Derek Nielsen Photography

Derek Nielsen Photography

Uncategorized Top Chicago Photography Prints By A Local Photographer
Large panoramic print of Chicago from high above the city displayed in the living room of a modern home

Chicago photography has been a part of my DNA since I picked up a camera. In early 2003, I purchased my first camera, a film Canon Rebel, and never looked back. Since then, photography has taken me to all seven continents and more countries than I care to count. Camera technology has changed. I have certainly grown a ton as an artist since those early days, but one thing remains the same: Chicago is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Please enjoy a collection of my favorite Chicago photography prints from my career as a local photographer. 

The most famous photo of Chicago

large panoramic black and white image of the Chicago River with all the bridges up during the pandemic and George Floyd race riots.
Bridges Up – Limited edition fine art print of 100 – Derek Nielsen Photography

In the days and nights after the George Floyd riots in the city of Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot decided to pull up the famous drawbridges crossing the Chicago River. This was an attempt to stop people from crossing back and forth, looting businesses in the affluent retail sector. During this time, cities across the United States were all dealing with the call for justice, and tension was building. I wanted to capture this historic time for our nation. Finding the perfect spot along the Chicago River, where I had a shot down the length of the east branch, I composed a panoramic image. This image has become my most famous photo of Chicago, contributing to my “best in show” honor at Chicago’s Old Town Art Fair. 

Historic Chicago photography prints

Large framed fine art print of Chicago during a winter sunrise displayed above the couch in a modern living room
Blue Chicago – Limited edition fine art print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography

At the time, these shots were me getting my feet wet in photography. However, looking back, these shots are now moments in time when Chicago was dealing with historic weather and trying times. I will speak to each of these images separately. 

Image of a Chicago newspaper stand guy in black and white from a selection of Chicago photography prints
  • Newspaper Stand Guy – In the early stages of my fine art career, I was shooting anything I could get my camera on. The problem was I was shooting film back when I first started, so it took a little time to fine-tune my craft. However, that didn’t stop me from trying street photography, portrait photography, landscape photography, basically anything but wedding photography. I was heading into a job I hated with my camera in hand when I noticed this older gentleman selling newspapers in a booth. He had quite a look about him and tons of character. I doubled back to approach him straight on and pointed my camera at him. At that very moment, he looked up in displeasure. Off we went. He gave chase for two blocks before his cigarette habit caught up with him, and I got off with a great historic shot of the Chicago streets. Little did I know this would still be one of the most memorable photography experiences of my career some 20 years later. 
image of a super moon rising over Chicago's Navy Pier lighthouse with a sailboat in the foreground
Super Moon Sail – Limited edition fine art print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography
  • Super Moon Sail – In late August of 2023, I went to Navy Pier to photograph a rising supermoon over the Chicago Lighthouse just offshore in Lake Michigan. Getting there early, setting up my tripod, and using a star tracker to predict the location of the moon rise was the best decision. Soon, the edge of Navy Pier was lined with local photographers looking for the perfect places to set up. The moon hit the horizon, and the images came out incredible. I would have been pleased if this was the best it got, but then I saw a sailboat heading toward the lighthouse. It looked as if it was going to cross in front of both the moon and the lighthouse. I dialed in all my settings and captured my favorite Chicago photo of 2023. 
image of a large storm over the skyline of Chicago in black and white
Great Chicago Storm – Limited edition fine art print of 100 – Derek Nielsen Photography
  • Great Chicago Storm – Many years ago, before composite photography was popular, I decided to watch an approaching storm from the Adler Planetarium. The storm had a particularly narrow rain wall in front of it, allowing me to get great photographs of lightning using long exposure techniques. Two massive bolts rained down over downtown Chicago, captured by one single exposure, while another one that split into two was captured in a different exposure. I then took the two images and merged them into one, creating a wild panoramic image of a major storm over Chicago. Planetarium Drive is one of my favorite places to watch incoming storms.
Image of an empty State Street in Chicago during the height of the pandemic sold as a part of historic Chicago photography prints
  • The Pandemic Sets In – Too many of us remember exactly what it was like during the early days of the pandemic. Busy roadways like State Street and Lake Shore Drive became empty patches of paved earth. Cook County was among the most strict when it came to lockdown regulations. Thankfully, I was working a side job that was deemed necessary. During my commute between work and home, I managed to snap a few images of a time we will always remember and many wish to forget. 

Aerial photography of Chicago

Panoramic Image of Chicago taken high above the city during sunrise
Sanctuary – Limited edition fine art print of 50 – Derek Nielsen Photography

I am admittedly not a huge fan of drones. All too often, I have been in a gorgeous place out alone in nature and gotten annoyed by the buzzing sound of an invasive drone. I do love the results of drone photography, but I choose to do very little myself. That being said, I find it way more fun to get on top of skyscrapers in cities to capture the top-down look of their skylines. With a few connections with residents in some of Chicago’s tallest buildings, I like to get on the rooftops of these residents and catch the sunrise with my professional, high-resolution camera. Using a high-power professional camera lets me pull out incredible details most drones cannot. 

