What Equipment Does Peter Hurley Use?

by Buffalo Bob on October 13, 2011

Photographer: Peter Hurley

Specialty: Headshots, Fashion, Portraits

Favored Brand: Hasselblad

Watch Peter in action and get a glimpse of his stunning headshots:

Peter Hurley really is the world’s best headshot photographer. Why do I say this? Simple – he’s the only headshot photographer in history whose photos I can spot from a mile away. His images are super-clean, super-sharp without being harsh, and do a simply fantastic job of making his clients look dynamic. And that’s the name of the game – getting an actor’s headshot to stand out in a stack of hundreds.

Hell, I’ve had a few headshot clients myself that came in asking for the Peter Hurley look. Sh*t.

You can hate Peter’s work, but you must admit that he’s got a unique, identifiable style. And that’s why he gets well over $1,000 for a headshot session!

But that’s not all – Peter is also a successful commercial and advertising photographer, shooting for the likes of Levi’s, Reebok, Toshiba, Axe, and DKNY. Screw this guy.

Okay, now let’s get on with it – what camera, lenses, and lighting equipment does Peter Hurley use for his signature headshots?

Please note that I’m going to be listing some expensive gear here, but I’ll move on to less-expensive substitutes.s

For cameras, Peter uses a medium-format Hasselblad H3D with a 22 megapixel digital back. The price? $18,000. This is a scary number, but remember, Peter charges sky-high prices, so it’s not unreasonable for a pro like him.

Peter’s headshot lens is a Hasselblad 120mm f/4 macro, which will set you back over 4 grand.

Now, let’s talk lighting, which is where things get pretty complex.

For headshots, Peter uses a combination of continuous and strobe lights. He gets that ultra-clean, vibrant white background with Alien Bees strobes, while his subjects are lit by four Kino Flo continuous lights arranged in a square pattern. This creates a large, soft light source for the face with extremely smooth transitions from highlight to shadow.

Peter likes the Kino Flos for their beautiful skin tones, but beware that they are extremely expensive, and don’t put out a ton of light. According to EXIF data on Peter’s images, he shoots with a very slow shutter speed of 1/60s. This is to make up for the weak output of the Kinos.

Okay, so do you want the Peter Hurley headshot look on a budget?

Here’s what you do.

First things first. Stick with whatever camera body you have. (If you don’t have one, I’d look at something like a Canon Rebel t2i.) Any modern DSLR can produce a beautiful headshot when used properly.

The real focus should be lenses and lighting. You’ll want a medium-telephoto lens, which compresses the facial features in an incredibly pleasing way. (translation: people look skinnier, and their noses and ears shrink)

Both Canon and Nikon users have plenty of great headshot lenses to choose from.

On the Canon side, I’d look at these three:

Canon 85mm f/1.8 – Bang for the buck, this is the best headshot lens on the market. It’s cheap, super-sharp, and has supremely fast and accurate autofocus. Bargain price, and literally zero compromise. I’d bet that this is the most popular headshot lens on Planet Earth. (for Nikon equivalent, click here)

Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro – The 100mm macro is a spectacular lens. It’s exceedingly sharp, has amazing bokeh, and pulls double duty as an awesome portrait and macro lens. Some people think it’s too sharp for headshots! However, I like that, because you’ll get tincredibly sharp, vibrant eyes for your subjects, and it’s easy enough to soften skin in post-production anyway. Get it over the 85mm f/1.8 if you’re interested in also shooting macro, food, and product. (for Nikon equivalent, click here)

Now lighting is going to be a lot trickier. You’re simply not going to get anything close to Peter’s look on a budget. Just aint gonna happen, because you’ll need at least four lights, seamless paper, and some expensive modifiers.

So here’s what you start with:

-a basic hotshoe flash like the Yongnuo YN-560 (less than $70)

– a big, soft light modifier like this 45″ Photoflex umbrella




-a high-quality Manfrotto light stand

-the Manfrotto 026 umbrella swivel adapter

CowboyStudio NPT-04 wireless flash triggers

Westcott 40″ reflector

If I was getting started in headshots today, this is the exact rig I’d use. The flash + reflector effectively gives you two lights, which is enough to light a great headshot. Once you start to figure out what you’re doing, then you can start adding more lights to get that super-clean white seamless background.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous March 2, 2012 at 3:49 am

You can hate Peter’s work, but you must admit that he’s got a unique, identifiable style.

Why hate it? He does something great, shoots a head like he would shoot a landscape. The head is the detail that takes the crop and focus. That is the difference between a great head shot and a mediocre one.


pete hopkins November 29, 2013 at 2:05 am

hating his work will only keep you from obtaining that level of success. He has said in countless interviews and seminars that his equipment is only the foundation of his process. His remaining talent lies in the relationship he establishes with his client. The looks he is able obtain are based on positive reenforcement and great communication skills. If an angry, upset, nervous person is lit and photographed by the best equipment in the world, they will still be unattractive and probably nobody will like the photo. I say probably, because I have no idea what other’s think, only myself. I DO think that Peter’s success is based on technical savvy, great equipment, and amazing positive energy! Congratulations Peter! You have been a constant source of inspiration to me and I thank you for this. Pete


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