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Portrait photographer Peter Hurley has become famous for his headshots. His YouTube tutorials for posing have gone viral thanks to his simple, effective tips for photographers—and those who just want to look great in photos.
Hurley’s lighting style evolved from a penchant for natural light, so he prefers a continuous light source on location in the studio. When FJ Westcott came out with their line of Flex LED panels, Hurley quickly added them to his gear bag. The pliable, dimmable panels provide continuous light in daylight-only, tungsten-only and bi-color options. “I now have flat panels that I can roll up and take my entire lighting system with me,” Hurley says.
Hurley’s lively style of directing are key to making a subject come alive in front of the camera, but his lighting expertise is equally as important. Typically, he sets the lights, layered with diffusion panels, between 60-80% power for headshots (for subjects who are extremely sensitive to light, he can go as low as 20%), which gives him an exposure setting of about 1/100th second shutter speed at f/6.3-f/8 at ISO 200. Hurley has his technique down to a science, and one of his methods has been to develop a different approach to the way he photographs men and women.
The Feminine Side
When photographing women, Hurley uses either a three- or four-light setup. For the former, he arranges a trio of Flex LED panels in a triangle with 1 x 3-foot panels on either side of the subject, facing each other. A 1 x 2-foot Flex LED panel is placed underneath to illuminate a little detail under the chin. This configuration provides more definition around the jaw line and a little more detail in the skin tones. While Hurley prefers the catchlights—the cornerstone of his work—created by the triangle setup, it’s best used when the subject has flawless skin.
A square configuration is more flattering for the rest of us whose skin isn’t quite perfect, and is also a better option when shooting more than one subject. Reminiscent of window light, positioning 1 x 3-foot panels on either side of the subject, with 1 x 2-foot panels above and below creates a gorgeous, clean, shadowless beauty light. He’ll sometimes strobe the background to create a kick from behind that wraps light around the jawline and provides a little highlight on the cheekbone (Tip: have subjects with long hair pull it back into a ponytail so the hair doesn’t block the kicker light).
The Masculine Side
When it comes to men, “I like to shadow up guys,” Hurley says. “I like to show wrinkles, lines and details, and I especially like to accentuate men’s jawlines.” He sets up two 1 x 3-foot panels on either side, about two feet away from the subject. These panels are positioned even with the center of the earlobe, then Hurley varies the lights’ intensity until he gets the shadow density on the cheek the way he wants it. Two 1 x 2-foot panels are positioned in back as rim lights and are used to create a reflection off the skin in the shadow area for a more dramatic look.
See Peter Hurley’s personalized Westcott Lighting Kit at www.westcottu.com/peter-hurley-kit.
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