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Chicago Food and Travel Photographer

The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago - Streaks of El

 18mm - f22 - 13 sec -  ISO 320

18mm - f22 - 13 sec -  ISO 320

The Chicago train system has been a fascination of mine since I first moved to the city. Both the subways and the elevated trains provide this energy about the city. Everything from the the interesting shadows and structures that fall beneath the elevated tracks to the subway system and the tracks themselves can inspire images. I believe that you could build a portfolio of just photos of Chicago’s transit system.


How to Get the Shot

This image was taken on the Quincy/Wells Brown, Purple and Orange line stop in the early fall. I  shot this photo from the platform with my camera set up on a tripod.  I framed the shot and fired off 3 bracketed exposures to capture the buildings.  Then I waited for the train to come so I could capture it in a separate exposure.  The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) normally won’t let you shoot with a tripod but for some reason I was able to get away with it for a few minutes.  Once the train came down the tracks I shot a 13.0 second exposure to capture the blurred train and its streaking lights.


Editing the Shot

When I got the photos on my computer the first thing I did was convert my bracketed photos into an High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.  For this particular image I wanted to minimize the HDR  “look” and use the 3 exposures to make the final image look realistic with just more detail in the buildings and in the shadows. I did this by tweaking my settings especially the “Lighting Adjustments” slider. Lightning Adjustments in Photomatix effect the how light is distributed throughout the image. If you move the slider to the right you will get a realistic effect. As you move it further to the left it distributes light from areas that were bright in the original image to the shadows and low light areas. This slider is the main reason that you see some HDR images that don’t match with how your brain processes the world around us. Sometimes it makes for a great effect but for this particular  image, I wanted to avoid this style. 

Screenshot 2018-07-07 21.58.08.png
Screenshot 2018-07-07 21.58.37.png

Next, I layered in the lights and train using photoshop.  Once the train image was brought into it’s own layer, I aligned the images using the Auto-Align Layers function in Adobe Photoshop .  This can be found in the edit menu.  It does a great job of making sure that all of your layers are aligned correctly without having to manually align them.

Next I flipped through the blending modes in the tools pallet to find a blending mode that made the lights of the train come through to the background image. The section of the list that starts with “Lighten” will allow the lighter parts of the image to come through and the section that starts with “Darken” will allow the darker parts of the image to come through.  I ended up using the “Dissolve” blending mode which got me 80% to the result I wanted. To finish the effect I grabbed the paintbrush tool and painted the rest of the light trails using a layer mask. 

Screenshot 2018-07-07 21.59.05.png

Other Tips

You can try to shoot on the platform with a tripod without the CTA’s permission but more times than not you will be asked to put away your tripod.  I’ve gotten lucky a few times but if you only have a weekend in Chicago you may not want to risk the shot.  If you go to the CTA’s website you can call to get approval to use your tripod.  See the link below for more information.

http://www.transitchicago.com/business/photopolicy.aspx

The other option is to bring a small tripod such as a GorillaPod or something similar. These small tripods are much smaller than regular sized tripods and if you attach it to a railing or such you may have better luck using it on the platform. 


How to Get There

Technically you can shoot this shot at any El stop but the stop that I took this photo and the surrounding loop stops have good vantage points of buildings which help create the urban feel of the photo.  To get to this particular station, you can take the Brown or Orange line to the Quincy/Wells stop. This stop is on the Southwestern side of the loop.  Either the Brown or Orange line should get you to the stop in a relatively short time.  If you need to take the Red line you can get off at the Jackson stop and walk 3 blocks west. 

 

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

Drone Over Chicago's Grant Park

Drones are pretty amazing little tools. They can fly for miles, shoot 4k video and shoot raw images. I've been shooting some random B roll of Chicago and thought I would put together a little video to share with everyone. I expect to do more of these little videos in the upcoming months. Enjoy!

Chicago from Above the Clouds

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. 

If you like my images and want to find out how to create similar images, check out my store for Lightroom, Snapseed and soon to be coming Luminar presets. 

The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago - Montrose Harbor

 200mm - f5.6 - 1/250 sec -  ISO 160

200mm - f5.6 - 1/250 sec -  ISO 160

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. 

 28mm - f7.1 - 1/100 sec -  ISO 160

28mm - f7.1 - 1/100 sec -  ISO 160

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.

 Matrix metering for each brand of camera.

Matrix metering for each brand of camera.


Other Tips

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.

Screenshot 2018-07-07 21.51.43.png

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!

Lightroom Presets

The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago

The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago - Make No Little Plans

14mm - f9.0 - 1/60 sec -  ISO 400

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.

 22mm - f8.0 - 1/250 sec -  ISO 160

22mm - f8.0 - 1/250 sec -  ISO 160

 

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.

 200mm - f4.0 - 1/800 sec -  ISO 800

200mm - f4.0 - 1/800 sec -  ISO 800

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.

Screenshot 2018-07-07 21.28.53.png
Screenshot 2018-07-07 21.29.22.png

Other Tips

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!

Lightroom Presets

The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago