While reflecting on 2018, I came back to a few key turning points as I launched my second career as a photographer at age 40, which by all measures is a crazy idea. I regularly doubt my sanity, and the jury is still out if I can actually make this work as a long-term plan. The thing I keep running into is that I don’t know another path forward, and I enjoy the mix of art and logistics immensely! The question remaining is, can I make it a business that will sustain my family?
The first turning point in this series of top mentors in 2018, was working with Peter Hurley. I was introduced to Peter through his Creative Live course early in the year. I bought the course and watched it at least 2–3 times practicing the setups and building an understanding of light. If you work with him at all you will hear one of his favorite quotes by Walt Whitman which has stuck with me every time I get a human in front of light:
“Keep your face always toward the sunshine — and shadows will fall behind you.”
It’s dead simple, and it orients me immediately to where I need to go next when working with light!
The image above is from the final part of the Headshot Intensive workshop and this is the very first set of studio portraits that I shot where I was solely responsible for setting up the light, directing the model, etc. I was terrified, but we all start somewhere. I felt like I failed miserably at the time, but I learned so much in that short intense time, that many of the “failures” stuck with me and I learned a lot about what not to do, which is just as important as what to do sometimes!
Working with Peter there were two main things on my mind: 1 — How can I take amazing portraits and headshot with light and 2 — How can I make a business out of it? My time spent with him gave me a lot of direction and a lot to think about!
To be honest, I was prepared for Peter to be a big shot, self-centered dick who would move us through his workshop, collect the fees and head back to NYC, but I couldn’t be more wrong. He is an incredible person with so much passion for helping people. I literally knew next to nothing and he never condescended and taught me three years in 3 days. Peter’s genius is that he is incredible with people and he is a fantastic businessman.
Watching Peter work with people was something that no light or camera setup in the world could replicate. The most significant things I learned from him were how vital the connection with a client is, and the attention to detail in the look and expression are what makes amazing headshots and portraits. He was terrific to learn from in person, and I’m still a year away from being able to fully incorporate all that I learned from him.
I’ve never met a photographer that make the lights and the camera fade away and connects with the people he is shooting, as Peter does. He makes every person in his class and in front of his camera feel like a friend with all of his attention, while he hurls his personal mixture of charm, direction and shit load of scarcasm…peppered with his “hurleyisms!” He is truly a master! That lesson was the first time that I fundamentally understood that expression and details are everything in a portrait and headshot and the camera and lights are just the starting point.
I could go on…it was a formative experience to say the least and Peter was incredibly generous with me and made me feel like a friend that would be there if I ever need some help in my photo journey. I have an incredible amount of respect and admiration for this man!
Btw, his Instagram stories are hilarious and contagious to watch to check them out, and you are welcome! He is even nicer and cooler than he appears on Instagram :) I encourage you to check out the the Headshot Crew if you are a photographer, it’s a fantastic community of people and it shares Peter’s commitment to better photogrpahy and his passion for education!
Read about the other two mentors who really inspired me this year, Olaf Sztaba & Chris Knight. I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from these amazing photographers!
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Following the light, one day at a time.
- Aaron (Find me on Instagram: Street/ Portraiture)