Derek Nielsen Photography

Derek Nielsen Photography

Uncategorized Chicago Tulips, Best Places To See And Photograph Them
Image of the Magnificent Mile in Chicago with tulips in the middle of the street during spring
Each year, Chicago’s tulips and the magnificent mile explode in a welcomed sea of color. Thousands of tulips are planted between and around this famous avenue along its entirety. The display is a little different but extraordinary from year to year. After a long, usually brutal winter, Chicagoans are anxious to re-emerge from hibernation. Fittingly, the tulips give hope for the warm days ahead. Let’s explore the best ways to see and photograph Chicago’s tulips as well as other popular places to see them around the city.

When is the best time to see Chicago’s tulips?

tall image of Chicago tulips in Chicago along the Magnificent mile during spring
Depending on the year, the best time to see the Chicago tulips in peak bloom is the last week of April and the first week of May. Chicago is known for its tumultuous weather. It is the “windy city,” after all. (Of course, the name came from long-winded politicians years ago, but… it also happens to be a fitting name for the winds that whip across its streets) The peak bloom can extend for almost three weeks when Chicago has a particularly cooler spring. That being said, if you’re local, pay attention to the weather forecast. If the temperatures are hot, you’ll want to see them sooner rather than later so you don’t miss them while they’re fresh.
The best place to see Chicago’s tulips is along the Magnificent Mile, stretching from Oak Street to the North and Randolph Street to the South. The display’s heaviest saturation occurs in the area North of the Chicago River. Beds of flowers will flank each side of the avenue, while the median is nearly a continuous strip spanning several city blocks.
Another popular place to find them is in front of Chicago’s famous Chicago Theater. Making a postcard-like composition, the adjacent sidewalk provides the perfect foreground for a unique shot. The display continues south for several blocks. If you’re a photographer, be creative and play with the depth of field, using elements of the surrounding city to tell the story you’re aiming for.
Look into some of the neighboring areas. Many of Chicago’s upscale residential areas surrounding the Magnificent Mile plant their own elaborate displays rivaling the main stretch. Only a short walk north, several private homes in the Gold Coast also tend to go all out, making for a beautiful walk on a nice day.

History of Chicago Tulips

tulips along State Street in Chicago during spring

In the Mid-1990s, 30 planters were installed in the median of Michicagn Avenue spanning between Roosevelt Road and Oak Street. The Chicago Department of Transportation organizes the planting and care of these gorgeous city features. Over 100,000 blubs are planted each year. Chicago tulips come from the Netherlands. Planting takes place between October and November. On the other hand, bulbs are removed in late spring and are given away to the public each year for free. Who can resist free flowers?

Best places to see tulips outside of Chicago

Image of Chicago tulips in the middle of Chicago's Magnificent Mile

  • Chicago Botanical Garden – Located just twenty miles north of Chicago, the Chicago Botanical Garden has over 750,000 tulips on display. In addition to the display along the Crescent Garden, head over to the Graham Bulb Garden to see lesser-known species. Vibrant colors fill this space as would-be gardeners draw inspiration for their personal gardens. Check out the Chicago Botanical Garden’s calendar to not miss any of the exciting activities they offer.
  • Garfield Park Conservatory – Just fifteen minutes west of Chicago’s downtown, the Garfield Park Conservatory hosts a wonderful spring show. Admission is free. However, entrance does require a reservation. This year’s show, “Bees Knees,” features the relationship between bees and blooms. Inside the conservatory, glass works from the acclaimed artist Dale Chihuly can be found in the Aroid House. In addition to being a beautiful place to walk around to see the botanical displays, the Garfield Park Conservatory helps engage teens with long-term relationships with nature. Education and inclusion are key to the long-term health of our planet.
  • Richardson Farm – Covering 544 acres and two farmsteads, Richardson’s farm is located at the border between Illinois and Wisconsin Northeast of Chicago. Each year on five lakeside acres, they host a tulip festival. Opportunities for family photos are available, but the photographer must obtain a special permit for the shoot.

How to photograph Chicago tulips

vibrant tulips located on Michigan Avenue in Chicago

As a professional photographer, I can tell you there is no one way to photograph them. However, in my experience, I have found a few techniques to continuously create beautiful compositions. These tips and techniques will give you the best opportunity for success.

  1. Arrive early when the light is soft. This will allow the flowers to really appear saturated in the absence of direct sunlight. Tulips close overnight, so if you are looking for open blooms, arrive late morning. Most flowerbeds will still be in the shade of the tall buildings.
  2. Use Chicago’s key architectural attractions to fill the rest of the composition. As seen in the featured image of this post, I chose to use the Wrigley, Tribune, and former Hancock buildings to fill the background. Directly across the street from the Chicago Theatre lays several beds of tulips perfect for unique compositions.
  3. Photograph them from between 4ft and 5ft from the ground. Depending on the lens you are using, this angle provides the perfect perspective to capture the flowers while drawing in the surrounding elements.
  4. Place one powerful tulip in the foreground to let your audience walk deeper into the photograph. This gives them the feeling they are standing there with you.
  5. Think abstract. Not all photos need to include the city. These displays are gorgeous. Find compositions where the flowers speak for themselves and fill the scene.
  6. Try going low to give the feeling the flowers can go on forever. My image above, “Tulip City,” provides the viewer with the impression that the rows of tulips keep going through the urban landscape.
  7. Bring a wide-angle lens. Although one is not needed, wide-angle lenses help bring more of the scene into focus.

Get outside and fall in love with spring.

Abstract photo of only tulips filling the scene taken in chicago

For us living in Chicago, spring is a long-anticipated season after a long winter. Coupled with warming temperatures is the emergence of spring flowers. Besides, surrounding yourself with nature, even in a big city, is a great way to boost your mental health. Find a friend, grab a camera, and get outside. While the display only lasts a few weeks, it is certainly worth seeing. For more information on Chicago photography or luxury fine art photography, check out my other articles under the news section of the website. I appreciate your interest in my work. The deeper we fall in love with nature, the more we will work to protect it.

Derek with a penguin

Hello! I'm Derek.