Replicate Photographer Peter Hurley’s Signature Lighting Look With Strobes

Replicate Photographer Peter Hurley’s Signature Lighting Look With Strobes

If you followed this blog for any length of time, you know that we’re big fans of head shot photographer Peter Hurley. Peter is extremely well known for his ability to get fantastic shots for his subjects. His ability get a range of expressions through rigorous coaching is, I think, what makes his images stand out from the rest.

His lighting setup is also a subject of much discussion. Peter uses Kino Flo lights, which produce a fantastic quality of light. You don’t have to use Kino Flos, however. I wanted some portraits of fellow staffer Alex Huff, so I decided to try and replicate Peter’s lighting style with strobes.

Lighting Gear Used

  • PocketWizard MiniTT1 on-camera.
  • PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller on-camera.
  • PocketWizard PowerMC2 modules in the Einstein lights.

Now, as you can see in the video above, Peter basically makes a box out of his Kino Flos, then shoots through the box, capturing his subject in a wash of beautiful light. For my shots, I used Einstein E640 monolights and some strip boxes as light modifiers.

The lighting setup for my portrait shoot with Alex.

The lighting setup for my portrait shoot with Alex.

Use two of the softboxes as vertical sources of light. I hoisted the third softbox up high – as you see in the lighting setup image above. I also angle the boxes a bit inward and downward, to concentrate the light a bit more. Using a Justin Clamp, I hooked up a small Speedlight (you can use a fourth strobe or a Speedlight) to the top of the backdrop. I used it to spray a bit of light onto the background, making sure it went perfectly white, and because I wanted a bit of “backspill” – a touch of light that wraps over Alex’s shoulders, onto the collarbone.

All the lights (except the background Speedlight, which was set to slave mode and triggered optically) were controlled and triggered by a PocketWizard MiniTT1 with an AC3 Zone Controller on-camera and PocketWizard PowerMC2 modules in the Einstein lights. The result is below. The medium-gray background in the setup above was replaced with a plain white for a more high-key look.

The final result

The final result.

The beauty of using strobes and Speedlights for this shoot is that you can really use just about any modifier you want, as long as you end up with a “box” of light. You could do it super-light, with three Speedlights going into three or four umbrella-style softboxes, or you could even use 3-4 Rogue Flashbenders for a super lightweight travel setup.

So try out your own variation on Peter’s look and post it in the comments below. We’d love to see what you come up with!

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


  1. Hey Guys,

    Love the article. I have been out and picked up some strip soft boxes to use with my Bowens kit. Could you please tell me what lens you used for this shot and the setting you shot it with. Also.. How far from the lights do you have the person / subject? Sorry for all the questions, but love the style of photo and would love to be able to duplicate it.

    Thanks so much


    • Hi Adam,

      Sorry for the incredibly late reply!

      I used the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro for this, shooting at between f/8 and f/11. My shutter speed was a constant 1/125th.

      Alex, the model, is about two-three feet from the lights, tops.

      I used a white background that reflected a ton of the light and caused it to wrap around Alex’s shoulders (that was intentional).

      Again, sorry for the late response! Hope this helps…

      • The IS focus any quicker than the non IS?

  2. Great article! Thank you for giving such specific information.


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