Nicholas at Dusk
This is one of the most widely ordered prints here at Comeback Charlie. It's a long exposure featuring Nicholas Conservatory in Rockford, Illinois, and it was made with a Canon 5D Mark III and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens during blue hour on a cool summer night.
Before the Rain (No. 3 in the "Rock Cut" Series)
This photograph is the third in the Rock Cut series featuring Rock Cut State Park in Loves Park, Illinois. It was made a few moments before a light rainstorm and layer of fog engulfed the area. The bridge, which at the time was broken, leads out over a picturesque marsh that provides nature-lovers with a breathtaking view of Pierce Lake.
Tinker Swiss Cottage No. 3
Robert H. Tinker built this Swiss Cottage in 1865 after traveling to Europe. It's not only a landmark in Rockford, Illinois, it's one of the most beautiful homes I've ever seen. This photograph was made on foggy winter morning in late December. I spent a few minutes walking around the house to try and find a unique angle from which to photograph it. I eventually decided to plant my feet firmly in the snow leading down to the water and line everything up according to my usual methodology. Set the camera to burst mode, fired three shots, and much to my surprise, the third exposure turned out to be the sharpest.
The Magnetic Properties of Light (Vagabond Clouds No. 2)
This is one my most ambitious and awe-inspiring photographs to date. It's a staggered time-lapse consisting of 1139 individual images made over the course of 150 minutes on a cold and windy Fall morning in downtown Rockford, Illinois. It took months of waiting for the perfect weather, two and a half hours to photograph, and over a dozen hours to edit in post-production. Seeing as how I'll probably never be able to make a more beautiful photograph of Rockford in my lifetime, I'd say it was worth the effort.
Specifically created to be printed on metal, this photograph features a magnificent view of downtown Chicago on a warm, Autumn afternoon. If this finished print appears to have a vintage aesthetic, it's because I've altered the colors and grain structure to closely mimic Autochromes from the early 20th century.
Long Night's Journey Into Day
The Adler Planetarium is one of Chicago's most visited tourist attractions. Photographers, like myself, especially love the views of Chicago's skyline provided to us from the planetarium's vantage point. The morning I made my trek out to the planetarium can best be described as a traditional Chicago morning: extremely cold, and extremely windy. To ensure camera shake wasn't an issue, I made five exposures of Chicago's skyline shortly before dawn. After zooming in on them on my LCD screen, I knew this particular photograph was the winner. It's almost as if the city's skyline is sandwiched between two heavenly bodies of silky smooth liquid.
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Long exposure of the Chicago River appearing to wash away the reflections of the lights from the Michigan Avenue Bridge. It could be argued that the bridge's lights are the dripping paint to the Chicago River's beautiful, flowing canvas.
My Blueberry Nights
I decided to photograph Chicago's skyline from both the Willis Tower Skydeck and Hancock Observatory on the same muggy night in early June. My first stop was the Skydeck where I quickly made my way to the windows facing Lake Shore Drive. Only problem was, there were already people lined up against the windows and they weren't moving. Not wanting to be rude, I didn't squeeze myself in, but rather waited for an opportunity to park myself as close to the window as possible. It's now twenty minutes later and the sun has already fallen well below the horizon. Which isn't a bad thing, seeing as how some of the most beautiful natural colors occur during blue hour. After an excrutiatingly long wait, I managed to carve out a small spot for myself near the corner of the building. Not having a tripod meant I was going to have to rest my camera against the window and hold my coat over it to ensure there were no reflections in the image. After making nine long exposures, I decided it was time to make way to the Hancock Observatory before it closed. Before I left the Willis Tower Skydeck, however, I took a couple minutes to soak in the views. Amazing. Truly amazing.
This is a fine art photograph of a defensive rock formation at low tide. Because my street photographs at the time were getting a little too loosey-goosey in terms of composition, I decided to start using a tripod for all my images. It made a world of difference. As for this particular image, what drew me to this rock formation was the fact that these rocks looked like the kind of dorsal fins you'd see on sharks. I was truly mesmerized by the ebb and flow of the tide cascading over them. Knowing how long exposures give liquid a silky texture, I decided to try some 20-30 second exposures with the help of a variable neutral density filter. Because I was using a telephoto lens, I had to use manual focus to make sure my depth of field was deep enough to cover the rocks, but still shallow enough to keep the water a little out of focus. Knowing this image would eventually be made into a fine art print to hang on someone's wall, I never ventured above f/16. (My telephoto lens is sharpest between f/11 and f/16.) After I got the image back in post-production, I adjusted the curves and added an almost imperceptible vignette to lead viewers' eyes to the center of the rock formation.
This fine art photograph features a gorgeous, calming creek bed at sunrise on an unusually cold March morning. What drew my attention to this particular patch of rocks was the perfect distribution of reflected light on the slow-moving current; it begins with heavy shadows on the left and slowly builds up to a crescendo of highlights in the upper right hand corner. Simply put, this print is as close to perfect as one could possibly hope for.
This grand cityscape features an L train thundering across the Wells Street Bridge at sunset. No city, save perhaps New York, is as exciting in the summer as Chicago, Illinois. In order to convey the excitement and energy of downtown Chicago, a long exposure technique was needed to blur both the train and the boats on the river. As for available print options, there's only float mounted metal prints because paper doesn't do this photograph justice. (The 24 x 36 print with a satin finish will no doubt be a conversation starter at your next dinner party.)
