Barkarica: An Out-of-This-World Pet Photography Retreat

Holy banana sandwiches!

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve last posted over here on this little blog of mine! (bad, bad blogger!) Yikes! The long hiatus is mostly due to the fact that I’ve been off on all kinds of wacky, beautiful adventures, hanging out with puppies all over the world and I’ve struggled with finding the time to just take a minute to stop, breathe and reflect on it all. So, I’m grateful to be writing this post, as it’s giving me the opportunity to do just that.

Some of you might know I was just very recently in Costa Rica, exploring through the jungle of Manuel Antonio, photographing shelter dogs, and teaching a pet photography workshop. It was an unbelievable experience. I find it difficult to put it all into words, but if you know anything about me it’s that I’m sure as heck going to try. πŸ™‚

To give you some context as to how this whole thing started, I’m going to go back about a year and a half in time. Two of my favorite people in the pet photography industry (who I am proud to call colleagues and grateful to call friends) and I put our heads together and dreamed a very big dream. We were all teaching in our respective areas – passing on knowledge to other pet photographers and helping them grow both their creative skills and their businesses. So, we put our heads together and we thought – why couldn’t we all come together? Why couldn’t we join forces to team up as one – and teach the ultimate, once-in-a-lifetime kind of pet photography retreat. Those two other photographers are Charlotte Reeves of Brisbane, Australia and Nicole Begley of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

So, it was with those intentions that our ‘Out-of-this-World Pet Photography Retreat’ series was brought to life – an experience where the most passionate and driven pet photographers from all across the world could come together in an endlessly beautiful location – always a different place on the canvas of our world –  to learn and shoot alongside each other.

Our first retreat was in Olivella, Spain, just outside of Barcelona at exactly this time last year. We were struggling with what we wanted to name it when I casually ran it by my Mom in a conversation over coffee one afternoon. I said ‘Mom, what would you name a dog photography retreat that takes places in Barcelona, Spain?’. Without skipping a beat, she cracked a sly little smile and said ‘Barkelona’. I giggled until my sides hurt and at that moment, the ‘Barka’ series of pet photography retreats was born. Please note, my Mom is incredibly proud of her clever involvement and reminds me of this each time I see her. (Go Mom!)

Barkelona was more magical than I can describe (I suppose that one is for another post!) and was an enormous success. We came together with our attendees as strangers, but we left as dear friends, all on fire with a common dream. It was such a special experience that we just knew we were onto something brilliant, and had to continue our series.

Cut to this past February, when we headed down to Costa Rica’s breathtaking west coast for Barkarica, our second annual Out-of-this-World Pet Photography Retreat!


The house we stayed in was like something out of my wildest, most colorful dreams. (and let me tell you guys, my dreams are seriously colorful so this is really saying something!) It was a 12 bedroom, 5 story tree house nestled into the jungle of Manuel Antonio, overlooking the sparkling aquamarine waters of the Pacific Ocean. We had our own private chef who cooked us 3 unbelievable meals per day and 3 different swimming pools to choose from. As soon as we arrived at our jungle home, I could be found running up and down the stairs screaming ‘Is this real life?!?!”

But even better than all of that?? THE MONKEYS!!!!! I kid you not, there were monkeys around every single corner. From my bathroom window every morning, as I would brush my teeth, I’d simply look out the window and watch monkeys play just feet away. Howler Monkeys, Capuchin Monkeys, even tiny little Squirrel Monkeys! Entire families of monkeys would just hang out, having little monkey parties, on our house’s rooftop deck every morning, barely blinking as we would walk past them to lounge in the hammock just feet away. And let’s not forget the Toucans, Scarlet Macaws, Iguanas, and Sloths that were in enormous abundance in the trees all around us as well! I think my squeals of delight could be heard all the way back here in Boston. I truly found the most perfect version of paradise there in Central America.


Oh yeah, and there was also the whole pet photography workshop thing that I mentioned above as well. πŸ˜› That part is also pretty important..


