Amanda Hilfer Shares her Experience

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Amanda Hilfer Shares her Experience

It has now been a week since I left Sonoma Broadway Farms where the latest Blair and Thurston Photography Retreat was held. I had bit the bullet, paid the money and jumped on the opportunity a little under a year before the actual retreat and finally the day had arrived for me to fly to San Francisco to spend a week States side.

To be honest, I was not entirely sure what to expect of the retreat. I was excited to be meeting Elena S. Blair and Bre Thurston, two formidable photographers and business women who's work I had followed and courses I had studied for a number of years. Beyond that, I had no expectations.

The retreat began for me early in the morning as I made my way across San Francisco to catch my ride with three fellow attendees for the trip through to Sonoma. For me, this is where the retreat really began.

I had not at all anticipated the friendships I would make with fellow photographers on the retreat. This is what ultimately became the highlight of the entire experience for me.

Being a solopreneur can be a hard slog some days. I often feel like I need people to bounce ideas off. It's not that my friends don't listen or care! They've all certainly lent me their ears to bend while I've jabbered on about business over the years, bless their hearts! But there is something to be said about connecting with people who are right there in the trenches with you, facing the same challenges and celebrating the same successes.

And boy did this retreat deliver! I received plenty of tough love, critical feedback, and amazing encouragement about my work and business from some formidable creative minds. The amazing food and wine, sensational guest speaker, glorious shoot outs at golden hour, goal setting workshop, yoga session, wine tasting, roaming the working farm where we were staying and bonding with other boss babes all helped me to ultimately find my focus and come to a place of peace with what I love to create.

I learnt my work justifies itself. When I'm out there working with families who invest in the moment, who love, laugh and soak up all the goodness of their tribe while they're on their session with me, that's when the magic happens! I want those people in front of my camera!

The photos below from our golden hour shoot on the retreat speak for themselves. They reflect the hours I've poured into learning this craft over the years. They highlight my skills and how I create beautiful images while providing an experience not offered by anyone else but me. And I'm really, really proud of what I've accomplished.

You could say on this retreat, I finally accepted that I've got this. I'm an mum, an artist and a business women and I'm making it work each and every day.

Interestingly, the question I have been asked most since I got back is "Was it worth it?" and it's be hard to answer really. How do you put a price on clarity? On freedom? On permission to do what brings you joy and on newly forged friendships? I can't and so I won't. I'm simply going to allow the lessons I learnt be my guiding lights and the friends I made be my cheerleaders, while I in turn can be theirs. The value of this? 100% without a doubt - it's priceless.


You can view Amanda's shots from the family shoot-out from the last Sonoma retreat below! Be sure to follow the links to check out more of her work:

https://amandajoy-photography.com/

www.instagram.com/amandajoy_photography/

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boutique photography retreat ignite your craft with blair thurston retreats | family lifestyle amanda joy photography
boutique photography retreat ignite your craft with blair thurston retreats | family lifestyle amanda joy photography
boutique photography retreat ignite your craft with blair thurston retreats | family lifestyle amanda joy photography
boutique photography retreat ignite your craft with blair thurston retreats | family lifestyle amanda joy photography
boutique photography retreat ignite your craft with blair thurston retreats | family lifestyle amanda joy photography

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Carmen Robinson Shares her Experience

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Carmen Robinson Shares her Experience

The Blair Thurston retreat was transformational for me. I thought I would leave the retreat with some tips on how to be a better photographer, how to shoot in different types of light, and maybe I would meet some nice people. It far exceeded my expectations! 


But let me back up a bit…I knew since the first Blair Thurston retreat that I wanted to attend one. I have enjoyed following Bre and Elena’s work since finding them on Instagram and was looking for a smaller boutique learning experience, where I would have more hands on and face-to-face with the instructors. When they held the retreat only an hour away from home, I knew I had go.


The location, ambiance, itinerary and food did not disappoint! I don’t know about you, but when I go on vacation, I don’t usually plan for a personal chef, an in-home yoga session, or a private wine tasting. Bre and Elena went all out in making this retreat feel like a vacation where you don’t have to worry about a thing. They pay attention to all the little details and welcome you not just as a guest, but as a friend. 


The first thing we did on the retreat – after pouring glasses of wine and getting to know everyone as they arrived – was sit around the table and have a formal intro/welcome from our hostesses. I was a little anxious because I felt a bit out of place. In my mind, I hadn’t accomplished half the things these women had. I thought about an email I had received from Elena’s mailing list that had resonated with me at that time, Create Before you Consume. She talked about how comparing yourself to all the inspiration we see out there can stunt your growth as an artist and as a business woman; I was there and I needed to get out of that funk. 


I was honest and let everyone know that I didn't think I was at their level and that I was just there to absorb everything I could. But inside my head, I had so many questions swirling around: Who was I to be on this retreat with these talented business women? I was just starting out, was this the right place for me right now? 


Turns out, it was exactly what I needed, when I needed it. Coming out of the retreat I was invigorated with a new found confidence and plans...actual goals that I had written down and said out loud! 


The Blair Thurston retreat did more for me personally and creatively than I could have ever imagined. Bre and Elena genuinely want to see you succeed and are passionate about building a community where women support each other. I made lifelong friendships with a group of women I truly admire, and who I know I can go to for anything. This retreat was the best investment I have made in my photography journey and I would recommend it to anyone, especially if you find yourself unsure about what your next steps should be.


You can find Carmen's retreat photos below and view more of her work at the following:

www.photosbycarmenrobinson.com

www.instagram.com/carmspics/

www.facebook.com/CarmenRobinsonPhotography/

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boutique photographer retreat destination ignite your craft carmen robinson photography | blair thurston retreats
boutique photographer retreat destination ignite your craft carmen robinson photography | blair thurston retreats
boutique photographer retreat destination ignite your craft carmen robinson photography | blair thurston retreats
boutique photographer retreat destination ignite your craft carmen robinson photography | blair thurston retreats
boutique photographer retreat destination ignite your craft carmen robinson photography | blair thurston retreats
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boutique photographer retreat destination ignite your craft carmen robinson photography jenny grimm headshot | blair thurston retreats

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Jen Frase Shares her Experience

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Jen Frase Shares her Experience

I like to learn and I’d stay in school forever if I could…so I’ve been to lots of photography workshops before, and this Blair & Thurston retreat was, by far, the best one yet. It went so beyond my expectations and has given me more than any other photography workshop, retreat or conference ever has.

We were spoiled from the minute we walked in – the retreat was held at a beautiful farm and we were immediately given yummy wine and a delicious gourmet lunch. I was already sold. Even without the photography part, being spoiled like this with no kids to worry about, was just what a busy mom needed.

We spent the next two days getting pampered with more wine, more delicious food, private yoga, an inspiring guest speaker, a portfolio review, some super fun photo shoots and lots of encouragement from Bre, Elena and an incredibly supportive group of women. We were never bored, yet we never felt there was some crazy schedule we had to adhere to. It was the perfect balance of learning, work, introspection, fun….and wine.

I expected to learn about photography, which I certainly did, but there were two more huge takeaways for me, and these are two things that not one other photography retreat or workshop has ever done for me:

  1. Bre and Elena make a real effort to foster a community of like-minded, hard-working, passionate photographers to lean on each other. It was obvious from the start, we weren’t there JUST to learn from them. They wanted us to learn from each other – which we certainly, certainly did. And not just that, but we helped each other. We exchanged ideas, feedback, and resources, while taking time to really talk to each other about our hopes, dreams and struggles. None of my non-photographer friends really want to talk about my career or where I’m going with it – it’s hard for them to understand. I can’t tell you how good it felt to talk to women I admire, who share my passion for photography, about what’s next for me.
  2. Bre and Elena were adamant that it does no good for us to learn to shoot like them. In a world where everyone has a camera, the only thing that will set us apart…is ourselves: Our lives, our personalities, our passions and how WE see the world through our cameras. We can’t shoot what anyone else wants – the magic will come when we shoot what we want and how we want to. 

I left the weekend relaxed, inspired, recharged and excited about what’s next for me. I learned a lot but had a ton of fun doing it. There’s not much more I could have asked for.


