Category Archives: Scenic

Evening El Train

Evening El Train

Last week I went out and shot some images of Chicago with photographer Chris Smith from Out of Chicago. He introduced me to a fantastic vantage point on the top-level of a downtown parking garage. Right as the sun dripped below the horizon and the sky turned blue, many of the buildings’ lights came on. Throw in a passing CTA train and the picture just sort of composed itself.

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Skyline of Chicago

Skyline of Chicago

I’ve been getting ready to go back up in the air to shoot aerials from Chicago. It’s one of my favorite views of the city.

The other night I was going through images from my last airborne adventure seeing what I liked and what I didn’t like. I learned I need to shoot more close-ups. I know that sounds weird, but I think half of all good photography is showing people things they don’t normally see.

We all know what the John Hancock Center looks like. Seeing it from above is one thing, but seeing it close-up from above is another. One of my favorite pictures of the Willis Tower is a close-up of the skydeck and all the people looking out (see it here).

So that’s on my list in the next month or so. We’ll see how everything turns out, because Mother Nature has a big say in whether aerial photography happens and how it turns out.

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Cold Fun on a Hot Summer Day

Cold Fun on a Hot Summer Day

This week we flirted with 100 degrees. Even though autumn is around the corner, summer made sure to give a hearty reminder it is still here. We also regularly get a nice warm spell around mid-October, but this week was scorching hot. And, as if record-setting 95 degree temperatures weren’t enough, tomorrow we’re supposed to only get up to 65 degrees. That’s a 30 degree temperature swing in three days. Yikes!

This week’s furnace-like temperatures reminded me of last year’s late-June heat when we did hit 100+ degrees. In parts of Chicago, even though civilians opening hydrants is illegal, kids found creative ways to stay cool.

Of course: If its fun its against the law.

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Chicago Skyline From The South

Chicago Skyline From The South

Earlier in the summer my wife and I rescued a puppy from a shelter. Said puppy has really been dominating our time this summer, but she’s adorable and worth it. As house-training and things with the dog have settled down, my wife and I have began to get back into our routines.

It had been quite some time since I had gone out in search of pictures, but finally made it out a few times in the last week. I forgot just how nice it was to get out and shoot some pictures. I love watching Chicago in motion; whether it is a softball game in the park right next to were I stand, or the boats coming and going along the Chicago River. Whatever it was, it damn nice to be out taking pictures again.

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Towers and Antennas

Towers and Antennas

A couple of summers ago I played kickball in a Chicago city park. I really enjoyed playing the game, but even more so, I really enjoyed the view from the baseball fields.

I had been meaning to make it back to the park with my camera for some shots of the skyline in the early evening, but never got it to work out. In an attempt earlier this year, as I waited for the sun to dip below the horizon, the clouds rolled in and opened up. I didn’t mind the clouds rolling in, but the pouring rain was something I wasn’t a fan of.

Tonight, however, things worked out. As the sun dipped low on the horizon, the lights in the various buildings began to light up.

It may have taken two summers, but I do like how the picture turned out.

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Millennium Monument

Millennium Park Peristyle

Recently I was going through a photography magazine and read a sentence that caught my eye: “If your community still has a local camera store, it’s probably much more than just a retail shop.” The paragraph goes on to discuss how the neighborhood camera shop is probably the local hub of goings-on in the local photography community, and check in with them to see what you participate in. Makes sense.

The part which baffled me, however, was the first part of the sentence “If your community still has a local camera store…”.


I realize I live in Chicago and we have a few camera stores here. (Actually, we just lost Helix so we have one less.) But even as the greater Chicagoland area flirts with ten million residents, we only have three camera stores. The town in which my brother lives has exactly zero, so he has to drive an hour to find filters or ask questions. It’s unfortunate camera shops are slowly dying away.

A few years back, when I was looking at buying a new tripod, it was nice to be able to walk into a store and play around with the two-dozen or so options. Some features I liked and some I didn’t. I narrowed my choice down and made my purchase. It was truly enjoyable to spend the time tinkering and playing, instead of slowly trolling through Amazon reviews to see how things rate with other photographers, who may or may not shoot in my style.

We’re fortunate to have a couple of quality photography stores in Chicago, and they don’t just cater to the old women who come in to develop their 35mm disposable point-and-shoot film of a grand-daughter’s birthday party. So, I guess, if you’re going to have a local camera shop in your community, at least let it be a good one.

