peter hurley

How Can I take Great Portrait Photographs?

How Can I take Great Portrait Photographs?

Learning to Take Good Portraits

Learn The Rules

First of all, learn the rules really really well, then, and only then, allow yourself to break them. 

There are technical aspects and then the artistic.  The ‘technical’ part will take you a long way, if not most of the way.  By 'rules' I mean there is lots to learn, your camera, your lighting, posing and it helps to know people a bit, as well.  Learn as you do. 

  1. Learn a few basic operations with your camera.  Practice on inanimate objects around you while varying the speed and aperture.  If you are very new to

    Window light front and back

    this part, check out this article on Basics

  2. Imitate others.  Start with some simple portraits.  Find some people photos that you like on Pinterest or somewhere.  Again, keep it simple to start.  Simple outdoor portraits. Walk before you fly.  Find a friend that is a willing guinea pig.  Find a shady spot outside.  You want soft light.  But you want enough light, so do this outside. Try and duplicate the pose, lighting etc of one or two of the photos that you found on Pinterest.  (Make sure that you are not trying to emulate fancy studio lighting.)  Pick simple outdoor photos to copy. 
  3. Focus. Focus on the eyes.  One or the other.  Something about the eyes and the soul  Focus, then reframe.  Set your ISO for the ambient light and as you are shooting photos of your friend, vary your aperture and speed.  Try different poses.  Photograph them from different heights and angle.  Take these photos back and go look at them on your computer and compare to each other and the ones you were trying to emulate.  Oh yeah, try and have a little fun while you are doing it.
  4. Review your photos.
  5. Read through any materials that you have studied to see if you missed anything.  Watch a couple videos.  Try this one. Keep it simple.  If you get the basics down really, really well, you will be able to do pretty much anything with a camera.
  6. The better you are technically, the better you will be artistically. 
  7. Pick another friend and go through this again.
  8. And again.  If you don’t have enough friends, go make some more.  There are tons of people who like having their photos taken. 
  9. Some simple rules.  Watch your background. Best not to have telephone poles sticking out of the top of the subject’s head.  Try and keep backgrounds simple, not noisy.  This leads to the next: You will likely want your subject to fill most of the frame.  Having Aunt Millie fairly unrecognizable in front of Niagara

    Mid Afternoon Sun in the Shade

    Falls because she is so small in comparison, is not a portrait that is going to communicate. 

  10. Watch some videos by Peter Hurley: “Turtling the Head - The Jaw” and the “Squinch”. You can watch here on my website or find him on Youtube.  This will help hugely with simple posing for headshots.
  11. Survey.  Constantly ask people what they want or need the photos for.  Or what they want out of the photos.  An image for LinkedIn or another social media platform?  Just to have some nice photos.  Is their agency requesting a portrait/headshot?  If so, what does the agency look for in an image?
  12. Take a LOT of photos.  Make sure you are consistently shooting.  Between shoots, always work on learning.  Whether it be more about your camera or posing or …
  13. Lightroom.  This is very important.  Knowing some basics in Lightroom will take your photos up several notches.  Again start simple.  There is a ton to learn in this application but the basics are pretty straightforward.
  14. Don’t spend all your time learning.  The important thing is to shoot, shoot, shoot.  Fit the learning in between times.  Not the other way around.  The more you photograph people the more comfortable and confident you will become. 
  15. Make sure you are photographing someone, somewhere regularly.
  16. Once you’ve got a handle on your camera basics, try varying the light that lands on your subject.  Partial shade on the face.  Shoot with majority of the light behind the subject, to the side, etc.
  17. Once you have practiced the above, try using a reflector.  You can get a round Westcott reflector for around $50.  Black, white, silver and gold.  Gives you a number of ways to modify light without a great deal of expense.  You can use this quite effectively with window light inside as well.
  18. Art has a whole lot to do with communication.  In an aesthetic way.  That’s where eliciting emotion from your subject can come in.  I’ll often get someone

    Late Afternoon Sun in Tree Shade

    to try different emotions, fear, anger, boredom and others.  Gets them to loosen up and can create some more interesting photos.