Below are some of Jen's photos from our most recent Sonoma retreat. Be sure to check them out! You can find more of her beautiful work at:
http://www.jenfrasephotography.com/
https://www.instagram.com/jenfrasephoto/

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blair thurston retreat boutique lifestyle photography workshop retreat girl's weekend getaway in sonoma, california | headshots by jen frase photograhy
blair thurston retreat boutique lifestyle photography workshop retreat girl's weekend getaway in sonoma, california | family outdoor session by jen frase photograhy
blair thurston retreat boutique lifestyle photography workshop retreat weekend getaway in sonoma, california | outdoor intimate family pose jen frase photograhy

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Lisa Hu Chen Shares her Experience

Lisa Hu Chen Shares her Experience

I can't exactly remember how on Instagram I found out about Blair and Thurston Retreats but I knew the moment I visited the site it was something I needed to do. As soon as I laid eyes on that home page image, I wanted what it was offering – that experience. Just like the way a great photo can elicit a response, I envisioned myself as one of those people, sitting in a circle, listening with intent. I was in the early stages of a photography journey that needed some kind of charge and I knew it had to be different than the typical class or workshop route. So I called my college roommie, Karen, asked her to join me on this unknown yet exciting ride, and clicked that register button knowing there would be eight months of waiting in anticipation ahead of me. In the meantime, I practiced almost daily on my technicals, got to know the extremely likable social media personas of Bre and Elena, and tried to find my inner voice in a sea of endless chatter.

I had never been to a retreat before I arrived at Sonoma Broadway Farms that sunny morning in April. Other than an emailed outline of the three-day itinerary, neither Karen nor I knew what to expect. We were the last ones to arrive at check-in and seeing that circle of strangers before me laughing, mingling and having a good time, a circle that I knew I had to walk into, completely petrified me. I questioned my right to be there. Am I good a enough photographer? Will I learn anything or just be lost? Will they like me or think I'm a fraud? All these negative thoughts started funneling out of me and before I even met any one new, I convinced myself that I didn't belong.

At the same time though, I felt a weight lifting off of me when I finally got to meet Elena and Bre in real life and those 13 strangers who actually made the same fateful decision as me to be here on this journey. Not only did I have zero kids to look after and zero decisions to make, every aspect of the next few days was effortlessly laid out and planned for me. It was a shock to my system to have something like this all to myself. I literally just had to show up everyday and be me.

This experience that Elena and Bre pour their hearts and souls into creating? It's unreal and worth a lifetime of self-care and learning. They make you feel instantly relaxed by choosing a peaceful and beautiful location. They bring in a private chef to prepare those fresh, gourmet meals that put Sonoma on the culinary map. They share the stories that helped shape who they each are as women and artists, and they start engaging and profound conversations that touch on each of our personal journeys and the quest for where we see ourselves heading. Between all the lessons and activities, they built in plenty of downtime to build new friendships or reflect inwardly. And, they carve out space to practice and learn from one another by bringing in a family to photograph and encouraging photo sessions with each other. Professional head shots of me taken by 14 pro photographers? Heck yeah. They think of every single detail to make it only about us and our craft.

Little did I know that the overwhelming doubt I arrived with would be the one thing that would be obliterated by the time I left. I remember Elena saying very clearly that goals are achieved infinitely more if they're written down or spoken aloud. Guess what one of my favorite moments during the retreat was? Going around that once intimidating circle and hearing each of us say out loud our intentions. The notion that we – this new group of friends and virtual co-workers – can hold each other accountable for all of our goals and lift each other up as we all work to achieve them. It's something I never could have found had we all not made the choice to click that register button. It's a memory that I'll hold close to my heart selfishly and dearly. All by myself. For myself. Forever.
 