For quite some time, this long exposure of the L snaking its way through downtown Chicago in the middle of the night was the crown jewel in my Chicago at Night collection. I'm not someone who enjoys looking at their own photographs, but this one? I could stare at it all day. As for the actual making of it, the story isn't very interesting. I was walking past the Merchandise Mart just after midnight when I noticed a familiar green parking sign. (Funny thing is, all the parking signs look familiar.) To me, parking garage signs in Chicago scream, "There's an awesome view of the city at the top!" But the view from the top of this particular parking garage was truly breathtaking. Obviously, I was beyond excited to photograph the city from this vantage point. I ended up making two awesome photographs, one titled "Night Moves," and the other, "Tangerine Dream." The title for this photograph is based on music playing during the opening credits of 1983's Risky Business. The credit sequence features an establishing shot of an L train slowly moving through the city. It's a hypnotic sequence with gorgeous '80s synth by... you guessed it. Tangerine Dream.
Candles & Mirrors
This street photograph features sentient statues at sunrise in Chicago's Millennium Park. More than anything, this photograph speaks to the human condition. I know this because I see myself in every single one of these statues... and maybe you do as well.
As much as I'd love to tell you I reflected deeply on this photograph before making it, I can't. I simply aimed the camera upward, placed the Sears Tower in the corner of the frame, and fired... out of boredom. It was only when I got home and imported my images for the day into post-production did I realize how exceptional and imposing this view of the Sears Tower turned out to be. And that happens. Sometimes I work really hard to make a beautiful photograph that's ultimately pedestrian. And other times I merely point the camera upward and fire. With photography, a lot of it has to do with luck, and being in the right place at the right time.
While making candid street photographs on a freezing November afternoon, I walked by this abandoned building and jumped as high as I could to get a clean look inside. As soon as I saw the white chair sitting alone in front of the window, I instantly felt a huge rush of familiarity. Who had been sitting there? Where did they go? Are they ever coming back? I slapped a circular polarizer on my lens to cut through the reflections, put the camera up to the window, and pressed the shutter release. I checked my LCD screen... Ellipsis.
Brainwashed No. 3
Inspired by Andreas Gursky's Untitled VI, this is less of a photograph and more of a multi-layered commentary on government propaganda, appropriation art, and artists, like MBW, who have managed to capitalize on so-called "street art." The image of Uncle Sam featured here is part of a mural on Lake Shore Drive. I altered the color codes of the original painting in order to get viewers to ask themselves, "Is this a photograph of another artist's work, or is this in fact an original piece of satire by a completely different artist?"
The best places for street photography are areas of Chicago with heavy foot traffic. Though known for being a tourist trap, I decided Navy Pier would be my best bet in terms of making a high concentration of images in a small area. My choice would pay off. It was a visual smorgasbord of interesting scenes, however, the image featured above was probably the most memorable. At first glance, these women seemed to be doing nothing out of the ordinary. Upon noticing one of them was barefoot, I knew I had to circle back around to get a shot. The afternoon sun was incredibly bright, which meant they had no way of noticing me as I got down on one knee to make this intimate photograph. Upon seeing the negative a few days later, I knew I'd captured a wonderfully authentic moment.
After hours of walking around the Loop, I decided to head back down Michigan Avenue one last time before the sun went down. It was a chilly day in mid-March, but I was probably the happiest man in the entire city. For whatever reason, I was seeing street scenes moments before they happened, and this one was no different. These two men were shielding themselves from the fierce winds outside the famous Allsaints when I noticed how cool (and cold) they looked. I noticed one of them had a pack of Marlboros in their hand, which meant they were going to light up at any moment. As soon as the guy in the black jacket lit his cigarette, I backtracked, aimed, and fired. As long as I didn't damage or lose the film on my way home, I knew this would be a keeper. And it was.
Into the Fray
This 35mm photograph features the Hancock building as seen from Michigan Avenue near Wacker Drive. The crowd of people on either side of the street are headed towards the Chicago River to see it dyed green for St. Patrick's Day. Because the degree of difficulty wasn't particularly high, I mentally dismissed this photograph. Upon closer inspection months later, I realized it was an exceptionally sharp, interesting photograph of downtown Chicago during the St. Patrick's Day parade. (Most unusual was the fact that the Hancock building was rendered partially invisible by the fog.)
This 35mm black and white street photograph features North State Street and the Chicago Theatre as seen from the Randolph/Wabash elevated train station.
Brickbats & Fire Escapes
Making 35mm street photographs in Chicago is what I do best. On this particular day, however, I managed to get five exceptional shots on the same roll of Fuji Superia 400 film. This one might have been the most difficult because the scene was almost impossible to meter. Bright sunlight on the far end of the alley and heavy shadows in the front. Luckily, I knew the settings for this kind of shot by heart - f/5.6, 1/60 sec, ISO 400 film pushed to 800. I quickly dialed my camera in to those settings and waited for the man to walk into the right part of the frame.
This 35mm photograph was made on a cold but sunny November afternoon. I remember this because the sunset that day was incredibly beautiful. Shortly after the sun fell below the horizon, I noticed the Rock River had a beautiful Sky and Alice blue patina. Because I didn't want to waste a 35mm exposure on anything too vanilla, I looked around for something to juxtapose and that's when I saw these beautiful tree branches hanging over the river. I stepped out onto a small rock formation, dialed in the right settings, held my breath, and fired.
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