We photographers put a premium on the workshops that we attend each year and for many of us, the nature and value of the workshops we attend have a direct bearing on our success within our specific fields. Add to that the fact that quality workshops often cost a considerable amount of time & money; forcing us to only consider those few workshops or seminars that we feel are going to be good investments. It’s actually very rare to find a workshop that seems tailored to address the aspects of photography we most want/need to learn and even more rare to find one that sends us home re-thinking everything we are doing. This was the impact I felt from Peter Hurley’s Headshot Intensive.
If you’re looking for direct insights as to what is taught at this event, you’ll likely be disappointed in my article. Hurley has crafted this weekend-long presentation into one that is nothing short of magic to those fortunate enough to see the value and reserve a space. Because he has gone to considerable efforts to ensure that what is taught at this intensive is exclusive to the attendees, I’m equally careful not to undo this by describing too much.
It’s common knowledge that the first day is all about Peter Hurley putting out tremendous volumes of information and fielding questions, while the second day is pure chaos as everyone attending is busy actually shooting.
I’ll expand on this a bit. When Peter Hurley “puts out information”, it’s important for the rest of us to keep in mind that it’s about to be delivered in the form of a tidal wave. At the Headshot Intensive, I saw no aspect of the business that Hurley was remotely unwilling to discuss. No evidence of deep “trade secrets” that he went out of his way to retain. Add to that the considerable knowledge he DOES have about practically any question suited for this workshop and there you have it: Tidal Wave.
Who is Peter Hurley?
That was the biggest question I had during the months that went by waiting for my workshop to begin. ”Who” is this guy, really? A ton of it was simple curiosity. We Headshot Photographers probably know better than most how deeply embedded in human nature it is to want to associate a name with a face. Of course, having purchased his DVD, “The Art Behind the Headshot”, I certainly knew him by sight. Over the past Summer, I had 2 separate occasions when Hurley actually called “me”; simply to see how things were going with my own studio, and to toss some supportive advice my way. I can tell you that I was absolutely floored to think that a photographer on his level would stop to take the time and make a call like that. To really grip how big this gesture is, you have to be able imagine just how precious time is as a commodity to a man like Peter Hurley. This was all happening during a time when his New York studio is running at full-tilt, his Dallas Studio is being worked on, and his L.A. Studio is requiring his presence every so many weeks. Add to that, he’s hosting Intensive Workshops (sometimes several per month)in all three markets, making a keynote appearance at the First Google+ Conference for Photographers, and above all, raising a family that includes a loving wife and 9 yr. old twins. But that’s what happened; the man took time in HIS schedule to put a call into me just to make sure that I was still fired up and seeing improvements in my own studio!
When I look at my own schedule and painfully admit to myself all the things I’ve allowed to fall through the cracks, get back-burnered, or flat-out forgot, I take it as a tremendous wake-up call to see that this man is not only efficient and highly organized, but absolutely sincere. On a pretty humorous note, he’s also every bit the straight-shooter that befits his NY history. Amidst this genuine, sincere, human-side, Hurley is still direct to the point and crystal clear on how he feels. I say “humorous” as I’m thinking about the time that he got my voicemail and left me a message…pointing out how bad my voicemail greeting sucked and that I needed to “get that sucker sounding more upbeat!”.
If you’re going to truly appreciate Peter Hurley and what he’s making available to those willing to do the work, you absolutely must accept this un-filtered approach that really makes him unique. He never berates a person. Not that I’ve seen. But he’s curt because what he’s usually pointing out (like a voicemail greeting) is something that doesn’t require a detailed back & forth discussion. It’s simple. “It’s screwed up and you need to get on that”. Another reason he comes off as curt and absolute is because what I experienced was not special; it was Peter Hurley playing the part of Peter Hurley. Which is to say that the only reason a phone call from him is brief is because he’s going to make 10 other ones to various people within his PH2Pro program who have things he needs to discuss with them too.
My summarized assessment about Peter Hurley, as I’ve come to know him is that he’s simply not satisfied with the status quo; nor is he satisfied if he doesn’t feel that you’re on the right track about an issue. Because he’s a man who misses no details, you can expect that he will pick up on anything-including a Voicemail Greeting!
Another aspect of the man, is that he’s incredibly generous. You could see this during the entire weekend. He was certain to provide fantastic food for all of us, ample times to simply break up and get our brains out of the room. Every so often, he would get hit with some unavoidable question that was way off base in terms of being relevant to what was being discussed. Over and over, I just watched the man simply answer them, make sure the person was satisfied with the answer. Hurley is naturally graceful with this and was able to handle those scenarios several times; all while never really hampering the flow of the day.
