Camera invisibility, or the Peter Hurley magic

Dang I like Peta Pixels !

I “liked” their Facebook page and now get those daily notices on my own about their posts, and most of them range from interesting to awesome. Yesterday I came across one of the latter category. Called “It’s all about the squinch”, it made me discover hotshot headshot photographer Peter Hurley. I now feel a bit self conscious I wasn’t aware of him before, because he’s a class leading maestro in the portrait world.

Anyway, I ran over and Googled everything I could find on the guy. I watched his viral video named “It’s all about the jaw”, which is the earlier episode of the squinch video. Then I moved on to “The art of the headshot” Google+ live conference. Needless to say, I was (am) hooked. And really, what’s not to like ? Peter Hurley is an ex national USA sailing team member, who also happened to have been a male model for a number of years (and he was freaking YUMMY, gals !). Now he’s one of the best regarded portrait photographer in the US, catering to all the headshot needs of the rich, famous, and aspiring rich and famous as well. Movie stars, CEO’s and budding actors/singers/artists all crowd to stand in front of his Hasselblad camera and 120mm Macro lens. The guy is SO good at what he does, but also at explaining it, that I even went as far as renting his Mastering Headshot Photography tutorial at KelbyTraining.com (6.99$ for 72hrs unlimited viewing).

So what is so exceptionnal about this Hurley guy (aside from being incredibly likable, huggable, and madly talented) ? Well, he brings focus on an area of people photography that we tend to totally overlook, and that is the HEART of successful people images. And that’s not his fancy continuous light set-up, his signature white background, or his pricey Hasselblad and assorted glass. Nope, none of that. The one most important thing in getting successful and important people images is what Peter Hurley calls the “human element”. And watching him for as long as I have since last night, I can tell you he has mastered that quite a bit. The idea that Hurley is pushing, is that the best light set-up, camera gear, and most gorgeous model, do not give you “a proper shot in his opinion” (and I happen to agree as I regularly see the work of some studio photographers thinking highly of themselves, but whose pictures bring no emotion whatsoever, <sigh>). What does make a shot, is the expression. So it’s the photographer’s job to bring out (he says “to pull”) expressions from their clients. By the way I love the fact that he rarely refers to them as such, or as model, but mostly as “human beings”, which indeed, they are first and foremost, well before being anybody’s client or subject.

People, unfortunately, all have a natural tendency to freak out when having a camera pointed at them. Poiting to his massive 120mm macro lens he says “when actors look that the barrel of that gun, it’s a whole different ballgame”. Any amateur (and that is based on my own, very limited experience) that has someone in front of them for a “portrait shoot”, as small and pretentionless as that can be, knows the instant fright that seizes people the minute you show signs of actually starting to shoot them. Hurley being a smart guy, funny guy, and showman, makes this both clear and hilarious in his various videos, conferences and tutorials. He insists that us photographers go back to our own earlier shoots and decipher, picture by picture, what happen in that shoot, and the various poses and expressions that we got. He insists that it is the photographer’s responsability to get the good shots, no matter what -or how long- it takes.

I absolutely loved watching that material, and I’ve been thinking about that since first laying eyes on it. I thought about it non stop during my morning run (in 0°C weather), and I blog about it now. I know this is going to keep my brain steaming for quite a while. Thank God I have an infant/family shoot on Sunday so it will be great to put some of Hurley’s tips at work. One of the things I really enjoyed most about his teaching, is how the technique is irrelevant. NOT that it can afford to be sloppy !!! Quite the contrary. But he says “The technique is in my back pocket”. When those people are in front of me, I don’t want technical stuff on my plate”. That’s because he considers himself “90% therapist, 10% photographer. What a wonderful way to look at it !! Some people are more relaxed in front of a camera than others. I, for one, I’m totally terrified and 300% self-conscious, it’s horrible. I’d love to pair with that guy and let him work his magic on me.

What can I do to make my subject relax, feel comfortable and look good, is something I’ve asked myself over, and over again. Peter Hurley hammers “You have to chill them out”. He insists you have to be intuitive about it, work according to their personalities, and adapt to them. But his style is very hands-on all the way, with coaching the number thing on his list. And this is where I had the AH AH ! moment. So far, when I had a planned shoot, I live in *hope* that my subject who eventually relax after a while, and give me good attitudes, expressions and poses, leading to great pictures. I had a vague idea of the most basic body position as a starting point, but I was clueless as how to get the best of their face. I tried to give gentle and easy going direction, but overall, I let a lot to the odds. Now I feel confident that I can *coach* people into relaxing, posing, and convey my own confidence out to them. Peter Hurley says that to achieve that, he stresses to his people that “it’s a team job”. “I’m on your team” he tells them, and because they have admittedly the very best on their team, no matter what, they’re bound to win. He says it’s his job put “pull them up” to his level, thanks to his skill, and bring the excellence out of them.

I have a newborn/family session planned on Sunday. Obviously studio/fashion doesn’t apply 100% to the subject, but the general philosophy of being more in charge and giving more direction applies, whatever the style of shooting you’re doing. People will be people, and they’ll look better at some angles than others. So stay tuned to see if the Hurley magic works a little for me, too 😉 In the meanwhile I strongly encourage all of you to check out as much as Peter Hurley’s stuff as you can, there is a good amount of free content all over the net that has wonderful teaching and valuable insight in it.

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About marla2008

Shutterbug. Shallow DOF nut. Mother of Child. Student of the Horse.
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6 Responses to Camera invisibility, or the Peter Hurley magic

  1. laurent says:

    Bad news for us introverted….maybe I will just swith to landscapes or bird pictures….

    • marla2008 says:

      Laurent, I beg to disagree !! It only means you have to work harder to overcome that, but I’m convinced everybody can do it, it’s all a matter of working at it.

  2. King T says:

    Thanks a lot for pointing me to him. As the quintessential introvert I’ve definitely experienced the mind-freeze that he so calmly and humbly admits to. Give me a great bit of hope that by thinking about it I can get over that moment till I get into a flow.
    As for that jaw-line advice – it’s just what I’ve been looking for for a long while. Been pondering for a lonnnnnng time now how to go about shooting someone I know who has a rounded chin and who’s only too aware of it.
    Thanks again for the links, this guy is good!

    • marla2008 says:

      King I genuinely think ALL models and ALL photographers share that fright, I certainly do. The job of the photographer is to put on such a show of confidence and purposefulness, that it expends to the subject and chill him/her out. Coaching skills ARE the tool to handle those nerves, on both sides of the camera. As a photographer, if you know you have the proper directions and poses to get the best of the person in front of you, it’s a confidence builder that wlll ultimately get that person to trust you and get over their own nervousness. Technique is *not* where it’s at, gear even less so, human rapport is !!

  3. Laurent, you are so funny.

    I think its a great theory, the application of said theory is the difficult part! (bunch of kids under 5) But, I like the idea nonetheless and appreciate its usefulness, limited or otherwise, depending on all the variables. 🙂

  4. Thanks for the tip about the PetaPixel facebook page, btw.

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