I think most people that aren't photographers think that we just show up to a location one time and snap a photo and there you have it a portfolio shot. Truth be told in order to capture amazing images sometimes it takes you dozens of attempts. I've been trying to get a shot from the top of the Willis Tower looking back at the John Hancock and the Trump tower poking up through the clouds. On this particular night a few weeks ago I thought I was going to finally get the shot but as the clouds continued to roll through and the sun set, I realized that I would have to keep chasing this image. At least it wasn't a total loss. I got a great timelapse and got to watch an amazing cloud show.
Chicago Food and Travel Photographer
Chicago is home to many harbors and beaches each with their own unique characteristics. Due to the shape of the lake most of the beaches and harbors have unique views of Chicago. Montrose Beach is a little bit further north than some of the more popular Chicago beaches. It is also further east which makes for a great view of the city.
How to Get the Shot
This shot isn’t a picture of sunset unfortunately, it’s of the sunrise. This photo was taken on one of the longest days of the year which was poor planing on my part. On this particular morning the sun rose around 5:30 but the tranquility of the beach and the experience of sunrise made the early morning worth it. Shooting sunrise in the summer makes for an early morning but sometimes when you want the shot you have to be willing to sacrifice sleep.
This photo was taken on Montrose beach which is approximately 6 miles North of downtown Chicago. The beach not only has great views of Lake Michigan but also has really good views of downtown Chicago. I personally think it’s one of the better beach views of Chicago. There is also a popular harbor near the beach where you can capture the docked boats with the Chicago skyline in the background.
Editing the Shot
For this shot I exposed for the sun and sky so that it wasn’t blown out and to silhouette the beach and brush. I used the 51 point focus selection and I manually set the focus point. I also used the Matrix metering option. This is the option with the box with a circle in it (see below for the various camera vendors). This setting does a great job of setting the correct exposure even if you are breaking the rules and shooting into the sun (like I did with this image).
After I got the shot into Aperture I used the black slider to silhouette the foreground and boat. I then increased the vibrance to pump up the sky and the sun. Finally, I bumped up the saturation a few levels to bring out more of the color of they sky.
Get there early. Montrose Beach is a big place and if you haven’t scouted where you will be shooting you will need some time to figure it out. Plan on getting there 20-30 minutes before you need to shoot. I’ve provided a map with the highlighted areas of where I like to shoot but you should explore the beach for yourself.
How to Get There
The best way to get to Montrose Beach is to drive. Especially if you are shooting early in the morning. I’m sure there is a bus route that you can take to get there but early in the morning it will take you much longer to take public transportation than if you drive to the beach. Driving from the Magnificent Mile area should take you no longer than 10 minutes with no traffic. There is a Redline station that isn’t far but I wouldn’t walk that neighborhood at that time of the day. Not that it’s a bad neighborhood, but I wouldn’t take a chance on the Redline before 6 A.M.
Once you are off Lake Shore Drive there are many places to park. I suggest driving around the harbor to the southern most part of the beach (see map above). From there you will be able to see the Chicago skyline and you will have an unobstructed view East to the lake. This will give you a good vantage point without running around the beach to try to find a location to shoot. When you are leaving I would highly suggest stopping at the other green highlighted location. From here you will get a view of the docked boats in the harbor along with a view of the skyline.
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!
The John Hancock Observatory is a great place to grab a view of Chicago or to grab a drink at the bar of the Signature Room. Although the Signature Room has a great view, it’s a hard place to get a good photo of Chicago. The alternative is to pay the admission fee and go to the observatory floor. It’s a few more dollars than a drink at the bar, but the views are spectacular and you can walk the entire floor with no restrictions. If you are lucky they will even let you set up a tripod (they let you bring them in on Mondays :) ).
How to Get the Shot
The shot above was taken with a Tokina 11-16mm lens but I would bring a range of lenses on your trip. While the wide-angle lens is interesting, my Nikon 80-200 f2.8 also got great use during this trip. It is really interesting to shoot with a wide angle lens and get the entire city but it’s equally interesting to zoom in on different buildings with your telephoto. The image above was shot facing south towards the downtown area, but the east and north views are equally interesting.
The Allerton shot was taken using my Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 telephoto lens. The telephoto is great to get unique shots that you would otherwise not be able to capture. The John Hancock Observatory lends itself to many of these shots looking down and around the city. You will rarely have the opportunity to photograph Chicago from a higher vantage point.
The smoke trails image was shot from the observation deck during the Chicago Air and Water show. The show takes over Chicago every August and if you get a chance to witness it don’t miss the opportunity.