By the way, the monument above, known simply as The Peristyle, honors the founders of Chicago, Illinois’ Millennium Park.

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Navy Pier and the Chicago Skyline

Navy Pier and the Chicago Skyline

Late last year I went up in a helicopter to shoot some images of Chicago. My main goal for this session was to go up and get some shots of the city looking back from out over Lake Michigan.

I took a fairly early morning spin in the helicopter to have the sun on the correct side of the buildings I wanted to shoot. (I wanted the sun to be behind me, shining over my shoulder as I shot the majority of the images.) It was a chilly early-autumn day, so I hung out the side of the helicopter shooting away, while my pilot was bundled up in a sweatshirt zipping us over the long stretch of Chicago shoreline.

Later this year I’ll be going up again, but this time focusing more on the actual city and the view from above, rather the view from a quarter mile out over the water. I am constantly amazed and how much the look of a city can change from a few stories up or down, or a few blocks over in either direction.

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Ahu Tahai Sunset

Ahu Tahai Sunset

On a few of the days my wife and I spent on Easter Island, we woke up in the morning and jogged from where we were staying, along the ocean, and over to Ahu  Tahai. It was exactly two miles round trip. (I’d probably go running every day if I had a route like that, but alas, in my Chicago neighborhood, there is no ocean, nor a centuries-old historical artifact to run to.

Before getting ready to head to the airport, my wife and I decided to go on one last run, to really get the blood flowing before the 22-hour journey home on an airplane. One of the few times we decided not to bring any cameras (point-and-shoot, fancy DSLRs, cell phones, etc.), we started our shoreline run to Ahu Tahai under sunny skies. As we approached the moai, a looming cloud came in and large drops of rain began falling down on us.

As quickly as the rains came, they then disappeared out over the ocean. Perfectly positioned behind the moai was probably the most crisp and beautiful rainbow my wife or I have ever seen. I turned to her, she turned to me, and we both looked down at our empty hands. No camera.

Oftentimes our favorite memories from our travels cannot be documented with a camera. Be it an exchange at a small farmers’ market, or an interaction with locals. Also included in that is sometimes I want to enjoy the moment, so I don’t raise my camera and fire off some frames.

Besides, in the end, it was more fun to think of Easter Island saying its own special goodbye to just us, because we didn’t bring any cameras.

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Gold Coast Sunrise

Gold Coast Sunrise

I originally posted this image last week, but never wrote anything about it, nor did I share it on Facebook, Twitter or all of those other fancy places. I, apparently, had a bit of a writer’s block.

A few years back I shot this image of an early morning in Chicago, Illinois. As clear as it was that day, I moved on to take a few pictures farther into town. I needed to sun to get a little higher in the sky, so I had breakfast to kill time. While at breakfast, the clouds rolled in and the picture I was waiting for was no longer.

This picture, however, was taken before the monster clouds rolled in. It’s Chicago, Illinois‘ Gold Coast skyline, viewed from North Avenue’s Beach.

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Patriotic Kayaker

Patriotic Kayaker

Happy Independence Day, America!

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Traveling Moai at Ahu Togariki

My wife and I just returned from a week-long adventure to Easter Island.

Isla de Pascua, as the locals seem to refer to it, is located about 2,200 miles (3,540km) off the coast of Chile. It is the most isolated inhabited areas in the world. Well, sort of.

Apparently there is a small island, Tristan da Cunha, in the South Atlantic, nearly halfway in between South America and Africa. It’s closest neighbor, Saint Helena, is 1,509 miles (2,340km) away. The debate comes in because only 250 miles (400km) from Tristan da Canha is an island called Gough.

Gough houses six meteorologists from South Africa doing Antarctic Research. Since they don’t actually live on the island, but there are always six meteorologists, that’s where things get messy.

Some say “Since they don’t live there, it doesn’t count.” Others proclaim “There are always six. It does count.” The argument is a tough one, specifically for both islands.

Either way, Easter Island was one of the longest “travel days” we’ve ever had to endure to reach it — 22 hours — but, it was well worth it. The people are friendly, the weather is fantastic, and the history was awesome.

