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Where to take the best photos in Chicago

Find the perfect backdrop that isn’t an overrun tourist trap

The exterior of a parking garage in Chicago. The walls are curved and each level is open. Shutterstock

Chicago’s iconic skyscrapers and clear lakefront make it an incredibly photogenic city. Even our L stations—designed by local architects and outfitted with murals and mosaics—have become Instagram stars.

If you’re seeking something off the beaten path though, look no further. Places like The Bean in Millennium Park and the spot underneath the red marquee at Wrigley Field are iconic and in-demand backdrops for first-time visitors. Although, if you’re searching for a good shot without also stumbling into a tourist trap we’ve got a solid list of locations below.

Here’s a tip for the developing architectural photographer: Those aerial photos of downtown L stations and cityscapes are often taken from the top of parking garages.

Franklin Street Bridge

From here if you look east on the river, you’ll see the Wells Street bridge, the Brown Line train, the well-known Marina Towers, historic Carbide & Carbon building, and the red brick Reid, Murdoch & Co. building. There are so many Chicago hallmarks in one view—plus the digital installation Art on the Mart. It’s hard to find a more accessible place for such a stellar shot.

Washington/Wabash CTA station

There are lots of photo opportunities near the Washington/Wabash station in the Loop. Here you’ll be able to witness what Instagram has dubbed #chicagohenge—that perfect, golden hour moment where you can see the sunset between the Loop’s towering high-rises. Set in the historic Jeweler’s Row district, the station has an industrial staircase with colorful train lines listed on each step and an architectural wave-like canopy. Nearby is the glittery Chicago theater sign, State Street, and Millennium Park.

Milton Lee Olive Park

This park is a favorite spot for wedding and engagement photo sessions. I mean, we get it, the backdrop is hard to resist. You could get similar shots from Navy Pier or Adler Planetarium, but there’s something special about this Dan Kiley-designed park. Just take a look at the the rows of honey locust trees, the new view of the lake and skyline, and, on the other side, Navy Pier’s Centennial Wheel.

Garfield Park Conservatory

Year round, especially in winter, this is a popular retreat. The conservatory has a lush palm atrium, an arid desert room, and seasonal flower shows—a ton of different areas for both portraits or macro photography. Don’t forget, there’s also 12 acres of outdoor gardens surrounding the glass conservatory.

Ping Tom Memorial Park

Ping Tom Memorial Park offers amazing views of the city from the south. The 18th Street bridge is an epic spot to capture the skyline and sunsets. Wandering throughout the park, it won’t be hard to find scenic spots along the river or frame some creative shots at the red pergola or blue floral mural.

Chicago Cultural Center

There’s truly nothing like the Chicago Cultural Center—it’s worthy of more than just a single day’s visit. But if you must be selective, head to Preston Bradley Hall. The thick marble staircases, intricate mosaics, bronze details, giant floor-to-ceiling arched windows, and the breathtaking Tiffany dome won’t disappoint.

The Rookery building

It’s hard to resist snapping a photo of the light court and winding staircases in this Loop landmark. Built in 1888 and just 12 stories, it’s one of Chicago’s longest-standing high-rises. The original design was by Burnham & Root, and the lobby was later redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright. The FLW Trust offers tours of the building so you can get up close to the wrought-iron details and take a peek at the semi-private library.

South Shore Cultural Center

A former country club now managed by the Parks District, the stunning Mediterranean Revival architecture offers endless photo opportunities. Designed by the firm Marshall and Fox, who are responsible for the Drake Hotel and other luxury buildings in Chicago, it features an ornate interior with elaborate tilework, large chandeliers, and highly embellished crown molding. Aside from the beautiful building, it’s location is right on the lakefront and sits next to a woodsy nature preserve which is perfect for a change of scenery.