Contemplative Photography Retreat

Could you use a serious stress relief break?

Does getting away to someplace beautiful sound like a good idea?

Do you feel like all you do is work, work, work?

Have you sometimes wished you could take better photographs?

Is it time to say yes to a little creative play time just for you?

Does your mind sometimes feel like a nervous little squirrel?

Do you think that meditation sounds like a good idea but aren’t sure how to do it?

Does the idea of new friends sound good?

Have you ever wondered what the heck an f-stop is anyway?

Do you feel stressed by trying to please everyone else all the time?

Does the pace of life feel extra crazy lately?

Do you feel like you need some you-time?

Do you want to improve your creative problem solving skills at work?

Does it feel like your mind is all over the place sometimes?

Do you sometimes think, Other people are creative but not me?

Are you ready to let go of the constant nagging anxiety that plays like a bad radio station in your head?

Do you take lots of pictures with your phone but wish you could do more?

Have you always thought learning photography would be fun but haven’t taken the plunge yet?

Are you ready for a weekend away from the grind of work?

Are you ready to make friends with other folks who also yearn for more depth in the every day life?

Does the idea of being a photographer intrigue you?

Would you like to feel more grounded and confident?

Do you wonder what the heck mindfulness actually is?

Do you wish you could really feel more connected and less alone?

Would you like to be happier and more peaceful?

Do you love looking at photographs and sometimes think, I wish I could do that?

Is it time to say goodbye to constricting fear, Fear, FEAR?

Do you feel like you have some untapped potential?

Do you sometimes look at the light and feel struck by how beautiful the world can be?

Has it been a while since you felt like you really connected with your own deepest self?

Are you ready to try something fun and new?

Would you like a peaceful weekend away somewhere beautiful to explore?

If you said yes to any of these, our Contemplative Photography Retreat is for you.



(photos by the DeKoven Center)

Our Contemplative Photography Retreat is guided creative play time with a camera, mindfulness instruction, in a beautiful setting, with everything taken care of, to help you connect with your deep wellspring of creativity, peace and gratitude, so you can go home refreshed, renewed and in possession of a powerful stress-relief toolkit.

It’s a restorative weekend away to dive into creativity, quiet and connection in a gorgeous, historical location with cozy beds, good simple food and other like minded folks who like you, long for more inner peace, satisfaction and connection.

Photography is a wonderful practice that brings you immediately into the present moment, seeing even the ordinary as something new and wonderful in a way that helps cultivate gratitude and happiness in your every day life. Recognized in scientific studies as a potent stress-reliever and powerful method of connecting with a deep inner peace and appreciation for the simple wonders of being alive.

We even provide the cameras if you don’t have one.







The DeKoven Center

Racine, Wisconsin (about 1.5 hours from Chicago)


Friday evening January 18 through Sunday January 20, 2019

Your Guides:

Hillary and Matt Johnson

Matt has been practicing and teaching the martial art of Ving Tsun for over twenty years. His teaching emphasizes cultivating a peaceful heart and being of service to others. Teaching mindfulness meditation is central to his practice. He’s recently re-discovered the joy of photography by helping his wife Hillary on her photo adventures documenting the delicate and beautiful wild places of Lake Superior. He’s a fan a good espresso and a plant-based lifestyle. He walks 10,00 steps every single day. He’s a St. Louis Cardinals fan, a practice he inherited from his father.


Hillary has been a photographer for over two decades not counting her time as a toddler spent staring in astonishment at the beauty of light coming through her bedroom curtains, or slightly later, toting an SX-70 Polaroid camera everywhere she went. She’s been teaching tai chi and meditation since 2008 when she created Calm Chicago, which offers mindfulness for individuals and organizations. Her photography practice includes fine art work as well as portraiture, editorial and documentary work.

(photo by Matt Johnson)

Retreat Registration

The retreat is limited to 12. If you can register, there’s space available. If you can’t, it means we are full up this time and you can be added to a wait-list if you like. You can stay up on announcements for future retreats and other offerings by following us here, and on our Facebook pages for photography, and ving tsun kung fu. (pronounced wing chun)

You can also follow Hillary on Instagram for latest photo work, or mindfulness.

Refund Policy

There are no refunds with one exception: if someone from the wait-list is able to take your spot. So, make sure you can really be at the retreat before you register. Is you do have to withdraw and someone does take your spot, (Yay!) you’ll receive a full refund minus a $50 fee. If you wish to gift your registration to someone else, you may do that via your Eventbrite account. Please be sure to let us know you are doing that to avoid confusion for all of us. Eventbrite charges a $50 fee for processing the transfer.




Maybe you’re feeling like, Ummm. I don’t know but this feels right, even though I don’t know exactly why. We get that. Truly. That being said, most of the best things Matt and I have ever experienced came about because something told us deep in our gut to go for it despite what the fear brain was saying (that lying ole lizard…see amygdala.)

On the other hand, this may not be the exact time for you and we get that too.

Still…  I have to say this is going to be all good and we will do our very best to make this an experience that you’ll look back on with wonder and be all like,  ahhh man, that was the beginning of a whole new me and WOW. 