I’ll post more pictures as I get through them in the next few days, but in the meantime, here is an image of the “Traveling Moai” standing watch over Ahu Togariki on Easter Island.

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Sunset at St. Joseph Pier

On my list of things to do for quite some time was head over to Michigan to shoot some images of the lighthouses of their Western shore. I didn’t have any other real reason for wanting to do it except, “Why not?”

So, last week I made my way along I-94 from Chicago and aimed for St. Joseph, Michigan to shoot the North Pier Lighthouse. Having never been there, and only seeing a handful of other images, I wasn’t really sure what I’d stumble upon. (Most lighthouse pictures only shoot away from shore.)

Arriving in Benton Harbor, I realized I was on the opposite side of the river from where I wanted to be. After paying the $8.00 for parking, I drove around to the other side of the river and defiantly marched from my car to the shore — avoiding the $5.00 fee for parking in that town.

Several years ago, a co-worker and I were discussing our “hidden gifts.” All of us had them. His was getting a parking spot DIRECTLY in front of where he needed to be. This discussion took place in Washington D.C., and he had driven around to all of the major sights and scored a fine spot on the street in front each monument. My “hidden gift?” I’ll travel to the other side of the world and show up to find scaffolding. (One of my favorite images from Cambodia is of the sun rising behind Angkor Wat. The reason the temple is silhouetted, is you’d see nothing but scaffolding in front of the icon.)

I felt my trip to Michigan was falling into the same category. As I arrived, I found two massive barges anchored a few yards from the lighthouse, apparently dredging the river.

I know the dredging needs to be done, but damn, after driving a couple of hours to shoot the sun setting behind the lighthouse, it would have been nice to know the barges would be there.

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Wolf Point

This is Wolf Point, in Chicago.

It’s where the North and South Branches of the Chicago River meet up to form the Main Branch. It’s also where Chicago‘s first three taverns were built, the city’s first hotel, and the city’s first church. The city’s first ferry to cross the river was here, later replaced by the city’s first bridge. So there is a little bit of history here.

Now, the famous Merchandise Mart sits across from Wacker Drive. There are still a few taverns and churches in the immediate area, but no ferries.

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Chicago Skyline from Montrose Harbor

Recently, the Chicago Sun-Times announced they were letting every one of their staff photographers go. The next day, the newspaper held a mandatory meeting with their reporters, handed them iPhones, then taught them Photography 101. The idea is? why hire photographers when we can make the reporters shoot the pictures to cover the stories?

While the idea of a newspaper launching their photographers is unsettling enough, I have a few questions that keep coming into my mind about it. The first is, “Wait. What?”

After going through a few more questions, a couple of others worth noting are:

“Are the reporters going to be paid more to take pictures?” Their job classifications have now changed, and with the newspaper saving all that money by not hiring photographers, surely they will reward better photography by those who now have to do it.

“What about the Associated Press (AP), Reuters, etc.?” This past weekend I was at the Chicago Blackhawks game at the United Center. The place was swarming with various photographers, ranging from the Blackhawks’ own photographer to a number of “wire service” guys (like AP and Reuters). Now, it is my understanding that nearly all newspapers contribute to the Associated Press (for example), and also use the Associated Press’ images. So in the case of the hockey game, was the Sun-Times just going to use AP images instead of using their own photographers? And if that’s the case, at what point will the AP step up and say “Um, wait. You can no longer keep taking our high-quality images and contributing back “meh-quality” iPhone images.”

Since this has been a fairly new development, it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. Chicago‘s other daily newspaper, the Tribune, has been gleefully and mercilessly reporting on the situation. It frightens me a little bit to think that, while the Tribune is happily reporting how bad this is, that some management-guy in some office in their building is also watching it  getting inspired to do the same, depending on how it plays out.

Obviously, none of this has to do with the image above, but I wanted to write about this anyway.

The image above is of the skyline of Chicago, Illinois just after sunset, viewed from Montrose Harbor.

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Buckingham Fountain at Dusk

One of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, the Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain in ChicagoIllinois was completed in 1927. From that time through 1980 the water was manually operated by two engineers located on site working 12-hour shifts. A computer system was eventually brought in to automate the water flow, but the fountain still operates it’s every-hour-on-the-hour twenty minute sound and light show while the fountain is in operation (8am through 11pm daily, weather permitting).