The first day wrap-up:
By the time the first day had finished (which was around 1 a.m.), my brain was fried. For myself, I had come here on a mission to extrapolate every possible kernel of knowledge I could get out of this man. For better or for worse, I truly did show up on this guys doorstep on a mission. Hindsight may one day cause me to believe I should have gone to this Intensive with out the agenda to learn and simply relax and enjoy it. But that just wouldn’t have been me. I’m someone who has an intensity about my work; which isn’t to say that all my work reflects some grand intensity. Rather, it means that I’m a sponge, and once Hurley was able to use his powers of deciphering human nature/body language, he had figured me out as such. Subsequently, as I look back on it now, I can see that he was pouring it on in my direction. Almost as if he wanted to see at what point I simply couldn’t take it all in anymore.
Photo-Critiques/Stop Doing That!
“Stop doing that!!” I can hear him saying that as though he was right here, and when it came time to go through my portfolio review, I heard it a lot. I can only imagine that every individual in that Intensive had a different set of expectations, as well as a different reaction to the critique segment of the day. For me, it’s hard to sum up what I had trained myself to expect. I’d be lying if I said that I had no specific hopes during this. Of course I wanted a glowing review and I think that’s just human nature. I wanted a glowing review even though the deeper part of me knew that a “glowing review” would have been the biggest waste ever. Had my ego received what it wanted, where was I to go afterward? Keep doing the same damn thing?
As picture after picture went up on his projector, I heard the silence of the room, looked over at Peter peering deep into each image, then finally having the silence break when he would look at me with lasers going through my head and asking, “What were you doing here?!” In most cases, I stupidly tried to answer to “what” I was trying to do “there”. All that essentially crumbled by being met with a statement I heard him tell me quite a bit: “Stop doing That!!!” For me, this was the first time I was receiving unbiased critique and I can tell you now this is never an easy first time experience. Keep in mind, Hurley was NOT brutally painful; merely direct. The best part of this was that he took a fair amount of time to chop down the reason’s “why”I was doing things a certain way and what I needed to do to be better. As time has passed, I think I can say for myself that the photo critique was easily worth the entire expense of attending the Intensive; namely because I think it has had the most profound impact on me not being as easily satisfied with “good”.
The second day.
I arrived at the studio for day 2 feeling pretty exhausted. I think I was going on about 2 hours of sleep between leaving his studio after 1 A.M., taking the train back to my room, and then pulling my hair out going through my images, and notes that had been taken that day. All normal things for a workshop this well-fitted to what I most needed to know about both my work and self. The bulk of the second day was dedicated to all of us shooting various models/actors in various lighting setups. Peter openly describes this portion of the Headshot Intensive as “Controlled Chaos”. The purpose of it is clear in that gives the attendees an opportunity to begin incorporating the content they learned the day before while it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind. Personally, I think this is brilliant despite the chaos that’s associated with so much going on in a contained space. Brilliant, because it provides people with a “learn by doing” type of forum; thereby essentially providing a method to learn for every type of individual that may enroll in this program.
My own experience on the second day was nothing short of “awful” on the surface. That was my sense of things throughout this afternoon. In retrospect however, the structure of this shooting day, in addition to my original feeling that it was “awful” have proven to be THE MOST POWERFUL realities I’ve ever had occur in my photography career. Without peer. This is a perfect time to remind anyone reading this that all of this is MY experience, and I don’t for a minute portend that my experience mirrors that of anyone else having attended the Headshot Intensive. That said, here is why I felt like day 2 was “awful”: I discovered that I utterly cannot stand having anyone in the room with me and my client when I shoot. The only exception to that is my makeup artist, Krysta Pelc; and that is strictly because she and I have also become dear friends, as well as having gained the ability to work knowing what each other is thinking most of the time. But to digress, I for one simply cannot be “myself” with my client when I know I’m being observed by others. Others may not care. Others still, may find themselves fueled by having an audience. But me? I’m an introvert by nature.
So why do I value that experience so damn highly? The reason that resonates with me now is because by going through that process, I became far more intimately aware of who I, Chawn Crawley Photographer, really am. A month after this Intensive, I’ve finally become able to claim my studio space as “my turf” and by now knowing exactly what circumstances are most natural for me to work in, I’ve become able to craft out the workflow in this studio to a level that I simply never could have done prior to that experience. Now mind you, I’ve been in plenty of “photo clubs” over the years. I’ve been to a workshop or two, as well. And while I chalk all of them up to good experiences, nothing comes close to the self-awareness that Peter Hurley has rather magically baked in to his “Headshot Intensive”. Frankly, his workshop isn’t that expensive, so while I frequently reference cost, it’s only as a method of bringing things into a useful perspective without actually outing all the details of this workshop that are better left to be discovered as opposed to reading in a blog. But to that point, what would YOU pay to achieve a greater level of self-awareness in your photographic endeavors?