As I was going through my images from my absolutely magical Barkarica adventures, culling and prepping all the ones I really wanted to share – I realized – holy moly – I’ve got an unreasonable number of photos here.. And then I thought.. oh what the heck! I’m going to show you them all because I can’t possibly pick my favorites and maybe sharing one bajillion photos in this blog post will make up for me not posting anything for the better part of 2 years. πŸ˜›

So, basically, what I mean to say is, prepare to go on a great big photo journey, because I’ve got all kinds of fun images – both behind-the-scenes and final finished dog shots – to share with you! These images are a look into what goes on at an ‘Out-of-this-World Pet Photography Retreat’ and all the silliness, fun, and magic that comes with it. These images were captured over the course of 2 weeks, each week with 11 pet photographer attendees from all over the world.

Paul from The Dog with a Bow Photography photographing our gorgeous Poodle Mix model in front of this colorful stone wall we found at Nahomi Park.
Final Shot of this golden eyed girl in front of the the colorful stone wall!
Bethany of Bethany P Photography front and center!
The best part of the whole retreat!? Snagging kisses from unsuspecting puppies!

We found these great, organic clay tiles to put sweet Amber on for the perfect shot.
Final Shot of Amber with lovely afternoon light and some outrageously creamy lens compression. πŸ™‚

Sam’s camera and muscles together at last, silhouetted into forever in front of an endless sunset.
Week 1 Attendees – Photoshoot at Matapahlo Beach
Action shots at Matapahlo Beach with Lucy

Two of our high-flying, action dog models having the time of their lives!

Whatever it takes to get the shot!

A gorgeous girl in some seriously unbelievable golden afternoon light.

Candice of Candice Daum Photography getting creative with our pup model in our house’s hammock!

Hey, that’s me! 

Our chef Marcos with his gorgeous food!
He also liked to set things on fire. So… that’s fun too.

Instructor’s excursion – in between workshop weeks, Charlotte, Nicole and I went shooting on Rainmaker Mountain.
This is me in my natural state. Getting a little too friendly with the dog models. This is also me at 11mm.
The dog model from above, this time with her tongue decidedly inside of her mouth. (and not in mine.)
A real life rope suspension bridge in the jungle! Gahh! Must. Shoot. It.
Yup, I shot it.
Looking down on this motley crew from my spot on said rope bridge. 10 seconds earlier, Charlotte almost lost her speedlight in the river. You see it there in her hand because she just barely rescued it before it rolled in. Nice Work, Charlotte.

I said, let’s get our portrait taken at 11mm! It’ll be fun, I said! Charlotte is literally going to kill me or at least give me a swift uppercut when she sees this photo.
Our classroom spaces weren’t too shabby.
Wendy of Canines of Chicago and Candice making magic with Sasha the Husky. (at one of our home’s many pools. I figure I’ll say that again, since I might not be able to say that too many times in life.) πŸ˜›

Sam making friends with the talent.
Bridget of Bridget Davey Photography and Craig of Furtography photographing Hershey at Rafiki Lodge.

This is truly my tribe. Everyone is as interested in a gravity defying dog in gorgeous light as I am! That never happens at home..
Mickey under the golden tree canopy at the beach.
No caption because I’m too busy laughing.
My favorite. model. of. all. time.
Sharing some of the gems with Romeo’s owner. (Also being unashamedly, disgustingly dirty., because… dog photography! heyo!)
Creative powwow on the beach!
Bridget, Craig and Josie of Jellybean Pet Photography hanging out with this comedian.
Photographers, assemble!
Holly, our heaven sent gift and director of the local PAWS shelter in Quepos, Costa Rica.
A sweet, adoptable new Mom!

Sam (Dog Breath Photography assistant extraordinaire) making more friends.

Post hugely successful beach photoshoot with Week 2
Hiking out to our magical river location for the shelter dog shoot! Hi Nicole!
Me. With a hairstyle so glorious and frizzy I can barely describe it. Hanging out in a river that almost certainly had alligators lurking in it somewhere. Hm. Hindsight is 20/20.
Unbelievable sunset on our last photo shoot with Week 2. What. a. DAY.
Trying some continuous lighting with sweet, adoptable Peanut.

Did I mention there were KITTENS?!?!!
Yes, Kittens.

Also, puppies. Listen, I told you it was magical..

