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Becky Thurner’s Big Picture: Personal Reflections on Life and Career


By the time career inspiration struck I was already artistic.  I approached even my part time jobs as a blank canvas.  At age 15, I worked in a flower shop. In college I worked as a baker and cake decorator, and as painter since a very young age, I understood composition. My first camera was a Pentax K1000, purchased at Service Merchandise for a whopping $300.  It came with a 50mm and 300mm zoom lens (it even came with a case). The purchase was in anticipation of my first photography class. As a freshman at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I took a class in 35 MM black-and-white photography taught by Dr. Ron Juliet. I loved the class and was inspired by Dr. Juliet’s obvious passion for the art. I wanted to love my future job in that same way.


Internships and Opportunity: 

I learned so much during my internship. I use those skills to this day. The most important advice I received was to learn and understand each person’s job at the studio. “You never know when your makeup artist will get hit by a bus on the way to the shoot,” explained the photographer. A morbid thought for sure, but his point came across loud and clear.  The shoot can’t stop for one person and the show must go on. While still an intern my work was noticed by a talent agency. I was brought in for an interview as a photographer and ended up employed as an agent (networking folks—it makes all the difference).


Switching Careers:  

While I had only planned to stay on as an agent for 2 years, I ended up working there for 13 years. I advanced and was promoted to agency director by the time I left.  I’d continued photographing models and actors on evenings and weekends throughout my tenure there.  Then, in June 2004, in a sort of early life crisis moment, I quit my job to pursue my long postponed photography career.  It was a natural transition for me, as my exposure to commercial photography through my agency work gave me a great client base.

Starting Up:

In September 2004, I was on my own, using my dining room as a studio. Less than two years later, in March 2006, I opened a studio at the High Line Terminal Buildings (the former Riverwalk Corporate Center) in the South Side. My space is industrial with concrete floors and brick-walls with a unique view of the city.


Signature Style:

I lean toward a clean, no-fuss, lighting style. I love shooting with available light.  It’s both really beautiful and a challenging approach to lighting.  Still, much of my work requires a blend of both studio lighting and ambient light, so combining the two can be really spectacular.  Lighting really boils down to a personal preference, but let’s face it, all light is beautiful.


The Mechanics of Photography:

I was never drawn to the technology of photography, although sometimes I wish I were.  Instead, I think of myself as an emotional photographer. I love the process of finding one spectacular image that best expresses the personality of my subject.  As far as digital processing, it’s a love-hate relationship.  While I love that you can see results as you work, part of me misses the excitement and anticipation of seeing your contact sheet slowly appear in the developer. 


Working with Models:  

I try to share my knowledge of how to navigate the industry with the models I photograph. This can be a tough industry for someone just entering the business and I enjoy helping people figure it out—a buried urge to teach, I guess.  While I love helping the newer talent, but it's just as fun to work with the seasoned models and actors, too, to watch them work.  To be able to collaborate with your subject is pretty cool, and the product is always something special.


Commercial Work:

Initially, I was reluctant to pursue this side of the business. It was a confidence issue I had to overcome.  These jobs require just as much planning as they do flexibility as things can change very quickly.  I've embraced the need to adapt to every change. The best part of this work is that everyone has a specific job to execute, but at the same time it's very collaborative.


Personal Projects:

Every project is personal to me. Regardless of the project or shoot, I always want my subjects to leave my shoots with a sense that it went well and a good feeling about the experience.  They should feel good, feel pretty and feel confident.


Novice Advice: 

There is always something new to learn.  Focus on your strengths and understand your weaknesses. Take criticism with an open mind and always try to improve.




Becky’s Beginnings:

I was born in Pittsburgh, the second child of a devout Catholic family. My dad is one of five children and my mom is one of 10. I went to St. Louise de Marillac Catholic grade school and graduated from Upper St. Clair High School. Upon graduation I attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I have an older sister and a younger brother. We were raised to work hard, finish what we started and to approach life with equal parts of confidence and humility.  My dad is now retired and fills his days playing ukulele. My mom is a retired nurse and makes the best apple pie among many other things.


Saving the Best for Last:  

My husband, Dan and I recently celebrated our 13-year wedding anniversary. He’s the marketing manager at Pittsburgh’s CW television station, and a producer at KDKA-TV (Hometown High Q). We had our daughter, Addy in 2007 and our twins, Zach and Livvy two years later.


Most Rewarding Assignment:

Photographing Addy for a holiday greeting card on the occasion of her first Christmas. I finally got the shot between wails and mouthfuls of milk.  This could also be regarded as my most challenging assignment.

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