Zen Ocean, Zen Light

Sublime landscapes, soulful images, creative community.
A five-day landscape photography retreat on the north Oregon coast.
September 22nd - 26th, 2019

Artists need time to immerse themselves in their vision and talk deeply about their ideas and hopes. Landscape photographers need time to commune with the environment, watch the light shift, and notice the small miracles in the cycle of life. There’s no substitute for time when it comes to landscape photography.

Here’s the other thing: being a landscape photographer doesn’t have to be overly technical. It can be free, embodied, centered, whole. It’s about you and your vision. It’s about the present moment and how you rise to it. It’s about standing on the beach, feeling the wind on your skin, listening to the waves roll in. It’s about getting a little teary eyed as the last rays of sun fade behind the clouds. It’s about gathering with artist friends around a campfire, sharing soulful stories, and feeling beautifully supported as you realize your vision.

This is Zen Ocean, Zen Light.

Join me for this special retreat at my beloved home - the wild north Oregon coast.

A retreat with Laura nurtures your photographic soul. Filled with searching discussions about why we photograph, exploration of different ways of seeing, and the joy of being in the moment, her retreats will inspire you and enhance your photographic practice. Give yourself this gift!
— Patricia Hogan

The Experience:

Over five days, we’ll dig into the very heart of landscape photography: vision, emotion, resonant composition, mood. Every day, you’ll hone your seeing. With a spacious schedule and plenty of time to get “in the zone,” you’ll build a folio of images you can truly be proud of. You’ll have gentle support as you learn to release landscape photography “shoulds,” expand boundaries, and see with fresh eyes. You’ll also be guided in meditation techniques and mindfulness practices that will enhance your connection to the land and the images you create. And, we’ll review images and have deep discussions on topics like…

  • Moving beyond postcard-style views of the landscape - towards true fine-art

  • How to craft a singular personal vision

  • Embracing deep simplicity of form

  • Wholehearted, authentic image making

  • Expressing mood with low light, motion, and intuitive exposure manipulation

  • Slowing down in order to see more deeply

  • Composing organically with attention to balance and breathing room

  • Shifting our attention from eye candy to deep emotion

  • Interpreting the landscape through the lens of our lives (everything we bring to the table as humans and artists)

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

Spaciousness, salt air, the rhythm of the waves.
Come home to your creativity.
Nourish your artistic spirit.


Imagine starting the morning with a deep conversation about where you’re going as an artist. After a steaming cup of coffee (or malty assam tea!) you sling your camera over your shoulder and head out to photograph tall, golden grasses blowing in the wind on the dunes. You have time to breathe. You’re in your element, making images you love, with compassionate support and guidance every step of the way.

Laura sets a tone of enlightenment rather than pressure. She has a gentle hand that results in laughter, light, and seeds for future projects. Rules are cast to the wind as she encourages participants to look and look again. I was inspired to move beyond my comfort zone. Since returning [from the retreat], ideas have bubbled up and over as a result of all the stimulating conversations. If you have the opportunity to take a workshop with Laura, do not hesitate, you will be rewarded.
— Jacqueline Walters

Our Itinerary…

Day One: Gearhart, Oregon

After you check in and get settled at your hotel or our group AirBnB, we’ll meet at my comfortable beachside home for snacks, image sharing, and intros. Then, we’ll head out for a leisurely stroll on my favorite sand dune path, as we watch the tide roll out into the Pacific. We’ll head back to my home to enjoy a fireside dinner lovingly prepared by my partner Max, a talented vegan and gluten-free cook. After dinner, there will be a guided body-scan relaxation to help you release tensions and immerse yourself fully in our coastal retreat experience.

Day Two: River & Sea

After a good night’s rest, lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves, we’ll start the morning at my favorite neighborhood bakery for coffee and sweet treats (the croissants are divine!). Then, we’ll make our way to the mouth of the Necanicum River, where the water meets the sea. Our walk will take us along ocean cliffs and over a meadow surrounded by craggy conifers. I’ll share a guided walking meditation to help you slow down and connect with the environment more deeply. At the peak of the day, we’ll stop at a quaint cafe for lunch and a photo lesson. After a rest break, we’ll head to dinner at a nearby lodge, followed by a campfire (and s’mores!) on the beach.

