mckay moran

Chirae & Riley | River Falls Bed & Breakfast | Amarillo Wedding Photographer

From what I understand, and what I’ve understood since my first meeting with Chirae, is that she and Riley were destined to be together since the dawn of time. Every little detail that led up to their lives intertwining proves that fate and destiny aren’t just storybook fantasies.

The romance they feel is palpable, the deep emotion is apparent, and there’s no question when it comes to the devotion they share for each other. Their journey together has been nothing short of epic, especially when a tornado hit mere hours before their wedding day, proving that they will be able to literally weather any storm that comes their way.

I had looked forward to Chirae’s big day for a very, very, VERRRRY long time, especially after seeing how absolutely stunning she was in her dress during her bridal session. I knew the wedding would be amazingly beautiful, but I had no idea the sheer number of incredible and meticulously planned details that awaited me.

One of my absolute favorite parts of a wedding day is capturing all of the tiny details. There’s something deeply cathartic about carrying a thirty pound dress through an empty venue, drying off the stems of bouquets fresh out of vases, arranging dainty heels, and whispering, “Now just stay….. right… there….,” to a pair of diamond rings balanced atop a drooping petal.

There’s a sort of peaceful solitude that comes with standing in front of an empty altar, surrounded by perfectly arranged rows of chairs, open blue sky, and faint hints of fresh cut flowers riding on the breeze. The water in the pond rippled and glistened. Everything was still and quiet.

Another favorite part of the day, personally, is the time I spend with the bride and groom after the ceremony. It’s a moment in time containing emotions that will never be able to be replicated. Emotions are vibrant and buzzing, love overflows, and excitement and happiness burst at the seams.

I have the privilege of watching the beautiful transition of two people realizing that they aren’t just engaged anymore and sinking into the comfortable thought of finally being married.

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I had anticipated a party.

And they did not disappoint.

There wasn’t a single space in that venue that wasn’t alive with celebration. As the sky darkened, the party livened and the string bulbs seemed to glow brighter and brighter. Donuts disappeared, beer bubbled, and dancers dizzied themselves around the floor.

The night ended with sparkly sparklers and a classic car, which is always a wonderful way for a wedding to end.

Congratulations, Chirae and Riley!

SHOUTOUTS

VENUE | RIVER FALLS BED AND BREAKFAST

VIDEOGRAPHY | PETRICHOR COMPANY

FLORALS | FLOWERS ETC.

CAKE | THE CAKE COMPANY

DONUTS | THE DONUT STOP

MACAROONS | SCRATCH MADE BAKERY

DRESS | RUTHETTE’S | WTOO

HAIR | MUZE STUDIO | RASHAWN FLOWERS

DJ | ALL ABOUT MUSIC

RENTALS | AMARILLO CLASSIC EVENTS

Chelsey & Leroy | Palo Duro Canyon | Engagement Photography

This will be the easiest blog post I've ever written. 

Chelsey and Leroy met me in Palo Duro Canyon last week and everything was as dreamy as dreamy gets. 

The end. 

Just kidding. This wouldn't be my blog, if it wasn't laden with millions of adjectives. 

In the early afternoon of last Friday, I neurotically checked my weather app for the twentieth time (of many). A severe weather notification had popped up on my phone and I watched as green, blue, yellow, and red blotches slowly moved toward Amarillo. Throughout the day, those little blotches morphed into massive blotches that covered the majority of Texas, it seemed. 

I could see the impending doom. I knew it probably meant certain death and pictured massive flooding through the deep valleys of the canyon that would instantly wash my car away and leave me dog paddling for my life. 

Chelsey wanted to just go ahead and meet up for photos. It was cool. Cooooooooooooool. I wasn't scared. Psssh. 

So I started driving to the canyon. Five minutes into my 25 minute drive, heavy rain splish-splashed all over my windshield and I tried to figure out how in the heck I was going to pull off taking engagement photos in a massive puddle of mud. 

