Tag Archives: people

Fall Color at the Maroon Bells

The Maroon Bells in fall color outside Aspen, Colorado(Click on images for a larger view)

I’ve struggled to photograph the Maroon Bells in the past. Struggled because of two things: (1) everybody has photographed them and an original angle is getting more and more rare, and (2) they perfectly face to the east and, as a result, are often 2 stops more bright than their surroundings, making an even exposure especially tricky.

A six-month-old girl plays near the Maroon Bells outside Aspen, Colorado

But then my wife took our daughter there for a day trip this past October (I was attending the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism in nearby Snowmass) and she returned with a series of astonishingly original photos of the Bells. How did she overcome my two stumbling blocks?

Solution #1: visit the Maroon Bells with an adorable baby and let her eat the dirt on the shore of Maroon Lake — original photos abound — and …

Solution #2: visit in the fall when the sunlight is slanted and the exposure is more even.

The Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake in fall color outside Aspen, Colorado

Our daughter’s middle name is Autumn, and this being her first fall, well, it was especially meaningful to have the two of them join me in Snowmass for the conference. After the day’s sessions, I’d take Varenna off of Mom’s hands for a little bit, and go for a short jaunt through the aspens with her near the hotel. She’d squeal and kick with delight at being outside, at facing forward in the Baby Bjorn carrier, and at the sights and sounds and smells of the woods. She’s a Coloradan by birth, and already she is acting like one.

Enjoying the Maroon Bells in autumn, Aspen, Colorado

So when the conference ended and I had a little freedom to wander, we returned to Maroon Bells as a family and spent a few hours in the aspen glades and along the lake shore, watching a blizzard of leaves flutter over the lake as autumn had one last gasp before winter.

Close-up of the Maroon Bells outside Aspen, Colorado

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Graspin’ Aspen 2010 – Steamboat Springs

Since 2007, Hailey and I have made a special long-weekend trip in the fall to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Yep, the same Steamboat Springs that seems to grace every other post on this blog. I know. We go there a lot. However, it just keeps revealing itself to me in new ways, each time.

Each time we go there, whether its in July, the dead of winter, or even mud season at the tail end of April, this wholesome little cow-town with a massive ski resort glued to its hip seems to get more and more nuanced for us. With all due respect, I don’t think many other Colorado towns would stay fresh after so many visits.

This trip, however, had a different complexion to it, and that’s because of three ingredients: 1) our six-month-old daughter Varenna (now eight months old); 2) our good friends Tim, Lexi and their 19-month-old daughter Cora; and 3) our friend Jenny, who is expecting her first in March with her husband Matt, my best friend. This made September’s trip — dare I say it — a “family friendly adventure.” God, what a hideous cliche, but that’s the new reality. We get excited about places where our rambunctious little girl can be her most rambunctious, and playmates are an added bonus.

For the previous two falls, we’ve done this fall color trip with the Jordayzerton crew — the aforementioned folks, plus Stu and Shannon Kilzer. Unfortunately, this year, it didn’t quite work out that we could get everyone to come. Matt had a fencing tournament, and Stu and Shannon had a family emergency. Even the Lambertons had to head back early, but all was not lost. By Saturday afternoon, we did our traditional drive up Buffalo Pass to drink in the endless expanse of golden aspens that drape across the Zirkel Mountains.

We’ve had better years for color, in particular, the 2008 trip when every tree was 100% vibrant yellow, gold and red all at the same time (must have something to do with the dry spell we’ve had since July). But whatever we lacked for in this trip was made up for by our two girls, Varenna and Cora.

Their curiosity and enthusiasm for being outside was infectious. Varenna even figured out what my camera does. At one point while she was in the Baby Bjorn carrier, we ran down a road while I held the camera out and fired shots back at the two of us (third from top). She quickly picked up on how her face appeared on the camera back, which inspired only more giggles. Daddy’s little girl …

Tim and Lexi parted ways with us from Buffalo Pass, with their Saturday night of driving back to Denver in front of them. Through Monday, it was just us and Jenny, hanging out at the condo, going for walks, and letting Varenna explore things like aspen leaves with her fingers … until they ended up in her mouth. Such is travel with an infant, but if this weekend was any indication of the future — of seeking out other kids, other new parents, and laid back activities like going to the bookstore for two hours — that’s fine with me.