Day Three: Fort Clatsop, LightBox Photographic Gallery, Cape Disappointment

After a hearty pancake breakfast at a nearby restaurant, we’ll head to historic Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea, and the Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1805-1806. I’ll share a guided light meditation to help you create images with more nuance and depth. Then, we’ll take a short drive to the seaport of Astoria, the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies. There, we’ll have a personalized tour of LightBox Photographic Gallery, our lovely local photo space. After lunch at Fort George Brewery, we’ll head over the striking Astoria-Megler bridge to explore Cape Disappointment (not at all disappointing!), where the mighty Columbia River meets the ocean. Then, we’ll head back to my home and break out the grill for a wild salmon bake followed by grilled peaches with chèvre and a maple glaze for dessert!

Day Four: Cannon Beach & Ecola State Park

We’ll wake up bright and early this morning and head south along the coastline to the idyllic town of Cannon Beach, where we’ll enjoy a tasty breakfast. Then, we’ll head to the beach to explore the dramatic rock formations and (if we’re lucky!) tide pools filled with anemones and star fish. I’ll share a guided sense meditation to help you hone your awareness and tune in to unexpected subjects. Then, we’ll make our way to the rugged cliffs of Ecola State Park, where you’ll see sweeping ocean views, rolling meadows, and magnificent tree-lined country lanes. We’ll share lunch at my favorite fish and chips joint, and then head back to Gearhart for an afternoon rest. After a cozy dinner around the wood stove at a local restaurant, we’ll have a group slideshow, where you can share your favorite images from the retreat so far. I’ll also share some of my new images and chat about my methods and inspiration.

Day Five: Fort Stevens Shipwreck

We’ll begin the morning with strong coffee and a delicious breakfast at a cozy local spot, followed by a short drive to Fort Stevens State Park. There, we’ll see expansive golden beaches and one of the iconic monuments of the “Graveyard of the Pacific,” the Peter Iredale - a ship that ran aground in 1906. The retreat will conclude with a tour of my studio, and a celebratory group lunch at my home.

Screen Shot 2019-06-23 at 9.05.35 PM.png

A bit about me…

I’m Laura Valenti, the artist behind 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. My teaching centers on clearing creative blocks and cultivating the insight and confidence necessary to make deeply authentic personal work.

I’ve had my fingers in a lot of pots in the art world, for over 20 years now. I teach interactive 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 jury competitions and serve as a reviewer at portfolio review events, where I help photographers fine-tune their vision and promote their work with more confidence. 

I’ve also studied and practiced Zen meditation for 20+ years. My meditation practice has helped me become a more balanced artist, and I love sharing this simple, thoughtful philosophy with photographers. My sweetheart and I moved to the Oregon coast about a year ago, and this landscape nourishes my art and soul in so many ways.

I can’t wait to share it with you!

I spent nearly two weeks with Laura on her Eastern Tibet Retreat. It was a wonderful experience! I was inspired by her creativity and skill level and learned so much just by shooting with her and looking at images together. I also appreciated seeing Laura in action, how she approaches the subject, what catches her eye, how she slows down, breathes, and soaks in the environment without any rush - just being in the present moment. She showed me what is possible when I open my eyes and heart.
— Marta Topolska

 Frequently Asked Questions…

What kind of camera/gear do I need?

Ansel Adams once said something like: If you have fewer lenses, you lessen your chances of choosing the wrong one. A short gear list will be provided to registered students, but the general guideline is: less is more. That said, 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 new images on our mid-retreat review, but they are heartily welcomed.

What’s included in the retreat price?

