2023 Texas PPA President
by Bill Hedrick
Have you ever noticed how life’s experiences change us over the years? Early on in Teri Whittaker’s marriage, she told her husband not to bother with buying her flowers… they were just a waste of money. Today, Teri is well-known for her stunning images of flowers and admits to having up to 15 vases of them on the kitchen counter on a given day.
Her introduction to photography was not unlike that of countless others and began with a desire to capture images of her younger daughter’s Girl Scout troop. One day she was handed a camera and told to photograph an outing. “I was terrified of going in public with these girls. They were nice kids, but they were wild!” she recalls. That was when Teri began doing some “reading up” on cameras and interchangeable lenses. It was a whole new world.
“The craziest thing is that, before I intentionally picked up a camera, we lived in Utah, California, Alaska, and Africa,” explains Teri. There were more pressing responsibilities at the time and taking pictures was further down on the list. But while attending a Creative Memories workshop one day, the instructor made a comment that really hit home. “If you have a picture of Little Jimmie playing soccer, it is good if you can tell it is actually Little Jimmie in the photograph.”
It was an “Aha!” moment for Teri. “I remembered a photograph I took when we lived in Alaska. It was a photograph showing a brown dot in a field. I know the brown dot is a bear, but only because I was there. Nobody else would be able to tell it was a bear,” she explains. It was a brief and simple lesson that would make a big impact on Teri Whittaker.
In the next few years, Teri did a lot of reading while running the business office at her church. After all, her field of expertise was accounting, and she was a CPA at the time with a BBA in Accounting. During this time, Teri noticed a fellow church member who always seemed to have a camera in her hand and started asking her a few questions about photography. The next thing Teri knew, she had been recruited as part of the “photography team” for the women’s retreat. Soon she was taking pictures for the annual Mother’s Day Family Photo Event, eventually taking charge of the event in coming years. “Because so many church members started asking me to photograph their families, I got my sales tax ID and dba,” explains Teri. “I am a bit of a rule follower and wanted to do it right.” That was in 2004.
As business began to take off, Teri began looking for a professional lab and soon discovered Pounds Photographic Labs and attended one of their day-long seminars where the speaker was non other than Dwayne Lee of Arlington, Texas, a Past President of Texas PPA.
At that same seminar, Teri also met Candace Byers, a professional photographer who had recently relocated to the Houston area and who needed an assistant wedding photographer. “I was a second photographer at her weddings for over a decade,” says Teri. “I also edited for her and created albums. She became a dear and treasured friend.”
Things were taking shape and Teri knew there was much more to learn. Along the way, she learned about the Texas School of Professional Photography and became a member of Texas PPA. Next, she joined the Professional Photographers of America and joined her local guild, the Professional Photographers Guild of Houston. In 2016, she became the President of PPGH and served three more years as their Executive Director.
All of these organizations promote image competition as a way to improve the quality of one’s images and Teri soon became enamored with image competition. But perhaps the most useful “learning experience” for Teri has come from one-on-one conversations with friends and fellow photographers at events sponsored by these organizations.
With the majority of her images taken on location today, Teri doesn’t have a fancy storefront studio in a shopping mall. But she does have a small camera room in her home where she can photograph head-and-shoulder business portraits. Even so, that area is mostly used for Teri’s still life work. “My goal is to build a separate building for my studio in the next few years.”
She is perhaps best known for her still life images of flowers. That evolution came out of a 15 month daily photography project. “While driving to Atlanta for Imaging USA with my friend, Aileen Harding, a few years back, she told me about how she was doing a daily photo project and that I should consider joining in,” says Teri. “Once I got started, I was hooked. Almost immediately, I began to see rapid improvement in my photography and it was addictive.” Teri soon realized that she was bored with photographing knickknacks in her house in the dead of winter and that she could purchase a bunch of flowers and sometimes could get two weeks of images from them (remember, she once told her husband that flowers were a waste of money. Oh, well…).
Teri’s journey has taken place along with taking care of her family. She and her husband, Roy, have been married 38 years, have three children and four grandchildren. Even so, Teri admits she’s not quite ready to be called “Grandma.” Soon, Roy will be retiring and the couple plan to relocate somewhere outside the Houston area, but not too far. Wherever that will be, Teri plans to join the local Chamber of Commerce and make new business contacts so she can continue to grow her business portrait photography.
But her immediate goals are to continue learning while obtaining her Master Artist degree. She is already a Certified Professional Photographer, Master Photographer, and Photographic Craftsman… and just recently achieved her Imaging Excellence Award from the Professional Photographers of America.
As you might have guessed by now, it didn’t take the officers and staff of Texas PPA to begin noticing Teri Whittaker. She’s a hard worker who is methodical and never walks away from a challenge. When it comes to procedures and budget analysis, Teri has been an integral part of what makes Texas PPA so strong and her leadership qualities made everyone take notice.
But there are some personal qualities that make Teri the perfect choice for leadership in our association. “I strive to be humble and honest, and to admit when I’ve made a mistake” she explains. This is the hallmark of a great leader in any organization, especially one where members are so closely connected, much like family.
As the 2023 President of Texas PPA, Teri faces new challenges in an ever-changing profession. But, according to her, the future of professional photography holds much promise. “I believe there will always be a place for a professional photographer. There will always be people who value images that are beautifully lit and beautifully posed.”
Teri Whittaker considers herself to be a “work in progress” and believes that her greatest accomplishments have yet to come. Such an optimistic view is inspiring to all of us, and we’re honored to have her as President of the Texas Professional Photographers Association.