four days in the mountains….

I spent a weekend in the mountains doing things I’ve never done:

1. glamping – the art of sleeping outside in a tent that is raised off the ground, has a bathroom and shower, king size bed and electricity. don’t judge, it’s still outside in a tent.

2. frolicking in the wilderness with live elk, deer and bears (black bears which are like giant raccoons, but still bears)

3. shooting with and learning from the amazing Jennifer Thoreson.

Here is a recap of weekend. I am forever changed. ~ july 25-28, 2014

authentic. true to ones self. from some place deep, and maybe unknown. human. compassionate. encouraging. patient. trusting. real. small victories. one step at a time. beautiful.

a studio in the woods workshop was an opportunity to learn (my addiction). what i thought i was coming here to learn was the process i had seen on creativeLive, but i’ve come away with so much more.

photography is about knowing which end of the camera to look through, knowing the difference between an f-stop and a truck stop, and like everything else in life finding a balance that doesn’t leave you unfulfilled, or kill you from the success. 

clicking the shutter, having the correct exposure, creatively composing your subject is all the technical stuff you can really learn almost anywhere.  dslr cameras are sold in Costco, and iPhones have put a camera in the hands of almost everyone, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that in my mind. i love seeing my friends instagram feeds, and Facebook galleries – technically correct or not, beauty is being captured and life is being shared.  

‘a studio in the woods’ didn’t touch the technical. instead it opened a magical door, in a magical place, and exposed art. jennifer hudson thorsen is an artist. she is creative, shy, soft-spoken, sensitive, self aware, strong and vulnerable. she loves puns, bluegrass music, her sweet husband Greg and her King Charles Cavalier – Olive. she is giving. and by giving I mean all of herself giving. anything we wanted or needed to know, and she was available, and I believe she will always be available to us.

i came to understand the process. to learn Jenn’s process of photographing women in a 10ft ez-up tent (used for backyard picnics). to expose myself to something new. something different. I came see the giant soft box in action, and to visualize how I could leverage it in creating my portraits.  my purpose for being here changed within minutes of us getting started.

day one was travel.  san francisco to denver.  denver to hayden/steamboat springs. hayden to motherwell ranch. this ranch is hands down, the most beautiful, peaceful place i have ever been. 12k acres of amazing. and the people who run the ranch may be the nicest people I have ever met.  there is something about waking up to the sound of the wind in the trees, knowing you are surrounded by nature that fills my soul with a calmness. relax. release. reconnect.

day two was time to get real.  we started at the beginning. who is jennifer. a very open and personal discussion about her journey. a walk through her work, and influencers, her process in words, and time to share a little bit about ourselves.  real. emotional. vulnerable sharing. 15 creative talented people brought together by their admiration of this woman, her work and her spirit – because you can feel even in the youtube videos that are out there.  all of us here for different reasons, but all of us here for the same reason – to grow and be inspired. 

we observed Jenn at work for 5-6 hours. shooting in the ‘studio in the woods’, shooting bareback on a horse, shooting in a rainstorm with no fear, shooting in the cattails.  she pushes herself, pushes her models, and together they create art. right before my eyes – art. fine art. gallery worthy fine art.  

day three was tactile. we created beautiful textures from NatGeo magazines and Citra-Sol cleaner. [link to how] we styled our own models – gave direction for hair, makeup and got to create our own wardrobes.  and then as teams we spent 4-5 hours shooting. the ranch was ours to play in, and everything was possible.  my team [roll_anda aka. rhonda] choose to narrow our focus, and shoot within bookends of a theme.  we gave ourselves boundaries. shooting with purpose. the purpose to commit, fail, learn and try again.  fail up, as jenn says. create something that speaks, is a reflection of you, and can be the starting place of something greater. for me this process was transformational. finding the boundary took some quiet time to reflect on my own life. my experiences and what themes i could pull out. after writing for a few hours and reading it back it was shockingly clear that i had a few themes, and recommendations on good therapists in the Bay Area may be needed. it’s one of those things where everything seems fine, until you pull back the rug and really look. oh boy!

over my three days in the mountains i did get to see the magical light that is created within the studio in the woods, but what I left with was much bigger than light through a tent.  i think my soul opened up, it walked through the magical door into this space of peace and nature and showed me things i had never taken the time to put together about my life. it gave me a propose for my photography, or at least a place to ask “what is photography to me? what is the evolving story i want to tell?”, it also gave me permission to do this work for myself and no one else. a change is coming folks, and i’m excited for it!  

authentic. true to ones self. from some place deep, and maybe unknown. human. compassionate. encouraging. patient. trusting. real. small victories. one step at a time. beautiful. and forever grateful.

my images from the workshop will be available in a private gallery – please email me at for an invitation if you are interested in seeing the my new beginning.

xo – natalie


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