This post is aimed to inform clients on different locations available around Chicago for a family photography session. I’ve been photographing families around the Chicago area since 2011, and I’ve learned a lot over the years about how to navigate the increasingly more crowded areas chosen for a photography session. As our great city of Chicago has fallen into deeper and deeper financial issues, more and more parks around Chicago are charging photographers to use the space. Unfortunately, no “season pass” is available for the parks. Instead, it is a per-client hourly charge that is usually enforced. Please ask me about this when suggesting different locations around the area. My clients are by no means obligated to select the below locations; they are just examples of how the location can set the mood and vibe for your family.
Lincoln Park Boardwalk
For my downtown clients, the number one most requested location is the Lincoln Park Boardwalk on a weekend morning. This spot is lovely, with views of the city, the pond in the middle, the iconic honeycomb and a winding boardwalk amongst tall prairie grass. Given it’s popularity, on a Saturday morning in October, if the weather is nice, you can find anywhere from 20-50 photographers fighting for a spot between family and wedding photography. I am unfortunately not exaggerating.
Photography sessions are stressful enough for families…it is hard to get your entire family dressed, looking great, prepped to be in a good mood and out the door on-time. Mixing all of those variables with a location that is over-saturated is just not worth it in my opinion, which is why I will never recommend this location on a weekend. Over my six years of experience, I have found that location sets the mood for the entire session. If we can find a spot that is beautiful but less crowded, it allows for children to roam free a bit and be themselves. If time is spent finding the “perfect square foot spot” that is free from crowds, kids (and dads) get grumpy, and over the session VERY quickly. My number one priority is for my clients to have a smooth session and be happy with their memories. I don’t feel like I can provide the best service possible when I’m stressed out about finding “the one spot”.
I DO however love this location during the week! It is quite beautiful in the summer and autumn months. It is best early in the AM or in the evening about an hour and a half before sunset.
Cafe Brauer (Surrounding area)
Much like the boardwalk, this area can be really crowded on the weekends as well, which is why I also suggest only booking here during the week. With the farmers market on Saturday mornings, the park and the surrounding area just gets incredibly congested. In the spring, there are usually beautiful blossoming trees around Cafe Brauer, that can be a gorgeous backdrop!
Chicago History Museum
Unlike the popular surrounding areas, the Chicago History Museum is not usually thought about for a session location. There are pretty flowers in the summer and autumn months, and the building itself is quite beautiful. The stone path offers beautiful leading lines that can create some gorgeous imagery.
Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond
The lily pond has been my hidden secret for years, although it is quickly developing a reputation. The park district now charges per session held at this gorgeous location. Much like its other Lincoln Park counterparts, I highly recommend only coming here during the week. It is lush and green and offers a beautiful, intimate backdrop for your memories.
This is one of my favorite spots to shoot at in Lincoln Park. It has gorgeous wildflowers in the summer months and in the evening, the sunsets over the pond in the most magical way. It’s a little piece of nature hidden within our beautiful city. Most of the traffic around the area are walkers, with an end destination, making it easier to avoid crowds. Given the location, evening hours work best, about 1 1/2 or 2 hours before sunset ideally.
I love Montrose Harbor for photography sessions. There is a great mix of grass, skyline, bird sanctuary and beach. Depending on what is desired, you can usually find it here at this gorgeous location. The only downfall is the parking situation. It is first come and can get quite busy in the summer months as beach volleyball is played there, boaters dock there and they are always having festivities. I have found early in the morning is usually the best time to avoid the high volume of people visiting.
North Avenue Beach
North Avenue beach in Chicago is a great backdrop for photos if you pick the right time of day. Otherwise, there is no shade and the sun can be problematic. The best time is in the evening, an hour before sunset, especially if a city landscape is desired. In the summer months, there are volleyball games played on the beach, so parking can be tough. I often park at the zoo, and walk across the bridge to get to the beach. This family below did not want the skyline, so this is an example of the beach in the morning with no shade. Almost looks tropical 🙂
Cancer Survivors Park
Maggie Daley park opened about two years ago and it is an unbelievable playground. Luckily, the cancer survivors park remains intact and the beautiful arches went untouched. If you live on the east side of the river, this location can be great for a little grassy spot for pictures. It also lends itself for some urban photos as well, capturing a nice variety.
Chicago Lurie’s Garden
The garden area around the Modern Art Museum in Millennium Park can be incredibly gorgeous for pictures. The city has planted beautiful flowers on the north side by the diagonal walkway and by the fish. It has a prairie type feel, in the middle of a sea of tall buildings in the background. As expected, this can get very crowded. Weeknights work best if choosing this location.
Art Museum South Garden
Downtown just south of the Art Institute lives an enchanting english garden. In the summer months, it is covered with an umbrella of green and has a beautiful enchanting fountain. The traffic hear varies from tourists to students looking for a study break. It is surprisingly a hidden secret usually used by wedding photographers on Saturdays. I have had several successful sessions here during the week, in the evening hours when the tourists are out to dinner and the work commuters are on their way home.
Nestled in the heart of north center, just north of Lawrence road lives an adorable park called “Winnemac Park”. There is a school attached, as well as baseball fields and a dog running area. Along the south west side of the park is a beautiful prairie path that is anchored with gorgeous willow trees. This is one of my favorite neighborhood spots to visit, especially in the autumn.
City Sidewalks (yes… for real)
The sidewalks around the city are often not thought about as a great option for family photos. They are in fact some of my favorite places to go! Especially if clients want a studio session or a session in their home, jumping outside on the sidewalk is a great way to add some variety. There are some beautiful trees around the city as well as buildings with ivy and flowering bushes. Don’t overlook the simple!
Beach in Rogers Park
I had a client last summer tell me about a beach by her house that she wanted to use as a backdrop. Well, I fell in love, and have returned numerous times to this gorgeous location. It is right in the Rogers Park neighborhood, by Loyola undergrad. The tall grass on the beach allows for gorgeous images that look like you are in the south, not in Chicago!
Beaches in the North Shore
Most of the beaches along the north shore of Chicago offer a beautiful backdrop for family pictures. The price is usually per person for entry, unless you have a resident sticker or a summer pass. Parking is usually paid separately from the actual beach entrance. Depending on which beach is chosen, they all operate a bit differently. Below are images from the beach in Kenilworth this fall, a gorgeous scene for sure. This was at sunset, which is always the time of day recommended for sessions on the lakefront of Chicago.
Deer Grove Forest Preserve
In the autumn months, this forest preserve is absolutely stunning when the leaves are at its peak of color. It is a maze of paths and trees that spans much of the north west suburbs. I have found a spot that I like, and do charge a travel fee to offer sessions there. But, I have to say… it’s worth the drive!
Those are just some examples of different locations around the area. If you have something different in mind, please let me know! I’m always searching for new, uncharted territory and love new areas.