Creative twists on familiar places

 In Photography Tips, Street Photography

Chicago has many well-known landmarks and popular destinations that continue to draw photographers back no matter how many times they’ve been shot before.

While there’s no right or wrong way to approach shooting these locations, it can certainly be a rewarding challenge to seek out a fresh perspective or a creative twist on what other artists have previously done. There are an unlimited number of ways to edit a photograph to make it unique and different, but I’d like to specifically address three ways in which you can put your own spin on the shot itself.

Timing

As with any type of photography, timing is essential.

The streets of Chicago are normally bustling so I like to find moments when popular shooting locations are less-frequented. The streets are sometimes emptier during rain or snow storms, and you can usually find even the most popular destinations empty around dawn.

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A single pedestrian crosses the street near the Randolph/Wabash train stop on a rainy day

This more easily allows you to wait for a perfect juxtaposition of color or to isolate a single subject within your image. Especially when you’re shooting architecture, this can provide a sense of timelessness that is more difficult to capture with large crowds of tourists filling the frame.

Redirect Your Focus

Many photographers will approach a popular subject from the ground-level, but finding a point of elevation can yield very different results.

There are plenty of accessible buildings in Chicago from which you can shoot popular locations. Check nearby restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, parking garages and train platforms to see if the windows offer any interesting angles.

Image taken at 110mm zoom from a local restaurant bar

Image taken at 110mm zoom from a local restaurant bar

When shooting through windows, I find it helpful to use a lens hood and to shoot as close to the glass as possible to reduce window reflections (which can sometimes be a hassle to remove in post processing!).  I also enjoy using a zoom lens when shooting down from an elevated position. Especially with architectural photography, many photographers’ go-to lens is a wide-angle, but switching this out to a zoom can help create a unique angle and perspective as can be seen in the above photograph of Cloud Gate.

Both Canon and Nikon make reasonably-priced lenses for photographers on a budget and there are usually places throughout the city that you can rest the camera on for added stability even if you can’t use a full tripod.

You can also opt for a soft, bokeh effect which creates an abstract impression of the location. This can be particularly effective when it rains. Shooting through bus stop glass, apartment windows, and even clear plastic umbrellas can be used to get the rain droplets in focus with the city blurred softly in the background as shown in the photograph below.

Photograph was shot through a clear umbrella from the train platform at Adams and Wabash

Photograph was shot through a clear umbrella from the train platform at Adams and Wabash

Add a Human Element

When you add at least one human subject to the frame of a well-known location, you’re able to create your own particular take on the spot as there are limitless wardrobe and prop combinations that you can use to tell a story of your own.

Model Ashley Curtis (@ashley.curtis) standing in front of the Hancock Tower. Photograph was taken from Navy Pier.

Model Ashley Curtis (@ashley.curtis) standing in front of the Hancock Tower. Photograph was taken from Navy Pier.

Think about ways to make clothes complement or contrast the location. Similarly, props can be used by the subject or simply placed in the frame to communicate the impression of warmth and the human element.  Examples of inexpensive props include umbrellas, balloons, sparklers, a deck of playing cards, books, masks or a suitcase.

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