The retreat price includes…

  • All instruction and guidance

  • Transportation to and from daily outings

  • State day passes to locations

  • Three catered meals, coffee and tea, filtered water for outings, and snacks

The retreat price does not include…

  • Airfare

  • Medical, travel, and trip insurance

  • Lodging (a list of lovely nearby options will be sent to registered students)

  • Meals (except for three catered meals, noted above)

What are the lodging options like?

We have a couple very nice nearby hotel options, and I’ve also secured a spacious, tidy AirBnB just for our group. Interested students can opt to stay in single (or shared) rooms in the group AirBnB, which will be somewhat more affordable than a hotel. There’s even a local hostel available as a budget option. All the options and details will be provided to registered students. Students who opt for the AirBnB will be sent a separate lodging invoice, payable by July 22nd (AirBnB room options will be no more than $150/night).

How experienced do I need to be?

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 on this retreat.

What’s the terrain like?

We’ll be doing light hiking, largely on flat surfaces, on trails and sand. You’re welcome to wander as much or as little as you want each day, but you’ll definitely want a comfortable pair of hiking shoes. A pair of sandals for the beach is always nice, too. A list of packing suggestions will be provided for registered students.

Do I have to be an experienced meditator to attend this retreat?

No meditation experience is necessary. All of the practices shared on this retreat will be accessible, with a focus on simple relaxation and mindful presence. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a common modality in secular environments nowadays, so you’ll be able to bring these practices with you into your regular life, no matter what spiritual tradition you’re a part of. If you are an experienced meditator, you’ll also feel at home on this retreat.

How does registration work?

A $600 deposit is required to reserve your space. The remaining balance is due by July 22nd. You can also opt to pay in full at the time of registration - both options are provided below. If you register after July 22nd, full payment is required. Students who opt to stay in the group AirBnB will be sent a separate lodging invoice, payable by July 22nd (AirBnB room options will be no more than $150/night). You may cancel your registration at any time, with the following terms:

  • If you cancel 60 (or more) days before the retreat start date: your deposit is nonrefundable

  • If you cancel 31 – 59 days before the retreat start date: 50% of your registration will be refunded

  • If you cancel 0 – 30 days before the retreat start date: 100% of your registration will be retained

  • If the retreat is cancelled by Light Atlas Creative for any reason, you will receive a full refund. Compensation for flight or hotel costs will not be provided.

Will you be serving your famous chocolate “amazeballs” dessert?


How many students will be on the trip?

This will be an intimate retreat with no more than 10-12 students.

What will the weather be like? How should I plan for it?

The weather at the coast is famously changeable. For photographers, that’s a good thing! Moody morning fog can turn into glorious sunshine by midday, which can shift into a dramatic, stormy afternoon. Photographers should wear layers and be prepared for walking and photographing in the rain. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing (and gear protection). You’ll be rewarded with especially striking photographs if you can welcome changing conditions with a hardy spirit. Our itinerary may be reordered or altered to accommodate weather changes.

Can dietary preferences be accommodated?

Yes. Catered meals will always have vegan and gluten-free options. All of the restaurants have vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.

What if I have other questions?

Other questions are welcomed! Just pop me an email and let me know what your needs are.

Deep presence. Magnificent landscapes.
The emergence of your true vision.

Is this retreat right for me?

  • If you’ve gotten comfortable photographing your local environment, and feel like you need fresh inspiration…

  • If you want to come into your own as an artist and learn to express your true vision…

  • If you crave quality time away from your devices and social media…

  • If your creativity often gets back-burnered and you know you’d benefit from an immersive, focused week of art making…

  • If your spirit craves time in nature…

  • If your landscape images feel a bit straightforward and you’re drawn to move beyond formulas and photo club expectations and find a more unique vision…

  • If you’re curious about the intersection of mindfulness and creativity…

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

  • If you’re ready to slow down and savor your creative journey, in the company of likeminded artists…

Then yes, I created this retreat just for you. Join me!

Laura, with your feedback I learned to see and be more aware, to be more in touch with how I was feeling when photographing. Your presence and daily thoughts made it an extra special, meaningful trip.
— Ingrid Wehrle