Whatever you do, do it well.

Wow… I’m still alive in case you wondered. I doubt anyone reads this but you just never know!

I’ve recently spent a decent amount of time primarily doing graphic design in the corporate world. Who knew I would enjoy having my own office, people to work with that I would grow to love and honestly just a great company to have the opportunity to work for.  I loved it the most winter because doing photos slows down and it was nice to have something else…. and yet it was very difficult to juggle in the summer months. So I had to make a choice and as the Brady’s sang it so eloquently “When it’s time to change, you’ve got to rearrange, who you are and what you’re gonna be…”  Now that song will be stuck in your head instead of just mine.  You’re welcome.

So here I am…Finally having a chance to devote my attention to a few things.  In this time I’ve resolved FOUR issues I was having with updating my website, my proofing gallery, my ftp program and one of my design programs…. and I have written a blog post. I literally feel like I am winning at life by having figured these out and crossing them off of my list… and it’s only Wednesday!!

You don’t really realize when you are spreading yourself so thin until you notice what you’ve neglected and decide to get up and at it.  I’m committed to being better aware of where and how I’m spending my time and attention.  I want to be fully present in each situation…in my job, in my home and especially with my family. To honor this commitment I would have to begin by taking better care of myself.

So here I am at 3:16 p.m about to wrap up my day at this computer, knowing I accomplished a few huge things this week and that because of the attention I gave to these things now, other things will be easier going forward.

One foot in front of the other… Whatever you do, do it well. <3


Sweet 16!! Here’s a free download!!

Yesterday marked SIXTEEN years of Terri Gillis Photography. I love celebrating this anniversary of the day I took a leap of faith.  I had a toddler on my hip as I walked accross the Calder Stage area  to the county building to register my business with a skip in my step and a dream in my heart.  To everyone else it’s just an ordinary day but that day put me on a journey I couldn’t have every even dreamed of.  I am such a sentimental person so celebrating this anniversary, even if it’s only me celebrating, is not something I overlook or take lightly.

These 16 years have required A LOT of learning and exploring and just good old-fashioned work.  Snapping pictures is fun but this is a business and for it to be successful it required me to invest my heart and soul.  The return on that has been so much more than a paycheck.  I’ve traveled near and far and had the opportunity to learn from some absolutely amazing photographers including Michelle Celentano, Jasmine Star, Susan Stripling, Laura Brett and my absolute favorite…. Anne Geddes.  I’ve been to Hawaii (HAWAII!!!! If I didn’t have the images to prove it I wouldn’t beleive it myself!).  I’ve witnessed births and the miracle of that first breath…… I’ve also had the opportunity to photograph some people who knew it would be their last photos ever and would pass on shortly thereafter and the joy that would come with having those photos.  I’ve watched kids grow up, I’ve photographed over 300 (THREE HUNDRED!!) weddings.  Those weddings have become the foundation of my business as I’ve gone on to photograph many famlies as they’ve grown. ( It’s amazing!!)  I’ve learned so much about computers & graphic design and it has really become a huge love of mine.  I never learned to speak another launguage but I’m fluent in Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator and THAT is something.  I’ve cut back significantly on weddings.  I still take them, I just don’t push for them.  After working weekends all summer long for 15 years I felt like I was ready to step back from that.  I love having summer weekends off with my husband. To fill in that gap I take a lot of design work now and I really REALLY enjoy it.  Designing cards, books, albums has always been part of my routine but in the last year I’ve added logos, invitaiton, a little bit of web design, marketing materials….. and I even do a little bit of business consulting and have helped a few people launch their own businesses!

So after 16 years, I can tell you this…. I am so grateful for every single opportunity that has been put in front of me. For every face that has graced my camera and my life.  Grateful for every session, wedding, child, project that I have been entrusted with.  Grateful for every mile I’ve driven, every click of my shutter, every day that I’ve had to throw a camera bag or a briefcase over my shoulder and head out the door.  It has been an amazing journey and I’m thankful to call it mine.

For the free download of my design above just click HERE!  ENJOY!!



Leap Day 2016!