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lisa hu chen orange county lifestyle photographer | sonoma california outdoor family session | blair thurston boutique retreat for photographers | mom hugging daughter
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lisa hu chen orange county lifestyle photographer | sonoma california outdoor family session | blair thurston boutique retreat for photographers | retreat attendees 2018

Christine Dammann Shares her Experience

I declined my first opportunity to attend a Blair + Thurston Retreat when a friend told me about it. I didn't have any idea what it would be like, so I passed. My friend attended and gave a glowing review. When the next retreat was announced I asked her if it was worth the cost and she said it was worth much MORE. I signed up immediately and I am so glad I did. The retreat exceeded any expectations I had. Elena and Bre were kinder, more helpful, and more encouraging than I could have imagined. The other women at my retreat have become friends I will keep in touch with for years to come. My business and my photography has been forever changed for the better. My favorite parts of the retreat were the photoshoots we had, and the guest speaker, Sandra Coan. The portfolio review was something I dreaded and feared but really helped me grow in a way I could not have done without going through it.

Taking a risk and attending this retreat was one of the best business decisions I've ever made. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

If you are on the fence I urge you to invest in yourself and your business. It will be worth it!!


Angela Doran Shares her Experience in Austin

Bre & Elena,
Where do I begin?! This weekend was amazing for me. I came in with loose expectations and you guys blew those right out of the water. YOU TWO ARE MAGIC TOGETHER. You were real and honest and I feel like neither of you held back and that itself was so refreshing. But really, I feel like you guys unlocked something inside of me that needed to be free. Free to be exactly who I am in my art and not worry about the rest. The retreat is hands down the best investment into my business and MYSELF that I have made thus far. My mind is swirling with ideas and changes and I am making a promise to myself and to you guys to follow through. 

I will forevermore be a fan, and a friend.
xo,
Angela
(and yes, I teared up writing this. lol)


Here are some of Angela's beautiful photos that she took at the two shoots during the Blair + Thurston Austin Retreat. See more of her work on her website and Instagram page.

Emily Cannata Shares her Experience as an Attendee

Retreat. Soul Search.

"Earlier this month, I was blessed to attend the highly coveted Blair + Thurston Retreat  that was being held on Bainbridge Island (swoon!).  To say I was craving this retreat is an understatement.  I needed it – I felt it in my heart, soul, and bones that THIS was what I needed.  A few days on an island with like minded women, who had the same passion for photography as I do, was such a treat.  Our industry (like all industries, truthfully) is filled with those that pull you down, rip you apart and make you want to turn the camera off.  That has the making for a great retreat, right?!

I knew this would be different.  It was from the very first ‘touch’ of contact in the planning process.  This was geared to be a retreat for photographers.  A place to feed the soul.

Bre and Elena are what the industry standards should strive to become.  Their passion is not solely for the act of taking a picture.  It’s for the process, the actual technicality of a great capture but more so about the process of voice.  Vision.  Truth.  And this process includes reaching out to other photographers and holding them close, opening up to them, pushing them in a way that is truthful but so so so good for the artistic soul.

This is their craft.  Their calling.

They are an open book.  That favorite novel that feels like home in your hands.

Once the excitement settled in – a gorgeous hundred year home with a multi-million dollar view, a personal chef that I wanted to bring home, yoga outside in the fresh Pacific Northwestern air, and two sessions that would renew my artistic soul – the reality set in.

I am spending days with strangers.

Six other women are embarking on the same journey.  How real do we have to get?  How real are we going to get?  How much of myself do I show?  How much will they share?   I am truly an extroverted introvert (it’s a real thing y’all).  How is this going to work?

I came away with a renewed passion for my work but I am happy to say, six new members of my village.  Yes, we span time zones and there is literally an ocean between us (Aloha Ann!) but we have a connection.  We walked in as strangers with the common thread of a likeminded photography approach.  We left as friends – we bonded, laughed (oh, so much laughter), we shared stories of motherhood.  Life.  Fears.  Dreams.  Goals.

There was zero judgement.

So to those who are thinking, is this right of me?  Will I grow?  Can I do this?  The answer is YES!  Loud and clear – YES!  Do it for yourself, your work, your soul.  Do it to be surrounded by people who WANT you to grow and strive for the next thing.  Allow yourself to be a bit uncomfortable – that is the only way you can grow.

My comfort is photography that centers around family & children.  That’s what I know, I am a resident in this season of life.  The couples session we had planned  – something I looked forward to doing – also got me feeling insecure.  The voice of self doubt was there.  Whispering to me “this isn’t you.”  As we waited for the ferry to arrive, the voice got a bit louder and more firm.  It shook me.  I refused to give in, I was there to grow.

