Photographing the Chicago Bridges Lifts

Today, I wanted to share something that’s in between architecture and cityscapes: the Chicago Bridge Lifts! Every year, the bridges have to open to let sailboats move from between Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. Lifts are scheduled on several Wednesdays and Saturdays in April-May and October-November each year. In 2015, I was in Chicago for Open House Chicago and was lucky that the lift was happening the same weekend!

It’s a great event and something very specific to Chicago that is worth seeing! If you can make it to Chicago in October, you can see both the bridges and Open House.

I recommend taking the time to visit the McCormick Bridgehouse on Michigan Avenue. Part of the DuSable Bridge, the bridge house is a museum and you can see the impressive gears of the bridge while it’s moving if you’re there at the right time. This bridge is one of the first ones to open, so go there early!

The bridge house also provides a great point of view on the bridge itself. Some windows have a grid in front of them, but I think it gives something different to the shot.

The views from the top floor are of course the most interesting, especially when the bridge is up.

After that, I headed to the next two bridges: Irv Kupcinet Bridge (Wabash Avenue) and Bataan Corregidor Memorial Bridge (State Street). They’re in the river bend and tend to open at the same time, so it’s a great area. Shooting from Michigan Avenue was a great point of view to include the skyscrapers in the background.

Chicago River – Chicago, IL

Since it was Open House Chicago that weekend, my plans changed. If you don’t know Open House Chicago, it’s a weekend in October during which a lot of buildings that are usually private open to the public. That year, the observatory at the top of the Kemper Building was open and it’s a great spot to see the bridges since it’s on the river. The observatory isn’t open the rest of the year, so it was perfect!

The views over the river from the Kemper Building are quite nice, especially if you’re shooting the bridges. You get great views over the N. Clark Street Bridge, the Marshall Suloway Bridge (LaSalle Street), the N. Wells Street Bridge and the N. Franklin Street Bridge.

I spent quite some time up there, waiting for each bridge to open and close. It’s definitely one of the best points of view to shoot the bridges!

What’s so great about when the bridges lift is that you get to shoot a special event in one of the most photogenic locations I know. The light is not the best because the lifts happen late in the morning, so you have to work around that. But if you are in Chicago on a weekend in April, May, October or November, you can’t miss it! Check out the Chicago Loop Bridges website for the schedule.

I’ll leave you with a video I shot on that day, where you can see the bridges and the McCormick Bridgehouse.



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