I wrestle with the fact (almost daily) that I haven’t blogged for over a year. Why haven’t I you ask? So many reasons…. mainly, I think I’m the only one who ever reads it. I was also a little burned out. Burned out on the hustle of photography, burned out from the schedule, exhausted from working and I needed a break from anything I could get one from, so the blog was the first to go….. and then it was the photography. I needed to put some space in there to see what it was that kept me working this job that seemed to be taking me down. Being a photographer became my identity… and without a camera hanging around my neck I felt a little lost…. and a little empty. When you realize people only are calling or reaching out to me, sometimes inviting me to things…. because they need a photographer. And my social calendar, without a camera, is nearly non-existant. I had a deep desire to change this but terrified that if I stepped away from it, it would be the equivalent of stepping out of my soul. Truly terrifying. And what if this really was all there was to me? But I had to do it….. and I did. After a 7 month hiatus with only limited contact with my equipment, some serious soul searching and “weeding” things out of my life,  14 months later I feel so differently about everything. Having an opportunity to step back and regain my perspective. It hasn’t been easy and the most difficult part is to be careful not to fall back into old habits. I love this job, and the amazing blessing it has been in my life, but I love having an identity… and not just a job.  For the first time in 10 years we took a summer vacation. I also attended a wedding as a guest (and realized how difficult it was for me to enjoy a wedding without photographing it) I was the equivalent of a fish out of water. My Mom is battling cancer and that has sort of rocked our world and it was another thing that gave me permission to step back a little and not take on the same hefty workload that I might otherwise have. I also had an opportunity dropped in my lap to do graphic design with the flexibility to work at home or in the office and never dreamed how much I would truly enjoy the comraderie of co-workers.

Where is she going with this?? Success doesn’t just come in the form of your paycheck. It comes with anything you want it to. Some days success is getting in the shower before my kids go to school, or getting through my to-do list, actually having a phone call with a friend and not just a series of texts. It’s time with my husband and kids, chatting at the kitchen table with my Mom, completing a project for a client, photographing an awesome newborn session or trying a new recipe and actually having it work out (thank you Pinterest for the pressure!). Whatever hat I’m wearing at the moment…. Wife, Mom, daughter, aunt, friend, seamstress, photographer, designer, chef, makeup artist, maid, baby whisperer my goal is and will be to simply seize the day and enjoy moments that I just am completely unwilling to miss out on….. Carpe Diem!

This is just a small splash of some of the sessions I’ve done in the last year that just made my heart sing.   My family that I love to care for, my husband who I simply could not adore more than I already do, some new clients and some old one’s…. Some of these faces I look at and am overwhelmed by the miracle staring back at me.  Selecting after a year of not posting was painful…. I would love to post one from every single session time and energy are a precious commodity…. and  I have to go make dinner now and an evening with my crew awaits. Happy Leap Day!  DAY it forward!!  I hope you WIN! XO!


Planning for Senior Photos | Terri Gillis Photography 2014

Mackenzie – Sparta High School Class of 2015.  I loved this session with Mackenzie.  She did a great job preparing for her session, a nice varitey of clothing option for her session in Grand Haven.  She selected casual and dressy outfits, and one long sleeved. Hair, makeup and nails are perfect. She was so fun to photograph, easy to pose and a natural in front of the camera.  WAY TO GO, GIRL!!

I love that Grand Haven offers such a fun little urban area with the beach just down the road.  We shot this in September and it was by far the best beach weather I had all summer.  Just a light breeze, the water so calm and temps in the 70’s. My last senior girls of the year and such a high note to end on.  Check out all of her images below and scroll down for my 411 on planning for senior photos.

I’m not going to beat around the bush, the senior year is the pinnacle moment of the “end of childhood”.  It’s the dot on the “i” and the cross on the “T”.  This is likely the last time he/she will be photographed individually with the next big moment in their life to highlight with photographs will be their wedding.  This is not a corner to cut.  I am receiving calls every day now to schedule a last minute session because they forgot to schedule it or …. “We went with a friend because it was less expensive and we regret it.  Can we still do a session with you?”.  It’s crunch time and  we’re running out of time to make yearbook deadlines. Sadly, day after day my answer is…. “My schedule is full for the year.”

I find parents going through this the first time really rely on guidance from friends who’ve been through the senior year. If this is you or will be you (or will be someone you know) I’m going to offer some guidance for you to use or pass on.  I’m not only a photographer but also the parent of 4 kids, one in college, two in high school and 1 in middle school. I’m very familiar with this process and what is on the mind of other parents so let me share a little of what I have to offer and what I’ve been asked.

1.) Where do we start? Hire a profesional photographer.  The truth is this, senior photos done properly will require more than a person with a camera and a computer.  Every single year I have have a minimum of 4 seniors who come to me for “retakes”.  They’ve had their photos done with…”a friend, a family member with a nice camera, a kid in high school who loves photography, a photographer who offered such a good deal they couldn’t pass it up, someone just starting out who offered to do their photos for free”.  It’s always the same call, panick, sadness, urgency…. “we are not happy with these photos and should have just done it right the first time”.