Abstract Chicago photography prints

Framed abstract fine art black and white print of the Aqua building in Chicago displayed in the entry of clean, modern home from photographer Derek Nielsen's Chicago photography prints
Aqua – Limited edition fine art print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography

Chicago is known for its architecture, but instead of always taking grand skyline shots, sometimes it is fun to zoom in on the details of what makes this city unique. I walked around the heart of Chicago using a 100-500mm lens to find various compositions inside the towering skyscrapers. From Jeanne Gang’s Aqua to Benjamin Howard Marshall’s The Drake Hotel, I wandered around the city, pulling the soul of the city out one frame at a time. 

Michigan Avenue photography

Michigan Avenue  or the Magnificent Mile in Chicago with tulips during spring
Magnificent Mile – Limited edition fine art print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography

Michigan Avenue stretches from the Gold Coast down through Grant Park, terminating at Sibley Boulevard in the Southern suburb of Dolton. Along the way, famous landmarks like the former Hancock building, the famous old WaterTower, The Art Institute, Tribune Tower, and countless historic hotels and cultural institutions. For anyone looking to practice their urban landscape photography, Michigan Avenue has it all. As shown above, Michigan Avenue explodes with tulips every spring, making it one of the most beautiful avenues in the United States to drive, walk, and photograph.

Chicago wildlife photography prints

Chicago is well known for its beautiful skyline, history of crooked politicians, and great food, but it also has a hidden wild side. Several locations around the city house healthy coyote, fox, deer, reptile, and bird populations. 

baby fox kits playing in Chicago's millennium park from a collection of Chicago photography prints

Fox – As a fine art photographer who specializes in large-format prints of nature, I was ecstatic to find out a mother fox gave birth to fox kits in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Each morning, I headed down to the protected area to see them playing. I was so proud of the city for leaving them alone. By using a 500mm lens with a 1.4x extender, I was able to capture beautiful, intimate images of the foxes before they moved on. 

image of a white-tailed deer in Chicago makes a great Chicago photography prints

Whitetail deer -In Rosehill Cemetery, a herd of white-tail deer have moved in to become permanent residents. I had to see this for myself one day, so I packed up my powerful equipment and looked for them on the property. It didn’t take long to come across two large males quietly grazing in the winter sun. I framed a few nice compositions of them and left them to their quiet afternoon. 

image of a mallard duck flapping its wings with the sun behind it lighting up his feathers
Stunning Display – Limited edition fine art print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography

Wood Ducks and Mallard Ducks -On Chicago’s west side lays a very large park named Humboldt Park. This park and neighborhood have a bad reputation for being troubled with gang activity. Despite these issues, most of the time, the park is safe, with children playing and families out enjoying the outdoors. On the North end is a large pond with natural areas along its edges providing great nesting opportunities for ducks. One late winter evening, when the sun was casting beautiful light across the pond, I got down very low to the ground, placing the ducks between myself and the sun. This angle allowed me to capture the wings potentially illuminated by the back-lit positioned sun. Then it happened. A Drake Mallard duck rose up to shake off his feathers. Using a fast shutter speed and wide aperture, I nailed my favorite bird photograph of my collection. 

Image of a Cooper's hawk in Chicago displayed above a couch in a living room from a collection of Chicago photography prints
Reclamation – Limited edition fine art print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography

Cooper’s Hawk – In relatively the same location as the aforementioned ducks were photographed, I spotted a Cooper’s Hawk sitting atop a park light. With all the trees around, the raptor still decided the light was its best vantage point. I wanted to frame this scene with a post-apocalyptic feel to it. A scene where the wild animals were taken back over. 

Top-selling Chicago photography prints

black and white image of a sewer cap in front of the Chicago Theatre in a collection of black and white Chicago photography prints
Great Street – Limited edition fine art print of 6 – Derek Nielsen Photography

Of all my photography prints of Chicago, four photos have sold more copies than any other. Like a parent struggling to pick their favorite child, as a photographer, I struggle to choose my favorite. For this reason, I will leave this list up to my collectors. A photographer’s best sellers may differ from their own favorites because a collector only sees the final product. Often, the experience behind a certain photo may be why a photographer loves a print. 

  1. Bridges Up – panoramic photo of the Chicago River downtown during the George Floyd riots. 
  2. Super Moon Sail – image of a sailboat passing in front of Navy Pier’s lighthouse with a full moon
  3. Great Street – an image of the Chicago Theatre with a Chicago sewer cap as the foreground element
  4. Great Chicago Storm – image of a massive storm shooting lightning over Chicago’s skyline. 

Sweet home Chicago

I love this city. Chicago has been home my whole life, and as an artist, it has been a wonderful place to grow. Anyone who has attended live concerts at Soldier Field or spent a lazy afternoon in Lincoln Park would agree this is a great city. For a complete list of my top photography spots, check out my detailed article. This city is full of authentic moments on any given day. Start up in the Willis Tower Skydeck and end up laughing until your stomach hurts at Second City. Bring a camera, a great attitude, and an appetite. Chicago will fill your heart and soul with lasting memories you will never forget. 

Derek with a penguin

Hello! I'm Derek.