Headshot photography has recently made headlines. A few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal interviewed headshot guru Peter Hurley about the importance of a professional headshot in a rapidly changing business landscape (The perfect professional portrait is worth $1,000 and maybe even a job).
His print interview was quickly followed by a segment on Good Morning America, where he again discussed the importance and value of a quality portrait. In the midst of this whirlwind of press, Hurley was kind enough to sit down with me for a few minutes to discuss his career and the phenomenon of professional headshots.
The fastest growing genre in portrait photography
Over the past few years, head photography, and the need for skilled head photographers, has grown exponentially. Hurley attributes much of this to our post-pandemic world, where many industries have remained largely online, and our respective digital personas have taken on importance beyond what most people could have imagined a few years ago. years. Regarding business in 2022, he says, “You look at your phone all day, you’re on Zoom if you’re in a meeting, and they see you, so it’s important to put yourself forward, visually, in this digital realm. Indeed, studies have shown that LinkedIn profiles with photos receive 21 times more views than those without, and Hurley himself thinks that’s a conservative estimate.
Hurley knows firsthand how quickly the genre of headshot photography has grown, as his organization, the Headshot Crew, has over 20,000 photographers, with members around the world. (Full disclosure, I am an associate of the Headshot team, and I experience this headshot phenomenon first hand). As the need for high quality portraits has grown and many people have chosen or been forced to find a new career path due to the pandemic, Hurley believes the time has come for portrait photographers to develop their company.
The $1,000 Headshot Phenomenon
“I didn’t create the $1000 headshot, but everyone is now following a recipe that works.” When Hurley talks about his “recipe,” he’s not just referring to lighting and coaching, but also to a sales strategy developed by Scottsdale-based photographer Tony Taafe. Dubbed the “TNT Method,” Hurley believes this approach has been a key ingredient in helping portrait photographers in various markets achieve consistent sales over $1,000.
According to Taafe, the TNT method is a customer-centric approach, where sales are the natural by-product of a great experience. This encourages photographers to not only focus on the experience, but to charge enough to build a sustainable and profitable business. Taafe credits this method, as well as the training he received from Hurley, with his success as one of the most active portrait photographers in the world, with studios in Scottsdale and Los Angeles.
Miami-based photographer David Roth has also seen phenomenal growth from his portrait business, which he launched during the pandemic after most of his other photographic work dried up. “People quickly realize that a professional headshot is valuable to their careers,” says Roth. “If you can get someone to stop scrolling, you have a better chance of getting them to engage with you, notice you…to give you a chance.” Roth realized early on that finding a niche in portraits would be most important to the future of his family and his business.
According to Hurley, the other ingredient in the $1,000 headshot recipe is the quality of the end product, which he calls “expression paired with really crisp light and a simple background.” It is not only the recipe he uses, but also the one he teaches his students, as he considers it not only the best formula for portrait photographers, but also timeless and marketable to a wide audience.
It’s a recipe that works in all areas on a global scale and that has no age. I’ve been shooting the classic whitescreen look since I started in 2002.
I applaud people who copy me
Hurley’s belief in his headshot formula also forms the basis of his teaching method, and unlike some photographers, he is an open book when it comes to all aspects of his craft. He doesn’t believe there should be a “secret sauce” and encourages others to emulate his style, especially those in his network.
I’m probably one of the only photographers in the world to applaud people who copy me. I want people to copy me because I’m the one distributing work through the Headshot team and I’ve built this network of 20,000 photographers on the site at the moment.
Hurley thinks photographers in a wide variety of genres would benefit their businesses by adding portraits to their offerings.
If you’re a portrait photographer, why don’t you add portraits to the mix? The Headshot team photographers who did this decided that the most lucrative part of their business was becoming portraits. It’s much easier than marriages or newborns.
He adds that many of the photographers he coaches make six figures, even some located in the same city. “There’s no shortage of human beings who need this,” he says, and he’s confident we’ve reached the point of critical mass for head photographers everywhere. “We have been working on this for so long and now we have national attention. Basically, there’s enough for everyone.
The reviews and the $49.99 headshot
Hurley isn’t shy about discussing photographers who “give the farm away”, as well as his detractors. He thinks that “the photographers who are doing the weekend specials at $49.99, those who are upset by the competition are the ones who are really 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 he “prefers to have them raise their price and not harm the industry as a whole”. The caveat, he adds, is that their level of work and service must meet exceptionally high standards before they can charge a premium.
He doesn’t subscribe to the idea that other photographers are his competitors, instead focusing on his own growth as a photographer and a businessman. He says, “I am in competition with myself. Kevin Hart said it best, “I just gotta fight,” and lives by the quote, “Amateurs compete, professionals create.”
I’m an open book and I have no secret sauce that I won’t inject into my students’ veins.
He realizes that there will always be people who will criticize you when you are successful and recognized in your field, which he considers normal.
Hungry as always
With the recent media exposure given to portrait photography, Hurley feels energized and excited. He thinks the attention he’s been able to bring to headshot photography via the WSJ article and GMA segment can serve as inspiration for headshot photographers, and that “the rising tide lifts all boats.” As audiences become more aware of the value and need for world-class portraiture, they tell me they are “hungrier than ever,” as a photographer and an educator.
At the end of our conversation, Hurley enthusiastically summed up his passion for portrait photography.
Pointing a camera at a human being and getting paid for it is simply the coolest thing you can imagine. I like. I still love him 22 years later.