2.) How do I know who is a professional and who is not? This is a touchy subject because since photographers are not required to hold any sort of degree or license… anyone can really claim to be a photographer. Many believe that they are photographers.   My best advice is to review the persons work very carefully.  If you see that they’ve only done photos for one or two seniors but tell you they’ve done “tons of others” it’s okay to ask to see more.  All of the photos should be equally appealing and have a consistant look. Backgrounds should not be weird, colors should not be weird, posing should not be weird.  If they have a facebook page look through the comments and see how happy they are.  Most people will tag themselves in the facebook images and its okay to message that person for an impression of the photographer that took them. Ask what they liked and what the didn’t like.   My favorite thing to hear about my photos is this…. “Oh, I knew the minute I saw his/her photos that you were the photographer”.  I’ve worked very hard on what I would consider my “brand” and every “pro” I know does the same.  Each photographer should have a consistent look and style about their photos.  If you find something unappealing about the photos don’t assume that you telling that person “we want ….” that they will do it.   Whatever they have on facebook or their blog, website, etc. will for sure be… “What you see is what you get”.   Don’t kid yourself that you “might get lucky”.  Maybe you will, but maybe you won’t.  If you want to give your friend a chance but later decide to hire a pro it can get awkward and feelings can get hurt.  Be honest with them if you intend to do both. We all need to start somewhere and I worked as an “amateur” building a portfolio and taking classes for 2 years before my business became official. I needed to practice and thankfully my friends were willing subjects, but some also went to experienced photographers for “big moments” and I was okay with that!

3.) “I don’t want to spend a ton of money.” Consider this… Most seniors purchase a minimum of 2-3 new outfits for a session plus shoes & jewelry.  Which would be an average of about $75 per outfit.  Most of my seniors change their clothes 4 times.  I’m estimating  this would be a minimum investment of $350 in clothes (which they will continue to wear once school starts).  Most girls will get their hair dones, some cut and colored.  I know that most women pay $150 for their hair but I’m going to guess that the average senior girls will spend $75.  I always mention that their hands will show in the photos so having their nails painted, cleaned up or a nice manicure is a beautiful things….. average manicure and polish $25.  Lets also consider the amount of time getting ready …guys – 30 minutes/girls 2hours.  And the amount of time to do the session…door to door would generally be 3 hours….. if we’re traveling to the beach or something you’ll need 4-5.  I would say my average family investment for senior photos is approximately $800.   This would inlcude my time and talent to take the photos, edit, put into a gallery for you to make your selections, your yearbook photo and your order, professionally retouched, printed and delivered to you. My point is this… You’re going to invest your money in their hair, clothing, shoes and also a decent amount of time.  If you cut the corner on the photographer and you end up disappointed what exactly have you saved?

4.) When are senior photos done? Typically the summer before or the beginning of the senior year.  Booking your session 6-8 weeks before you want to actually do it is a good amout of time.  This allows you time to plan for clothing, hair etc.  If your senior is in sports, camps, has a job or you have a family vacation planned  you will need to also plan around those.  A tan is great but sunburn or tan lines the face from hats or sunglasses is not.  Having photos done right before camp is better than after.  Football players should be done before football starts.  If you really want fall colors keep in mind that your student may have to be pulled out of school during the day.  Most students are very busy after school with sports or jobs and with the unpredicatable autumn weather, cold, rain, wind etc.. planning for only a weekend session can make it tricky if the weather doesn’t cooperate not to mention most professionals will likely have weekends booked up for fall family sessions.  Plan ahead on this so you’re not scambling at the end.

5.  Know that it’s worth it. The photo session should be fun and the end result makes them feel really special.  Kids of all ages like seeing photos of themselves and it makes them feel loved to see their photo displayed or shared.  They never look better than they do for their photo session and you’ll likely have that photo hanging on your wall for many years.  I’ve never had a single client come back and regret what they invested time or money for beautiful images of the kid that lights up their world.  I promise it’s worth it.

If you have questions or need guidance feel free to call or email me!  I’d love to help you!!

Caleb| Rockford High School Class of 2015 | Terri Gillis Photography

Seriously… texting during our session…. “They’re waiting for me to respond!!”

