The Many Amazing Staircases Around Chicago (Part 1) | Photography Unfolded

The Many Amazing Staircases Around Chicago (Part 1)

 In Locations, Tips + Tricks

Staircases are often a favorite subject of any architectural photographer. Definitely count us in that group! Today we’ll share some favorites around Chicago. Some, I’m sure you’re aware of but we just might surprise you with a couple of locations you didn’t know about 😉 As there are many, this is the first of two posts, and the second post will be published next week.

We’ll work our way from North Michigan Avenue going south with our first stop being the Musem of Contemporary Art Chicago. We’d argue visitors come as much for the art as for the Kleihues-designed staircase. There are so many ways to photograph this staircase which spans the full height of the building from the plaza to the 5th floor. We’d suggest starting from the plaza level first, you can enter the building on the northwest corner where you’ll immediately see the staircase to your left. Images both wide and tight work well in this space so take the time to experiment. Maybe work the whole staircase top to bottom with a wide lens (14-24mm or even wider if you have it) and then come back down with a mid-range zoom (24-70mm) for some tighter shots.


Stopping about halfway through the staircase is a great place to get a wide shot. You’ll also notice the first image below is high-key in comparison to the first shot above. It’s a great place to play around with both post-processing techniques. Both work well, they just have a very different feeling depending on which approach you take.


Now for a little look down. This is quite wide, 10mm. Beware of your feet getting in the shot when you shoot this wide and have to lean over the railing. Some funny positioning you get into 😉


mca, museum of contemporary art chicago, josef paul kleihues

This isn’t the only great staircase here. The east side of the building recently underwent a renovation by Johnston + Marklee. You can see they’re paying tribute to the original staircase with this new addition. Again, try wide and a bit tighter for various takes on this space. However, this one has better photo ops from the top down.


Moving quite a bit south and past the river, tucked along a small block, is the Hampton Inn Michigan Avenue. Though not really on Michigan Ave, as it’s located at 68 E Wacker Pl. Originally home to the Chicago Motor Club and designed by Holabird & Root in 1929, it sat empty for years until the Hampton Inn restored this Art Deco gem in 2015.

After entering, make a quick left and you’ll find yourself in this tiny stairwell with a pretty interesting spiral staircase. The floors have this minty green color that, at times, reflects back on the white walls. As do the tungsten colored lights, which makes for a nice color combo. However, it’s pretty dark in here so you’re really going to have to up your ISO (all of these shots were at ISO 2000 or 3200 with a shutter speed of 1/30 sec and f/2.8). And you’ll need to shoot wide. I shot all of these with my 24-70mm (pretty sure that’s all I had with me on this day) and every shot other than the most abstract shot was at 24mm. A wider lens would be ideal here. Starting from the bottom up and midway through the staircase smooshed against a wall to get the shot, lol.


Now for a ceiling detail about halfway through and a look down.


A short walk away and we’re inside a Chicago icon, the Chicago Cultural Center. Originally the city’s first central library, completed in 1897, it’s now home to the Cultural Center which was established in 1991. Often visitors come for the world’s largest Tiffany glass dome but don’t overlook the many interesting stairways. First up, the curvy spiral staircase on the north side of the building. As with the other locations, try wide and tight shots.


Onto the south side of the building. All sorts of layers in a more geometric way than the curvy shot above.

That’s it for today, but stay tuned for 4 more locations with amazing staircases next week!

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mca, museum of contemporary art chicago, josef paul kleihues