By some crazy miracle, it wasn't raining when we drove through the entrance of PDC. So we just kept on driving and found THE MOST AWESOME location with the most picturesque backdrop of orangey-red dirt littered with families of cacti and a ginormous canyon wall that jutted up into the stormy sky. 

I don't think I've ever seen the canyon look that intense. It felt like such a rare privilege to experience all of that at once. Miles of lightning-filled storm clouds billowed around us, thunder boomed, tiny sprinkles splattered in the dirt, and the wind blew the trees. It was magical and scary. It was freaky and colorful. The air had that sunset-in-the-rain glow. 

I couldn't have asked for a more perfect night. 

amarillo wedding photographer palo duro canyon engagement

By the time we drove all the way back up to head home, the sun was just touching the horizon. We parted ways and, almost immediately, the clouds burst and the rain let loose. I turned up my music and settled in for the drive, enjoying the view around me. When I reached the top of the canyon, I could see sheets of rain pouring down in the distance. 

I thought that was pretty badass. 

So I pulled over, ran like a psycho through pokey plants, and snagged a shot of the storm. 

It was extremely neato. 

Thank you for the experience, Chelsey and Leroy! <3

Floor to Ceiling | Cerulean Gallery | Canyon Exploration | The Derrick Event Center

Back in January, I received a sudden inquiry to shoot an event in the Canyon Exploration building. The email pretty much said, "Hey! There's an event tomorrow. Can you be there?"

Obviously, since I have content from the event right here in this blog post, I attended. I was super curious to find out what awesome renovations had been made to the building that had previously been "the first sports bar/lounge dedicated entirely to the ladies!!" I had never been to Pink when it was in business, but I did just visit their permanently closed Facebook page and decided that I probably wouldn't have attended. Luckily, the building was acquired by a new company, Canyon Exploration, and I watched in wonder over months and months while renovations took place on the corner of 9th and Taylor. I had assumed that, like most cool buildings downtown, it wouldn't be open to the public. Soon after giving up any hope that I'd ever be able to view the interior, I saw that my favorite local art gallery would be utilizing the space. (Woo! A way in!) Therefore, I had absolutely no problem with shifting around my Friday night plans and attending the most recent Floor-to-Ceiling exhibit. 

Upon entering this establishment, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. It took less than one millisecond for me to be drooling over the sheer elegance and beauty of the space, once I walked through the door. The walls were pure white and shifted into smooth curves and jagged points, while windows and sparkling glass doors punctured endless gateways into the imaginations of local artists. One featured artist, to my surprise, being Mayor Ginger Nelson. 

I had an entire hour to walk through the massive maze of rooms and gaze at all of the beautiful artwork before any guests arrived. Colors exploded from canvas, abstract bodies mingled, metal swirled from a gaping, zig-zag hole in the ceiling, and everything seemed to have a life of its own. On more than one occasion, I said to myself, "When I'm totally rich, I'm buying that." 

I left the event with so many fabulous photos to show off the incredible nature of the space. Looking at them now, I realize that I can't wait to go back and feel so in awe of the beauty of it. I feel so much excitement about the development of downtown. This gallery has those ritzy, big city vibes that many of us locals constantly crave and it made me feel like I had been transported into a futuristic, Gatsby-like atmosphere. 

Bottom line, I'd highly recommend a visit to this place. You will not be disappointed. 

To keep up with events happening in the Canyon Exploration building, follow the Cerulean Gallery Facebook page. You can also visit their website

You can also book your own events in this space, which is one of the coolest things you could probably ever do. For more information, visit The Derrick Event Center.

Thanks for reading! Enjoy!

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Girasol Cafe & Bakery

The very first time I visited Girasol, I thought I was going to die. I found myself fighting for my life in the middle of a plate of green chile chicken enchiladas. My eyes watered. My tongue threatened to jump ship. Everything inside of me was screaming for water or milk or ice or anything. 

