Style Lab Retreat 2023 Recap
October 2023 saw the hotly-anticipated return of Style Lab, the life-changing, fully-immersive photography experience, hosted by internationally-acclaimed pet photographers Charlotte Reeves and Craig Turner-Bullock, alongside guest instructor, world-famous Alicja Zmysłowska.
This time, the south coast of Iceland provided the destination, the inspiration, and the space for contemplation and growth for everyone involved.
We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.
- Maya Angelou
Our home base
Nestled within the idyllically peaceful countryside near Hella, Eirð Retreat was the perfect home base for our photographers, who had been selected from a pool of talented applicants to take up the challenge of working on their artistic style.
The Nordic home and chalets of the retreat are secreted away in the mountains and nestled alongside the most serene of lakes. This location provided attendees with a sanctuary to disconnect from the chaos of the outside world, and to immerse themselves in their singlar purpose: the evolution of their own individual photographic voices.
Nourished by the tasty and nutritious - not to mention abundant! - cuisine, meticulously prepared throughout the day by their talented local private chef, Svava, these artists were granted the ultimate reprieve from the daily hustle and bustle, offering them the opportunity to wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to the pursuit of their art.
But what is Style Lab?
So much more than a photography workshop, Style Lab delves deep into each participant's why to uncover the core motivations that form the foundations of their individual creative voice.
Through a combination of inspiration and introspection, each attendee was asked to look deep within themselves and, in doing so, uncover the parts of their work that are the most meaningful to them, and that provide the driving force for their style.
During five days of classes, shooting, editing, and sharing, in sometimes surprising and emotional ways, the layers are peeled back to reveal each attendee's heart and soul, which often runs much deeper than a simple "I love dogs".
As part of every other participant's Style Lab journey, seeing the differences in each individual's core motivations allow us all to see how much we actually have in common. To uncover that commonality is to find our community, our tribe.
Style Lab is a bootcamp for creativity
Having the space for reflection and introspection did not mean that the participants' days were spent in leisure and meditation; quite the contrary.
The daily agenda was tightly packed, featuring an array of workshops, constructive feedback sessions, spirited discussions, image sharing, and, of course, the photography shoots themselves.
Some days started early with yoga overlooking the tranquil lake for those who were willing and able, followed by a hearty and healthy breakfast consisting of a wide variety of local delicacies.
"There are literally no words to adequately describe the amazingness that is Style Lab. The detailed instruction, gorgeous shooting locations and models, incredible accommodations, and delicious meals—every single detail is accounted for.
"Attending the retreat was one of the greatest gifts I could have ever given myself as an artist. I came home inspired and have implemented a lot of things I learned during Style Lab to keep growing my creativity.
"It was truly an adventure of a lifetime and worth every penny. Thank you Charlotte, Craig and Alicja for your tireless hard work in creating an absolutely out of this world experience!"
- Allison Schwickerath
Style Lab consists of four incredible shoots over five days
Each one at a magical location, and each shoot so wonderfully different to the last. From the white ice of the Sólheimajökull glacier, through the mossy greens and sparkling blue waters at the Skógafoss and Kvernufoss waterfalls, onwards to the deep iron reds in the pseudo-craters of Rauðhólar, and finishing off with the jet black sand and basalt columns at the iconic Reynisfjara Beach; the vast variety and contrast that was offered up by this incredible country truly lived up to its moniker of the “Land of Fire and Ice”.
With guidance from world-class instructors
Charlotte Reeves, Craig Turner-Bullock and Alicja Zmysłowska joined forces to lead the group to places they'd never travelled before - both literally and figuratively.
Three multi-award-winning photography educators with very different but instantly recognisable individual styles, sharing their insights into how anyone can achieve the same by finding their inner truth.
Shoot One: Sólheimajökull Glacier
Shooting along the banks of the meltwater lake at the foot of this great glacier, the options for composition seemed limitless. With black sand dunes leading down to the water’s edge, the blue and black striations of the glacier itself, the red iron-rich lava above, and the rich greens of the distant hills. What a location!
Scroll through to see a selection of the images taken, as well as some great behind-the-scenes shots!
Style is everything
Deep-diving into the students' personal styles took more than just photo shoots, jaw-dropping though they were.
