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Chicago Food and Travel Photographer

18th Street Bridge

 62mm - f10 - 1/200 sec -  ISO 400

62mm - f10 - 1/200 sec -  ISO 400

The south side of Chicago provides arguably the best views of the Chicago skyline. 18th Street is littered with these picturesque photo ops. Between Clark Street and Canal Street is a raised bridge that provided the view in the image above. There are also good vantage points further west toward Canal Street which shows the train tracks leading toward the Willis Tower. This half-mile of road is worth exploring and the park in the foreground of the shot above is Ping Tom park which is also worth exploring.

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How to get the Shot

This photo was taken on the 18th Street bridge between Clark Street and Canal Street. I took this shot about an hour before sunset while some large cumulus clouds rolled through the city. From this vantage point you can see the 3 brother towers of Chicago (Willis, Trump, Hancock) and the rest of the skyline. This shot was taken on my 28-70mm f2.8 lens. I shot this particular photo at 62mm. This focal length was chosen to help “flatten” the image and make the bridge look closer to the buildings in the background. I also took the shot at this length because it provided the best framing for the image.


Editing the Shot

One of the nice features of shooting digital is how much flexibility you have in editing your photos. I still carry some neutral density filters in my bag but I find I use them less frequently than before due to the dynamic range I have with my Nikon D800 and the ability to bring back detail in Adobe Lightroom. 

My edit for the photo above consists of a neutral density (equivalent) filter being applied in Lightroom and a few tweaks to the “Basic” and “HSL” tabs. Let’s start with the filter first.

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Above you can see that I used the graduated filter tool on the upper right and held the shift key while pulling down from the top of the photo. This tells Lightroom to make sure that the filter is straight. Once I had the filter where I wanted it I reduced the exposure of the sky. Most of the time when you shoot at sunrise or sunset you will have much different light from the foreground of your image to your background. By reducing the exposure of the sky I get more consistent light throughout the image and what I consider a more appealing photo. After I reduced the exposure I also added a touch of saturation to the sky which brought out the blues and the orange in the clouds.

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After adjusting the graduated filter I moved on to the “Basic” panel. For most of my photos, I like to bump up the vibrance and clarity sliders. This photo was no exception. I moved the vibrance up to +15 and the clarity up to +35. Due to the lighting, I felt that the exposure needed to come up slightly. With the exposure increase, I decided to bring down the highlights which impacted the sky and brought the exposure more in line with the foreground. For my latest photos I’ve started using the command key while increasing/decreasing my blacks slider. This replaces your photo with a clipping mask. As you move the slider more of the image is shown as black pixels. What this shows you are the sections of the image that are absolute black and that have lost detail because they are too dark. I like to have some of the image as absolute dark because I believe it adds to the richness of the photo. This slide also works with the white slider.

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Screenshot 2018-08-17 21.37.15.png

When I was finished with the “Basic” panel I   moved on to the “HSL” panel. The sunset that I saw when taking this photo was nothing compared to what came out of the camera so I wanted to add back some of the oranges and reds to replicate what I saw that day. To do this I used the “target” looking circle in the upper left portion of the screen shot to select the color I wanted to increase / decrease. Once you have clicked the color on your image you can click and drag your mouse right to increase the saturation of that color or drag your mouse left to decrease the saturation.  In the case of this photo, I picked the clouds and the orange in the sky to put more color back into my shot.


Other Tips

Pick the best light for this photo. I had the luxury of catching this shot during sunset with great clouds moving through the city but I’ve taken this shot a half dozen other times with bad light and no clouds. A good sunset or sunrise and clouds make the world of difference in this shot. If you have the luxury of time, keep an eye on the cloud formations an hour or two before sunset and head out when you think the sunset will be special.


How to Get There

This particular area is perfectly in-between two El stops so it’s not as easy to get to as some other locations. I would suggest taking the number 29 bus (State Street) if you have access to it. Get off on 18th Street and walk west a couple of blocks and you will be at the foot of the bridge. If you need to get down to the area in a hurry hop in a cab. Your cab fare should be less than $10 from the Loop.

 

How to Support My Site

I love my photography and giving back to the community. If you like this site and want to support it I would greatly appreciate using the links to purchase any of the products in my posts. I also sell as well as a book "The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago".If you want an easier way to replicate the shots in this post please consider purchasing my Lightroom presets using the link below. Thanks for stopping by and supporting my work!

Lightroom Presets

The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago

The Second City

 16mm - f11 - 1/60 sec -  ISO 200

16mm - f11 - 1/60 sec -  ISO 200

Chicago is filled with hidden gems noticed by only a select few that walk and pay attention to the city. This location is one of those hidden gems. There are only a number of El stations that have a crossing over the tracks and this happens to be one with a great view. The building at the end of the tracks is Trump Tower and the symmetry of the tracks and the platforms lead your eye directly to the building.


How to get the Shot

This shot was taken on the Madison and Wabash “El” platform in the Chicago loop. This particular station has a bridge that crosses over the tracks to connect the two platforms. It is from this perspective that you can see directly north down the tracks toward the Trump Tower.  I shot this photo with the Tokina 11-16mm lens. This particular image was shot a 16mm. The wide-angle lens helps to exaggerate the leading lines of the platform and the tracks. This image is a high dynamic range (HDR) shot that I then used Silver Efex Pro 2 to turn into a black and white image.


Editing the Shot

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 After you have shot your bracketed photos open Photomatix and import the images. I used the settings to the right to create an image with a ton of contrast and “grit”. Grit is what I call the micro detail that is brought out when using the HDR technique. When you pair this detail with the Silver Efex Pro High Structure (harsh) settings you get an incredible amount of detail and you create images that people can’t seem to look away from. 

 The original HDR photo before the B&W conversion

The original HDR photo before the B&W conversion


Other Tips

Don’t go during peak hours. The Chicago Transit Authority has a no tripod policy so if you avoid crowds you will be better off. If you want to shoot this shot with a tripod go on a Saturday or Sunday morning when the crowds are sparse. Once you get to your spot shoot quickly. You may or may not get bothered by the CTA about your tripod but plan on setting up and shooting quickly. There is nothing illegal about shooting with a tripod but once you are asked to put it away it may be best to stop shooting with it.


How to Get There

Getting to the train station is pretty easy considering it is right on the El tracks. This station sits on the Brown, Pink, Green, Purple and Orange lines. You can take any of these train lines toward the loop and you should arrive at the Madison station within 20-25 minutes from most areas within the city.

 

How to Support My Site

I love my photography and giving back to the community. If you like this site and want to support it I would greatly appreciate using the links to purchase any of the products in my posts. I also sell as well as a book "The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago".If you want an easier way to replicate the shots in this post please consider purchasing my Lightroom presets using the link below. Thanks for stopping by and supporting my work!

Lightroom Presets

The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago

Storm in the City

 28mm - f4.0 - 5 sec -  ISO 160

28mm - f4.0 - 5 sec -  ISO 160

Chicago is home to some incredible spring and summer storms. Since the geography is flat there is nothing to impede the storms as they roll over the city and on to Lake Michigan. Also the skyscrapers that form downtown act as huge lightning rods that entice the storms to strike multiple buildings as they pass. As you can see from the photo above, this can create some stunning results.


How to get the Shot

The key to this shot is getting to a high location with close access to a window or a covered area. This location happened to be the balcony of a friend’s condo. However, there are many other locations in Chicago that are public that will give you a great view of a passing storm. I’ve been trying to get up to the Hancock observatory during one of these powerful storms. From this view, you will be able to see the Aon Building, the Willis Tower, and theTrump Tower. You can also try to access the Willis Tower but I don’t believe that the views are as good as the John Hancock building. I also highly suggest trying to get to Rush Memorial Hospital’s parking garage. If you go to the second floor from the top you will have a great view of the city with protection from the lighting. Just before a summer storm, I arrived at Rush’s garage only to find another photographer shooting a time-lapse video. Apparently, I wasn’t the only photographer with this idea. 

Since the storms usually blow in from the west, it is best to go west of the city and shoot as the storms roll over and pass the city. The shot above was captured after waiting almost 3 hours and shooting more than 400 photos. 

The ideal exposure length for lightning is around 5 seconds. At this shutter speed, you should get bright crisp images that capture the strikes. Set your ISO as low as possible and set your camera to shutter priority mode. The aperture for theses shots shouldn’t matter too much considering you will be focusing on a building or object that is far away so the depth of field shouldn’t pose an issue. If you have a shutter release with a lock use it. This will keep your camera shooting images back to back. For the photo above I put a disposable rain sleeve on my camera and locked the shutter release so that the camera would continually take 5 second exposures. This allowed me to capture the image above while enjoying the storm from inside.