That was the day I learned that Jessica Higgins is NOT kidding around when it comes to her New Mexican green chile. (Or anything with jalapeno. Or... anything, for that matter.) Lesson Number One: Do not order the spicy foods at Girasol if you are a massive wuss, like me. If you make that mistake, you will be blasted into next week. Or next month, if you order the bacon. And to all the people who CAN handle it, I applaud you. I wish I was more like you. You must have descended from some kind of mythological gods or goddesses. 

Even after my near death experience, I went back to the cafe. And then I went back again. And again. And I went back so many times that everyone working there learned my name, date of birth, and social security number. There were weeks that I was in the cafe every single day. Because what even is money? Like?

The amount of time I spent at Girasol lead to an almost instantaneous friendship with the owner, Jessica. I had never met someone who talked as quickly or had as many sporadic thoughts as she did. I was, and still am, so constantly impressed by her ability to simultaneously run through a kitchen, make the most delicious comfort food, run a register, clear tables, AND sit down to chat with new, and recurring, customers. 

Over the past year, I have watched her make some of the most deliciously gorgeous pastries, cakes, salads, and desserts. In my lifetime, I've made a grand total of three fancy cakes. Each time seemed more difficult than the last and each cake had its own special disaster. I spent a good five hours on a layered caramel cake that drooped over on one side and completely caved in the middle. I took it to my family's Christmas dinner, anyways. 

I've watched Jessica assemble cakes fit for queens in less than fifteen minutes. 

She's awesome. 

As if one person couldn't be amazing enough, she is also an incredibly caring, hardworking, and genuinely kind woman. She shows appreciation to each and every person that walks through her cafe door. (I know this because I spent 57% of 2017 inside of Girasol.) I feel so lucky to be able to call her my friend. 

I also feel extremely lucky to have been able to capture the immense beauty of her work in a set of photos. I mean, if these don't convince you to get in your vehicle and drive straight over to Girasol, I don't know what will. The photos you see here will be featured on her brand new menu boards hanging in the cafe! Woo! (I'm really excited about this.) 

So show some support to an incredible local business by making lunch plans with your boyfriend or your mom or something and head straight over to Girasol. But make them for tomorrow because today is Monday and the cafe is totally closed. Tell Jessica I sent you. 

Because the power of the internet is real.

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Madeline & Dalton

For about a month, I have been wondering exactly how I could express the pure magic that was this wedding. And then I realized that my entire job was to document it. (You'd think I would know that, after seven years of doing it.) So I spent three hours arranging 5000 photos to show off just how amazingly detailed and gorgeous the day turned out to be. 

There were floral installations, tables dripping with delicately bound rosemary and hops, glittering champagne glasses, jewels intricately sewn into tulle, white candles accenting white cake tiers against white wooden walls, gigantic diamonds set in gold and nestled in glass boxes, custom handkerchiefs, blue suede heels, and dazzling sparklers. 

But what stood out as the most beautiful thing of all, to me, was a thin little college ruled notebook that probably cost one dollar. It most likely came in a pack of three from the office aisle at Target. What was inside it was absolutely priceless. 

Never before had I seen a wedding gift quite like this notebook. It was filled with daily love notes, funny memories, and little scribbles of stick figures holding hands and even a crude sketch of an avocado. I watched a beautiful woman with rosy cheeks and red lips flip through those pages, the jewels on her dress sparkling with the same sheen as the tears in her eyes.

I silently partook in that intimate moment, as she read pieces of a man's heart. A man who truly, deeply, and genuinely loved her. Even now, as I type these words at 1:30 AM an entire five weeks later, I remember how I felt when I saw the words, "She makes it easy to love her." 

I felt true joy for her. Because that is what every woman wants from a man. I felt joy, but I also felt my hope become reignited. I saw, firsthand, that a love like that does exist. It was reiterated throughout the day with tiny smiles, shoulder kisses, and the happiest of laughter. 

The joining of these two people showed me that fairytales can happen. And that magic exists between lines on paper. 

Thank you so much for an unforgettable experience. 

Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Brooks. <3 

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Jordan & Jace

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I've realized, after shooting for seven years, that the best way to begin an adventure is by getting in the car with the windows rolled down and driving for an hour to a new place. There's something nostalgic about driving past miles of farmland while hot, Texas wind rushes past and erratically whips my hair in every direction. Sixty minutes of uninterrupted scream-singing on the highway can heal some of the most deep-rooted ailments and leave me feeling excited, energized, and ready for whatever life throws at me. 

Except for jumping into a lake. 

Murky, slimy lake water is one of my biggest fears. Keep this in mind, people. 

After following Jordan to our destination, I felt like I had downed 18 Red Bulls. That girl drives about 120 MPH in a 75 and cuts across 10 lanes of traffic in one fell swoop. Luckily, she only ran two semi trucks off the road and just one of those caught fire. 

It was all worth it, though, because when I exited my Jeep, I was in a completely magical place. The sun was low in the sky, the grass was lush and green, and a lake sparkled across the lawn. Looming trees exploded into the sky and turkey tracks sprawled across the dirt road. Why did the turkey cross the road, you ask? He literally went to the other side. I followed the tracks. I know this. 

Another thing I've realized after seven years is that it really doesn't matter where I shoot because the beauty in photos stems directly from the subjects. Jordan and Jace are so beautiful together that we could have shot in the Walmart parking lot and gotten similar results. From Jordan's tousled, braided mermaid hair to Jace's straw hat with the yellow trim, everything just worked. But the love they shared was the best part. There were so many smiles shared between them and bursts of laughter resulting from fingers playfully poking ribs. 

After wandering around dry land for a while, we made our way to the dock just as the sun was setting. It cast a pink, rippling hue on the calm water and little speedboats full of lake lovers floated past us. 

We sat on the edge of the dock as it rocked back and forth with each tiny wave. Water lapped against metal and bolts creaked. Toes dipped down into the green abyss and flicked tiny droplets into the air. 

This is where things got real. 

If you live in Amarillo, you're aware that there isn't water. Anywhere. Unless you want to take nice dip in the manmade lake at Medi Park. (You don't.) It had been a goal of mine for quite a while to get some romantic, cuddly, water shots. So I suggested we all get in the lake. 

Remember how I told you earlier that my biggest fear is scary, dark, murky, slimy, bottomless pit, open water? The fact that I even suggested putting any part of my body inside of that water was a huge step for me. Add holding $4000 worth of camera equipment above it just made it scarier. 

In case I haven't made this clear enough, here is a handy bar graph that will allow you to understand me on a deeper level. 

McKay's Top Fears

It took a little while for me to work up the courage. I dipped my toes in first and audibly screamed as my blood turned to liquid anxiety. After donning the tiniest, borrowed, red exercise shorts and pretending to drink several shots of tequila, I forced myself to slide my pale body down into my deepest and darkest fear. There was a lot of screaming. And a lot of cursing. I may have cried a little. 

Jordan and Jace totally showed me up big time. They had stripped down to their skivvies right in front of me. (Warning: You're about to see some seriously toned butt.)

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Told you. 

These two proceeded to run, jump straight into the air, and cannonball directly into that freaky green water. 

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They happily swam over to me and I was just trying not to die. There were slimy plants between my toes and I was ankle deep in whatever kind of evil mud is at the bottom of lakes. I probably screamed no less than 45 times in a span of 3 minutes. So it was really just one continuous, agonizing scream. 

I told them how I wanted them to pose and then lowered my body down, down, and allllllll the way down until I was chest-deep in horribleness. My camera was just inches above the surface as I started snapping away. 

It was 100% worth it. 

Even when I drove home for an hour in the dark, underwear-less and in a soaking wet tank top, it was worth it. 

Thanks for the amazing adventure, Jordan and Jace! I can't wait to see what fear you make me face at your wedding!

The Griffins

Soooo.... Welcome to my very first blog post on my new website! YAY! In order to test this thing out, I volunteered my newest favorite family during their most recent photo outing with me.

