How to Light Headshots: Five Tips from Peter Hurley

When it comes to headshots, there is perhaps no better source of information and guidance than the man who has made an empire out of the practice. In this five minute video on the, Peter Hurley quickly breaks down his favorite tips to light the perfect headshot.

Tip 1: Peters’s most important tip comes from a quote by American Poet Walt Whitman who once said, “Keep your face always toward the sunshine, and shadows will fall behind you.” Hurley took this to heart since this is a huge deal for photographers when they want to avoid side lighting to ensure subjects’ faces are properly lit and allow the camera to see the color in their eyes.

Tip 2: Never underestimate the power of natural light. While having all the latest and greatest lights and modifiers is great, photographers can capture incredible images using nothing but the light available from the sun.

Peter explains this in a previous video, but above he explains how he shot with nothing but window light for the first four years of his professional career. Even today with limitless gear at his fingertips, he will often still make use of natural light for his images. He believes that if photographers can become proficient at shooting with natural light, they will be better able to emulate it in the studio.

Tip 3: Use continuous light so you can see exactly what’s going on with your subject and how the shadows are falling. This will help photographers avoid strobes disrupting the conversations and banter with their subjects and will help reduce the pupil size to show off much more color in the subject’s eyes.

Tip 4: Learn the Inverse Square Law. Put simply, the main idea is to get the lights as close as possible to the subject for a softer, and much more beautiful, light.

Tip 5: Hurley’s final tip is to try his signature “triangle” style setup. He says that photographers can use this setup with any lighting equipment available regardless of it being natural light, strobes, or continuous. He recommends placing lights into strip boxes or flag them into the right shapes in order to create a triangle enclosure for the model because, in Hurley’s opinion, he hasn’t seen anything better than that setup that can reliably produce excellent headshots.

Be sure to watch the full video to see these tips in action or visit the Peter Hurley YouTube channel for additional videos.

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