Be pushed.  On a ferry.  In the Sound.  Okay.

It’s good to be moved, pushed, encouraged, and thrown into the uncomfortable.  It works."

Bainbridge Island, Summarized by Attendee Tasha Boin

"Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong." -Ella Fitzgerald

As a mom, I've realized how important is to take care of ourselves-so we can be the best versions of ourselves for our families. The Blair and Thurston Photography retreat that I booked back in February helped me with that and so much more...it was women supporting other women, uplifting one another, empowering one another and creating a community of love and compassion. 

Photography has always been in my life, but it wasn't until I had my oldest, that my spark reignited. I found myself wanting to capture every moment, which led me to wanting to become a better photographer. I found clickinmoms.com, which led to me Elena and Bre. I ended up taking Elena's workshop- Going Beyond the Pose, and I feel like that is where I had many turning points as a photographer and person even! I had more confidence and I credit a lot of that to Elena, who effortlessly brought that out in her students. It was that extra boost of confidence that led me to apply and get into CMpro, which was a dream/goal of mine for YEARS! 

As soon as I saw that Elena and Bre were putting on a retreat together, I just knew I had to go! I had read the stellar reviews from the previous retreat attendees and knew that it was just what I needed! The excitement definitely outweighed the nerves, but as soon as I got off the plane in Seattle, I started freaking out a little bit! I realized how far out of my comfort zone I was putting myself! I never really processed that I was about to meet 7 strangers in a city that I had only been to a handful of times! It definitely helped that I felt like I already knew Elena from her workshop and had admired both her and Bre's work for years. They were so successful, yet they also had that rare ability to make themselves feel attainable and relatable- like an old friend! 

FAST FORWARD...once I finally met all of the amazing women and we took the beautiful Seattle Ferry over to Bainbridge Island, we settled in for the evening and just kicked back, drank some wine and beer and got to know one another! It honestly felt like I was meeting up with a bunch of my best friends. it was so unbelievable how each and every woman was so down to earth and kind. Although we came from all over the country and had a diverse array of photographic backgrounds, we all had a few major things in common that instantly bonded us...we were all obssessed with everything photography, we were women and mothers. OH, and we all enjoyed having a good time, which was awesome!! :) I couldn't have hand picked better strangers to be "stuck" on an island with! 

Bre and Elena are amazing business women and photographers, yet very fun and easy going-they are honest and open about everything they do and why they do it! Although they definitely didn't ever try to tell us how to take pictures or run our businesses, it was pretty impossible to not walk away being completely inspired by them! Thank you Elena+Bre for being open books, letting us grill you with whatever random questions that we had about anything and everything...you were both so giving of yourselves with our time together and I will forever appreciate that! 

If you ever have the opportunity to do something for yourself that you are passionate about, DO IT! It is so good for your soul to seek out others who you can truly share your passions and goals with that aren't your immediate friends and family members...go out of your comfort zone, live a little! 

It also didn't hurt that we had a private yoga session, an amazing chef, 2 incredible photo shoots and personal portfolio reviews! Here are a few moments from my trip! 

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The Words Of Alice Che | Malibu Photography Retreat

We are excited to share another attendees story.  Alice Che, of Alice Che Photography has graciously shared her experience and her images.  If you have not checked out her work, you can see it HERE.  She is a genius with self portraiture and very talented with couples.  I will let her take it away.  Enjoy! 

 

wo weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be a part of the very first Blair + Thurston Retreat. I have admired Bre and Elena for years now, but in the last year or so, I have grown to know them personally and am blessed to call them friends. When they announced that they were going to start holding in-person retreat style workshops, I knew immediately that I wanted to go. Despite knowing this, I almost talked myself out of it. I told myself I was barely in business and I also have very little interest in photographing families, which is one of Bre and Elena’s specialties. I also knew that I was already strong in the technicals and I wasn’t sure what I was hoping to take away from the experience. I was afraid that I wouldn’t learn anything and I would be wasting my money. I was wrong. 

