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NOTES

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LILY ALAYNE OWEN, NEW YORK, USA

The 5 days I spent at the Secret Retreat with Claire, Andrea, Lucy, Mandy and participants from all over the world were some of the happiest, most joy-filled days of my life. The entire week I was filled with the feeling of resonance, as if I truly, finally fit in somewhere after all these years of searching. My heart felt so deeply protected and cared for and I fell head over heels in love– with Italy, with the Secret Retreat, with all my new sisters, and with Claire, Andrea, Lucy, and Mandy. These women are the truest example of humility and service. They, along with Julie and Emilie, are some of the nicest, most caring, organized, attentive human creatures I’ve ever encountered. It was a pleasure and an honor to spend so much time together.

Lest anyone think this was some kind of prim and extravagant private party let me set the record straight. These women have not only pure and warm hearts but witty minds and salty tongues. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life as when listening to Andrea’s vivid stories of language mishaps and other humble blunders. I picked up a tremendous amount of British slang (however imperfectly) to my great benefit. This group of women is so down to earth and approachable, so empathetic and funny, and pays incredible attention to detail.

The week had flow, grace, beauty, and surprises. It was very well organized and no details were left to chance. This created a feeling among the participants of ease, relaxation, and comfort. What a treat!
The talks were interesting and helpful, filled with honesty and plain talk, thought-provoking exercises, and (of course) more funny stories. The styled shoots were paced exceptionally well with plenty of rest periods in between. I never felt rushed and had plenty of time to get the shots I wanted–both on video and in stills–this is unheard of at conferences. There was excellent coordination and cooperation amongst participants which means that there was no awkward vying to get your shot. This is also rare!!

One of the most obvious examples of the humility and service consistently demonstrated by the organizers of this conference was that they themselves did NOT shoot the styled shoots. Our organizers put us first all week! We were well fed, photographed what we came for, and bonded so happily all together. There was no division between “them” and “us”. It felt amazing to be treated so well. I feel as though the loneliness of the last few years has dissipated and been replaced by an incredible feeling of love and belonging. Thank you for everything you have given me. I’m completely renewed.

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KATY JACKSON, UK

It has taken me an insane amount of time to get around to writing about my time at the Secret Retreat Wedding Photography Workshop. Mostly because from August onwards my 2017 was a bit rubbish and I haven’t been keen to revisit those feelings. Not because of the Secret Retreat of course! Without that and the friends I made I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through that last half of the year at all. Andrea, Claire and Lucy I can’t thank you enough for that.

Let me explain. Two weeks before I was due to depart for this amazing workshop, (I say amazing because it totally is) my sisters Dad died. We were very close, and aged just 64 it wasn’t something we’d expected. A week after I was due to fly to my first destination wedding in France for a couple I didn’t actually know. To fly back, and then fly straight to Naples 12 hours later for the Secret Retreat. I was in no state for any of this! I ended up getting a really nasty chest infection and was exhausted both mentally and physically from work and life. I felt so nervous, the last thing I wanted to do was meet a load of people I didn’t know and learn things, and have to have conversations with new people when I just wanted to cry. I was in such a state of grief, I nearly didn’t go. But the second I landed in Naples and some of the girls found me, we had a coffee and instantly chatted on like old friends over a coffee. So far so good. We arrived at the hotel to be greeted by huge hugs from Andrea, Claire and Lucy. And the hotel was gorgeous. Maybe this was just what I needed after all.

But my chest was still so bad and by day 2 I was coughing so hard and felt dreadful. Without even saying anything to anyone about how I felt, Andrea put her arm round me and said ‘right lets get you to the doctors’. I couldn’t believe it, so much fun going on and so many people to keep and eye on and she noticed I wasn’t doing so well. That’s something quite special there. Everyone was so bloomin’ lovely to me I actually cried. I don’t know how I did it, but somehow I got up everyday, I soaked up all of the talks, I went and did the live shoots when if I’d of been at home I’d of been asleep in bed. But that care and kindness made me feel like I could conquer the world.

I could talk about how amazing the actual talks were, but I’m sure everyone else will do that – for me it’s important to tell people all about the care and kindness I felt, the welfare that is in place which made all the difference to me, especially at such a negative time in my life. I had so much personal stuff going on without worrying about where my business might head. But it was such a positive forward step for me that I needed right there and right then. I made some really solid friends that I don’t know where I’d be without. We chat every single day, and the other day one of them sent me the loveliest gift, an assortment of lavender goodies knowing I was having trouble sleeping. At a point in my life I really needed this workshop – I really needed THIS that exists now. The network of support and friends that look out for me.

The knowledge I now hold, the girls that will be my friends for life and the support this retreat gave me then, and everyday since is something so special. I have been on a lot of workshops, and the main difference between them and the Secret Retreat is that element of welfare and friendship (not to mention amazing food and location). I looked and sounded like death but I had girls saving me a seat when I was late down to talks and workshop leaders that walked me to the doctors. It’s not just about what you learn from the workshop, but what you learn from everyone there. Each person’s different stories, thoughts, support and advice. I have made such amazing pals, like I hate to use the term squad goals but seriously that’s it!

I’ve never quite met women like Andrea, Claire and Lucy. They really are one of a kind and each bring something completely unique to it. Everything is so well organised and useful. I couldn’t recommend this workshop for those just starting out in wedding photography, it will put you on a good footing from day one, especially if you are interested in photographing destination weddings.

I have made some of the best friends and wish there was a Secret Retreat 2!

Thank you so much Andrea, Claire, Lucy, Julie and Mandy. Thank you for making something really wonderful.

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JESS FELDON, UK

What can I say, an absolute life changing few day in Italy filled with love, laughter and inspiration! From the moment you arrive it feels so relaxed like you have know everyone for years and we were giggling straight away on the bus to the hotel! Andrea, Claire, Lucy and Melissa are amazing and have really put so much thought, care and fun into the retreat!

From the food, classes , the shoot, and the venue! You will meet so many new and awesome people on this retreat, friends for life whom you can learn from ! I came away ready for the next chapter on my wedding business journey filled with hope, confidence and happiness! The only down side was coming home and the awful holiday blues that follow! Totally worth it though!

Thank you so much girls, wish we could do it all over again.

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CHRISSY GILMARTIN, CALIFORNIA, USA

L I F E C H A N G I N G… pure and simple! Take yourself back to the BEST slumber party you ever attended as a young girl. You know the one where you stayed up all night talking about boys, painting each other’s nails, and doing each other’s make up? Well take that glorious evening and multiply it by a thousand and then you may have a small glimpse of what awaits you at the Secret Retreat!

One BIG slumber party with 25 beautiful, FUN, creative, and kind hearted souls, who will make you laugh until you pee your pants, make you sob like a baby as they share their inner most fears and then help you to consume copious amounts of limoncello shots as you dance the night away along the crystal blue waters of the Cilento Coast.

The Secret Retreat is about transformation… transformation of your SOUL… yes, you will have the utmost in luxurious and modern Italian accommodations. Yes, you will have an insane amount of the best Italian food in the world. Yes, you will shoot in some of the most glorious and stunning locations imaginable with two gorgeous couples available only to our group… and let’s not forget about the limoncello now… this too shall be yours for the taking!

BUT – what I received from this retreat, and more importantly from Claire, Andrea, and Lucy, was so much more than I could have ever hoped for. I received the greatest gift of all – ME…

Have you ever felt lost? Like you are just going through the motions, trying to get through each day just so that you can wake up and start all over again? Living with no purpose, no direction, with an empty “love tank”? Well I was – and it wasn’t until meeting this magnificent group of women and attending this workshop that I was awakened from my slumber. These women and the vision they had for this retreat has literally transformed who I am and who I want to be.

They made me believe in love again… love for myself, love for photography, and love for my life.

Vivi la vita al Massimo – live life to the fullest – this is what the Secret Retreat stands for.

It inspires you to dream big, to never lose hope, to find yourself, and to live the life you’ve imagined. So thank you my beautiful Secret Retreat soul sisters – I bloody LOVE YOU xoxo

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RACHAEL DA SILVA BURTON, UK

Let me tell you about the secret retreat…it’s fricking AMAZING!!! I don’t want it to be a secret…I want you all to experience it, learn from it, get life long friends from it and LOVE and I do mean LOVE what you do!

I heard of the secret retreat last year when I saw my videographer from my wedding was on it. I was like….shit I need to get on this! 30 girls in Italy talking about photography and photographing a styled shoot….where do I sign up??? She raved about it so much that I was eagerly waiting on my laptop for the sale of the tickets to go online….I think I could have been the first one that booked on I was that keen.

