Eastern Tibet Photo Retreat

11 days of adventure, deep seeing, and one-of-a-kind photographs

June 4th - 14th, 2019

Why do we travel? 

To find ourselves. To mark important chapters in our lives. To discover and learn. As photographers, our aim is to make images that express the nuances of each travel experience; images that go beyond stereotypical snapshots.

So how we do that? Here’s my answer:

We slow down and become truly present. We get quiet so we can see more deeply. We tap into the emotion of a place. We interpret what we see through the lens of our lives (everything we bring to the table as humans and artists). We shift our attention from eye candy to deep emotion - so we can see mood, light, and form in fresh new ways.

This is how you create one-of-a-kind works of art that stand apart from commonplace images. 

This is how you infuse your personality and singular artistic vision into images that reflect the richness of your travel experience.

Come join me on the trip of a lifetime. Eastern Tibet awaits!

Expand your creative seeing. 
Be a travel photographer - and an artist.

The Eastern Tibet Photo Retreat is designed for an intimate group of photographers who want to explore a remarkable part of the world - while also deepening their relationship with their art.

There’s only so much we can learn about photography from books or websites.

We grow when we expand our boundaries, immerse ourselves in making, and explore the world with eyes and heart wide open.


How it works:

Over 11 days, we’ll explore stunning terrain, connect with local Tibetans, and deepen our appreciation of the landscape and unique culture on “The Roof of The World.”

And, we’ll photograph it all!

You’ll enjoy breathtaking landscapes from 4000m+ mountain passes. Wander among nomad camps on the highest grasslands in the world. Join religious pilgrims at ancient sites. Appreciate the history of Tibet with guided visits to temples and monasteries. Observe traders from surrounding villages converging at a frontier town (Tibet’s version of the Wild West) to barter yak meat and yoghurt for tea, vegetables, and goods from the outside world. Meet local artisans and photograph them at work in their studios.

You’ll see your skills strengthening every day. 

You’ll see the quality of your artistic vision deepening every day. 

Each evening, we’ll review your images - so you’ll head out each morning with greater awareness and confidence in your vision. Our conversations will include topics like:

  • Moving beyond conventional, “touristy” images - towards more artistic views

  • Widening your definition of “the perfect subject”

  • Making relaxed, expressive, authentic portraits (instead of sneaky snaps from across the street that never turn out)

  • Showing mood and deep emotion in your images

  • Wholehearted, authentic image making (finding your true vision)

  • Letting light (instead of subject matter) guide your visual choices

  • Connecting with people even when you don’t speak the language

  • And so much more!


Living the life of a travel photographer. Feeling deeply inspired every time you pick up your camera. Photo walks in beautiful light. 11 days, dedicated entirely to your vision, your craft, your art. An immersive cultural experience you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. And, an intimate group of fellow artists to join you in savoring it all.

This is what’s waiting for you in Eastern Tibet. 

Our Itinerary

I’m teaming up with the expert guides at Extravagant Yak Travel Company for this retreat. Extravagant Yak specializes in creating rich, authentic travel experiences in Tibet. Here’s what we have planned:

Day 1: Arrive in Chengdu
Accommodation: Buddha Zen Hotel, Chengdu

The heart of Western China welcomes you as your driver navigates the throngs of cyclists in this bustling, vibrant city. Chengdu's Buddha Zen Hotel offers a classy step into China's past - and you’ll love the photo opportunities in the surrounding neighborhood. After check-in and some refreshments, you're off to dinner and a visit to China's historical Three Kingdoms-era Zhuge Liang Memorial Temple and Jinli Ancient Street. We’ll conclude the evening with a relaxing trip orientation back at the hotel with plenty of opportunity for questions.

Image courtesy of Extravagant Yak Travel

Image courtesy of Extravagant Yak Travel

Day 2: Chengdu
Accommodation: Buddha Zen Hotel, Chengdu

Your private guide will escort you to the Giant Panda Research and Breeding Center for close up viewing of these curious creatures who are more native to Sichuan than the people themselves. In the afternoon, we’ll visit Chengdu's oldest and best preserved Buddhist temple: Wenshu Yuan. An afternoon rest will be followed by an introduction to the fun of Sichuan Opera (much more than just singing!). Following the show, an early night is advisable in preparation for your journey to an entirely different world tomorrow.

