Peter Hurley "Squinched" Our Staff

March 3, 2014

By Jacqueline Tobin

Peter Hurley set up camp in our lobby for the day. Photo © Jessica Gordon

“Hold that, hold that, shoulders back… Come on, give a little squinch,” portrait artist Peter Hurley directed as Rangefinder’s senior editor, Jessica Gordon, moved into position. “No, a little squinch, half an inch, don’t go ballistic! Scoot back a smidge, stand up straight, push your earlobes forward.” 

That last comment was supposed to loosen his subject up and make her laugh, but Gordon remained stoic. The only one breaking into giggles and squeals of laughter was Hurley himself. “I was trying to squinch!” Gordon said later. According to Hurley (and his November 2013 viral video of the subject), a “squinch” is kind of like squinting but not. “It’s the secret to looking really photogenic,” he says.

Rangefinder senior editor Jessica Gordon didn’t let Hurley’s joking get the best of her. All photos © Peter Hurley

The photographer, who is the first to admit that part of his shooting shtick is to “disarm people with my silliness,” is successful both as a portrait shooter and as an educator because he is great at reading people before they step in front of his lens. Hurley stopped in to take headshots for WPPI, Rangefinder, PDN and other Emerald Expo staffers before traveling off to Vegas to do both a Platform and Master Class at WPPI this month called “The Final Ingredient: Direction in Portrait Photography” and “Creating the Perfect Headshot,” respectively.

“I liked my ‘straight on’ shot best, with just a bit of a squinch,” says RF editor-in-chief Jacqueline Tobin.

“I know how people think,” Hurley says. “And most people in front of the camera stiffen up and think about their worst flaws and obsess on their bad sides. But I find their good side every time.”

It’s true; he does. My first inclination has always been to put my right side forward (posing toward the left), but according to Hurley, I am best “straight on” or with my head tilted to the right.” (I think I might have to change my hair part after this.) Fortunately, I wasn’t alone in thinking, “I can’t do this,” or “I’m just not photogenic.”

Photographed from the right side, left side or dead center, taking part in the all-day session was a great way to break up the monotony of winter (especially as polar vortex No. 2 moved into the Northeast and New York was recovering from yet another blizzard).

The Photo Group’s account executive, Jon McLoughlin, went for a professional look (top) before indulging Hurley with a “fun face” (bottom). He still won’t tell us how he got his lip to do that.

As Hurley will outline in his classes, direction in portrait sessions is paramount and can either make or break your shot. “Having your own personal style and developing confidence in how you direct subjects is key,” he explains. For Hurley, that direction includes getting his subjects to squinch, as well as showing them how to accentuate their jawline. “The camera doesn’t add ten pounds,” he explains, “the way you position your jaw does. Bring your forehead out and down. Don’t stick your chin out; instead, jam your forehead towards the camera and allow the chin to follow, tightening the skin against your jawline.”

Hurley also helped us welcome some new staffers to the team: WPPI membership coordinator Hilary Becker (top) and WPPI conference manager Jodi Rosenblum (bottom).

Hurley also loves cracking himself up, as well as making his subjects laugh as he throws out cues like, “Give me a look like you just got tased,” or, “I want your best blowfish impression with your eyes crossed and looking like you’re going to explode.”

Every subject here was more than willing to oblige as we warmed under the vast array of light bulbs in his makeshift lobby studio. And at the end, each one of us was given a high-five, as well as Hurley’s signature “Shabang” of approval. Now that’s how you take a portrait.