I was so nervous about going out on my own with a nearly new photography business that I juggle whilst working full time. I thought everyone would have their shit together with all these weddings booked and I must admit I was a little intimidated by the photographers that were going. Well that was till I met them all….we had a notification on Facebook to meet at this coffee shop just outside the airport, as we walked up, there they were……THE GIRLS! I instantly recognised Berni with her cute little Italian face but the others I started to recall them after the journey to the hotel.

There was one girl that instantly stood out……Jade. Do you ever get that feeling when you meet someone that you know you’re going to be life long friends? Well when I met my little twinnie Jade I instantly knew. She is a legend in her own right and I am so glad that this trip has brought us together as I know we are going on an epic photography journey, to Andrea, Claire and Lucy THANK YOU for this and letting our paths cross!

The secret retreat isn’t just about meeting amazing girls though, no…its about giving you a kick up your ass, finding out who you are as a person and how that shapes into what kind of bride that you want.

Let me give you a run down of my first impressions of the ladies that put this amazing experience together….

Lucy – basically Lucy made us all cry!! Only kidding, Lucy’s talk was very reflective on us and what our story was as to why we are here. This let us all open up, dig down way deep into our boots, It was really comforting to know that you’re not the only one in your situation.

Mandy was responsible for styling throughout the shoot, every little detail was attended to, the dress for the model (sissi) was exquisite, I couldn’t have picked anything better myself. The table arrangements, the tea lights and candles, flowers all to perfection.

Julie works at My secret Italy and coming from an events background she is totally awesome at her job! Everything ran so smoothly, it literally was a dream. The locations she took us to for the styled shoot, restaurants, meals, party was fantastic.

Claire – how do I sum Claire up… Claire is such a character that when I first met her to me, she was my Mrs Trunchbull and me a quiet shy Matilda. I felt intimidated by how successful her career was and her carefree attitude. As the hours went on though I realised that this was totally not the case… Claire will tell you things straight… you don’t like it – tough. I felt like a grew bigger balls after listening to Claire talk. I now know my worth and without her mentoring session I wouldn’t be in my position now.

Andrea – a f*cking legend! I’ve never met anyone that swears so much in my life but you know what…that is her and ladies she knows her shit!! Andrea is the kindest person I think I have ever met, she is fun, bubbly and is a credit to all the women out there making a go in this man driven profession. Andrea your story of why you started taking pictures will always stay in my heart. Your passion for photography is something to be admired.

I learnt so much from you all, I could relate to each and everyone of you and I aspire to be up there with you one day telling my story of how I wanted to be a photographer and how I excelled in my career thanks to this workshop.Trust me when I say….and I will.

You guys take each photographer and inspire them to be the best they can be, this workshop would be nothing without you and is the only one I have been on where I have actually learnt something, about myself, about my client, about where I want to be with my business…..you guys are legends! Never change.

To any future bells searching for a workshop….THIS IS THE ONE!!! This workshop will be the best thing for your business, for your sanity, for you to be clear on who you are, where you want to go and what the f*ck you actually want. This workshop gave me a kick up my butt, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll want to do it all again!

You should never sit back and let life pass you by…just like you shouldn’t let an opportunity like this pass by because you will regret it! DO IT…..DO IT FOR YOU AND YOUR BUSINESS!! I know these ladies won’t let you down, they didn’t with me!

The Secret Retreat 2017 will always have a place in my heart.

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MELISSA PARSONS, UK

When I saw the Secret Retreat in 2016 & all the wonderful testimonials I knew I had to secure myself a spot in 2017 at whatever cost!

I did and let me tell you it did not disappoint, in fact it totally exceeded my expectations more than I could imagine.

From the time we arrived to the time we left it felt like home, it felt as though I had gone on a vacation with sisters… my new #secretretreattribe

The styled shoot… breathtaking, dreamy… WOW!!!!!!!! Mandy is an absolute legend in styling. I wish I could pocket up the beautiful Castellabate and put all my couples in this location.

Days 2 & 3 we got down to business. We were encouraged to really dig deep… to find out who I am, how my story can be applied within business, who my ideal couples are, where I find them and the one that was making my bum twitch… PRICING….

The knowledge that Andrea, Lucy & Claire have is worth it’s weight in gold. Real & honest advice.

As well as the Destiny’s Child of photography, we also had the fabulous Melissa Love to guide us through branding and how to talk to our ideal client.

I really can’t wait to put it all in to practice.

Now I can’t say too much about the party night (not just because I was a little/lot tipsy) but because it is the best kept secret & totally worth the pain I was in on the Friday.

