Luxury Pet Portrait Photography Retreat on Anna Maria Island, FL
It was still dark when my alarm went off but my typical grogginess was pushed aside with sheer excitement! Today was the day we were hopping on a plane to Florida to teach our second and third luxury pet photography workshops with my partner, Pittsburgh, PA-based Nicole Begley from Hair of the Dog. Everything was in place: we reserved the most incredible “bungalow” — an insanely gorgeous beachfront home and two back apartments — that would be our home for the next 10 days; doggie models were scheduled; and we had 18 students from all over the US, Canada, and Australia headed our way!
When we arrived, the beach house was more than we could have ever dreamed. Upon entering, our eyes were drawn through the exquisitely-designed home, out the back doors, past the hammock and tiki hut, through the dunes, and to the ocean — where we saw dolphins jumping out of the water almost daily! Welcome to paradise!
Nicole and I were there to teach and Greg was there to keep us all fed, help with cleaning up, run errands (oh, no! we need toothpaste!), provide IT support (it’s not turning on!), and to make sure things ran as smoothly as possible. I know, I know, I’m quite lucky to have a guy who would take a week of vacation time to come play chef and housekeeper for us. In typical Everyone Loves Greg fashion, everyone loved Greg and showered him with compliments about how he should become a chef and run his own workshop parallel to ours teaching significant others how to be supportive partners. I wish I had a picture of Greg in the kitchen or at the grill to put here. You’ll all just have to imagine it. Wait, here’s a cell phone shot of him in the living room!
But enough about Greg (oh, I’m so mean!), let’s talk about the workshop! Before I tell you about all the dogs, I need to show you where we taught a large number of our classes… under the tiki hut! It was large enough for everyone to sit around and we had a TV so we could hook up our computers and show our slides. Not too shabby, eh?
Now onto Week One’s doggos! This is Mr. Furley. I know, I know, you just died of cuteness overload. I did, too. Mr. Furley is a chocolate labradoodle and was one of the happiest, most lovable dogs I’ve ever met. He and his dad came to the house on our first night of shooting. His scruffy face, gregarious personality, and award-winning smile made working with him super hard — I just wanted to squish him with kisses and give him treats!
This is a little behind the scenes of some students working with Mr. Furley. Yeah, that’s our driveway. It’s a hard life.
Nacho also came to model for us that first night. He’s NOT-CHYO DOG. We had way too much fun saying that… but it’s really hard to type out so maybe the joke comes through and maybe it doesn’t. Moving along. Nacho’s ears were absolutely amazing and we had a BLAST photographing him!
As the sun set that night, we had to get a silhouette of Nacho and his mama in the sand dunes. It was just too perfect!
On our second shoot, the incredibly talented Emilee Miller and her pup, Truman, drove something crazy — like 3 hours — to model for us! I think it was totally worth it, though. The Florida sunlight was just dripping through the trees and I love the little moments we were able to capture of them together. Swoon!
The next morning was filled with some of the most well-behaved pups I’ve ever seen. Kiah the Australian Cattle Dog (aka Blue Heeler) was showing off all her tricks, including “sit pretty!” There’s just something about Cattle Dogs that I absolutely adore. They’re so happy, smart, and eager to please.
And this dude! Vinnie came all the way from Pennsylvania to model for us! Yup! He is a service dog and was able to hop a flight with his mama all the way down to Florida. Talk about awesome! Vinnie loved every minute of his shoot… then again, it might have been all the cookies.
Our third pup to join us on this beautiful morning was Molly, a gorgeous 12½ year-old labradoodle who doesn’t look — or act — a day past three. She happens to be the dog of photography legend Skip Cohen. When Nicole told me they were coming, I about fell off my chair. Holy macaroni! Molly is one of the most photographed dogs in the world and has been photographed by industry icons like Bambi Cantrell, among many others. Knowing that I was going to add my name — and all of our students’ names — to that list was a little intimidating… so I didn’t tell the students who Skip was until after they started shooting. Hah!
I love capturing little moments between dogs and their parents so I knew I had to grab a shot of Skip and Molly.
After all the dry-land portraits, we let Molly hop into the water. She loved chasing her ball and splashing around!
After we packed up, we went over to some picnic tables and Skip gave us all an amazing 20-minute talk about marketing for photographers. We are so grateful to him for not only coming out with Molly but for sharing his wisdom with us!
And that, my friends, wrapped up Week One. We took some photos to celebrate!
To start off our second workshop, Zipp and Rosie, the two adorablest (that’s my new word, ok?) Boston Terrier pups around, made a long drive to come model for us. Zipp has class and distinction with her gray face while Rosie is 100% goofball.
And we had a Maltese-Pomeranian puppy. I’ll let soak that in. The fulffage! The scruffage! The squishage! This is Lily Belle. Breathe.
She loved her human sister and was so happy to be held! Oh, the sweetness!
After we all recovered from the first evening’s shoot, the next night we headed over to a favorite spot at Emerson Point Preserve. This is Scout and he wins the award for Greatest Ears of All Time.
The light was ooey, gooey, and yummy and Scout clearly loved his mama so much, we just had to get some portraits of them together. The look of joy and love between them just melts me!
Little pibble Genysis also came out to model for us. She loved her frisbee and was soooooo excited when we got it out! This is the throw it, throw it, throw it! I’m ready! face.
On our final shoot, all the black dogs came out to model for us! Here are Hoover and Stella… can you guess how Hoover got his name? Their mama was a HUGE help to Nicole and me; she gave us ideas of some locations to check out (including this one) and she got one of the parks to keep its gates open for us a little later than normal so we could shoot until sunset. Woohoo!
Reign, the black German Shepherd, and Rousey (named after Ronda Rousey) the sable German Shepherd, came to model for us, too. Reign was so regal while Rousey…
…Rousey was rowdy! She loved chasing giant sticks and would carry around more than one in her mouth. She was such a ham!
To wrap up Week Two, we took some group photos again!
We had such an incredible 10 days in Florida and it was really hard to leave. Being able to teach aspiring pet photographers and help steer them down the path of running a profitable and fulfilling business is truly a dream come true… and being able to teach from the tiki hut or in a pool with 80º water? Well, that’s just a hardship I’ll endure for the greater good. And yes, we really did teach a class in the pool one day.
I’d like to close out this post by leaving a little message to all of our students: I am so incredibly proud of you for believing in yourselves, your businesses, and your dreams! You are all taking the baby steps and leaps of faith that you need to live the life you want. It is an honor to be a part of your journey. xo