River North consists of the area just north of the heart of Chicago, bound by Michigan Avenue to the east, Chicago Avenue to the north, and the Chicago River to the south and west. Tucked behind the Merchandise Mart, it is home to some of the top restaurants in the city. The “El” is a very interesting subject to capture in general and in this location there are many different angles to capture the “El” with the city as a backdrop. This particular shot is of the “El” train moving through one of the few S curves in the city.
How to get the Shot
In order to capture this shot, you will need a tripod due to the long exposure. I captured this image early on a Saturday morning in the parking garage on Wells Street and Hubbard Street. This shot is actually 2 exposures combined into one using Photoshop. I shot this image with an aperture of 29 and a shutter speed of 4 seconds. Since the sun was low in the sky and behind me, I was able to capture this image without a neutral density filter. I decreased my ISO to 160 so that I could keep the shutter open longer without overexposing the image. The view of this shot is facing due West, so if you decide to try this shot in the afternoon you may have to battle a setting sun and backlit lighting conditions. Bring a neutral density filter with you because you may need it depending on the shooting conditions the day of your shoot.
Editing the Shot
The final image was edited in Aperture with the help of Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2. I first converted both images to black and white using Silver Efex Pro 2. I almost always start with the “High Structure (harsh)” setting and add control points to achieve the look I’m shooting for. In this case, it was essential to darken the sky and pull out more details in the brick and buildings. I did this by adding more structure to the both images in Silver Efex Pro. This increases what I call the “grit” of an image.
I then added a touch of color by masking the light trails back into the black and white image using Photoshop. In hindsight, it may have been easier to use Silver Efex Pro to selectively bring the color back into the shot, but there are many ways to achieve this look.
After I had the two shots the way I wanted, I brought them both into Photoshop as separate layers. I used the Lighten blending mode to lay the two trains on top of one another.
On Saturday the trains run every 8-10 minutes so you may have to wait a little while to capture your image. I took multiple shots in order to achieve the right amount of blur for the final effect. Try using different shutter speeds to capture different streaks of train and light. You may find that you like longer or shorter exposures than my image.
If you want to capture images on the “El” platform you may need approval from the Chicago Transit Authority. If you shoot without a tripod, you can get away with shooting on the platform, but the minute you pull out a tripod you will most likely be “greeted” by a few CTA employees. If you are interested in obtaining a permit you can find out more information at the link below. You will have a better chance of shooting without being bothered early in the morning or on the weekend.
The green circle on the map below is the location where the “S” Curve photo was taken. It’s a public parking lot that is free if you are traveling by foot. I looked at the view from different floors but in the end I decided to take the photo from the 4th floor. This level is just above the tracks of the “El” and provides a good vantage point to capture the image. There are open glassless windows on each floor that allow you to set up your camera even in bad weather.
The blue location on the map is another parking garage in the area that has a great vantage point of the same S curve. I’ve been to the roof of this garage but not to capture this image. This could be an interesting spot to capture a similar image from the other direction with the city
in the background. I love to scout public parking garages for photo locations because they provide a perspective that most people don’t see or bother to explore.
How to Get There
Just to the left of my photo is the Merchandise Mart Brown line stop. This is the closest stop to this location. Take the Brown line if you have access to it and if you can’t get to the Brown line you can take the Red line to Grand Ave and State Street, about a six block walk.
The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago
This post is part of an eBook I wrote about the best places to photograph Chicago. If you enjoy this post consider buying the ebook to support my site and to get access to all the best locations in Chicago!
The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago was written to help visitors and Chicago photographers find and capture the best locations in and around Chicago. The book describes various locations, how to get the shot and the best ways to access over 25 of the best locations in Chicago. Readers get access to final processed images, processing tips and maps for each location. Skip the research and get straight to shooting!