I can tell you this. I jump-started the joy in my life by leaping into experiences that had that exact blend of fear and wonder and that’s what we want to share with you.

To help you  know deep down inside that you have possibilities that are infinitely wonderful and that they are YOURS and that no one can take that away from you. Not now, Not ever.

Contemplative Retreat Gifts

  • (Re) Discover your inner wise, playful and creative child who knows, who has always known, that life is about gratitude, compassion, giving of gifts and seeing the world as miraculous, even and especially the mundane bits we usually blow past are sacred and miraculous.
  • The release and freedom of stepping intentionally away from your routines of work, family etc. so care for YOU
  • Discover your heart’s eye, that is the only one with which we see rightly
  • Inspiration
  • Time to reflect, contemplate, take stock, create beauty
  • Discover new friends

What’s Included

  • Cozy lodging in simple yet elegant Hogwart-like accommodations in a beautiful location on Lake Michigan. Think your best night of sleep ever.
  • Delicious food and drink (no alcohol) made by very nice people
  • Everything you need including cameras (with deep thanks to Central Camera in Chicago for sponsoring the loaner cameras for those who don’t own one.)

Pack These Things

  • Digital camera if you have one, with SD cards and charger, batteries
  • Comfy clothes that you can move in and be still in. We advise layers. It can be cold out of doors, so windproof stuff is great. We are fans of pocket and foot warmers from Costco. LAYERS LAYERS LAYERS
  • Basic toiletries, but please no perfumed or cologned stuff, like cremes etc. Be mindful of sensitive noses and systems please. YOU smell great as you are. Really.
  • Notebook/journal for writing in.
  • Watch or alarm clock (not your phone!)
  • Book to read
  • Good walking shoes
  • Reusable water/tea bottle

Don’t Pack These Things

  • In a word: Technology. Aside from your camera if you have one – no need for laptops, cell phones,  music playing devices. We will have a  beautiful ritual collection of the digital devices and a return once we end the retreat.
  • Bedding, towels, unless you are like me and like your own special pillow.
  • Food, drink. Unless you have very special food needs, we got you.
  • Money and cc. Unless you decide to get a few small things from the retreat center itself, everything you might need is covered.


  • Arrive at The DeKoven Center early Friday evening. Dinner and evening bliss making
  • All Saturday is peace, creativity and chill time with good food in between
  • Sunday closing ceremonies and breakfast of course – depart for home in the afternoon with plenty of time for re-entry into your life

Things People Ask aka FAQ

Do I need a camera?

Nope. If you have one, bring it with whatever it needs like sd cards, batteries etc. No extra lighting needed like strobes, flashes etc. Let’s keep this simple.

Do I need to have experience meditating?

Nope. If you do, that’s cool but what we do may be different. Also cool. Come with an open mind. If you don’t – great too.

Can I come with a friend, spouse?

Of course. The more the merrier. Though you may or may not be able to share room accommodations. What a great way to build relationships!

Can I come alone?

Definitely yes! And how awesome is that you bold adventurer!

How many people will be there?

Who knows? between 4 and 12.

Is everyone else an experienced photo person?

Heck no. Some pay be and some not but we come together as humans looking to connect through the grateful presence photography provides. We meet as equals. Comadres y compadres in life.

Can I know the exact schedule in advance?

Um, no. Not because we are being coy, but we curate each retreat individually and you will get everything you need once you arrive. Nothing too  crazy re wake up times for group stuff. If you like to run at like 5 am, go ahead on.

What will we be doing exactly?

Nothing dangerous. If you want that we suggest sky diving or something. We can promise carefully created experiences with plenty of down time to process. We can say that we will look at photographs, make photographs, we’ll talk together, play, walk outside, eat good food. Stuff like that…

Wisconsin? Where and how long exactly?

The DeKoven Center is about an hour and half out of Chicago.

What if I can’t be there for the whole thing?

No. We understand, It’s a commitment. We suggest that while this can be a challenge, that you consider this an investment in your own essential self, who rarely gets the care she or he really deserves. So plan carefully and GO FOR IT!

Do I have to fold myself up like a pretzel for the meditating parts?

Um, def no.

Mindfulness requires alert, relaxed attention not pretzel bending of body parts.

What if I have to cancel? Can I get a refund?

That would suck royally obviously, because you need a break from the insanity. But sorry, no refunds. Plan with care.

What’s up with the retreat fee? Other experiences like this seem to run a lot more price-wise… will I be eating velveeta on bad bread and living under a crappy tent?

We base the price on what it actually costs to do this thing – gears, supplies, food, lodging, photo books etc. And yes, like you, we have bills to pay, but we believe that good things should be available to everyone. We hope/intend that the tuition is reasonable and feasible for most folks.

Are there scholarships or…what if the tuition is a challenge for me?

We have both been the recipient of so much goodness and we like to pay that forward. So, to that end:

  1. We are happy to work out a plan that works for you and us.
  2. we’re talking to folks who might be able to help sponsor or support at least in part participation by those who might have trouble with the tuition… that being said, for now the best solution is to talk with us about a payment plan.