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Colorado National Monument – Under a Full Moon

Colorado National Monument under a full moon(Click on image for a larger version)

Its amazing that in the absence of sunlight, you can have seemingly limitless opportunity to make a dynamic composition. I love night photography, and would like to do more of it. In Italy, I set up my first (and to this day, only) star-trail shot: a 22-minute exposure of the heavens revolving around the North Star above a set of conical farm houses in Puglia. (Man, what a battery killer). To shoot at night, you need a tripod, a slow shutter speed and a helluva lotta patience. But it is so rewarding when you can take a break from the pace of life and document the world carrying on with itself. Stars streak, tail lights race, and the true complexion of a nighttime landscape — the one our diurnal can’t compute — is revealed.

Along the side of Rim Rock Drive in Colorado National Monument, my challenge was the wind. Even with my tripod, the camera was moving in the stiff breeze, and multiple long exposures had to be dumped. It was enough to test my patience, and contemplate buying a heavy-duty tripod (ugh, the weight).

Colorado National Monument and camping under a full moon
Also testing my patience: my inability to get a level horizon (damn you diurnal eyes!) and the difficulty in finding a compelling foreground along the road side. I have a pretty stifling fear of mountain lions (not to mention sprained ankles in remote locales) so I wasn’t about to head off down a trail on my own this night. Nope. Stay close to the car (also a nice windbreak), set the bulb off to open the shutter, and keep an eye over your shoulder — that was the routine.

Colorado National Monument at night under a full moon
After 90 minutes under the silver full moon, I returned to Hailey at camp. Inspired by the results, she opted to compose a series of shots of me at the campground picnic table with the tent by my side (where Varenna was sleeping soundly) and the full moon above. She got great results.

The night was hot, even with the breeze. Tucking into our sleeping bags felt like we were being saran-wrapped, even after we removed the rain fly to let the tent breathe. Varenna awoke once, so for her, this first camping experience was a success. As for her mom and dad? The night was brutal, but we’ll probably not remember it as much as the shots we got under that amazing moon.

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Introducing Varenna Autumn Day

Life has changed for the better. Way better.

On Sunday, March 7, my wife gave birth to our first, a daughter, Varenna Autumn Day. Weighing 8 pounds, 2 ounces, she is a big baby, and as we’re finding out — once that big baby has been delivered — big is beautiful. She’s strong, healthy, sleeps well, feeds well and just might be rolling over in the next few weeks.

Varenna has lived in anonymity for the last 9 months. She was bashful during both ultrasounds, and despite our desire to know her gender and start formulating her life story in our minds, we had to wait until her entrance to get to know her on that level. The doctor’s announcement of “she’s a girl!” was a moment of sheer elation — like a first kiss, never to be duplicated again.

Girls are a rare thing in my family. In her generation, the Days have produced three boys (my brother’s sons Andrew, Isaiah and Jeremiah); in my generation, one girl out of five. On the Reitzug side, she is the 15th in her generation, but only the fourth girl. Even the doctor predicted a boy when she realized how big she was … her entrance was the best surprise of my life.

Last Sunday was a grueling day — labor started around 5am, we checked into the hospital by 11am, and she arrived shortly before 5pm. Hailey’s parents were her first visitors at 5:45pm, followed by my brother, his wife and their boys (that’s 6-year-old Andrew holding her above) and then my parents shortly thereafter. The next thing we knew it was midnight and the parade of late-night feedings had begun. What just happened?

Big kudos to the staff at Rose Medical Center, especially the nurses in labor/delivery and post-partem. The level of care they offered to Hailey and Varenna was outstanding.

We’re home now (have been since Tuesday), and I’ll get another post up on life at home with Varenna. After that, the Tanager Blog will continue to focus on travel, portraits and the other photographic work I do. I’ll be setting up a baby blog just for her, and for the friends and family who want to see how she grows.

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Momma Gets Henna

So far, this pregnancy (and therefore the blog) has been devoid of belly pictures. Well, not any longer.