A huge thank you also has to go to the fabulous Julie & Emillie… the hotel & rooms, the restaurants we ate in and the locations for the shoots were all unforgettable. I only wish I was getting married in Italy…

Much love xxxx

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CHELSA PAULK, ALASKA

So… what can I say about The Secret Retreat? Well for one, it has improved my wedding photography business in every aspect. Before I had no idea how to brand myself or what the hell that even meant but now clients are flooding in and they are not JUST CLIENTS they are my type of people – the fun ones, the ones that love Pearl Jam and parties and more chill less pressure!

Secondly, The Secret Retreat introduced me to an entirely different outlook on pricing, I no longer lose sleep on whether or not my pricing is too high or too low – it is just right for my business and the clients I want!

And lastly, the women I met at the Secret Retreat will forever hold a place in my heart and in my call log. I still stay in touch with my girls and bounce ideas and thoughts off of them frequently.

All in all I would give this workshop 10 stars because it was more than I could have ever hoped to learn in 3 days!

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BERNI PALUMBO, UK

I can honestly say the retreat has been the safest and most empowering environment I have ever been to. Not only we all came back super motivated, but we had the opportunity to share our life stories freely and without any fear of being judged. As a photographer, I have always been very sensitive to beauty – in its widest meaning – and I must say I have never seen so many beautiful people altogether. We cried, laughed, chatted, grieved, ate, enjoyed a ton of beautiful views and of course photographed.

My husband has been mocking me saying that ”it must have been a bit like Love, Eat and whatever the f**k it’s called…”, but really it was! Everyone involved was extremely helpful and just a joy to be around. Clare, Andrea and Lucy have very different personalities but all share a strong passion for photography. They also share the belief that everyone can create a life that fits them like a glove. Julie was absolutely amazing at organising everything and I truly learnt a lot from Melissa’s talk. Also, being an Italian myself, I absolutely loved experiencing my country through the eyes of my new friends.

It has always saddened me to not have enough friends in the photography industry, I can now confidently say that this has forever changed.

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LAURA COSOR, ROMANIA

My business life was like a big puzzle before coming to the Secret Retreat. I had all the pieces but somehow I did not manage to put them together.

After listening and talking to you ladies, after meeting other photographers, I managed to put all the pieces in the right place and now I have a clear, complete puzzle.

I have a full vision on my business as a photographer. And this is thanks to the Secret Retreat. Best choice ever!

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SHEETAL VARSANI, UK

When I heard about the Secret Retreat, I knew I just had to go. And I’m so glad I did! It was such a lovely experience, hanging out with a bunch of like-minded women and learning from each other as well as all the practical and useful information Claire, Andrea, Lucy & Melissa had for us. I’m still feeling the motivation I felt when I was there!

The shoots that were put together were so beautifully styled which I got some lovely photos from for my portfolio, and the location was just a lovely bonus! I’ve come away with a long to-do list to improve my business and currently working through implementing all that I learnt on the workshop. It was definitely a worthwhile experience and I got so much valuable information on getting my business to how I want it to be!

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RACHEL BREWSTER-WRIGHT, UK

Booking my place on The Secret Retreat is a decision I will never regret. On the face of it, it was completely the wrong time for me to go. I had no money, I was struggling with overload, I felt lost with my business and my photography, I had no confidence in my work and right up until the week before I very nearly cancelled.

How could I justify spending money on a workshop when we were scrimping pennies for the food bill? What was I thinking, booking onto a course run by the creme-de-la-creme of wedding photography when I was only just entering the industry myself?! I knew I was going to make a complete fool of myself. But wow, am I glad I took a chance and made the leap.

What it’s given me since has repaid itself ten-fold. I don’t necessarily mean financially (although I’m hopeful this will come in time!) but in all the ways it’s helped me to approach and strengthen my business; The time for reflection, the no-bullshit conversations, the new connections that have come from it and not forgetting the images I now have for my portfolio which I can say, hand-on-heart, I’m super proud of.

It gave me a chance to experiment, time to try something new and it really challenged me to think about how I work as a photographer. From the gorgeous accommodation, wonderful food and stunning setting, to the hand-picked shooting location, the invaluable business advice and all the little personal touches, it really was something special.

To all the incredible women who put their heart and soul into bringing The Secret Retreat to life and making it work, as well as the awesome, creative, funny, talented and beautiful photographers I met along the way, I owe a debt of gratitude. Ladies, it’s been amazing.

