Chicago Food and Travel Photographer

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.

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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.

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The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Chicago

by Thomas Campone