  19. Tricks.  There are hundreds of tricks to get one or a bunch of people to look or be a little less stiff. Outside with a family or a group, they are all standing stiff at attention.  I’ll get them all to crouch down.  This usually gets them all off balance and they pay more attention and look way more relaxed in the photograph. 
  20. Learn the basics and keep it simple to start. Some of the best photographers that you will ever find use very simple poses and lighting:  Yousuf Karsh, George Hurrell, Arnold Newman, Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, Annie Leibovitz and Peter Lindbergh to name a few.
  21. Never stop learning and never stop having fun.
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Peter Hurley – More about the ‘Squinch’

Peter Hurley – More about the ‘Squinch’

What the hell is a 'squinch'?  

I posted a video of Peter Hurley talking about the 'squinch' some time back.  You can see it here:

I recently came across some updated information by him on this.  He shows some comparison photos of people with relaxed eyes and slightly 'squinched' eyes.   Using this, whether it be for actors headshots, or family photos, this techniques will make your subject look much more natural.

It is a really excellent video; watch it below:


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A Model’s Job vs a Photographer’s Job

A Model’s Job vs a Photographer’s Job

I've read numerous articles and comments about who should bring what to a photoshoot.  I read a comment recently where a model was asking about poses.  The comment was that the photographer will tell you what he or she wants.  That can be true to the extent that a photographer may have an exact vision of what he wants and will give very specific instructions and direction.

Often, though, if the two are doing a model shoot(testing - TFP) there may not always be something specific planned. Either way a new model should learn some basics.  Years ago when learning I had a chance to work with a professional model where previously I had been working with people who were learning.  We were shooting a wedding gown for a client.  Once finished, we had a bit of time and so we decided to a couple of rolls of regular film.  (Yes, this was before the digital era.)  I shot two rolls of 24 (48 pictures).  She gave me a different pose and look after each click of the shutter.  Every shot was fantastic and it took us all of 15 minutes.

I asked her afterward about this ability.  She said it was hours of practicing in front of the mirror.  This was for her facial expression and her body pose.

So, I suggest as a model or soon to be model: get a full length mirror if you do not already have one.  Look in magazines for poses that will work for your body.  Get at least 10 poses that work for you.  More if you can remember them.  And try different facial expressions.  I have seen what otherwise would be a great shoot but the expression on the model's face is exactly the same in every photo.

For a genuine smile that gets all the way to the eyes, check out this video by Peter Hurley about the 'Squinch':

Now, if you are shooting a model in an evening gown, poses would likely be different from the poses used for a bathing suit photoshoot.

Spend time in front of the mirror.  There are tons of samples of poses online - try Pinterest.  Work it until you have several standing, sitting or laying down.  The photographer may ask you something to tweak the pose but by bringing a number of good poses that you already know work well for you, the photographer can work on light and shadow and getting these perfect for the shot.

Another video that needs to be watched by anyone getting their picture taken is this one:

It is also by Peter Hurley. Practice this until it is second nature.  Again, I've seen more pictures ruined by a double chin where the person is trying to look cool or sexy and they have not looked in a mirror to see what it looks like ahead of time.

All this observation of yourself in front of the mirror will also help you get a better idea what type of clothing works for you; what hides curves you want hidden and what enhances curves that you want enhanced.  What poses make your legs look smaller or larger depending on what is needed.  A little bit of side advice here: don't ask your friends to tell you what looks good or doesn't.  This is your job; you are the professional; you need to get your judgement to the point where you are certain. And that comes from observing and understanding what works and what doesn't.

If it is your first photo shoot or so just start with a few and try and increase your list of poses as you go.

The photographer should be bringing his or her skills of lighting, framing and knowledge of the camera and similar tools.  Make each shoot a collaboration.  This may change if the photographer has something very specific in mind.  In this case he has likely hired you for a specific skill set or look.  But have some 'stuff' up your sleeve so you can contribute if asked upon to do so.

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Peter Hurley video:  Headshots and the Jaw

Peter Hurley video: Headshots and the Jaw

Peter Hurley Headshot Techniques

Make sure that anyone that you are going to shoot portraits with knows this information.  It will make a huge difference in your photographs.  The impact they will have with your clients.  Get them to drill it before the session or when you get together with them to practice a bit.  This will also help the client feel they are contributing more, and will help educate them on posing.  

Posted by Martin in Blog, Photography Tips, Portraits, 0 comments