The retreat was worth every single penny and more. I went into it thinking that at the very least, I would have an amazing time hanging out with Bre and Elena and the other girls. Instead, it was the beginning of friendships that will last a lifetime. I’m already trying to figure out how I am going to see these incredible women next!

 

Bre and Elena planned out every detail to make sure that the entire experience felt like a three day, luxurious vacation with your favorite girl friends. We had a private chef who prepared some of the best food I have ever had (uhm, deep fried lobster tails anyone?!) and we even got to have a yoga session with the sound of the waves crashing on the sand and the smell of bacon wafting out of the kitchen. Okay, so the bacon part was kind of torture… but it certainly made me motivated to make it through yoga, haha! The location was insanely gorgeous. We were literally right on the beach, making it easy to take breaks for quick walks between learning. This is the deck outside the room I shared with another attendee. 

 

But as amazing as all of those things were, they just helped create the setting. The best part of the retreat was hanging out with 9 incredibly talented women who are all at different places in their photography journey… and bonding with them over our shared passion for beautiful, emotional photographs. 

I was immediately impressed with how well Bre and Elena played off of each other. They pretty much have the exact same approach to photography: they are drawn to beautiful light, but more importantly, it is all about the connection and the moment. I loved seeing how they were able to stick to their own distinctive styles despite having such a similar underlying goal. They didn’t teach us to be them. They taught us how to find ourselves and keep pushing to be /our/ best, not someone else’s best.

If you follow my work, you know that I am NOT a family photographer. And yet, I was able to find my own style during the family session that we all photographed together. And I have Bre and Elena to thank for that. That’s why I want to share these photos with you instead of the ones from the couple session we did the next day that was much more in my wheelhouse. 

I walked out of the retreat feeling rejuvenated and inspired. I was reminded again to stick to my own path and not try to force myself into someone else’s mold. And, of course, the retreat reaffirmed how amazing the photography community is and brought me some incredible friendships. If you are thinking about attending the next Blair + Thurston Retreat, don’t hesitate. You won’t regret it!

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The Words Of A Malibu Attendee | Photography Retreat

We could go on and on about how wonderful we think the retreat was but you don't want to hear that from us.  We are so excited to have each individual attendee share their experience with you in their own words and with their own images.  We took care to make a loving and encouraging environment for each woman to grow.  Our job isn't to make our attendees be like us, not at all, but instead to be and find their best selves.  We also wanted to make sure it felt like the vacation we knew each and every attendee deserved.  

Allow me to introduce Kallie Pitcock.  Kallie is a photographer based out of Washington, DC.  You can find her website HERE.  

 

Now, I will let her words and beautiful photographs take over.  

The Blair & Thurston Retreat exceeded my expectations.  I am a person who craves community.  I want to be known and know others to feel encouraged and supported.  That happened in Malibu. 

I am in the early stages of photography.  I started my business a little over a year ago.  I was nervous I’d be lost in the talented group that would gather.  There is always a sense of vulnerability of sharing who you are with new people.   Photography is personal for me.

The technical skills and use of photography were varied among the women who attended.  That didn’t slow anyone down.  The creative energy swept through the house like a strong wind.  Elena and Bre were the first to open up and share personal stories of triumph and failure.  Taking the lead in what would be a life-changing weekend.

We all bonded in our love of emotive images.  In spite of our varied subjects we all want photos that evoke and touch the deepest parts of our soul.  Creating and finding those moments drove the weekend.  Love of light and utilizing its power was center to instruction. Editing with your own style was encouraged.  

Our portfolios were reviewed individually in front of the group.  We moved from one comfortable spot to the next for discussion, instruction, and questions.  The luxury of the experience elevated the weekend from work to vacation.  We ate slowly and shared our stories over dinner.  We had two styled shoots: One with a family and the other with a couple.  Both sessions Elena and Bre led by example then pushed each of us out of our comfort zone and encouraged us where we needed it. 

Through laughter and tears I shared my fears and dreams.  My creative soul was nourished and my thirst for knowledge was filled.  I walk away with friends.  I look forward to attending a Blair & Thurston Retreat again.   

 

Kallie

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