On Sunday, Hailey had a henna artist — Amy Swagman, who has her own henna design business — come over and paint a beautiful henna tattoo design on her baby bump. There was no deeper reason for doing it. Just a “hey, that would be fun for the baby shower” kind of impulse. And since I haven’t gotten around to doing maternity pictures … well, here they are: our documented evidence of what pregnancy with Baby Xerxes was like with six weeks to go.

Amy began with a peacock design over the belly button, and the design emanated from there.

Our babe is a real roller. Loves to kick, tumble and do gymnastics all day. Made for an interesting spectacle as Amy tried to apply the design. Crazy kid.

As the design transpired, I bounced between taking pictures and watching the J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets! defeat the Chargers. That was awesome.

And here is the final design. The ink dried, and then came off in the morning with the wrap that went over it. Now Hailey has this beautiful tattoo for the next two weeks, at which point it will fade away.

But by then, the Olympics will have started, and then once the Olympics are over, the bags will be packed for the hospital and we’ll be on guard to the finish line. Not sure how many blog posts I’ll get up there before then….

If you are interested in any kind of henna design, look Amy up. Here is her website: http://www.hennadenver.com.

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Cookie Day, Christmas and My First Stab at Dog Photography

Hailey and I just returned from Richmond, Virginia, where we spent Christmas at her brother Jason’s house. There is definitely a different feel to nearly everything these days (obviously, because of the baby we’re expecting). This is particularly noticeable with the holidays. A year from now, Christmas will be very different, and it will only get better I’m sure, as we introduce our child to Santa, giving gifts, cookies, ornaments with stories behind them, and all the other traditions.

I thought I’d do a quick post on the holidays, starting with pictures Hailey took on Cookie Day. Above is her mom, Diana, and our sister-in-law Amy, enjoying a surplus of chocolate.

And here is Isaiah, our nephew, carefully decorating a gingerbread cookie, bedhead and all.

While coordinating this annual tradition, Hailey emailed my mom with the subject line “Cookie Day.” My mom noted that at first glance she thought Hailey was using a new nickname for our baby. And so, December was the month that “Xerxes” became “Cookie.”

Below is our nephew Andrew, and my personal favorite: oatmeal-craisin-and-white-chocolate-chip cookies.

I missed Cookie Day this year, but my brother was able to attend, and here he’s giving the annual reading of the Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher. This is one of my favorite books from growing up … sadly it’s out of print, but you can buy it used on Amazon for $288.

Fast forward two weeks, and we’ve arrived at Christmas morning in Richmond. We had a large group to celebrate with this year, including Hailey’s grandmother from St. Louis, her aunt and uncle from Chapel Hill, and her cousin Diana (below, wearing a Chinese paper hat we all received in our stocking) from Brooklyn.

The King/Goerner families have turned stocking stuffers into an art form. Despite the lack of children (until next Christmas at least), they all give each other cheap toys and fun games that usually entertain until noon. Here’s Jason showing off his rubber-ball-and-paddle skills (if you can call them “skills” … we all were pretty clumsy with them). Hailey and I gave out the fun noisy balloons we bought in Mexico back in April. You blow them up, let go of them, and they make a high-pitched buzzing sound as they fly around the room. Smudge — Jason and Ali’s dog — killed our balloon on it’s second flight, to howls of laughter from all.

Another King/Goerner family tradition … the Christmas Day jigsaw puzzle.

Hailey’s cousin gave us some adorable baby clothes and bibs (we’re amassing quite the haul by now), and on Sunday night, some of Ali’s family came to visit for dinner. Hailey’s mom got to play Nana for a bit with Ali’s niece, little Gracie.

OK, so I have to admit. I’m funny about dogs. Most people who know me well know that I’m … shall we say “averse” to most dogs. I like to chalk it up to the fact that I’ve been attacked by them three times in my life (twice as a toddler, and once this past year while riding my bike). But the fact is I don’t like stepping in poo and the sound of barking simply grates my nerves.

But I hereby grant a lifetime waiver to Minnie and Smudge, Jason and Ali’s incredible two dogs. They’ve done an excellent job training them, and they are the best behaved puppies I’ve ever met.

