Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile
Camera: Olympus OM-D, EM-1 Mirrorless
Lens: Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO Lens (80-300mm 35mm equiv.)
Aperture: Setting: f/2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/60th
White Balance: 6000K
Camera Mode: Aperture Priority
Rebecca and I love to approach our photo shoots with preconceived concepts. The main photo in this series we captured on Michigan Avenue, also known as the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago, a day after my photography workshop. Earlier in the day we witnessed a wedding photographer use the same location and asked ourselves, why not? The shots on the “cement island” were all taken in less than 15 minutes as the Golden Hour came to an end.
The Story Behind The Photo
It was Rebecca’s first trip to Chicago and our Friday mid-afternoon flights landed many hours late due to weather, so Friday became a long day for us and when Saturday came early, it was photography workshop time, all day long. The workshop finally ended and little did we know it was the “Chicago Air and Water Show” weekend, but it was—traffic downtown, especially on Michigan Avenue, was worse than a pissed off hornet’s nest and we were headed straight to it.
“Are you tired?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“Would you like to postpone this evening’s downtown shoot until tomorrow?”
She smiled. I knew the answer. It was time for dinner down Michigan Avenue at Bandera’s.
Sunday arrived and we walked to the Navy Pier to grab some lunch and saw the jets and airplanes whizzing and zooming overhead while hundreds of boats filled Lake Michigan along the immediate shoreline. At one point the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachuted in as we waited to board the Navy Pier Centennial Wheel, a new Ferris wheel that opened to the public in May 2016. It was Rebecca’s first Ferris wheel ride ever.
“Did you like it?”
“Yes, that was high.”
“Are you ready for the jellybean?”
Obviously the invigorating 196-foot sky-high wheel ride was over, and so we headed over to Millennium Park to check out the “Cloud Gate” sculpture I like to call the shiny metal jellybean. Once we arrived, we walked past the Crown Fountain that sports two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool.
“Do you want to walk through the water for a shot?”
She did not smile. I knew the answer. We continued to walk and we finally found the giant jellybean.
“Let me take a photo of you next too it, everybody does it.”
She smiled. I took the photo as we both fought the crowd of people and then everyone stopped in their tracks as the Air Force Thunderbirds roared right overhead in a diamond formation with their F-16C Fighting Falcons.
“It would’ve been cool if you had caught their reflection on the bean while you took the photo.”
I did not smile. I had broken an old photography rule from my NBA shooting days, never get caught up in the game or you’ll miss the shot. I had missed the shot of capturing the Thunderbirds reflection on the bean—no excuse, we heard them approaching. By then we’d walked almost two miles and decided to head back to our temporary headquarters to get ready for a little fashion street photography during the Golden Hour which was closing in on our day.
As we exited Millennium Park, with the rock band Wilco conducting a sound check at the Pritzker Pavillion, we witnessed a streetcar trolley filled with a wedding party stop in front of us. The bride and groom jumped out and followed their wedding photographer. I told Rebecca, “Let’s see where they are going, obviously that photographer knows a great location.” She smiled.
Luckily the location was in the direction we were headed on Michigan Avenue, also known as the Magnificent Mile, and some people even call it Fashion Avenue with all the clothing stores that line the street. I wanted to call it the Marathon Mile because Rebecca and I would still have to walk another mile to get back to our HQ.
Sure enough, we caught up to the wedding photographer and he had the matrimonial couple standing on an “island” sidewalk that runs right down the middle of Michigan Avenue between traffic. Wow, what a cool idea I thought, though I’ve shot something similar before, I looked at Rebecca and said, “Guess what we’re coming back to do?” She smiled.
A few hours later, we first went and shot at the Buckingham Fountain located in Grant Park, thanks to photographer KC Mui’s suggestion—he’s a great Chicago and Hong Kong photographer plus friend that always helps and his suggestions always work.