Firstly, there was understanding what we mean when we talk of style, and why it is so fundamental to setting ourselves apart from other photographers.
How is it that a person can look at a photo and immediately think that it looks like one of ours? How do we keep innovating and evolving and still keep a consistent style without being limited by it?
These are just some of the topics the attendees delved into during an array of intensive workshops that worked their minds to get their creative juices flowing.
Developing an authentic personal style is more than a journey, it's an evolution.
Over the five days, Charlotte, Craig, and Alicja shared the moments and processes that have been instrumental in creating their own unique voices. With these presentations and discussions, the students were inspired to consider their own life stories that have crafted their personalities and motivations, and reflect upon how that will influence their artistic voices today and long into the future.
These five days were filled with so many moments of clarity, of eyes being opened, and dots being connected.
You will reach your destination even though you travel slowly.
- Icelandic proverb
Shoot Two: Skógafoss and Kvernufoss Waterfalls
The first of these amazing waterfalls is one of the largest in the whole of Iceland, with an impressive 25m span and 60m drop. The sound and spray from the crashing crystal waters is invigorating, energising those who witness its power to greater heights of creativity.
The participants then headed to nearby Kvernufoss, a much smaller waterfall at 25m, but with a tranquil beauty that takes your breath away.
"There aren't enough words to adequently express how amazing Style Lab in Iceland was. It was genuinely life-affirming and life changing and I'm so grateful that I got to experience it with the most wonderful group of people that I now get to call friends.
"I can't thank Charlotte, Craig and Alicja enough for creating such a safe and nurturing environment to allow us to be vulnerable, explore our creativity and reflect on our experiences and styles. The entire week was perfectly planned and every detail was thought of. The venue was stunning, the food was amazing, the company was perfect and the locations we shot at were epic. Style Lab was so much more than a photography workshop, it's an experience that I will never forget and will forever be grateful for"
- Sarah Jones
Shoot Three: Rauðhólar
This amazing location - “Red Hills” in Icelandic - is the home of a cluster of pseudocraters, which can be seen here in Iceland, on Mars, and in very few other places known to humankind! They are caused by molten lava flowing over ponds and swamps, with the resultant increase in pressure of the water below causing explosions which form the craters. Here at Rauðhólar, the oxidisation of the iron from the lava has created the striking red shades that complement so well with the yellows, greens, orange and reds in the autumnal foliage around the area.
"It was a fantastic week that I will never forget and so incredibly educational. So nice to be able to talk to colleagues about our profession, to learn and work together, to inspire each other.
"The group quickly felt like a group of friends you have known for years. For me it felt like a honor to discover Iceland with this group of people and photograph amazing photogenic super trained dogs.
"The whole course was a very surreal, but incredibly cool experience that I will never forget. To all the wonderful people I met on this fantastic adventure. Thank you for this wonderful experience. Special thanks to Alicja, Charlotte and Craig for all the information, time and love you have put into this course. You are amazing people!"
- Iris van Velzen
Shoot Four: Reynisfjara (Black Sand) Beach
No trip to Iceland would be complete without visiting the iconic “black sand beach” with its intriguing hexagonal basalt columns. Serenaded by the thundering Atlantic waves, our photographers were spoiled with the artistic options available, with a striking variety of textures to work with, and a selection of dog models who couldn’t have been better matched to the location.
"I have learned that I can be who I am, that there is already style in my photos and that I can develop that even more. Just do it, don't just think about it or write it down.
- Yvonne van Leeuwen
Your tribe. Your soul family.
It takes a unique combination of determination, vulnerability, and openness to travel around the globe to a totally foreign land in order to embark on such a transformative journey with total strangers. These individuals showed true strength in simply turning up, and not being content to let life creep on by. To grasp it with both hands, to take control.
These individuals pushed themselves to the limits of their comfort zones, and sometimes beyond, to find honest meaning in their creativity. And in doing so, this group of strangers forged a bond, finding true and profound connection.
This is what Style Lab does. Through developing an understanding of self, it generates a deeper understanding of others, and the beauty that exists in all of our differences. The one thing that makes us all the same is that we're all unique individuals, and what a fantastic selection there were over the two weeks of the retreat.