Ready for a quick magical story that is technically way too long for a caption? Miss Coco here, a sweet adoptable girl from the PAWS shelter in Quepos, Costa Rica, ended up going home with one of our very own Barka attendees – an amazing person with an incredible heart – Christine Crosby of Sunlight Inspirations! WAHHHHH! Coco went from street dog in a tiny Costa Rican town, scouring for food from trash cans, to loved family member of a multi-dog family on a gorgeous, spacious property just outside of Portland, Oregon. How’s that for a Cinderella story?!
Our unbelievable Week 1 ‘Barka’ crew! There is more talent, dedication and compassion in this group of people than I can describe, and I am grateful for every fairytale moment we got to spend together, swapping stories and sharing dreams, there in the jungle.
Getting wild. Because life is short. πŸ™‚
Clearly, we couldn’t decide exactly where to get wild, so we tried it again in a different location. Nailed it.
Our ‘Barka’ crew from Week 2. All alumni from Barkelona, our retreat in Spain the previous year. People who have become more like family than simply fellow photographers. 
…..annnnnd a wacky one!
Julie Gould of Bright Eyes Pet Photography putting her iPhone skills to practice. πŸ˜›
The two women who motivate and inspire me beyond words. Women who are strong, brilliant, creative and compassionate. Women who I couldn’t possibly do any of this without. Women who are leading the industry to greatness and who I am indescribably proud to stand, and teach, alongside. Thank you Nicole and Charlotte from the bottom of my heart for believing in dreams and going on brilliant adventures alongside me.
Timeless. Perfect. Endless. Costa Rica.
Whew! That was a lot of photos. If you made it this far, you get a gold star. But hey, there were puppies, kittens and various monkeys so that’s pretty alright if I do say so myself. πŸ™‚

All in all, Costa Rica was an unforgettable adventure. We laughed. We cried. We ate lots of incredible food. We toured the jungle at night. We Climbed Rocks. We Swam in Waterfalls. We ATVed through a Palm Tree Plantation as macaws flew over our heads. We screamed when we saw a scorpion but couldn’t find it in our hearts to kill it so we caught it in a cup and flung him ‘humanely’ out the window. We rode horses through rivers and across wide open fields. One of us ate a handful of termites. On purpose. (Josie, I’m looking at you.) And most importantly, we met and photographed beautiful canine souls beneath swirling sunset skies while making connections and friendships that will last a lifetime.

So Charlotte, Nicole and I – our dreams really have come true. We built a retreat – an experience – built on a common passion that is truly ‘out of this world’, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the journey we’ve found ourselves on.

This August, we’re doing it again. This time, in the South of France.

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 3.12.49 PM

Yup, you heard it right. And of all places, we’ll be staying together in a chateau from 1156, once owned by the King of France himself. We will be in the medieval village of Saint-Maximin, just south of the French Alps, in a valley nestled between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, about an hour outside of Marseille. We’ll be photographing French pups in some of the most magical locations of our retreat series so far – places you truly have to see to believe. And get this – Are you ready for the name? (Mom is going to be so excited about this one!): Barkjour.

Holy moly are we clever. πŸ˜›

While Week 1 is fully booked out, two spaces have just opened up in Week 2. This means, if you are reading this and were bummed to have missed your opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime French puppy-filled adventure, it’s your time to shine! (wow, that was a run-on sentence.)

Week 2 is designed for more experienced photographers already operating their own pet photography business, who are keen to receive that final skill and knowledge boost to become extraordinarily successful in their field. If you are interested to apply for one of the last remaining spaces, click on over to www.petphotographyretreats.com to discover everything you need to know!

I hope you to see you in the golden, sunlit valleys of Provence where we’ll eat lots of cheese and a baguette or two, explore through centuries-old cobblestone alleyways, and capture the unmatched spirit of canine together.


3 thoughts on “Barkarica: An Out-of-This-World Pet Photography Retreat”

  1. Oh my goodness it looks like you had an amazing time!!!! Every photo was gorgeous and by the end of the blog my face hurt from smiling! I am so happy for the sweet dog that was adopted!!! Thank you for taking me on a mini vacation this evening through your words and beautiful images! Xo

  2. I’m in awe. You guys are so talented. Loved all your models & pics. The Boston Terrier cracked me up! It’s magical what you do. πŸ’œ

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