I recently made a weekend trip to Chicago on a pilgrimage of sorts to see Michael Kenna’s exhibition at a gallery there. Michael Kenna is one of my photography heroes. Of course, I took my Hasselblad and a handful of film along as well and managed to do some shooting when I wasn’t perusing Kenna’s work in raptured ecstasy.
After developing my film there were a few images I was really happy with. I know when I see others’ photographs it’s always interesting (if not helpful as well!) to hear some background about the image along with the settings and equipment used. So I thought for this tutorial I would share a bit more about my experience shooting these images from Chicago, in hopes that even if it isn’t helpful, it might at least be interesting (or vice versa…)!
Chicago is a city known for its architecture, both old and modern, and the Lake Point Tower is a prime example of the modern. Standing beneath it, I was struck by its pleasing curves, simple lines, and the checkered pattern created by apartment blinds being open or closed. The sun was getting low this Friday afternoon, giving me some really nice natural shadows and highlights on the building’s surface. The composition was simple, but I wanted to simplify it further by smoothing out the texture in the clouds using a long exposure. I did a few different compositions, but I like the way this one emphasizes the curves of the building’s top against the highlights in the sky!
If you’ve ever been to Navy Pier, you’ll know that the Ferris Wheel is a prominent feature there. Walking down the pier on the south side, I saw this composition accentuated by the curves of the railing in the foreground. I set up my tripod almost at ground level to get the low angle I wanted.
The biggest challenge with this photo was that it was a weekend afternoon, and the pier was crawling with crowds of people. In particular, there was a group of high school students who were having a great time climbing the wall in the bottom right corner and taking goofy group photos on the stairs in the bottom left. Endearing as it was, I didn’t want them in my photo. So instead of ruining their fun and asking them to move, I thought I would try a long exposure to make them disappear, and, as a bonus, see what kind of affect a long exposure had on a moving Ferris Wheel. The result was pretty cool. And if you look closely on the stairs in the bottom left of the photo, those high school students still managed to make a blurry appearance despite my best efforts.
The Chicago River Walk offers a great view of some Chicago’s most iconic architectural landmarks. One of these is the Langham Hotel. Looking up from the base of the Langham, I loved the dark lines stretching upwards, all converging on a distinct point in the sky. Although the building is rectangular, I was able to compose it in such a way that the rooftop and right edge appear parallel, creating a more triangular shape. The presence of the Trump Tower in the top right provided a nice balance to the composition.
My vision for this shot included the streaking clouds, and so a long exposure was exactly what I needed! Lucky for me, the Windy City lived up to its name on this Sunday afternoon, and the sky was full of fast moving fluffy white clouds. When there is a mix of blue sky and white clouds, a red filter is really helpful in creating more contrast in the sky and definition in the streaks, and that with a 10 stop ND filter was enough to give me the exposure time I needed for this effect.
Although there were a lot of clouds, I still needed to wait for the “right clouds” before I triggered the shutter. This is where long exposure requires a little bit of vision, since you can’t see the final result until you’ve developed your film. Basically I wanted a good balance of clouds moving throughout the frame. I also noticed that when the clouds passed over the top of the Langham, their reflection created some really nice highlights around the “point,” so I wanted to include this in my shot.
I was half way into one exposure when I realized that the clouds weren’t right, but the one’s that were fast approaching looked perfect. So I stopped my initial exposure halfway (disregarding the wasted frame), and reset for the clouds that were coming. This is the resulting shot, and I must say it was exactly how I envisioned it!