Life is good. And through the lens of a camera, it's even better, especially for Terri Gillis. As the owner of her own photography studio in Rockford, Terri is invited into life's most precious moments and is utterly thrilled to capture time and make it last forever.
Terri married her high school sweetheart, and stood by his side while he finished college. It wasn't long before they decided to start their family, and as the years went by, time seemed to fast-forward. Even so, Terri still took time to tap into her passion for photography. She teamed up with a photographer working as an assistant for two years, but Terri's a fast learner: With firsthand experience and a few classes from Grand Rapids Community College under her belt, she introduced her skills to West Michigan. Fast-forward nearly thirteen years.
"I shoot a little of everything. I've done more than two hundred weddings, high school seniors, families, new borns," Terri said. "I put babies in crazy poses. It's so adorable!"
Photography is an ever-changing industry, and Terri keeps up with new technology thanks to her love of learning. When Terri started her business, there was no digital photography, she said, and editing pictures in Photoshop is much different than developing film in a dark room.
"It changed the job entirely. I had to take computer classes and attend seminars. I'm constantly learning."
But the end result is a perpetual high, and Terri could not be more happy to work in an industry that captures people's happiest memories.
"It's been a source of joy, hope, and encouragement. I've been blessed beyond belief through this job and this life—sweet faces, amazing places, and all for the love."
Owning a business, Terri's work is more than point-and-shoot. In fact, she says the photography is only ten percent of what she does. The other parts fall into the business end of things, and it's a good thing Terri is a multitasker.
"I have to wear many hats in this business, but I do," Terri said. “And at the end of the day, I love it. I feel very satisfied seeing the final product go out the door and building a relationship with my clients. That's the most important part of the job.”
When clients book a session with Terri, they are opening up their world to her and the camera in her hand. She's been present at weddings, funerals, and soldiers' homecomings. She's celebrated marriage, motherhood, high school, and drivers' training with clients.
"I chase women in white dresses and defiant toddlers. I burp infants and encourage new mothers. I deal with grown men who don't want to smile, I negotiate with unruly teenagers, I give direction, advice, and the occasional treat," she said.
For Terri, day-to-day photo sessions are more than just her job. It is an honor for her to be chosen to capture milestones in people's lives—moments that Terri says are fleeting like vapor.
"I strive to capture these moments both carefully and thoughtfully. It's a huge responsibility. It requires me to be professional and personal at exactly the same time," she said. "They invest in photos. I'm invested in their lives."
Written by: Erika Fifelski is West Michigan Woman magazine's editorial coordinator. She graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in journalism. Erika was born and raised in West Michigan, and after a brief stint on the sunrise side, she's home and loving it. She enjoys yoga, gardening, vacuuming, and discovering new ways to live sustainably and support local businesses.