Minnie (below left) is particularly sweet. A natural lap dog who wags her tail 5,614 times a day, she’s also one tough pooch. In 2003, she was hit by a semi. She lived as a stray for another 8 or 9 months before a shelter took her in. Her back hip was so destroyed, she was about to be put down. That’s when Ali adopted her, hired a surgeon, and rehabbed her back to health. She has the slightest limp to this day, but knowing this story — and seeing that happy little tail wagging all the time — is enough to melt my cynical, dog-loathing heart.

As for Smudge? He’s the biggest optimist I’ve ever met, human, animal or otherwise. Stroll through the kitchen or by the dining room table, and there he is, on his hind legs, silently begging for food with a smile on his face (below right). His success rate is roughly 1 in 88 begs, but that doesn’t stop him. Doe eyes, dangling tongue, a paw tugging at the air … The mutt is a frickin’ comedian.

And finally, here’s a close-up of Minnie in front of the Christmas tree. The yellow spots in her fur? Yeah, that’s hair dye from when Jason dyed her burgundy and gold for a Redskins game. Let’s just say that at 4-11, even happy little Minnie is disappointed in the Redskins.

Pretty soon I’ll be posting images from a day trip we took to colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Ah yes, travel photography. Good to get back at it. Look for that soon.

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Ecuador Minus the Galapagos

I’m about to implement a serious revamp of www.tanagerphotography.com, which will include my 2010 wedding and portrait packages, as well as an overhaul of the galleries section by splitting weddings from portraits. While I was at it, I decided to take another look at the travel galleries, which got me thinking about whether I should include Ecuador in my portfolio, which got me thinking that Ecuador isn’t anywhere on the blog, which got me thinking how much I want to go somewhere pretty much at any moment now, which made me realize I’m not going anywhere for a while … what with the baby and all.

Just because I’m not traveling doesn’t mean I can’t spice up the blog with photos of faraway places here and there. Ecuador has been on my mind lately because of the birds and monkeys. Impending fatherhood naturally lends itself to daydreams of future adventures with the kid, and tops on that list is looking for animals in a rainforest, be it Costa Rica, Panama, Peru or some Caribbean Island.

We visited this magnificent country in April and May of 2007, visiting the Napo Wildlife Center in the Amazon, the capitol city of Quito, the Otavalo Indian Market, the rainforests of Mindo and the hot springs of Papallacta. Conspicuously absent from that list are the Galapagos Islands. Too much time, too much money, and being the mountain boy that I am, I’m always going to pass over islands to insist we see something like the Andes.

My lasting memory of Ecuador was a place of insane topography. Ravines inside canyons wedged between mountains with volcanoes on top. Quito’s size and scope was unfathomable because of the way the land buckles and swallows the city. It is amazing place to see from a window seat on arrival.

But right now, I’d bypass the Andes, the volcanoes sitting on top of them, and pretty much anything to do with that dusty wrinkled city, for a little hut in the rainforest and the sound of howler monkeys and parrots piercing the air.

NPR’s Morning Edition ran a great story on a Brazilian farm town’s efforts to restore the Amazonian rainforest and balance nature with farming. The soundtrack alone transported me back to Ecuador this morning. Soon enough, we’ll get back out there …

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The Hall Family

(click on images for a larger version)

On Saturday, Hailey and I did a family portrait shoot with the Halls — Bryce, Marni, Oliver and Harrison — at their Centennial home. Marni is my sister-in-law’s sister; she was the maid of honor at Ben and Amy’s wedding while I was the best man.  So we’ve known each other for roughly 15 years, and it’s such a treat to see her and her wonderful family these days, especially since Hailey and I are expecting in March, making their two-month-old son Harrison an automatic play buddy for our baby.

We did much of the shoot in their front room, which for me was conveniently empty and east facing, making it very studio-like with lots of natural light (yes!). Their two-year-old son Oliver took only a few minutes to warm up to us (after all, it had been a few months since we last hung out). He showed us some of his awesome toys in his play room, and then he had fun jumping off an ottoman onto a massive, pillowy, stuffed sheep chair. He’s also a natural in front of the camera. Look at that smile and pose!

Harrison was born just two months ago, and he’s at that super sweet age where his eyes search everything and he’s smiling a bit. The blanket in these images below was knitted by Harrison’s grandmother, Linda (Bryce’s mom).