Day 3: Chengdu to Kangding
Accommodation: Zhilam Hostel, Kangding

Leaving Chengdu, you’ll head out of the Sichuan basin to penetrate deep into the mountains that guard the approach to the ancient kingdom of Tibet. Kangding is perched on the edge of the Tibet-Qinghai plateau and this historic trading town remains a convergence of Han and Tibetan populations. The six-hour journey is a virtual time warp. Everything changes: the landscape, climate, cuisine, language, customs - and of course, the people. On the first evening in Kangding (elev. 2600m) you'll walk past Ngachu monastery on your way to dinner, followed by a community dance in the town square (feel free to join in!).

Image courtesy of Extravagant Yak Travel

Image courtesy of Extravagant Yak Travel

Day 4: Kangding
Accommodation: Zhilam Hostel, Kangding

The first thing you’ll notice the next morning? Everywhere you look goes up! The surrounding ridges speak of the protection offered by the strategic location of this historic town. A cable car (or optional walk) to the top of Paoma (Running Horse) Mountain lookout will follow breakfast. The afternoon will include a fascinating stroll through the enclave of Baitu Kan on your way to Dordrak Monastery on the west side of the Kangding valley. A pre-dinner walk through the markets will give you an idea of why this town has been a key historical trading center between Tibetans and the Chinese.

Day 5: Kangding
Accommodation: Zhilam Hostel, Kangding

Today a forty-five minute drive will take you out of town to the scenic mountain pass of Ya Jia Gen. Along the way, scenery of rural Tibetan life in still-ancient villages mixes with panoramic views from the top of the pass - it’s a true visual extravaganza. An alpine lake at the top will provide a stunning location for a picnic lunch, followed by exploration of the surrounding ridges by foot. You'll return to town by late afternoon in time for a short rest before dinner at the beautiful Malaya Tibetan Restaurant in the heart of town.


Day 6: Kangding to Tagong
Accommodation: Gongga Dzong Castle Lodge, outside Tagong

This morning is up, up, up…and over the Zheduo Mountain pass (4200m) to the renowned nomadic trading village of Tagong (3700m). Weather permitting, you'll see the peak of Gong-ga Mountain (7566m) along the way - the highest peak in China outside of the Himalayas. This high altitude grassland area is home to many nomadic families who spend their days herding yaks, and the town is bustling with nomadic traders. At a visit to a local monastic community, you’ll meet with carvers who engrave Buddhist scriptures on stones for local pilgrims. There is an optional afternoon horseback ride (approx $50, not included in the tour price) for those with a sense of adventure. Evening includes dinner and a night at a nearby Tibetan-style luxury lodge - an astonishing rural oasis.

Day 7: Tagong to Zhonglu Village
Accommodation: Zhonglu Village Tibetan Homestay, Danba

The morning begins with what is easily one of the most scenic drives on the Tibetan plateau. The drive from Tagong to Danba is breathtaking in its rugged beauty. You’ll see stunning views of Yala Mountain as you follow a gorgeous canyon down to the town of Danba (elev. 1900m). High up on one of the surrounding hills lies your destination for the next two nights: the quaint Tibetan village of Zhonglu.

Image courtesy of Extravagant Yak Travel

Image courtesy of Extravagant Yak Travel

Day 8: Zhonglu Village
Accommodation: Zhonglu Village Tibetan Homestay, Danba

Day 8 starts with a relaxing hike on the surrounding slopes, with striking views of the valley and the surrounding terraced farms. This area is also famous for its ancient tower ruins that date back hundreds of years to the warring period between Tibetan clans. In the afternoon you’ll be treated to an tour of a 700-year-old home, complete with cultural relics from hundreds of years ago.

Image courtesy of Extravagant Yak Travel

Image courtesy of Extravagant Yak Travel

Day 9: Zhonglu Village to Four Sisters Mountain
Accommodation: Above the Clouds Inn, Changping Village

Our morning drive follows a tight canyon valley for three hours on a gradual climb to Changping, the gateway village to the alpine wonderland of Four Sisters Mountain. The village is a quaint mountain community of local Tibetans who make a living off of serving mountaineers and trekkers who come from around the globe to adventure in the breathtaking terrain. Following lunch, we’ll take an afternoon walk through the village and surrounding valley. There will also be an optional pre-dinner climb to another ridge for sunset images of the mountains.

