you propose I do that?

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  4. Jessica Shumway

    Is the video posted on here with the post production guide? Thanks!

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  5. Martin

    Great works man

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  6. Darius

    Which model and size of the Buff PLM Umbrella did you use? Thanks!

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  7. Peter

    Great tutorial and video!

    Guessing it actually takes a while to set up the first few times before it gets easy (like receipes). I was wondering, what kind of clamps are you using to hold the silver reflectors on the side? Or are you using a bit of black tape + a single clamp at the bottom to hold them up (basing it off the first photo of your set-up).

    Thanks! And keep up the neat work!

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  8. adriana

    hi whats model of light you use tnks

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  9. Jennifer O’Dell

    What is that round white overhead attachment called? I MUST get one!

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  10. Peter Dancewicz


    Another great video. This set up looks pretty cheap and quick to execute on. I’m sure everyone has a reflector or 2, if not you can borrow one from a fellow photographer. I’ve got the PH head shot DVD so I’ll be doing a test on a couple of my friends using the same set up.

    Thanks again for the inspiration, and showing that excellence doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.



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  11. Sean Gannon

    Great simple technique. I love Peters work but taking the big lights to clients can be too much. We use a Triflector from Lastolite that gives light at the bottom and two sides and then a huge 7 foot Westcott brolly above. Gets a similar look and can be moved.

    Great work as always!

    Sean – Headshots UK

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  12. Ian

    The distinct square eye light in the Peter Hurley shots is missing here. Of course that’s because of the lighting setup. Nice shots and great advice.

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    • Pye

      Yeah, unfortunately catchlights will only be the same if we follow the setup identically. But, hopefully they are still pleasing catchlights. I found them pleasing without being on the distracting side. All and all, I am happy with the results given we could just use what’s around the studio already.

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  13. Martin

    I didn’t know that Jackie and Ryan were on your staff. I just thought they were a couple you shoot for the couples DVD.

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    • Pye

      Jackie and Ryan were actually our clients first. They hired us to shoot their wedding and engagement portraits. We were looking for a studio manager, and Jackie mentioned to us she was looking for a job. So she became Lin and Jirsa’s now incredible studio manager ;)

      Ryan (her fiance) digs photography and loves shooting on the side too, so he has been shooting with us on the side when he has time as well. It has been a perfect fit =)

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  14. Ihab Mokayed

    “Forehead to the front” by Peter Hurley is obvious with the second woman and the guy with the hoodie, hahaaa!

    But that’s a really easy and nice setup, especially that I started getting asked to do head shots which pay a bit of money so this is pretty good for a start, thank you!

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