My Day With Peter Hurley


On March 24th, 2016 I got to spend the day with Peter Hurley.  Thousands of people have done so in classes and workshops, and I count myself as fortunate for having done so, but yesterday was different and special.  Peter was in Toronto to deliver his Illuminating the Face workshop presented by Henry's Learning Lab, and I had the honour and pleasure to both introduce Peter to the attendees and to help with the setup and assist him over the course of the day.  It was really quite amazing.

If you've seen Peter on video or in a large venue, you get an impression of the man.  100% Type A personality, forceful and perhaps even a bit aggressive.  When you get the opportunity to meet the man and to learn a bit more about him, you also discover than in addition to immense confidence is a fellow who worked hard and continues to work hard for his success and who really cares that students get value from his programs.  He doesn't blush, but he appeared moved by my introduction, and was incredibly gracious in his thanks.  And then he jumped in to the day and getting his teachings across.

The morning was spent in discussions of practical steps to successfully lighting the face of your subject.  Peter challenges long accepted "standards" by asking "why".  His lighting philosophy is no longer unique since so many have learned from him and copied his style, but listening to how he thinks about light and the people he photographs is, pun intended, illuminating.

I've listened to photographers talk about Peter for several years.  They always refer to his incredible energy, his always-on personality and his consistency to always be selling himself and the products of his company.  Some have disparaged Peter for this.  As some of you know, I have spent a large part of my life as an executive in the Information Technology industry.  Peter gets that his success comes from consistent and regular promotion.  He is completely honest about it and encourages his students to get that concept and to do it for their own benefit.  Of all the things I have seen Peter teach, I see this message being adopted the least.  There is always lots of time spent note taking and questioning a technical aspect, but I never hear enough questions about making the business of being a professional photographer successful.  There's an incredibly bright and successful individual telling folks what to do, and sadly, so many choose not to hear the message.

Peter practices what he teaches.  When he gets in front of a subject, he is exactly what he appears to be in his videos.  He is, to his own words, 90% therapist, creating rapport and bond to get the best out of people.  If the subject is outgoing, the process goes faster, but if not, it still happens.  This is the talent that Peter has honed over his time in the business.  He gets people to give him good face, consistently and expertly.  

Peter never forgets that he is always looking for his next job.  While running about the room where we had six unique client shooting setups, he was on Instagram and Snapchat, recording images and quick videos and rapidly posting them online.  He understands that continued exposure is critical, even at his own incredible level of success.  The folks who attended were really great, and I say this because I did get the opportunity to work with and offer some little coaching to them myself through the course of the day.  Yet only a couple of them were emulating Peter's embrasure of the importance to be consistently delivering a message to potential clients.

In our downtimes, Peter is the same man, gracious, and helpful, with the volume turned down and the NYC exuberance a tiny bit more contained.  I have heard many people say that Peter is arrogant.  I surely don't know the man well, a day and a half together does not make us close buddies, but in my perspective, and having had the luxury to be an educator myself to several thousand people over my own history, I can say that this man is actually very humble.  He readily admits mistakes and what he didn't and doesn't know.  While retaining his humility he also pushes very hard to continually be learning, and he shared excerpts from his own experience where his headshot success was making him feel a bit trapped and how he worked with an external person to help break those walls and expand as an artist.

In addition to being known for his photography, Peter founded the Headshot Crew, a teaching and promotion vehicle for headshot photographers, co-founded PsyPhotology a personal branding experience mechanism and HurleyPro Gear a selection of Hurley designed tools to make image making more time effective, including his H2PRO water ballast based mobile "sandbags", the ProBoard backdrop system and the more recent Hurley FlexKit from Westcott.  The Flexkit is still going through CSA certification so he had a smaller version with him this time, but it is basically 2 sets of two Westcott Flex LED panels that deliver 5500K daylight with each panel individually dimmable.  In a recent conversation on Scott Kelby's The Grid, I got to ask Peter if he had switched from his proven KinoFlo set up to the Flex system and he said that he had.  I've used KinoFlos for years myself and while I love them for the quality of the light, they are not near as portable as the very collapsible FlexKit is.

