From Headshots to Headlines: An Interview With Peter Hurley

From Headshots to Headlines: An Interview With Peter Hurley

Headshot photography has been making major headlines recently. A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal interviewed headshot guru Peter Hurley about the importance of a professional headshot in a quickly changing business landscape (The Perfect Professional Headshot Is Worth $1,000, and Maybe Even a Job).

His print interview was quickly followed by a segment on Good Morning America, where he once again discussed the importance and value of a quality headshot. In the midst of this press whirlwind, Hurley was kind enough to sit down with me for a few minutes to discuss his career and the professional headshot phenomenon.

The Biggest Growing Genre In Portrait Photography

Over the past few years, headshot photography, as well as the need for skilled headshot photographers, has grown exponentially. Hurley credits much of this to our post-pandemic world, where many industries have remained largely online, and our respective digital personas have taken on an importance beyond what most people could have imagined a few years ago. Regarding business in 2022, he says, “You’re looking at your phone all day long, you’re on Zoom if you’re in meetings, and they’re seeing you, so it’s important to put yourself out there, visually, in this digital realm.” Indeed, studies have shown that LinkedIn profiles with a photo receive 21 times more views than those without one, and Hurley himself believes that is a conservative estimate.

Hurley knows firsthand how fast the genre of headshot photography has been expanding, as his organization, the Headshot Crew, boasts over 20,000 photographers, with members across the globe. (Full disclosure, I am an Associate in the Headshot Crew, and I am experiencing this headshot phenomenon firsthand). As the need for high-quality headshots has grown, and as many people either chose or were forced to find a new career path due to the pandemic, Hurley believes that now is a time of great opportunity for headshot photographers to grow their businesses.

Image by Peter Hurley | https://peterhurley.com/

The $1,000 Headshot Phenomenon

“I didn’t create the $1000 headshot, but everyone is following a recipe now that works.” When Hurley discusses his “recipe,” he is not only referencing lighting and coaching, but also a sales strategy developed by Scottsdale-based photographer Tony Taafe. Dubbed the “TNT Method,” Hurley believes that this approach has been an instrumental ingredient in helping headshot photographers in various markets achieve $1,000+ headshot sales on the regular.

According to Taafe, the TNT method is a client-centered approach, where sales are the natural by-product of a great experience. It encourages photographers to not only focus on experience, but also to charge enough to grow a sustainable and profitable business. Taafe credits this method, as well as the training he received from Hurley, for his success as one of the busiest headshot photographers in the world, with studios in both Scottsdale and Los Angeles.

Photographer David Roth, of Miami, has also seen tremendous growth in his headshot business, which he started during the pandemic after much of his other photography work dried up. “People are quickly realizing that a professional headshot is valuable to their career,” says Roth. “If you can get someone to stop-the-scroll, you have a better chance of getting them to engage with you, to notice you… to give you a chance.” Roth realized early on that finding a niche in headshots would be most important to the future of his family and business.

According to Hurley, the other ingredient in the $1,000 headshot recipe is the quality of the final product, which he calls “expression coupled with really clean light and a simple background.” This is not only the recipe that he uses, but also the one he teaches his students, as he considers it not only the best formula for headshot photographers to use, but also timeless, and marketable to a wide audience.

It’s a recipe that works across the board globally and is ageless. I’ve been shooting the classic white background look since I started in 2002.

Image by Peter Hurley | https://peterhurley.com/

I Applaud People Who Copy Me

Hurley’s belief in his headshot formula also forms the basis for his teaching method, and unlike some photographers, he is an open book when it comes to every aspect of his craft. He doesn’t believe there should be a “secret sauce,” and encourages others to emulate his style, especially those who are part of his network.

I’m probably one of the only photographers in the world who applauds people copying me. I want people copying me because I am the one doling out the jobs through the Headshot Crew and I’ve been building this network of 20,000 photographers on the site for this moment in time.

Hurley believes that photographers in a wide variety of genres would benefit their businesses by adding headshots to their offerings.