After the shoot at their house, and a little lunch, we all went to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden. This place is awesome. Locomotives and cabooses of all kinds, a Galloping Goose engine that makes circuits, and all sorts of memorabilia in the gift shop. I’m not a model-train collector by any stretch, but we’re definitely hitting this place up when our child is old enough to love it like Oliver does.

Thanks to Marni and Bryce for such an awesome shoot. Really fun, really engaging and easy-going. What more could a photographer ask for? We had a blast!

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Julie Jensen in High Key

(click on each photo for a larger version)

Last Wednesday, I joined my first Meetup group at a Northglenn studio to learn a few high-key photography techniques. Pretty cool group. It was lead by Bill Murphy and our model for the evening was the lovely Julie Jensen.

There were quite a few photogs on the scene, which took some getting used to for me. Julie had to bounce around a bit to keep track of the paparazzi vibe, but in the end, we all learned a great deal and had a great time in the process.

The set-up at North Denver Photographers Studio was fantastic, and it is available for rent (and quite affordable, too). Certainly plan to do headshot, modeling and family portraits there in the future… They have a white cyc wall, which is a perfectly curved, seamless wall. There were also a variety of umbrella and softbox lights to illuminate not only Julie but also the wall, which creates this bright, sunny effect (aka high-key). Let me know if you are interested in a customized shoot similar to this one.

Thanks to Bill, Julie and the other photographers. It was tons of fun.

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Adam Huggins + Tess Leppert (August 14, 2009)


Adam Huggins (below) is one of my best friends. We’ve known each other since our freshman year in college, and we really shouldn’t be friends anymore. Nothing personal. It’s just that freshman year was the only time in our lives that we lived near each other. He transferred to Wake Forest, and has lived in Birmingham, Richmond and now Nashville. Friendships normally don’t survive that, even in the era of Facebook. For God’s sakes: we were 18 the one time we hung out consistently.

I’m not bragging or trying to suggest that our friendship is made of brawn and steel. It is what it is. But somehow it’s stayed relevant and significant for both of us over the years (of course, a 72-hour trip to Hawaii to see U2 in 2006 — his idea, not mine — helped keep the glory days going).

So Adam is finally getting on with his life: he just finished his nine grueling years of med school and residency and is now a doctor — which means I expect to fly on his private jet to Ketchum, Idaho in the near future — and he met a wonderful girl, Tess, and married her in mid-August. Hailey and I flew up to Boise and drove to Ketchum for a spectacular four-day weekend to be a part of the festivities. Adam asked that I be one of his groomsman.


So as a wedding gift, we offered to photograph the rehearsal dinner, and these are some of those pictures. Adam was alright with it (he was hoping we’d get him a set of bamboo table runners from Crate + Barrel) as long as we enjoyed the evening at the same time.


First off, Ketchum is a gorgeous little town. It’s a special place for Tess, having lived there after college, and the way they did this wedding was perfect. They rented a big house for multiple families to stay in for the week, and then the backyard doubled as the ceremony and reception venue.

After we went through our ceremonial paces, everyone piled into a school bus for a one-hour ride north to the Galena Lodge for the rehearsal dinner. In the early evening light we passed through Hemingway’s country in all its glory — braided rivers, dense willows, robust pines and rolling mountains. Classic Idaho.


The Galena Lodge is a magnificent property. They ran carriage rides to the nearby ghost town on the hour, and the catering was pretty damn good.

Here are some images from the evening.




Adam’s Dad is also a doctor, and he gave a very moving toast to his son just before dinner. On a personal note, getting to know Adam’s family better was the highlight of the trip for me. Such a warm, kind, compassionate and generous group of people.




So as us groomsmen were standing around waiting for the ceremony to begin the next day, Adam brings up that he has an extra ticket to the U2 show, opening night, in Chicago, in early September. His friend Neil has to take a rain check and “it’s yours if you want it.”

“Thanks man,” I say. “Let me see what’s going on and crunch some numbers and see if I can make it work.”

This being Adam, yours if you want it quickly morphed into you’re coming, it’s been decided for you.

At the end of the night as we were saying our goodbyes and wishing the newlyweds the best, Adam shook my hand and said “I’ll see you in Chicago.” That’s Adam.

<<More on the Chicago trip in another post, but you can view video I shot of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on my Flickr page.>>

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