When Pam Stukenborg was 6 years old, her family of seven became six with the loss of a brother and all their possessions, including photographs, in a tragic house fire. Her family cherishes the precious photographs given to them by relatives, and her initial interest in photography stemmed from the importance of capturing and preserving happy memories.
Eight years ago, because of a move to Tulsa, OK, Pam retired from being a vocational specialist for people with varied abilities. Although she had always taken lots of pictures, she decided to pursue photography in earnest and enrolled in photography classes in New Hampshire and later in Oklahoma, but she is mostly selftaught. She started out using film but entered the digital-photography world after she met and married Bernie Stukenborg (sales executive for Sheridan), who was the photographer at her nephew’s wedding and had a digital camera. They pursue this common interest together, sometimes shooting an event together. Although Bernie provided the technical how-to in the earlier days, Pam has since taken digitalphotography classes to hone her skills using the digital camera and editing her photographs.
Pam is a sports photographer for a number of local children’s teams, providing team and individual photos, high school senior-class portraits, and annual portraits for the local women’s program where she volunteers. Admittedly, she avoids wedding photography when possible, because of the pressure to get all the important must-have shots and the extensive postproduction time required. She decided to focus where the need is great and found her niche with headshot photography; people need nice photographs for social media, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, and for business. She tries to help people to portray their human qualities—to make them people that others want to know. She enjoys capturing emotion, looking for uniqueness, and drawing out confident and approachable expressions in the eyes and jawline. She regularly watches tutorials and listens to podcasts on this topic.
Pam enjoys shooting the annual CSE conference. People commonly tell her that they take a terrible picture, but her reply is often that they haven’t had her take them yet. When she coaches her subjects, she finds that they focus on what she is telling them and forget to worry about how their pictures will turn out. The process makes people feel good about themselves, and it shows in the results.
When she was asked what photography has taught her, her reply was that it has taught her to look for the unique angle, for the ordinary, and to try to draw out the extraordinary. It’s important to look at things differently, take a step back, and try a different perspective. She believes that this attitude can apply to all parts of life as one deals with different people’s perspectives on life’s issues. She is always looking for the positive in every photograph.
What are the skills or personality traits that come in handy in photographing others? You can’t underestimate the power of a nice smile and of being friendly and positive when approaching people. It’s important to make the process fun!
To Pam, a picture really is worth 1000 words and then some. She related how she volunteered at a nursing home for 3 years until it closed and did portrait sessions for the residents. A granddaughter of one of the residents came to Pam one day in shock, not so much because her elderly grandfather had passed away but because when they were going through his things they found the portrait of him. The granddaughter exclaimed that “he never let anybody take his picture, ever!” and was so grateful to have the photograph of him. There is also an artistic, creative side to Pam’s photography. One of her earlier photos contained wineglasses, high heels, a dress hem, and concrete—and left the viewer to wonder what happened. A picture can both tell a story and extract more stories from others.
Pam related an interesting incident that occurred during the CSE annual meeting in San Antonio. During a meeting break, she was strolling on the River Walk, looking for a street photo to fulfill that month’s theme for her photography club back in Tulsa. At one point, she heard the sound of skateboarders on the tar. Around the bend, she found four boys jumping off their boards but politely letting people walk by. They enjoyed her taking their pictures and pulled out all the stops by performing daring jumps and tricks on their boards. Afterward, she treated them to a soda at the nearby fastfood restaurant. On the way, she continued to snap pictures of them walking and silhouetted in the sun. When she submitted her picture, she won first place in her photography club’s “advanced” category. Later, she let the boys know of her victory and was rewarded by their appreciation for her not only capturing their activities but treating them with respect.
Pam’s other hobbies include Scrabble, knitting, cooking for family events, volunteering with a women’s program once a week at a homeless shelter (the John 3:16 Mission), riding motorcycles (she has her license), riding horses, skeet shooting, and cake decorating. She also loves traveling and has joined Bernie at conferences in Hawaii, San Diego, Austin, San Francisco, Seattle, Napa Valley, New York, and other places.
Pam lives in Tulsa with Bernie, a huge supporter who has helped her to hone her photography skills. Having this common interest makes photography more enjoyable and a great topic of conversation. Bernie offers ideas for running her business and for her direction in photography and is supportive of her volunteer work. She has five stepchildren, all young adults, and describes Bernie as “the most wonderful husband in the world and he is so liked and respected in the marketplace.”
Photographing conferences makes Pam feel that she is “giving back” in return for her experiences of enjoying the attendees, going to dinners, and meeting clients. She always feels welcome and included in the meetings and loves to get to know the people attending. When you see Pam coming toward you at the next annual meeting, don’t be nervous about having your picture taken; she’ll make sure you put your best foot forward!