Peter Hurley is a world–renowned portrait photographer, author, speaker and coach from New York City. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Good Day NY and Nightline. We did an exclusive video with Peter.
We did an exclusive interview with Peter and found out more about him and his work.
Light + Byte: Then-DKNY designer Caggie Simonelli Bradford helped you seek sponsorship opportunities when you were training for the Olympics. Then suddenly you were in front of the lens for a portrait photo for Bruce Weber. Please tell us the story behind that.
Peter: It was 1995 and I was a year out from the US Olympic Trials and needed some sponsorship and fundraising to support my efforts. I met Caggie and she took me under her wing and I secured sponsorship from DKNY and then was sent over to Ralph Lauren to be considered for the summer 1996 Polo Sport ad campaign. They hired me for the job and I found myself in front of Bruce Weber’s camera. Bruce and I became friends and he encouraged me to pick up a camera and the rest is history. I was so fortunate to have Caggie open the doors that paved the way to what I am doing today.
Light + Byte: You are the founder of the Headshot Crew and known worldwide as a leader in the field of headshot photography. What fascinates you about headshot photography and why did you choose exactly this kind of photography?
Peter: As my modeling career started to take off I was sent over to a soap opera to meet the casting director who told me to get into an acting class and he’d put me on the show. I ended up in a class and soon enough needed a proper actor’s headshot. I got my first headshots done and started to concentrate on my acting career. I was immersed in classes and many of my friends were actors. I was bartending at the time and wanted to try to find another source of income to allow me to continue to pursue my dreams in NYC and thought I could try to take some pictures of some of my actor friends. It just ended up taking off and I had no idea I would fall in love with it. I find every bit of the human face intriguing and working with my subjects to create interesting expressions is really my jam. I can’t get enough of it.
Light + Byte: You’ve been dubbed «The Headshot King» by Popular Photography. What is your key to success?
Peter: I think my key to success is really that I created a product and stuck with it. I wasn’t shooting like everyone else. I decided on the look of my work and would’t budge if someone told me to shoot another way. I also was hellbent on making it work. I needed to be able to provide for my family. I really had the perfect combination of something I loved to do that supported lifestyle I wanted to give them. I still love every bit of it to this day.
Light + Byte: Do you have any advice for young photographers out there?
Peter: I’d say if you are starting out to work on finding what fires you up the most and what stimulates the most creativity for you. That may take photographing a ton of different things until you find the one that you know is most rewarding to you artistically. If you can monetize that and commit to your own success in that one genre then you can really go places. If you are wishy-washy and trying to be a jack of all trades I feel it dilutes your talent and focus and puts you into a run of the mill type spot without as much upside. Be as creative as possible and find that thing that is your thing. That’s the thing you definitely should be pursuing.
Light + Byte: What was your first camera and what camera do you shoot with today?
Peter: My first I believe was an old used Nikon FE-2. I shot 35mm for a bit before I decided to become a professional. When I did I bought a new Mamiya 645. I shot that for a while and remained a medium format shooter when I got my first digital back. It was an Imacon 132C and I had it on the back of a Contax 645 at the time. I moved on from medium format in 2015 when I picked up the Canon 5DSr and I’ve stayed with Canon ever since. I now shoot the EOSR5 and love it.
Light + Byte: Your fashion pictures are world-famous and unique. Who or what is your inspiration to create this amazing pictures?
Peter: I don’t really shoot much fashion at all. I never went down that path. I would say my portrait work is really environmental portraiture which I do love to do. Getting out of the studio and photographing interesting people in their element is something I always enjoy. Most of the inspiration for that kind of work is actually done on the fly. I rarely map out what I’m going to do when I get to a client and really love creating the picture from scratch.
Light + Byte: Do you work with flash or also with natural light?
Peter: Most of my work is done using my Peter Hurley Flex Cine kit from Westcott. I also do mix them with natural light and strobe for a bunch of work that I do. I shot natural light at the beginning of my career for a long time before I got a studio, so seeing the light already on my subject has always been more comfortable for me. I still enjoy using my strobes here and there, but would consider myself a continuous light shooter for the most part.
Light + Byte: You are teaching people through your workshops and video tutorials on the Internet. Why do you do that for? What is the reason for teaching other about photographic art?
Peter: I love teaching! I never thought I had the knack to do it, but the Fstoppers came to me and asked me to do a headshot photography tutorial and it was such a success that I ended up starting my online coaching program called Headshot Crew. It’s also a referral engine for headshot photographers to get work globally. I’ve developed a recipe for my work that the photographers utilize to create successful headshot photography businesses and I have over 160 Associate photographers located all over the world. I love bringing my workshop “The Headshot Intensive” to various parts of the planet as well. Teaching it is one of my favorite things to do and over 1000 photographers have gone through the workshop which is something I’m very proud of.
Light + Byte: What profession would you be doing today if you hadn’t become a photographer?
Peter: Wow that’s a good one! I had a few choices right around the time I picked up the camera. Either stick with the acting career I was going for or go work for my brother in finance. I know I wasn’t the greatest actor so I guess I would’ve ended up in the finance world. Who knows where that would have taken me by now, but I feel I got lucky in making the choice to go the photographer route.