When shooting through windows you may want to consider a rubber lens hood. They are less than $10 and they reduce the glare from the surrounding room. I found mine useful with mid range lenses but there can be some issues with telephotos or wide angle lenses. With wide angle lenses you can expect to get a port hole effect and with a telephoto lens you can’t angle the lens enough to frame your shot. The best bet is to bring a small black towel to tape to the window, but in a place like the John Hancock Observatory the security most likely won’t allow this.
Editing the Shot
All of the shots from The John Hancock Observatory are relatively simple edits. I absolutely love the Nik suite of software and Silver Efex Pro 2 is my go-to software for everything black and white. Both black and white shots in this section were edited with the Nik’s software. The first photo in this section “Make No Little Plans” was edited using Silver Efex Pro 2 and the default High Structure (Harsh) settings.
The second photo of the Allerton Hotel in Chicago was processed with the High Contrast (Harsh) settings as well but I tweaked the photo to add selective blurring. After I processed the photo in Silver Efex I brought the photo back to Lightroom and used the gradient tool to blur the right side of the photo and give it that antique look. I used 3 progressive gradient filters to strengthen the effect. When using the graduated filter if you hold down the shift key while dragging Lightroom or Photoshop will make sure that your filter is straight. Once the first filter was in place I reduced the sharpness to -100 this put a slight blur in the photo. I clicked the new button and repeated this process three times. This stacking of the filters enabled me to strengthen the effect and produce the final image.
It takes a little time to buy tickets and to get past security to get to the observatory. If you are trying to capture a sunset or a storm make sure you give yourself plenty of time. If you have a small GorillaPod Tripod or a Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod bring it and see if the employees let you use it. In my experience, if you bring a full sized tripod they will warn you before you go in the elevator that you will not be able to use the tripod when you get upstairs. I’ve also been asked to check the tripod with security. The moral of the story is, the less obvious you are about your gear, the better the chances you have of being able to use your tripod.
How to Get There
The closest train station is the Chicago Red Line station. From there the John Hancock building is only a 7-10 minute walk. Depending on where you are staying you may be able to take various buses down Michigan Ave or even walk. If your hotel is in the Magnificent Mile area you are probably better off walking or taking a cab.
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 prints through my store 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!
My past photo adventures have taken me all over the world. I actually began this photographic journey to capture the beauty in the world we live in. That is what drives me to travel and drives me to dedicate my time an energy to create these images.
A trip like Yosemite is amazing but requires a lot of planning and extra gear. I’ll be working with a photographer that has been shooting in Yosemite Valley for over 35 years so I expect to come home with some amazing images.
Historically I've planned a trip and then and showed the world my images months later. But this trip is a little bit different. I didn't realize the amount of gear I would need to undertake a trip of this size. Most of the time my travels take me to somewhat urban locations or locations not far from the modern amenities we have become accustom to. Although I'm not camping on this trip, it did require more resources and planning that I originally expected.
Due to the higher cost of the trip I wanted to find a way to involve my audience to help fund the project while providing value to everyone. At first I considered a Go Fund Me project but I quickly realized that this didn't provide the value I wanted to you (my audience). I quickly pivoted to the idea of selling discounted prints. This will allow you to help me fund this project while receiving a print at a heavily discounted price. You have been so great to me in the past with supporting my business and I want to find a way we can work together to fund more art from around the world. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your past support and I hope you will consider helping me fund this project!
Below are a few of the common questions that I anticipate you will have when considering participating.
But What if you don’t like any of the images from Yosemite?
I'm working with a guide that has been photographing Yosemite for over 35 years so I expect to come back with some amazing images. But If you don’t like anything I create from Yosemite I’d be more than happy to make a print of any of my portfolio images as a replacement.
I really like your work but I don’t need/want a print. How can I get involved?
I get it. I’m running out of space on my walls and will need to clear some room for this next wave of images too. Consider buying me a cup of coffee for the road and you’ll also be in the loop of seeing all the pre-released work.
If you are interested in helping me fund this trip click the link below and it will take you to the donation page. I'll have all the new images ready for the holiday season so if you are planning on giving one as a gift I can assure you it will be ready by early December. Thanks again for all your support!
20x30 Paper Print - $125 (Normally $250)
12x18 Paper Print - $50 (Normally $150)
Cup of Coffee - $5
Every year I find myself returning to Morton Aboretum inevitably in the fall. There aren't a lot of areas to hike around Chicago and in the fall I find it nice to spend a few hours in nature walking and talking with a good friend. It always helps if they are a photographer too. This time I had the pleasure of spending time with one of my budding photographer friends Alex.
Alex and I spent almost 3 hours walking, talking and trying to capture some morning light in the Aboretum. It was perfect timing because the trees were already shedding their leaves and many were covered with red and orange leaves.
We got there around 7 am so we had over an hour with nice soft light. It was a relaxing and fun time out with a great old friend. I look forward to my next adventure with him and my camera.