My recent trip to Chicago was made with one very specific image in mind, that spectacular city skyline reflected in the waters of Lake Michigan. The city has an almost perfect vantage point to make the shot from, the retaining wall to the north of the Alder Planetarium on South Lake Shore Drive. There are numerous points along the wall where an image might be made, great transport links to the site and wide flat walkways on which to place a tripod, a photographer couldn't ask for more really (although we know we always do)
There are a few things that can be problematic, boat traffic is frequent as 'skyline viewing' trips circle the area. The path on which you are standing is often overwashed by the wake from the boats, I found wearing a pair of trainers (sneakers) with good grip and just ignoring the ankle deep water was the easiest solution to this at the time, had I known about the 'wake issue' I would still choose this method rather than waterproof boots. There is a higher vantage point beside the pathway which remains dry but that changes the length of the reflection and was not the image I wanted to make, so wet feet it was, and on a late summer evening it presented no hardship.
The next issue is focal length, for me personally 28mm is the one I preferred out of the numerous focal lengths I tried (on a full frame 5D Mk IV). At 20mm the skyline was too distant and even though 20mm brought in more of the skyline it was too small in the frame for the image I required. Don't get me wrong, the 20mm shot would still be excellent if cropped for a header on a web page for example, but that was not my goal, I've included a 20mm shot below so you can see the scene in full. The large blue light on the left of shot is the Chicago Aquarium and the narrow light on the far right is the ferris wheel on Navy Pier 1.8 miles (2.8km) to the north. In the centre of that image you can see the main skyline with beautiful colours reflected, for me that section is the image I want to make.
I switched my lens and tightened the frame before shooting three consecutive 20 second shots each overlapping about a third of the skyline. It is possible to fit the whole skyline in at 28mm but it didn't suit the image shape I wanted to make. There is an issue to remember when shooting a panorama from this location, the perspective. The skyline is running away from you quite significantly so you do need to make sure you angle the tripod (making it slightly unlevel) to make the finished image appear level, shooting a little wider than required allows cropping to ensure you get the horizon perfectly straight when processing.
Ultimately I came home with a good selection of images at differing focal lengths and more importantly, that one spectacular, colourful skyline I set out to capture.
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