One of the six shooting stations that were built is one of the simplest ever seen in a large workshop.  It consisted of a large window on the west side, with the light falling into a pair of white V-Flats making half a square opposite.  In front of the subject was a simple white reflector (we used one of the awesome Profoto reflectors - Profoto having been a great supporter of the event) attached to two Manfrotto light stands with Manfrotto super clamps.  The only light was the light from the heavily clouded over sun.  At the end of the day, Peter did a short survey of which of the six setups that attendees liked best.  He was not surprised at all when the attendees voted the natural light box their favourite.

Peter also advocated something that I believe in very strongly, although I give him full credit for articulating it better than I ever have.  He calls it becoming a human light meter.  He is straight up that he doesn't worry about a light meter and encourages his students to see the light and make a judgement.  I was very fortunate that both of the times that he called on me for a suggestion, that my suggestions were correct.

Folks who are very linear can find attending a workshop with Peter a bit frustrating.  He tells everyone right up front that he can sometimes go off on tangents.  It's true, but to his credit, he consistently brings things back to the core premise that he starts with.  So if you are a very linear thinker, do attend a class with Peter, but make life easier on yourself by accepting that he's non-linear and you'll really enjoy the time if you just go with the flow.  A couple of attendees had mentioned that they found this a challenge, but I'm glad that we were able to chat, and afterwards both indicated that they enjoyed the day more when they relaxed and just followed Peter's trains of thought.

Peter is not staid.  We had prepped, and I had over-ordered gear to deliver for four shooting locations, and I had presumed that we would be covered.  In the setup the night before, some changes were identified and I brought some of my own gear to support what the awesome people at Henry's Rentals and Profoto supplied, yet by lunch time, we were up to six shooting stations instead of four and my over-provisioning of lights and modifiers was fully used.  That's the challenge but also the incredible "let's do this" when you get to work with someone as dynamic as Peter.

In addition to the great folks from Profoto Canada there to support their products (Miguel and Isabelle - you were great!) and provide answers and demos during the breaks (I am a Profoto user and therefore may have a bias), Canon Canada was also a sponsor and in addition to having some lenses on hand also had prerelease versions of the 1Dx Mark II and the 80D.  We were not permitted to put cards in the prerelease products, as much as I would have liked to, since I have a Mark II on order.  Henry's Social Media Coordinator may have driven the actuation count up a bit on the Mark II, as it does sound quite impressive at 16fps.

After reading this, you might decide to call me a Peter Hurley fanboy.  Whatever makes you happy.  First I am older, and fatter than Peter, so boy doesn't fit.  What I learned from working for and with Peter for a day and a half is what an amazing person he is in addition to his renowned expertise as a photographer.   The man has a lot of class and is a really decent human being.  I've been a photographer for over forty years and have worked as primary and assistant on a lot of sets.  It's not all that often where you see the star participate in the setup and teardown of a large workshop, including carting stuff to the truck.  Peter did that.  Every one of the staff noticed too.

So to Peter, should you happen to read this.  Thanks man.  It was great.  I learned more from you, again.  Thanks for the photo together and the lovely entry you made in my copy of The Headshot.  It was an awesome time.

I would like to end with a shoutout to the people at Henry's LearningLab.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a LearningLab instructor on a number of subjects and I also write articles for Henry's for their social media effort.  That said, it takes an organization like LearningLab, which is run by the unstoppable Amy Stein, to have pulled off an event of this magnitude with such a lean team and to make it the success that all the attendees said it was.  So to Amy, Amanda and Jorge as well as John (who leads the Rentals business), Scott and Ryan from Henry's a huge tip of the hat for work extremely well done, that resulted in customer joy.