The Many Amazing Staircases Around Chicago (Part 2) | Photography Unfolded

The Many Amazing Staircases Around Chicago (Part 2)

 In Locations, Tips + Tricks

In our last post, we shared 3 great locations for staircases in Chicago. This week, we’re coming back with 4 more, all still in Downtown Chicago.

First, we stop by another favorite Chicago museum, the Art Institute of Chicago. Here we have three staircases to explore. First up, the grand staircase just past the main entrance. When you get sun streaming through the skylights you get some great shadow play.

art institute of chicago

Details are a bit harder here but the geometric shapes around the stairs are an option.

art institute of chicago

Moving onto our favorite staircase here, somewhere in the south wing of the museum, is this great wide spiral staircase. The wide shot you first see with the boy walking down the stairs is no longer possible as there’s a huge art installation in the middle that spans the entire height of this space. However, there are plenty of details and abstract takes you find here, a mid-range zoom is probably your best bet for details and super wide if you want the whole space.


The final staircase here is in the Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing. This one is tougher to photograph but here are a couple of ideas: a straight-on and a detail of the underside of the staircase.


Just across the street is a side entrance to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a great look-up of this angular staircase in the atrium.

chicago symphony orchestra

About a block away is the Palmer House Hilton and its many (3) spiral staircases! They’re all a bit tucked away but easily accessible from the main lobby, which is actually one floor up from street level. Let’s start with the southwest spiral. This is the busiest of them all with the wild carpet, so we definitely think black & white works best. Once again, going wide and mid-range for those details.


Heading to the northeast corner, this staircase is unique with two pillars disrupting the lookup shot. However, it can make for an interesting play on the curves vs lines.

palmer house hilton

Our favorite is the staircase in the northwest corner. If you’re coming from the lobby you have to go up a half flight of stairs to get to the interesting part. It’s kind of deceiving as you think it’s a dark, dingy stairway to nowhere for that first half flight. But there are so many ways to approach this staircase. Super wide for a full perspective, mid-range for details, look-ups and downward views are all equally as interesting.


All three are pretty dimly lit so be sure to increase your ISO.

For our final location, we’ll stop by the iconic Rookery Building. Access here is quite limited and unless you know someone who works in the building you’ll need to do the guided tour through the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. It can be hard to get unique shots here or even have enough time to capture something you’d like. So be ready with the correct settings so you can grab the shots you want when everyone clears out before the tour moves onto another area. Let’s start from afar and some details before those iconic look-ups we’re sure you’ve seen.


Now for that lookup we all love, though with a bit of an angle to mix it up. You definitely need a wide lens for this perspective. This was shot at 14mm.

rookery building

Or you can go for details, which you’ll need a telephoto for. This was 75mm.

rookery building

If you get the chance to shoot from the top down, here’s what you can see.


Whew, that should keep you busy during these winter months! Let us know if we’re missing any other great staircases around Chicago. They’re always such fun to photography.

Happy shooting!

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mca, museum of contemporary art chicago, josef paul kleihues