OP/Tech Rainsleeve


Editing the Shot

Lightning photos are very fun to shoot and edit. The shot above is a combination of 3 photos placed on top of one another. When shooting lightning sometimes you will get a perfect and interesting strike and sometimes you will need to blend multiple shots together to get the desired result. 

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To blend multiple photos together you will need Adobe Photoshop. First, start by opening all the photos in photoshop. Choose the rectangular marquee tool and press Command-A (select all). This will select the entire image. Copy this photo and paste it on the first photo. Repeat this step for all the photos you want to blend together. Once you have all the photos on one document you can change the blend mode to have just the lightning blend through the layers. I normally use the “Lighten” blend mode to do this. From there you can tweak the white balance, contrast and vibrance to get the desired final result.


Other Tips

Set you camera to shutter priority mode and set the shutter time to 4-6 seconds. This should allow you to capture the details of each lightning strike. If you have access to a shutter release use it and lock the release in place so that the camera keeps taking photos. Also set the focus point and turn off the auto focus. This will keep the focus consistent so that you can layer multiple exposure together if needed. And since it will most likely be raining during your shoot, pick up a 2 pack of OP/TECH USA Rainsleeves. You can pick up a pack of two on Amazon for $6.50. For my last shoot I was able to leave my camera outside in the rain with one of the OP/TECH Rainsleeves on my camera. My only suggestion is that if you use the OP/TECH rain sleeve is that you pick up a rubber band to secure the sleeve to your camera lens. It has a drawstring but it doesn’t stay as tight as I would like.


How to Get There

This depends highly on which location you decide to shoot from. I suggest that you start in the John Hancock observatory. The first reason is that you can see both the Willis Tower and the Trump Tower. Both of these buildings act as major lighting rods during storms so there is a good chance that you will get a strike on one or both of these buildings during a storm. The other reason you should shoot from the John Hancock is that you have a direct view of Lake Michigan and the North shore of Chicago. During storms the strikes over Lake Michigan and the north shore are stunning. 

Given the weather conditions, consider taking a cab if you are going to shoot at the John Hancock and consider driving if you are going to Rush Memorial. Both are great options during a storm but the John Hancock is most likely the quickest to get to.


How to Support My Site

I love my photography and giving back to the community. If you like this site and want to support it I would greatly appreciate using the links to purchase any of the products in my posts. I also sell as well as a book "The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago".If you want an easier way to replicate the shots in this post please consider purchasing my Lightroom presets using the link below. Thanks for stopping by and supporting my work!

Lightroom Presets

The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago

Wabash Bridge

 45mm - f4.8 - 1/125 sec -  ISO 160

45mm - f4.8 - 1/125 sec -  ISO 160

The bridges that run across the Chicago river are amazing engineering feats and a sight to be seen. There are multiple bridges and each has a unique characteristic. This particular image is of the Wabash Bridge during the Fourth of July weekend.


How to get the Shot

For this shot I rented a 60mm tilt shift lens.  Many people simulate this effect using photoshop or even Instagram but this effect was captured in camera. I captured this image from the State Street bridge on the 4th of July.  I shifted both the vertical and horizontal lens plane in order to achieve the blurred effect. This shifts the plane of focus and places the emphasis directly on the subject of the photo.  I don’t shoot with a tilt shift lens often so when I do I tend to experiment with the amount of shift to obtain the desired result.  I this particular day I was looking to shoot “miniature” Chicago but I ended up stumbling upon this scene during my shoot.


Editing the Shot

Screenshot 2018-08-17 20.53.08.png

 The image above was edited only slightly from what came out of the camera.  I did increase the contrast through the use of a tone curve and I added a few points of vibrance to increase the color saturation to match the colors I saw that morning.  Raw images tend to come out flatter than their Jpeg counterparts so I find that I almost always add vibrance and contrast to my images to reproduce the image the way my eye saw it.


Other Tips

Consider renting a tilt shift lens from a local photo store. This will give you a very unique view of Chicago and you can try to shoot with it at each location. You never know what amazing photos you might end up with.  Here in Chicago I love to use Helix Camera or borrowlenses.com.  Both have great rental departments and both are very affordable.  If you think you will use a lens often I normally suggest you buy it outright but in this case a tilt shift lens is so specialized that unless you are an architectural photographer you probably won’t use it often enough to justify a purchase. 

