All vacations are essentially about the experience – the sights, sounds, and tastes of the attractions you visit and the streets you walk. The way you felt at the top of the Ferris wheel, or the awe you experienced looking down from the top of a 96-story building. Beautiful memories, but all memories fade. Fortunately, that’s why humans invented photography! Of course, you don’t want to clog up your memory card with pictures of things you won’t want to look at later (you know, that pigeon with the funny wing, or that guy breakdancing in the park). You want the pictures you take to be the kind of shots you might frame, the ones you’ll treasure years later. To help you out on your quest to find the perfect photography subjects, Smart Destinations put together a list of the top ten pictures you need to take in Chicago.
1. The Bean in Millennium Park
We’ve all heard of the Bean – a shiny, silver, kidney bean-shaped sculpture in the heart of Millennium Park. It’s actually called “Cloud Gate” because of its reflective qualities, but has been affectionately renamed for obvious reasons. It’s a strange experience to walk up to the Bean and see yourself and the sky above reflected in distorted proportions, but it’s certainly worth a visit. It’s one of the most popular places to get your picture taken in front of, too, because it’s instantly recognizable. Afterwards, visit the nearby Art Institute of Chicago to see more modern art sculpture.
2. The View from the John Hancock Observatory
While it’s not the tallest skyscraper in the city (the Willis Tower wins in that category) the open-air sky walk on the 94th floor provides the perfect line of sight to get those fantastic panoramic photos. This one of the few places in the country where you can take a picture of four states at once! You can also take photos from the 96th floor restaurant, which helps if you’re looking for late-night shots of the skyline, as the sky walk is only open until 10:30. (They also have some really tasty cocktails, I can tell you from personal experience.)
3. The Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza
An icon of twentieth century art innovation, Picasso is known for his use of abstract shapes and re-interpretation of form. This untitled sculpture (usually just called the Chicago Picasso) was actually commissioned specifically by the architects of the Daley Center and has never been displayed anywhere else. For this reason alone, you need to snap a shot of this one-of-a-kind statue. Plus, how many museums let you take photos of Picasso’s work? Daley Plaza is on the Loop, near a number of popular Chicago attractions, so it’s a good central place to start your day.
4. Sue the Dinosaur at The Field Museum
As one of the finest natural history museums in the country, The Field Museum certainly has plenty of things to photograph. But museums are often known for one iconic piece or exhibit, and Sue the Dinosaur is that mascot for the Field Museum. She’s actually a T. Rex, and is the largest and best-preserved example of her species ever to be uncovered. While we don’t actually know the gender of the skeleton, it was named Sue after her discoverer, Sue Hendrickson. A shot of Sue is post-card territory.
5. The Chicago Tribune Tower
The home of the Chicago Tribune, this neo-Gothic building is regarded as one of the city’s architectural masterpieces. It was built in 1922 as the winning entry in a competition to create the most unique office building in the world – an honor it arguably still holds. There are some gorgeous details on the ground floor, including the engraving and stonework around the doors, but the best shots come from afar. Stand on a nearby bridge across the Chicago River, or take an Architecture River Cruise to get the inside scoop in addition to the photo op.
6. The Chicago Skyline
This may seem like a big giant “duh,” but it needed to be said. Along with New York and San Francisco, Chicago is one of the most famous skylines in the nation. Of course, it can be hard to get a good shot of the city when you’re standing in the middle of Randolph Street, so I’d recommend giving yourself a bit of distance. The steps of the Adler Planetarium actually provide an excellent view of the Skyline from multiple angles, with the Museum Campus located just far enough away from downtown to provide that extra bit of perspective.
7. The Lurie Garden
A lesser-known botanical garden in the Chicago area, the Lurie Garden is the perfect place to take photos of a wide variety of plant and wildlife. It was designed to demonstrate the ways in which urban spaces could be re-claimed to provide healthy habitats for local flora and fauna. The Garden is located in Millennium Park, and is free to the public. There’s even a small, cool stream that’s perfect to dip your toes in on a hot summer day. A good place to practice taking photographs with your macro mode turned on.
8. The Storefronts along the Magnificent Mile
The Magnificent Mile, several blocks along Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River to Oak Street, is the fashion and shopping capitol of the Midwest. You’ll be able to find everything from H&M to Neiman Marcus, in addition to restaurants, gourmet food stores, and home furnishing stores. The best part from the photographer’s perspective is that each and every one of these stores is competing for the attention of tourists and locals alike, and so they spend a tremendous amount of time and artistic effort in making their storefronts attractive and unique. Even the Target has a visually stunning storefront! It’s a fun place to snap pictures of what is essentially public visual art.
9. Wrigley Field
As the second-oldest baseball stadium in the country, Wrigley Field is a historical institution. It has been home to the Chicago Cubs since 1916, and much of the exterior architecture reflects its heritage. Of course, a lot of the interior has been updated very recently to accommodate modern MLB standards, but plenty of historical elements remain — including the old fashioned scoreboard on the side, proclaiming your presence in Wrigley Field. Even if you’re not a Cubs fan, it’s an iconic building in American professional sports.
10. Lake Michigan
The second largest Great Lake, Lake Michigan is actually so large you can’t see the other side (it even has tides!). So taking a picture can be a bit intimidating in terms of choosing your angle, say, on a beach. I’ve tried and it kind of just looks like an ocean. I’ve got a solution for you – go higher up. One of the best places to get a shot of Lake Michigan is from the top of the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. The wheel intentionally moves slowly enough to allow riders to take shots of the city, the Pier, and the Lake itself, so it’s the perfect opportunity to get one of those glittering lakeview shots.