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Peter Hurley on Positive Reinforcement in Commercial Photography

by Ryan Robinson
featured, photo & video

Peter Hurley

Peter Hurley’s master class on The Headshot,  was designed to teach commercial photographers everything they need, in order to master the art of capturing great headshots with their clients.

Peter has been perfecting his craft as a commercial photographer for over 15 years. He had to learn for himself, how to deal with nervous clients and edgy studio situations.

As he explains the beginning of his career, Peter got his start working most frequently with actors who were in need of high quality headshots that would open doors to auditions. That’s a lot of pressure for both the photographer, and the subject. They needed to come together and create magic in front of the lens every time.


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How does he break down barriers and get his clients warmed up? Positive reinforcement.

Here’s how to get your commercial headshot clients loosened up and into the right mindset, so you’ll capture nothing but greatness when they get in front of the lens.

1. Break the Ice.

One thing Peter has perfected in his commercial photography business over the years, is that he’s learned the value in taking the time to get to know his subjects for a few minutes before even turning on the camera.

His top tips for getting that conversation started in a way that unlocks their true personalities? Share something personal, offer up a humanizing story about your experiences on the other side of the lens, and get them excited to be here!

2. Make Them Laugh. 

If you can make your client laugh by telling a funny story, making fun of yourself, or sharing a great joke straight out the gates, you’ll immediately tear down any barriers that’d inhibit the success of your photo shoot.

Peter’s favorite way to make his clients laugh is by immediately poking fun at them. Of course, your demeanor and tone will define how well this goes over, so be sure to make it clear you’re joking and show your warm side. Peter shares an example, “look at these nostrils, this is what I have to work with today?!”

Opening with this playful approach will get your client laughing, engaging with you, and will lead to a much more genuine demeanor from them once the camera is on.

3. Be Alone with Your Client.

This is a big one for Peter. Creating great imagery first requires a layer of authenticity between the photographer and instructor, something that comes much easier if it’s just the two of you in a room.

One of his past projects was shooting modeling headshots for a child, and naturally the mother and another sibling were both in the room watching. The mother, however continued to interject and criticize her daughter’s appearance, facial features, and berated her to the point of tears in front of Peter and his assistant. Peter was forced to ask her to sit outside in the hallway. After the mother left, he reassured the girl that she was doing a great job and they were able to completely recover, ending with a great finished product.

Having non-essential people in the studio during your shoots will only lead to distractions. Don’t do it unless it’s absolutely imperative.

4. Direct Them.

Your subjects are here because you’re the expert. Give them guidance on what poses they should be taking, how to angle their heads, and what facial expression they should be conveying during each stage of your shoot.

Focus on instructing them to alter the three things on their face that you can change: mouth, eyes, and eyebrows — don’t get mired in the technical stuff, have that down before they walk in. Spend your time behind the camera connecting with your subject and keeping them feeling confident and connected.


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Ryan Robinson

Content marketing consultant to the world's top experts and growing startups. Online educator at ryrob.com where share business advice and teach entrepreneurs how to start a side business. Check out my post on the best business ideas and read about how I validated a business idea in just 30 days.