Wander throughout the other bridges and see what interesting shots you can get of buildings or the bridges themselves. There are a number of bridges that cross the river and each has a unique perspective. If you are going to do this start further west near Wells Street and make your way East.


How to Get There

This location is right on the Chicago river and is very easy to access.  If you take the Brown, Orange, Green, or Purple lines then you can get off at the State and Lake stop.  From there head North two blocks and you will be at the river.  If you take the Red line you can get off at the Randolph and Wabash stop.  This stop is only a half block south of the Brown, Orange, Green, and Purple line stop.

 

How to Support My Site

I love my photography and giving back to the community. If you like this site and want to support it I would greatly appreciate using the links to purchase any of the products in my posts. I also sell as well as a book "The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago".If you want an easier way to replicate the shots in this post please consider purchasing my Lightroom presets using the link below. Thanks for stopping by and supporting my work!

Lightroom Presets

The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago

Summer Sunrise and Sunset Over Chicago

 50mm - f18 - 1/40 sec -  ISO 200

50mm - f18 - 1/40 sec -  ISO 200

Chicago has arguably one of the most distinguished and photographic skylines in the world. This is partially due to the geography of the area and Lake Michigan blocking development to the East. Chicago’s views are best captured from the West and the South of the city, both of which provide full views of the skyline. This particular image was taken from a few miles West of downtown.  


How to get the Shot

This shot was taken from the top of the Rush Hospital parking lot just west of Chicago.  The photo was taken just after dawn on a partly cloudy summer morning. This shot is a combination  of 7 bracketed exposures and merged into an HDR image via Photomatix. Rush Hospital is located approximately 2.8 miles west of the center of Chicago (LaSalle St and Madision St). It is directly along the 290 (Eisenhower) expressway.  Before I captured this shot I took a few shots prior to the sun breaching the horizon.  The glow of the morning sunlight made the clouds a mixture of orange and pink.  These photos were very beautiful but I wanted an image of the sun coming through the buildings.  About 20 minutes after sunrise I captured this image.  Sunrise in general is an amazing experience and this was no exception.  If you have the chance to witness a sunrise from this spot I highly recommend it.


Editing the Shot

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 The final image above is a high dynamic range photo which combines 7 exposures into 1 final photo. The trick is creating an image that has more dynamic range than a single image without making the image look over processed or fake. I did this by creating an image in Photomatix and then blending in one of the original exposures back into the HDR image. The Photomatix settings I used for this particular image are shown in the screenshot to the right. 

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Once I created the HDR image in Photomatix, I re-opened it in Adobe Photoshop and laid the most evenly exposed bracketed image on top of the Photomatix photo. From there I changed the opacity of the original exposure to soften the HDR effect and to help remove any unwanted halo affects.  This helped create a realistic HDR photo which retains many of the great characteristics of HDR while not looking over processed. This process created an image that is closer to what I saw while taking the photograph than either of the two images alone.


Other Tips

Get there early. The sun is sneaky coming off the horizon and depending on the time of year it comes up pretty quick. Use an app like The Photographer’s Ephemeris or similar apps to time your arrival. This app will also help you to pinpoint the the sunrise and sunset and will show you the angle of the sun to the city. 

 50mm - f11 - 1/30 sec -  ISO 200

50mm - f11 - 1/30 sec -  ISO 200


How to Get There

Although Rush Hospital is right along the Eisenhower Expressway (Interstate 290) there aren’t a lot of public transportation options to get there. There is a Green line stop at Ashland and Lake but this stop is about 8 blocks from the hospital.  I also would not feel comfortable recommending anyone walking through this neighborhood if you don’t have to. Really your best bet is to drive to the parking structure and to pay for an hour of parking. 30 minutes of parking will cost you $8 while an hour will cost $9.75.  This is by far the best way to get to Rush if you have access to a car.  If you have to take a taxi you can go that route and when you are ready to leave you can have the information staff call you a cab to get home.  Cab fares should be less than $15 one way from most places within the city.

 

How to Support My Site

I love my photography and giving back to the community. If you like this site and want to support it I would greatly appreciate using the links to purchase any of the products in my posts. I also sell as well as a book "The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago".If you want an easier way to replicate the shots in this post please consider purchasing my Lightroom presets using the link below. Thanks for stopping by and supporting my work!

Lightroom Presets

The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago