Last Friday I hopped on an early flight to Gotland for the very first Babes in Boyland Retreat at Hotel Stelor. I’ve been following Matilda & Natalie since I started out and they have always been a huge inspiration to me, so it was about time that they arranged a photography retreat!
Ever since I got home on Sunday evening, the impressions from this weekend has been spinning in my mind constantly. I always forget how much mental processing I actually have to do when I come home from these kind of intense, creative work trips. Somehow I expected this week to be back in business as usual on Monday, with an ambitious schedule of recipe testing, content creation and client work. But instead I’ve been floating around in a strange hazy bliss, like on a paralyzing creative high, if that makes sense. There’s only so much food photography one can produce in a week :’D
The last 7 days I’ve also set some kind of record in meeting new, interesting, potentially-friend-for-life kinda people. I don’t know what has happened, but it’s like I all of a sudden unlocked a key to connection that makes me hone in on the right frequency for really interesting conversations. Not that it’s a special ability or anything, but more of an awareness that has enabled me to lift my gaze and notice other people in a different way than I used to. I met two of the people who I’m thinking of at this retreat. Let’s start at the beginning!
For all of you non-Swedes, Gotland is the largest island in Sweden, located in the Baltic sea, southeast of Stockholm. It’s only a 45 min flight from Stockholm, so those of us coming from there arrived to Visby pretty early in the morning. While waiting for our pick-up, we went for a cup of tea in a nearby café and started interrogating each other about our backgrounds and work haha. Later in the morning My, one half of the Hotel Stelor duo, picked us up to drive us to the hotel.
My first impression of her was that she is one of those people who instantly open up and connect with others. She had such a warm and grounding energy! In a matter of minutes, she managed to tell us the story of her big and lavish wedding with her teenage love where she ended up falling in love with the cook, getting divorced a month later, moving to Gothenburg to be with this new guy, then started running the restaurant at Hotel Stelor together with him in the summers and now fully taking over the hotel with the ambition to keep it open all year around. Phew!
From May to September, My & Linus (the cook) live in a small cottage next to the hotel along with their son, bonus daughter and soon to be born second child. Hearing about how radically life can change in just 4 years was so inspiring! From what they’ve told us throughout the weekend, their life at the island seems to be a rich but simple one, close to nature and with plenty of local food. It’s a you-take-what-you-have kinda attitude. Very different from the stressful big city life in the advertising/restaurant business they live during the winters. Though in the high season at Gotland, it’s work 24/7. But if you’re passionate about it, you do what it takes right?
When we arrived to the hotel, we were paired up and set off to explore our rooms and the surroundings. I stayed in the “Explorer’s room” with a very sweet and cool girl named Olivia. A recipe, schedule and some small gifts from Granit awaited on the bed.
When everyone had arrived, we ate a very green and delicious soup for lunch that Linus had prepared, and then it was time for the first workshop session!
The workshop was held out in a big barn which they convert to a restaurant in the summers. Matilda & Natalie had prepared plenty of props and “work stations” out there. The first session was all about storytelling, and the hero of the story was a lemon & poppy-seed cake.
There’s something special about prop tables! Seeing all these little gems and unique ceramics gathered in one place. So beautiful in itself. Playing around with someone else’s props always sparks new ideas in me when I’m a bit tired of my own selection.
But first a short lesson in storytelling. Here is Matilda, talking about different types of images and how you can combine them to create a compelling story. Our mission for the day was to work in groups to style and photograph both details, overviews and “main” images of the cake and cake making process, or anything else that might enhance the story or intrigue the viewer.
I teamed up with Ulrica, and we styled the grey-ish photos below. The darker ones of the cake was mainly styled by another group, but their set was so stunning everyone had to snap pictures of that one as well :-)
I struggled sooo much with the light and colors in these pictures! When you’re at home you can control your environment completely, but on location you never know what weird color the roof might be in, or if there’s any other element producing strange color reflections. In this room we had wonderful large windows and concrete walls to shoot against, though the roof was yellow wood and there was also one very dominant red wall, producing a red/orange glow from further inside the room.
When you look at a finished food photograph you never know these things, but I thought it might be interesting for you to hear a little bit about the behind the scenes process :-) So in the post-processing I had to do a lot of local white balance adjustments, and take down/soften the very bright light quite a lot. Luckily we had a photo editing workshop on the last day, where I got some hands-on guidance from Matilda on how to navigate these kind of white balance issues.
After hours upon hours of styling and shooting, and a micro nap at the room because *exhausted*, we gathered for a welcome drink and dinner. Linus had prepared charred celeriac with a crispy carrot & fennel salad and smoked yoghurt sauce for us <3 Above is Matilda. She’s btw the one taking all of Babes in Boyland’s photos, while Natalie does the styling and modeling.
Mandatory golden hour shot! To the right is Olivia, whom I shared room with. She lives in the country-side on the west coast, with her boyfriend and hens. This girl knows so much about plants and fermentation and farming and all the DIY hacks. I’m really intrigued by her lifestyle and I would love to learn more about cultivating the land and the resources you have at hand.
This first evening everyone was pretty tired. I went to bed already at 9.30 haha. Geez, shooting food and meeting new people is draining :’D
In the morning I was planning a sleep in, but then I woke up at 6.43 sharp and had about 30 seconds to decide if I wanted to join the rest of the crew for early morning yoga (the car would leave at 6.50…). Since I’m not the one to say no to yoga, I threw on my tights and cosy sweater and ran downstairs.
We drove for a couple of minutes to the local “culture house” I guess you can call it, where we were guided through a gentle Yin practice in a bright room with beautiful windows and not a disturbing sound to be heard. It was such a calm place, and for the first time ever I managed to actually relax in Yin, rather than just pushing myself to stretch further.
Back at Stelor, Lotta (working full-time at the hotel) had prepared a wonderful breakfast of everything one could possibly wish for! Yoghurt, berries, fruit, vegetables, seed crackers, cheese, sourdough bread, smoothies, coffee, juice and a million different toppings. They had even prepared a loaf of rustic, gluten-free bread, and a gluten-free version of their homemade granola <3
After breakfast, it was time for a floral styling workshop!
There a florist named Åsa (from Irisdals Blomsterhandel) taught us how to treat the flowers and how to bind a bouquet. Then I teamed up with Maria, and we created a wild and messy bouquet with pale green and dirty pink hues.
Olivia modeled for us in true Vermeer spirit :o
And later in the morning, Matilda showed us a secret spot further inside the barn, where she had prepared a simple set for these wonderful peonies. She talked about composition and camera technique in this kind of light, and described what is was about this particular light and framing that intrigued her.
If you’ve seen Babes in Boyland‘s photos, you know that they are often very simple and minimalistic. So naturally, Matilda picked only these three peonies above for her image. But we also tried to photograph some of the more intricate bouquets at this spot, producing a completely different picture that somehow reminded me of the flower farm Saipua.
Remnants from other people’s styling is also interesting to photograph :-) I almost prefer to observe the workshop from the outside, photographing details that are already there.
In the afternoon, we visited a nearby farm that produces all the vegetables for Stelor. In the summers, Linus goes there early every morning to pick everything that he needs for the restaurant that day. Dream life <3 Janne (in the picture below) showed us around and even let us say hello to the lambs :-)
Back home, it was time to decorate the dinner table! No photography retreat without Pinterest worthy table decorations right? ;-) But as I feel more comfortable in the kitchen, I helped Linus with peeling asparagus and rhubarb instead. While sipping rosé of course. For a blissful hour or so before dinner, everyone helped out where help was needed, drank wine, talked about blog business and instagram strategies and creativity, with soft indie music in the background.
I just can’t believe that this is everyday life for Linus & My?! So envy. Or well, they don’t always have the pleasure of hosting a bunch of excited photographers that are Oo-ing and Aah-ing over everything, but still ;-)
Remnants from the floral workshop turned into table decorations.
Pretty much everything we ate during the entire weekend was prepared over this barbecue. Here Linus is charring white cabbage.
Right before dinner we were all invited out to the garden, to try charred spring onion (or it was some kind of special, local spring onion that I don’t remember the name of) dipped in a green ramps mayonnaise (I think it was??), salted almonds and roasted potatoes with a bell pepper sauce. And a small glass of ice-cold sherry to go with that. VERY well thought-out. As a recipe creator, I’m usually the one in the kitchen preparing this and that for my guests, so being spoiled with food like this by someone else is like my greatest luxury ever <3
Ready to eat! For dinner we had mountains of white and green asparagus that we got from the farm earlier, dozed in lemon and hollandaise, charred cabbage with beluga lentils and a pickled dill vinaigrette. Plus the leftover mayonnaise and pepper sauce from earlier. Dessert was a gluten-free claufotis with rhubarb (picked at Janne’s farm) that came with a killer ginger flavored dessert wine. Oh man. Food heaven.
This evening everyone stayed up for hours just talking and talking. I spent the entire evening with Matilda & Terese, and we covered everything from teenage years to our relationship to our parens to love and music and alcohol and anxiety and loss and you name it. I was completely wiped out, yet I was so hooked on these girls and our connection that there was just no way I could go to bed! We hardly even went to the bathroom because we couldn’t tear away from the conversation haha.
Some time after midnight I feel asleep full, happy, possibly a little tipsy and definitely exhausted.
In the morning, after yet another one of Lotta’s abundant breakfasts, we had a photo editing workshop that I didn’t photograph anything from. Matilda guided us through her photo editing process in Lightroom, and showed us how she’s working with presets which was very interesting! I also use a set of VSCO film filters for my photos, but they are usually quite bold and charismatic if you don’t adapt them to your own style, which can be tricky. I’m still definitely working on this! So I loved hearing about how Matilda (and the other participants) make use of these presets.
As if we weren’t spoiled enough already, Linus prepared a wonderful pea risotto with various spicy micro greens from Janne’s farm for our goodbye lunch. When it was time to go, I gave Terese a long hard hug with promises of texting later the same evening and seeing each other again soon, very soon. Then I headed into Visby with Matilda, Amanda & Madeleine to kill a couple of hours before the flight.
On this very street I spent a summer when I was 18. I was dating a guy back then from Visby, and his father had a house just around the corner up this street ;-) Can you imagine a more dreamy place to live in?
The magnolia was blooming, partly hiding this secret backyard from curious tourists ;-)
And that was all from our eventful weekend at Gotland! The retreat itself was a huge success, and I couldn’t have wished for anything else or more! Matilda & Natalie did a wonderful job preparing it and thinking about every single detail. And staying at gorgeous Hotel Stelor in the spring while being so well taken care of by Linus, My & Lotta of course helped to make this retreat as dreamy as it was <3 I would definitely go back there for vacation some time!
Curious to read more about styling workshops, retreats and food photography? I have a whole bunch of blog posts about it!
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