CUUUUUTIES!

CUUUUUTIES!

They're super cute, right? 

I wish all of you could have been there to witness what was most certainly the craziest family session. Of all time. 

This session had been a long time coming, I'll tell you that. How many times did we have to reschedule due to rain/wind/sickness/overall bad timing? A lot. As in, the rescheduling count is up there in the World Records for "Most Times a Session Has Been Rescheduled."

Rescheduled day #576 finally came along. It was a clear, sunny, blue skies kind of day. Minimal wind. Lots of happiness. I couldn't believe that the day had finally come, without anything getting in the way. That was when the Northwest decided to brew up a bunch of craziness and send it a-floating our way. The radar was a giant splotch of blues, greens, yellows, reds, and the dreaded pinks.

I immediately messaged Tonya, "This is laughable." But it was actually, like, the dumbest thing ever because why. Just why. 

Of all the other days we had rescheduled, this one was the worst weather-wise. I was so sure that we would have to reschedule again when I got the little Facebook Messenger DING. 

"Let's just do it."

I'm fairly certain my eyes almost fell out of my head. And my brain considered making me call Canon to ask, "just how weather resistant is a Mark III and a 50L in torrential rains and volleyball sized hail?"

Instead, I grabbed my cameras, scarfed three slices of pizza in five minutes flat, headed out the door, and gazed up at an ominous grayish-black sky that was moving in the direction I was heading. Wee! 

Once we arrived at the location, we all got out of the car and the adults just kind of stared at each other while our hair was blown in mini-tornados around our heads. The children ran around and screamed at each other in kid-language that nobody understands. We were all confused, but we proceeded with family photos. 

Luckily, Tonya is also a photographer. So that meant I pretty much got to sit on the ground while she plopped each family member down and positioned them how she saw fit. This gave me time to observe the gigantic wall of tornado-ish storm that was the backdrop of their photos. 

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One. Two. Three. Four. And Two Feet. 

Have you guys ever worked with four children? And I'm not talking about older kids. I'm talking LEGIT children. I have a single child. Sometimes, I don't know how people handle two children. It's unfathomable to me. But FOUR. The amount of respect and admiration I have for this fellow photographer doubled, tripled, quadrupled in the 45 minutes we spent together. 

When two were laughing, one was crying, and the last one was running toward the lake. When three were crying, one was laughing. When three were running toward the lake, one was running toward the street. Everyone was screaming. Half of them were acting like dinosaurs. One was putting his finger in a hole that he said a gopher lived in. 

To this day, you guys, I have no idea what these kids' names are. I'm pretty sure one of them starts with an "S." Tonya, if you ever call me to do photos again, I swear I will learn your kids' names. I may need a glass of wine beforehand, but I WILL learn their names. 

*Insert dinosaur noise here for the full experience.*

*Insert dinosaur noise here for the full experience.*

Amazingly enough, the shoot was successful. I was nervous the entire ride home and couldn't wait to sift through to photos to make sure at least ONE turned out. To my surprise, most of them are gorgeous. They may not be perfectly posed with everyone smiling and looking at the camera, but they are full of raw emotion and true-to-life. I got a photo of every kid happily screaming in Dinosaur. I got kisses and laughs and silliness. 

I captured moments that show this family in their truest form and, to me, there's nothing more authentic and beautiful than that. 

Thank you to the Griffin family for trusting me with their photos and memories. I can't wait to finish editing their photos and deliver their action-packed gallery. 

And for those of you who enjoy the more technical side of things: 

Gear:

  • Canon 5D Mark III
  • Canon 50L f/1.2
  • Sigma 35mm Art
  • Edited in Lightroom

Before & After (rollover):

As always, thank you for reading! If you liked this post, head over and give a like to The Cloud Nine Co. on Facebook and follow us on Instagram!

You can also find Tonya's photography at 374 Photography. She does amazing studio portraits of kids!