Chicago v Nature

Shooting, editing and looking over my images from Sutro Baths has me itching for more landscape work. Don’t be mistaken, I adore shooting my Urban Life collection and it will always be my first love. But now and again, there is something about nature’s expanse that just … it just draws you in.

It’s something that words cannot describe. Seeing mother nature in her full form, its just one of those thoughts that brings chills to my arms.

As I share my recent shots on the bay, I find myself looking back over my landscape work from the past year and a half and reminiscing on the world around me at those times. Which brings me to my dear old “Chicago v Nature” (AKA: “Leviathan”) piece. I still feel this to be my flagship photo. I see it as a perfect mix of timing, weather, access and what processing ability I have. This photo is also the most viewed, most awarded and most sold of my collection and what a proud papa I am.

During my time in Chicago, I worked in a very tall twin tower building out near the O’Hare airport. In that particular neighborhood (edge of the city), residential homes and suburbia architecture begin to form and very few mid-rises can found, each rather sprinkled about.

My particular building stood 12 stories up and I had a key to the boiler up top. What sweet bliss for a shooter. Hell, while I worked there I had multiple photographers come in the office to gain permission to the roof. I myself turned away a couple. Looking back, I do wish I could have let them (safety policies and all that), because the view should be experienced by many more artists. But alas, I had the bittersweet advantage of being the only photographer who could actually go up at will. Such cruel bliss, 😉

From up top, there’s an unobstructed NW to SE view of downtown seen from an often unused flatland foreground. Think about all the Chicago photos out there. Most are from the lake side with pretty water rippling in the foreground. This are always astounding, but I’ve noticed few from the alternate side. I see now why this is. From up there, there are few places for such a high view and even less opportunity available to access them.

I must admit, a sizable reason why… its dicey up there. I mean, really dicey up there. It’s 120` in the air and no side rails to keep you from catching a major gust and dropping to the pavement below. I had recently acquired a beast of a Bogen tripod. A 20lb-er that rested like a ship anchor. Its not an easy feat getting that monster up there, but it also acted as a nice way to stay upright in that Chicago wind. As I was leaving work around 6pm, I found the day to be gorgeous, the weather was bearable (brisk September chill in the air) and noticed some cloud formations coming over the city from afar. I thought of my new (old) Bogen in the trunk and the boiler hatch to the roof. So off I went, with gear in hand, straight to the top.

I remember running into some people in the elevator on their way home, asking me what I was doing. “Just grabbing some photos,” was all I could say through an immense yearning to reach my perch before the clouds carried past. I blazed through the hatch, fingers crossed I hadn’t missed it and grinned in glee as I realized they were still a few minutes from hanging over how the area of the city I desired. Plenty of time to get anchored in and dial in my settings.

Plenty of time in normal conditions, of course. But these proved, not so normal. It took a bit more time, with the wind blowing as if I had pissed off nature and dueling with a rather intense state of vertigo. Thankfully I got my stride just in time, firing off a series of images from different zooms, angles and moments. As a post-shooter, I knew what I wanted, but wasn’t sure from what I could get it. So the more images of a quickly lost moment, the better.

After the clouds passed by and my fear of the edge subsided. I fired off a few more angles of imagery, one of which is the self portrait found in my “About & Contact” tab above. Soon I got bored, packed up and headed on down. My excitement beginning to build yet again, this time yearning for my computer. I sped home and dove in. I believe I spent that entire evening, eliminating the junk until I was left with the right frame and frantically poured through my editing process. With the power of Lightroom and Nik Software (I love you Silver Efex Pro), I finally sat in front of the image from my mind.

I believe this particular piece to be my favorite example of successfully matching what I see in my mind while flipping the shutter with the reality of what my computer screen shows.

Anyway, there you have it. The background story of my best image to date. Happy shooting you dreamers out there and Happy New Year!