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CORRI BIESEMEYER, MISSOURI, USA

I am a Wedding Photographer in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA and have been dying for some culture and beautiful sights outside of my daily grind. After researching several Wedding Photography Workshops, I decided to join the Secret Retreat.

The cost was doable compared to some of the two day workshops being offered here in the U.S. A four day retreat in Italy near the ocean sounded magical. Upon arriving at the Secret Retreat, everyone was so friendly which is a plus for me because I am a bit reserved in social settings. I loved our shoots and our fancy meals and all the little secret surprises throughout the Retreat.

Andrea, Lucy, Mandy, Melissa and Claire each add something unique to the table on Classroom days. I absolutely adored the passion in their stories and how they each speak with such confidence. I am absolutely thankful for all the knowledge they had shared with me and I am highly inspired by their spirits all together.

I have a full vision on my business as a photographer. And this is thanks to the Secret Retreat. Best choice ever!

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REBECCA YU, UK

The Secret Retreat 2017… what can I say!! To start with I booked it because I was thinking I don’t want miss out! Last year a few people I knew went and they raved about it so I quickly put my deposit down so secure my space! Leading up to it, I began to feel so nervous. Near the beginning of the year I started losing my passion for photography because I felt like I was getting nowhere and though I know nothing worth having is easy – I actually started considering other jobs. Seeing other people’s work I kept thinking to myself everyone seems to be so far ahead of me that I wouldn’t reach that stage anytime soon so I started doubting whether the workshop was for me and whether I should give my space up for another bella. Anyhow – I made it yay!!! And instantly meeting other photographers at the airport made me at ease. I wasn’t alone in anything I was feeling and on my journey – this was just at the airport!

When it came to introductions Andrea, Claire, Lucy and Melissa blew my mind. I always think to myself I wonder where people started and how they have got to the point where they can solely focus on just photography! But they let us into their past, into their personal and passionate journey and being around so many other talented women started to lift my spirits and I started to feel confident like I got this. The drive they have and the fire you can feel just made me feel like I want this actually I NEED this – It made me feel like I know the focus again and I know what exactly it is I want, as a person and as a business. It was actually more life changing than what I thought it would be!

The secret retreat seems so long ago now!! It was everything I needed and more. I found new friends, I got to see other peoples journeys and their expectations and most importantly I got time to just sit and think about what I wanted. It was just 4 days!! And I feel like I have more direction in what I want to achieve but I just need to do it now! I shared so many laughs with people and memories and it even got me a tad emotional when I thought to myself I won’t be waking up and having breakfast with these crazy people!! I cant even describe what it was like being around all these ladies. They were mad, supportive, fun and most importantly they were so true to themselves!!! Making everything feel so much easier to be exactly you around them.

It is something I would definitely do again and something I would rave about to others!! Feeling the love and drive for photography again is priceless and the retreat is definitely something that will restore this all again! BTW we also have the best models to hang out with!! THANK YOU FOR THE EXPERIENCE!!!!!

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ANNA RAKOWSKA, UK

Booking The Secret Retreat workshop in Italy was kind of New Year’s resolution to change my life and it was totally worth it!

When I got there… oh boy… what an adventure it was. Beautiful place, beautiful country, beautiful couples but the most important – great people and friends for life I will never forget. Everyone was so welcoming and warm.

The next day after arrival we did our styled shoots. This was mostly why I decided to come to the Secret Retreat – to create portfolio. I will just say that locations where we were shooting and couples were absolutely OUTSTANDING.

Claire, Andrea and Lucy chose couples who are so easy to work with, natural beauties and love posing in front of the camera. There’s nothing more you can ask for. But it wasn’t only fun all the time (but there was loads of it). We studied a lot and laughed a lot and cried as well. There was a lot of wine, limoncello and yummy Italian food. The workshop was definitely life changing experience and I can’t wait to use all the tricks and tips in creating my business from scratch.

For all those who haven’t decided yet or think if that’s a good investment – do not hesitate – the Secret Retreat will blow up your mind and you will come back home changed and with a huge to do list which is obviously aiming at helping you to achieve your dreams and do the job you love.

From Italy I brought more than 2000 stunning pictures, friendships for life, notebook full of notes and knowledge which changed how I perceived building my business. I can’t recommend it enough. Go for it, change your life and be happy forever.

#secretretreat  #instalove