Photographer Spotlight: Peter Hurley

Posted by: on Nov 13, 2012

Photographer Spotlight: Peter Hurley
Photo by Damian Battinelli

Nothing about Peter Hurley is conventional. Even his signature clean and straightforward portraits have an intriguing depth to them – like there’s a secret, or a story, or a funny joke that he and his subjects are sharing. Before becoming a professional photographer, he trained for two Summer Olympic Games in the sport of sailing and modeled for major brands like Ralph Lauren – but these were all just stops along the way to what he describes as his “true calling.”

My first camera was…
Nikon FE2, that I purchased from a used camera store in New York during my modeling days.   

I got started in photography…
While I was training for the 1996 Olympics a designer met me and sent me over to Ralph Lauren who was looking for real sailors to model in their summer ad campaign. I got the job and those images started my career in modeling. Bruce Weber was the photographer on the shoot and we became friends, and he continually urged me to pick up a camera. I bought that old Nikon and then upgraded to my first new camera in 2000 (Mamiya 645), and began my portrait business later that year.

I wanted to become a photographer because…
I was always intrigued by photography. I took a course in high school and looking back on my report card the teacher noted that I lacked enthusiasm! I get a kick out of that now. Years later, what really intrigued me were all of the talented photographers I got to work with while I was modeling. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t pay more attention to the photography over the course of my modeling career. When I did finally pick up a camera I definitely became the most annoying model on the set. I phased out of modeling as my photography career took off, but the experience in front of the camera has proven to be extremely valuable.

Photo by Peter Hurley

My first paying photography job was…
I began testing models from my modeling agency in New York. I would charge them the cost to cover the film, which I think was about $25 at the time. I slowly raised my price as people began hearing about my work and I was able to get busier.

My first BIG photography job was…
My first big job was for Reebok and I was petrified. I had a friend who worked at an ad agency and she began giving me work every now and then. Most of it was photographing sneakers that needed to be Photoshopped into an image. Reebok was running a variety of print campaigns at the time and they needed a bunch of different styles re-shot. I ended up getting the job and photographed quite a number of sneakers that year.

I would describe my style or shooting philosophy as…
I would say that I’m most known for my headshot work that is just really clean and simple.  I like things to be straightforward and don’t like much fluff. When I’m shooting portraits I really like to pull a feeling out of my subject and capture an interesting expression from them. It’s what all my work revolves around these days. 

Photo by Peter Hurley

Some of my industry role models are…because…
My biggest role model is Bruce Weber for sure. The fact that he saw something in me to push me to get a camera and start this journey is something that I’ll always cherish. I’ve always loved his work and he’s been a big inspiration for me. As far as other photographers that influence me I think they are the ones that influence most in portrait photography, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. Avedon specifically gave me a ton of inspiration and the white background look of my work definitely was a product of seeing his powerful portraits on white.
I knew there was no turning back when…
I could actually afford to live in New York City. I not only picked up a camera for the love of photography, but I picked up a camera because I was sick of being the model/actor/bartender dude that worked until 4 a.m. and could barely afford living in the city. I had to figure something out and find something that could allow me to live in the city that I loved. I didn’t know when I started that I was going to fall in love with photography and drop the dream of becoming an established actor, but the camera lured me in and I believe I found my calling.

If I could choose one dream gig, it would be…
I’ve already experienced my dream gig and I’d like to do more of just that. I got to photograph the last days of shooting on the set of LOST and exhibited the work in New York City. I think that going to Hawaii and spending four days photographing the people behind this amazing show was the coolest job I could ever have, so I’m up for doing that kind of work again.  

Photo by Peter Hurley

My favorite piece of gear is…
My favorite piece of gear changes from time to time, but for the last year it’s been my Feisol 3472LV tripod. I’m hard to please gear-wise and this thing is unparalleled in my opinion. I shoot on a tripod on a daily basis, so there are certain things I’m looking for in order to keep my camera movements fluid. My Feisol does it all.  

Do you shoot tethered?
You better believe I shoot tethered! I feel like my hands are tied when I’m not tethered. I like shooting into a calibrated monitor and tweaking the first image I shoot to my liking and then glancing at it from time to time to make sure I’m firing on all cylinders. I can’t do that looking at the back of my camera. It doesn’t even come close to giving me the information I’m looking for when I see an image. As far as my clients go, I use the images to coach them into improving their performance in front of the camera. I get technical on facial characteristics, etc., and you can’t even come close to discussing these types of things when you are looking at the back of a camera.

I was able to breath a sigh of relief when I moved into the Tether Tools gear. I feel the flow of the session is extremely important, so constantly losing my connection with my computer prior to having the Tether Tools setup really put a kink in my workflow. Having an advertising client watching you fumble around getting a firewire back in the camera every time you moved around is in no way cool. I haven’t encountered this problem once since I’ve been using Tether Tools products.   

Photo by Peter Hurley

What is your current set-up?
I shoot into an iMac tethered to my Hasselblad H3D22 when I’m in the studio and when I’m on the road I shoot tethered into my MacBookPro. I’m set up to roll with the Tether Tools group of products. My favorite and something I just won’t shoot without is my JerkStopper. When I’m mobile I’ve got my Tether Table with me as well.

Have you integrated your iPad into your workflow yet?
I use Phocus Mobile from Hasselblad to shoot into my iPad and use the Wallee system to attach it to my light stand for easy viewing for myself and my client.  

Photo by Peter Hurley

You’ve got a lot of cool projects in the works. Tell us about your new line of gear.
After years of shooting in the studio I’ve found that there are things that I just would like to have that aren’t on the market, so I started a new line of photo gear called HURLEYPRO. Based on the concept of doing things a little bit differently, I introduced into the market my first product in June called ProBoard. ProBoard is a highly reflective 4- by 8-foot flexible sheet that is white on one side and black on another. I was looking for a portable option for Plexiglas and this fit the bill perfectly.

I use it as a reflective surface for the floor when I’m shooting portraits or underneath my still life work. I also use it as a background for all my headshot work on location. I no longer bring white seamless with me on jobs, making it a heck of a lot easier handling my work out of the studio. I’m in the process of adding my new LED light called the HURLEYPRO Medusa to the marketplace in the coming months.

And where can our readers find you in the upcoming months?
The release of my DVD a year ago, called The Art Behind The Headshot, has really driven the success of my coaching over the past year. I’ve had an incredible response to my workshop called The Headshot Intensive. I’ve been doing them monthly around the United States and am set to go internationally in 2013. I also started a coaching and referral platform for photographers called PH2PRO. The premise of the site is to create a powerful network of photographers specializing in headshots worldwide. Check it out!

Photo by Peter Hurley