This one belongs to me.  He’s our second child, #2 out of 4, one of three brothers.  He was born 5 days early and I’ve joked ever since that he has two speeds, fast & faster.  He walked at 10 months, climbed out of his crib at 18 months; moved into the bottom bunk shortly after that. Ever since he could verbalize what a grown up was he has wanted to be one.  He is a born protector, wildly curious, he’s adventurous, he’s hilarious, he’s strong, courageous and brave.  He’s wanted to be a police officer since he was three.  He has a strong sense of justice and is intolerant of things that fall into the “wrong” cateogory.  He’s as loyal as they come.  He loves baby animals (bunnies, chicks, kittens, puppies… you name it).  He doesn’t care what people think of him. He works really hard… at everything.It’s not always easy but he always comes through.  And we are on the threshold of launching another kid into “life”.

I just have to note that my kids have just about ZERO respect for me as a photographer, although they have been pretty proud of the photos they’re able to provide their dates when it comes to formal dances.  My kids want to strike their own poses, add their own props and beleive it’s completely reasonable to call/text back friends “they’re waiting for me to respond” right in the middle of the session.  I should really hire someone to do their photos but my fear is this lack of respect might be accross the board to all photographers (being raised by one they’re slightly tainted as well as critical) and I would D.I.E. if I had to pay AND apoligize for all of that.  I told him…. I WILL KEEP THESE AND SHOW PEOPLE.   So after all of that he is flat out not allowed an opinion that I’m now posting these on the internet… my excuse will be the same as his was during the session… “I’m just keepin it real, YO.”  “YOLO”.    I know what your next question is… “Will you try and photograph their weddings?”    Absolutely. Not.

Now the part where I’m really keeping it real… feel free to stop here so you don’t have endure the blubbering….

We’ve been through the senior year and our oldest is starting his 3rd year of college.  This road is not easy to navigate.  It’s difficult to see my kids grow up as I desperately miss the little people that once filled my arms.  I miss being told I’m the “best Mom ever”, I miss the hand drawn pictures, art projects from elementary school. and hand made Mother’s Day cards.   Forget the “What to Expect the toddler years” Someone needs to come out with “What to expect the teenage/college years”….. so we can all know what’s normal and be able to step away from the suit of anxiety disguised as perfection that we step into each morning.  I’m pretty open to some of the struggles I have and when I share I often hear from others that they are “going through the same thing”…”Well we had to deal with …….” and the “He/she is giving us a hard time about _____(you fill in the blank)_____”.    Then there’s the comparison game. We have kids trying to keep up with each other and sometimes parents trying to keep up with the other parents (JUST.STOP.).  Please  skip me on the deal when that hand comes around.  I already feel enough pressure and sometimes “judged” by other parents because my kids have to go to the dreaded….. Community college.  All I know is that if your kid hasn’t nailed down a career choice there is nothing wrong with this, in fact it’s been an incredibly wise decision.  My husband started out at community college and he’s brilliant, educated and employed.  That’s all I have to say about that.

At this moment I don’t feel like I’m done parenting them…. I still do their laundry, prepare their meals, pack lunches, schedule appointments for the Dr. and Dentist. I text to know where they are and wonder when they’ll be home. I advise and lecture whether they want it or not and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to stop that. I’m still holding on but at the same time trying to let go.  It’s the realization that even though I’m still caring for them  I’ve always been preparing them to care for themselves. So I ask questions and settle for short answers, I offer advice and keep silent when I could say “I told ya so.”, I remind… again and again….and when they forget I have to realize the consequence does not belong to me. Choices have to be made; lessons have to be learned.  It’s when you still want to do anything/everything  you can for them but the realization that they have minds of their own and the decisions they make do not determine your personal success or failure (this is the hardest part for me). Senior year is the beginning of the end.  We’re heading toward that crossroad where their life with me separates to the beginning of life on their own.   I really feel like it was just yesterday I held your fingers as you toddled through our living room, and wasn’t it just the other night when you woke me up four times because you were sick and “needed me”…. and how many hours did I rock you in that chair sitting right there  reading to you, cuddling you, holding you?  Growing up is a wonderful and liberating thing when it’s happening to you, but sad for the Momma in your rearview mirror who has loved you every day of your life.

To Make you Feel My Love….

When the rain is blowing in your face,
And the whole world is on your case,
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love.

When the evening shadows and the stars appear,
And there is no one there to dry your tears,
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love.

I know you haven’t made your mind up yet,
But I will never do you wrong.
I’ve known it from the moment that we met,
No doubt in my mind where you belong.

I’d go hungry; I’d go blind for you,
And I’d go crawling down the avenue.
No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love.