If you’re a portrait photographer, why would you not add headshots to the mix? Photographers in the Headshot Crew who have done that have decided that the most lucrative part of their business has become headshots. It’s a lot easier than weddings or newborns.

He adds that many of the photographers he coaches are making six figures, even some located in the same city. “There’s no lack of human beings needing this,”, he says, and he feels strongly that we have reached the point of critical mass for headshot photographers everywhere. “We’ve been working on this for so long and now we have national attention. Essentially there is enough to go around.”

Image by Peter Hurley | https://peterhurley.com/

Criticism and the $49.99 Headshot

Hurley is not shy when discussing photographers who “give away the farm,” as well as his critics. He believes that “headshot photographers who do $49.99 weekend specials, those who are upset by competition are the ones actually hurting the market.”

Hurley says that instead of charging very little and offering an inferior product, photographers should “have some confidence in themselves and their craft,” saying that he “rather have them raise their price and not hurt the industry as a whole.” The caveat, he adds, is that their work and service level must meet exceptionally high standards as a precursor to being able to charge a premium.

He does not subscribe to the idea that other photographers are his competition, instead focusing on his own growth as a photographer and businessperson. He says, “I compete with myself. Kevin Hart said it best, ‘I just gotta beat me,’” and lives by the quote, “Amateurs compete, professionals create.”

I’m an open book and I don’t have secret sauce that I won’t inject into the veins of my students.

He realizes that there will always be people who are critical of you when you have success and are recognized in your field, which he considers as par for the course.

Image by Scott Rosenthal Photography | https://www.nycheadshotstudio.com/

Hungry As Ever

With the recent media exposure being given to headshot photography, Hurley feels energized and excited. He believes that the attention he has been able to bring to headshot photography via the WSJ article and GMA segment can serve as an inspiration to headshot photographers, and that the “rising tide lifts all boats.” As the public becomes more aware of the value, and need, for world-class headshots, he tells me that he is “hungry as ever,” as a photographer and educator.

As our conversation came to a close, Hurley enthusiastically summed up his passion for headshot photography.

Pointing a camera a human being and getting paid for it is just the coolest thing that you can imagine. I just love it. I still love it 22 years later.

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10 Comments
Jakub Strumiłło's picture

Wonderfull interview and lots of golden knowledge shared in it!
Well done Pete Coco keep going!

Pete Coco's picture

Thanks, Jakob!

Pete Coco's picture

Hey Lee, we've got many similar stories here. Part of the problem is that many actors don't want to spend a lot on headshots, especially if they are just starting out. It doesn't make sense to me because of how important their headshot is for their career but it is what it is. The majority of my clients are corporate for this reason, and although I love working with actors I get less of them because I'm not going to give them 500 photos for $300 lol.

Michelle VanTine's picture

Great as always Pete Coco

Pete Coco's picture

Thanks Michelle!

doug mcgoldrick's picture

Props to Peter but, it kind of drives me nuts how he and all his minions all use the exact same lighting set up every time, they all look the same

Pete Coco's picture

Hey Doug, as one of his "minions," lol, the point is to emulate Peter's style because as he said to me in the interview it's a recipe for awesome headshots that clients will love. I know many, many photographers who built successful photography businesses by learning from Peter. (myself included)

Personally, after I gained a good grasp of Peter's commercial headshot style and also became an Associate in the Headshot Crew, I started to branch out and now offer headshots in Peter's style as well as a very different dramatic portrait style too. So I think it's easy to say everyone's work looks the same but that's not actually the case if you know a bunch of crew members and look at their work.

Jakub Strumiłło's picture

They didn't "look the same" Doug, because every face and expression are different. In this close composition attention move towards the face. Light is amazing and works well, shows and highlight peoples faces. For corporate clients its important to see the results - before they will hire you. Thats why having consistent work and light that works for every client... its key to success. If You think its easy to done,, jump to Headshot Crew for free trial, and try to follow this recipe and post your work in weekly contest. :)