After about 15-minutes of taking photos it was time to move to a new location, the Golden Hour doesn’t wait plus Rebecca was wearing heels. I pointed out the public bathroom where she could change her outfit there at Grant Park and I told her I was going to flag down a human-pedal-powered buggy to take us to Millennium Park were we’d grab a few jellybean shots. She smiled.
In less than ten minutes we arrived at Millennium Park, found the famous metallic jellybean, took our photos amongst the crowd, then walked toward Michigan Avenue and found our cement island in the middle of bidirectional streams of traffic and we began to shoot away as the Golden Hour began to lose it’s brilliance as it fell behind the fortress of skyscrapers.
Rebecca and I have shot together now for some time so we are quick to capture our photos; besides, I didn’t want the local enforcement people asking for a photography permit as I’m sure it’s required in downtown Chicago. I hollered and motioned at Rebecca that it was time to go—she smiled.
I knew her dogs were barking in those heels as my feet were howling louder than wolves, so I haled a cab. She smiled.
“What are you hungry for?”
“Italian food, remember that restaurant we saw on our way back from Whole Foods on Saturday?”
“Yes, it was called the Volare,” I told her, and then I told the cabbie to take us to the Volare on Grand Avenue, less than a half mile, but worth the five-buck cab ride. She smiled.
As we ate our Sardinia, Italy styled dinner entrée, we looked at the Olympus E-M1 LCD screen and reviewed the images and upon finishing our meal we returned to the command post where we began our downloading of images into Adobe Lightroom followed by postproduction in Adobe Photoshop—and you saw those photos first on Facebook within hours.
The main challenge was exhaustion of our feet, and I’m always kidding Rebecca how this former U.S. Army soldier has more energy than she does, but as a former basketball player, she hung in there just fine. One thing about Rebecca, she’s always willing to get the concept done—and we’re more photography concept focused than ever before.
The other challenge was to work fast for two reasons, one, the Golden Hour only stays golden for an hour and we had to cover three locations, the Buckingham Fountain, the Cloud Gate, or oversized metal jellybean, plus the Michigan Avenue island in the middle of traffic—plus all the walking in between and she wore heels!
But we did it because the more a photographer works with a model, the better the both of you know what to expect from each other. In fact, Rebecca couldn’t hear me, or the camera with all the traffic noise on Michigan Avenue, but she was able to pose, hold it for a few seconds and change her pose for my next shot, almost as though she could read my mind, and she wore heels!
I cannot stress the importance of working with a model as often as you can so your creativity can “grow together” for amazing results. Yes, it’s not always easy with different schedules, but with commitment on both sides, you’ll get it done.
The other challenge is keeping your lens focused on the model’s eyes—in this case Rebecca’s eyes. Here again is where the mirrorless camera has advantages over a typical DSLR, specifically better focusing and sharp focusing at any pixel point, from the sensors edge to edge. The Olympus E-M1 also has face recognition focus tracking directly on the capture sensor.
As I’ve said before, I wish I had this in the five years I photographed NBA basketball—following any NBA player in action and keeping your camera lens focused becomes a breeze with this focusing technology; it blows DSLR’s away.
Getting The Exposure Correct
I normally shoot manual, including manually setting the shutter speed, aperture, and white balance, but since I began using the Olympus mirrorless system almost two years ago, I let the camera do the work. Why waste time if the camera is that good?
This camera is amazing on how well it actually works in almost any automated mode especially with auto ISO. Plus, when you stand in the middle of Michigan Avenue, you have to work fast. You also don’t want to kill the momentum of your shoot by stopping after every frame to make camera adjustments.
Technology for automation today is great, why not? However, I’ll stress, don’t forget the basics and fundamentals, plus understand what you are doing in your specific situation and what you will allow the camera to do for you. We grabbed our photos in less than ten minutes, and she wore heels!
If you noticed, I shot at “aperture priority” mode, not fully automatic or program mode. I wanted to ensure that I could capture the scene with a shallow depth of field. Concepts don’t become reality if you don’t know how to execute them, even when working with automation technology.