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Raised Bridges

After several years of putting the early Chicago River bridge raises in my calendar to “keep an eye on,” I finally had a day where my schedule, the weather and boats all cooperated.

I’d been wanting to shoot images of boats traveling under bridges for quite some time, and finally had the chance to make the trek to the river last week to watch. Slowly — very slowly — boats traveled along the river getting help from the Bridge Division of the Chicago Department of Transportation. The process reminded me a lot of ships traveling through the Panama Canal; it was a very slow moving process, but very fun to observe. (I often tell people watching boats go through the Panama Canal is the most exciting boring thing you’ll see in your lifetime)

I had set the day aside to head downtown to watch the bridge lifts, but I’m pretty sure most (if not all) of the motorists downtown were caught off-gaurd. When the lights would starting blinking and the bells would start making their noise, motorists would mash the gas in hopes of making it through the gates before they were stopped. On more than one occasion, I witnessed a brief shouting match between a cab driver and a bridge attendant.

It made for an enjoyable, but long, day. My quest started at half-past nine in the morning, and at two o’clock I made my way back towards home. Running a few errands later in the day, I heard the radio mention the last bridge was just on its wait down, snarling traffic on Lakeshore Drive. Hearing this, I found myself smiling knowing the dozen or so boats made it to their home for the summer.

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Marina Tower Tulips

I finally got out to shoot some pictures. Between my schedule, the weather, and a few other things, yesterday was the first day in a very, very long time I went out with the purpose of taking pictures for myself. It was such a fun day.

My goal was to head downtown and shoot the bridge lifts. Chicago has eighteen bridges along two miles of the Chicago River, and while I’ve wanted to shoot some pictures of them for the last few years, something always seem to come up and I never made it. This year I was determined to make it, and I was so enthusiastic, I was an hour-and-change early.

While I waited for the sail boats to make their way into Chicago‘s Loop, the tulips near Marina City caught my eye.

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Chicago’s Willis Tower

Yesterday I was listening to a photography podcast I regularly enjoy (On Taking Pictures), and the two hosts briefly mentioned how one of their photographer buddies went up in a helicopter and shot some some spectacular video from above an old military base. The two hosts quickly discussed how technology has advanced so much that it is now possible to go up to shoot aerial images for an amount one can, basically, put on their credit card. Twenty years ago it would have cost someone about $50,000 to do the same thing — if it was even possible at all.

It got me to thinking about my recent adventures into aerial photography (something I very much enjoy). I admittedly started exploring it when it became dramatically cheaper and much easier to do, technologically speaking.

Cameras now are far more advanced, so I can easily go up in a helicopter without thousands of dollars in support gear. I can shoot two hundred images without having to stop to change a roll of film every 36 shots. I can bring the images into my computer and do a lot of minor adjustments that, as a whole, were difficult to do ten or fifteen years ago.

So the image above is a result of that whole discussion, and how I could affordably head up in a helicopter to shoot some pictures far easier than even the greatest photographers could have done ten or fifteen years ago.

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Cliffs of Moher

Located in County Clare, Ireland, are the famous Cliffs of Moher, and while planning our trip to the Emerald Isle, a trip to the 300 million year-old “bird sanctuary” was high on the list. The site receives nearly one million tourists each year, but is home to an estimated 30,000 different birds, covering about 20 different species. (The birds live in the countless nests that are perched along the wall, and come and go freely, without much fear of predators.)

Traveling through Ireland, my wife and I didn’t plan any “set in stone” itinerary, except for the last couple of days. I knew I really wanted to see the Cliffs of Moher in the afternoon, and hopefully with clear skies. While we worked out our schedule, I saw what day the weather was supposed to be clear, and to the Cliffs we went.

The Cliffs of Moher are amazingly dramatic. One could drive past them one hundred times and never know, on the other side of the hill, is a straight drop down 700 feet (214 meters) to the Atlantic Ocean below.

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Buckingham Fountain

I recall the day I took this picture as one of those “perfect temperature” days in Chicago. One could have worn shorts and a T-shirt, jeans and a sweatshirt, or anything in between and have been comfortable. Later in the day, however, it rained. And by “it rained,” I mean “it poured.” Buckets and buckets of rain fell, with blinding lightning and roaring thunder. It was a good afternoon to spend inside going through pictures from earlier in the day.

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