Tip – Review of Illuminating the Face by Peter Hurley

Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography. —George Eastman

If I asked you what crazy haired madman yells “shebang!” when he nails a shot, chances are you’d instantly know who I was talking about. A name synonymous with The Art Behind the Headshot. The name is Hurley. Peter Hurley.

From Olympic sailing to Ralph Lauren model to photographer, Peter’s journey to being one of the most iconic headshot photographers is quite a story. In Illuminating the Face (produced by Fstoppers), Peter shares his knowledge of how to light a face with 4.5 hours of technical lighting instruction.

Lighting is one of the most difficult aspects of photography to learn simply because you have to “see” it to get it. As the foundation of photography, lighting is an awareness and sensibility that you use to develop a signature style. As Peter says, “Once you put light on a model, you own that light!”


I’ll never forget the moment I decided to become a professional photographer. Staring at full-page ads wondering how I could make images like that? It was all a mystery. I spent a lot of time and money to formally learn lighting. I worked for years as an assistant for some of the best photographers in the business, learning about light. The internet was just in its infancy and the only way to learn lighting was to find a photographer with a style you wanted to emulate and learn on the job or take a hands-on lighting workshop. For me, it was all of that and a video series from the late Dean Collins. And by video, I mean VHS tape.

What Dean Collins did so well was establish a language for discussing the qualities of light. Exposure, shadow edge transfer, specular edge transfer, contrast between shadow and diffused, contrast between diffused and specular. Once photographers developed a language about lighting, they could communicate about the elusive and subtle nuances of lighting.


It doesn’t matter if you’re told what light modifier to buy and what camera settings to use down to the exact f/stop and shutter speed, because until you learn to actually “see” light, it’s all an illusion. Most training videos feature photographers showing you how they created an image without explaining how they got there. Peter throws all of that out the window and shows you his process of lighting a face and how he decides it’s time to throw out a “shebang!”

In this set of videos, Peter shows you how to mold and shape the face with light, using strobes and light modifiers. He compares all of them. You see everything in real time in a live video feed next to Peter’s camera. You get to see what he’s seeing. He explains in the beginning the principles of the Inverse Square Law and how that is the basis of everything he does with lighting. Hard light vs. soft light, how the size of the light source, proximity to your subject and shape of the light modifier all work together to define your light.

Each chapter builds on the concepts and techniques from the previous chapters. He moves through the various light modifiers and shows you how little things like moving an umbrella closer or farther away from a strobe head can really make a difference in the quality of light. Learn by doing, playing and testing. He is continually moving his lights and discusses what he’s looking for, what he’s seeing and why he decides it’s the right light.

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He works with two models showing how the same lighting does not work for every person. You can’t follow a lighting recipe and expect similar results without being able to understand what you’re seeing. There are simply too many factors that go into sculpting the right light. This video series is all about lighting the face. It will teach you the basics of lighting and even introduce you to more advanced pro tips.

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The video series is downloaded as four MP4 high definition movie files that you can watch on any of your devices. It’s fast paced, no-nonsense narration. You will not be bored, and the picture within a picture format is a great way to learn. Is it worth the $300 price tag? Unless you’ve spent the last 10 years studying light, the answer is easy. Yes! How much would you pay to have Peter Hurley spend four hours with you explaining how he sees light and crafts his head shots? My guess is a lot more than $300. I wish this video series was around when I started my career as a photographer. Ultimately you should work with whatever light and modifier you have and own it. It’s not about the gear. It’s nonstop learning at the speed of light.


Learning to see light is something you’ll do the rest of your life. You’ll always be deconstructing the lighting in ads and find yourself analyzing light during a dinner conversation with a friend when you should be paying attention to what they’re saying. Understanding how to see light and communicate that takes time. But that knowledge will serve you in every aspect of your photography, no matter what you decide to photograph.

Click here for more information on Peter Hurley’s “Illuminating the Face.”