A final caveat to my feelings toward the second day curriculum, is that the actual implementation of the things Hurley laid out the day before is not as simple as one may think. Being able to morph into any persona your client needs in order for them to get their brain out of the room and act as if there is no camera present…well, that’s an art. And while I believe I can become strong in that art over time, I’m vastly more aware of the importance of it all.
Like countless others, I am involved in Peter Hurley’s PH2Pro program, I’ve watched the DVD countless times, and I watch all his video snippets, twitter posts, etc. Not so much as a sycophant, but in an effort to understand the things Peter Hurley is teaching from a truly comprehensive standpoint. I cannot account fro how many times I have heard that man point out that it’s not about lighting, cameras, or anything else; it’s about the rapport you develop with that client and the expressions you capture from that as a result. Well, I heard it all; for months leading up to the Intensive. The biggest thing I can say is that the Headshot Intensive puts you in a position to not be able to leave without knowing that reality; whether you like it or not. It’s about the expressions. Without them, the most elaborate set designed by the hand of man will not prevent the image from falling completely apart. And with those natural expressions, a photographer equipped with an iPhone is in prime position to create truly great images.
At the conclusion of my weekend, I had said my “goodbyes” quickly; concerned with walking 12 blocks through NYC to get to a bus back to Upstate on time. As a first time dad, this was my very first set of days away from my 9 month old baby and for that alone, I was ready to go home. I was also absolutely mind-blown with all the raw data I was trying to process. Yes, please believe when I say that. Hurley goes out of his way to put out so much critical information that if you take your craft as seriously as I do, you will leave this Intensive with the weight of a college course in your brain. As I sat on the bus back to Syracuse, my mind was all over the place; mostly trying to accept the pain that I felt knowing that the best thing I could do for myself was to nuke all the images I thought were portfolio worthy just 72 hours earlier. At the same time, I’m processing the logistics required to overhaul my portfolio, as well as my workflow. It was around 9:30 pm, sitting in the dark on that bus that my phone rang. It was Peter Hurley. The grand master of “getting the expression” had read all of my expressions like a book. And he knew what it all meant with surprising accuracy. Peter knew that he needed to call me as it was the only hope I’d have of dialing myself back and taking this process in stages. He told me that he was really happy with what he got out of me that weekend, and more importantly, he explained in a way that made sense how all I needed to do was ruminate on all the information I got, then begin to sprinkle it into my own workflow in a way that makes sense to ME.
Yes, once again, Peter Hurley (at the conclusion of a grueling and sleepless weekend) diverted himself and called me to make sure I wasn’t heading off on a tangent that would hurt my chances of bettering myself. I can name no other individual functioning at his level who either cares, or makes time for his students the way Peter Hurley does. No one. I’m certain that I’m not the only checkup-phone call Hurley makes on any given day, but I cannot even put in words how great a commodity that is in the fast paced world that we live in.
For anyone considering that Intensive workshop, I cannot possibly impress upon you enough, how crucial to your own success that Intensive is. I was lucky in that I travelled about 8 hours each way to get there. Others have travelled far further. What I can tell you from personal experience, is that if you find an opening somewhere that isn’t as close as you’d like it to be, book it. Get your butt on a plane, and go. Because if you’re business is shooting people, Peter Hurley’s Headshot Intensive is more valuable than the Kino Flo lighting, more valuable than a crazy sharp lens, and vastly more important than the travel it takes to get to it. Ever since I’ve been able to fully digest my experience, I’ve begun to do just as Peter told me to: sprinkle things into my workflow bit by bit; in a way that works for me.
The bottom line though, is that I’m taking the best pictures I’ve ever taken of human subjects, and while I will continue to pursue “more” and “better”, I’m personally convinced that I could never have broke that glass ceiling and looked further before that workshop.
When I got off the bus in Syracuse, my wife asked me, “How did it go?!” I replied, “You know how when that light bulb in your head gets switched on over something you’ve been pondering for a while and there is that ‘stunned’ feeling that goes along with it? Imagine those lights coming on one after another; by the thousands. I’ve gotta change some things, Vicki…”