Image courtesy of Extravagant Yak Travel

Image courtesy of Extravagant Yak Travel

Day 10: Four Sisters Mountain to Chengdu
Accommodation: Buddha Zen Hotel, Chengdu

On Day 10, as we head out of the mountains, we’ll cross one more 4,000m+ pass (Balang Mt.) for a final view from the Roof of the World. Descending the countless canyons and switchbacks through mountain villages will remind you again why Tibet has remained so cut off from the rest of the world. After a half day of travel you'll pull into Chengdu in the afternoon to enjoy rest and refreshment in your room at the Buddha Zen. You can opt for an afternoon rest, or if you’re feeling energetic, take a bamboo bike ride along Chengdu's Funan River before our farewell dinner. Following dinner, we’ll celebrate with a mini "exhibit" of your favorite trip images (via digital projector).

Day 11: Depart Chengdu

After breakfast, a private shuttle will take you to the airport for your flight home. (Or, maybe you’ll decide to stay in Asia for an extended adventure?)


My Background…

I’m Laura Valenti, and I’m the founder of Light Atlas Creative. For me, photography is so much more than a technical and mechanical exercise. I'm passionate about helping photographers become visionary artists.

I spent the first fifteen years of my life living in Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong - and fell in love with photography at a young age. Since then, I’ve traveled extensively around the world…and my camera has been my constant companion.

When I’m not traveling the globe with my camera in hand, I’ve been building a 20+ year career in the art world as a photographer, curator, arts director, and educator. I teach interactive photography e-courses, support emerging photographers in my creative mentoring program, speak to photo groups, and curate exhibitions for galleries and photo festivals around the world. I also serve as a professional reviewer at portfolio reviews, where I help photographers fine-tune their vision and promote their work with more confidence. My teaching centers on clearing creative blocks and cultivating the insight and confidence necessary to make deeply authentic personal work.

Frequently Asked Questions

Eastern Tibet…is that in Tibet or China?

Many travelers don’t realize that Tibet has been a province of China since the 1950s. Tibet consists of three main regions which spill over into five different provinces. This photo retreat takes place in Eastern (also known as “Kham”) Tibet, which is primarily located in western Sichuan province. For a more thorough understanding, visit Tibetpedia and read the Tibet Travel Essentials. 

What kind of camera do I need?

All cameras are welcome! DSLRs, point-and-shoots, smartphones, pinhole cameras made from oatmeal boxes – I have a strict equipment nondiscrimination policy. If it makes you happy to shoot with it, you've got the right gear. The only requirement is that you are comfortable with your camera’s basic controls. Film photographers won’t be able to share images in our daily reviews, but they are heartily welcomed on the trip.

What’s included in the trip price?

The trip price includes…

  • All transport, including airport pick-up and transfers

  • Private vehicle and driver, plus an excellent English speaking local guide

  • All meals, including complimentary bottled water along the way (with wine served at dinner)

  • All accommodation based on double occupancy

  • All activities and entrance fees (per the itinerary)

It does not include…

  • International airfare

  • Medical, travel, and trip interruption insurance

  • Passport and visa fees

  • Activities not included on the trip itinerary

  • Souvenirs, laundry, items of a personal nature

Is this trip better suited to more advanced photographers?

This is a conceptual photography experience (not a technical class), so photographers at every level are welcome. One thing is certain: your photography will improve dramatically on this trip.

Will any technical instruction be provided?

I am happy to answer technical questions and help you with your camera, but that won’t be the focus of this immersive travel experience. We’ll focus primarily on creative seeing and making images that go beyond standard, straightforward, expected views (which has little to do with mechanics).

What gear should I bring?

Ansel Adams once said something like: If you have fewer lenses, you lessen your chances of choosing the wrong one. Rick Steves, travel guide extraordinaire, once quipped, “There are two kinds of travelers - those who packed light and those who wish they had.” A short gear list will be provided to registered students, but the general guideline is: less is more. 

The trip of a lifetime.
Awe. Deep presence. The emergence of your true vision.

  • If you’ve gotten comfortable photographing your local environment, and you feel like you’re just repeating yourself…

  • If you’re hungry for adventure and new sights…

  • If you want to come into your own as an artist and learn to express your true creative vision (yes, you have one)…

  • If you have dreams of doing something new and different with your photography, but you’ve mostly been feeling stifled and bored...

  • If you want to create a gorgeous folio of images to exhibit, share with friends, or present on your website…

  • If you want to photograph all your future travel destinations with fresh eyes and a truly original perspective...

Come join me in Eastern Tibet.