Chicago Outdoor Photo Locations

The Best Chicago Outdoor Photo Locations 

by Maggie Rife Ponce

Discover iconic Chicago outdoor photo locations and a few secret gems too.


Situated on the blue waters of the great Lake Michigan is one of this country’s most photogenic cities. With a skyline showcasing world-famous architecture alongside historic parks and beaches, it’s no wonder people from all over the world visit the city. But the amazing backgrounds aren’t limited to only the downtown. Head in just about any direction and you’ll find why so many people have fallen in love with the neighborhoods of this town. 

So if you’re planning a photoshoot in the windy city and have no idea where to start, check out this helpful guide for some of my personal favorite outdoor locations. You’ll find on this list many of the most iconic destinations as well as a few hidden gems beloved by locals.

Each spot includes highlights, what type of photo shoots it’s a good location for, and how difficult it is to take pictures at the location on a scale of 1-5. 5 being the most difficult.

Highlights: Landscaped gardens, skyline views, variety, near other dynamic views

Good for: Family, Engagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g, weddings.

Access: 3


Situated in the heart of Chicago’s Millenium Park, this 2 ½ acre park is one of my favorite downtown locations for its stunning gardens set against the city backdrop. Designed by the renowned Piet Oudolf, you’ll find vibrant perennials blooming three seasons of the year alongside a water canal where your kids can make a wish. Just steps away from two of the most visited Chicago destinations–Cloud Gate and the Pritzker Pavillion, this verdant garden is a relatively quiet oasis for families, engaged couples, and wedding parties. Once you finish taking pictures, walk across the BP bridge by Frank Gehry to Maggie Daley Park where you’ll find hours of playground attractions. 


Highlights: Views of downtown with stunning landscape and mutual ponds. 

Good for: Family, Engagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.

Access: 3

Located in Lincoln Park, just a mile north of downtown Chicago, this destination is popular among families who love to take a relaxing stroll around the pond toward the “People’s Gas Education Pavilion”, known to the layman as “The Honeycombs.”  This unique structure faces south, perfectly framing the John Hancock building. When you finish at the Honeycombs, head further north to visit Mondika and Djeke, the tween gorillas at the free outdoor zoo, or take a ride on the vintage, wooden carousel.




Highlights: Old-growth trees create gorgeous dappled light. 

Good for: Uniqueness, Engagements, and portraits. Access: 3

For that dreamy-dappled light and old-world architecture, check out the South gardens of the Art Institue of Chicago. An intricate system of hawthorn trees creates a sprawling canopy that feels intimately romantic to walk beneath. A central feature of this small-scale park is the Taft fountain framed by Locust Trees and flower shrubs. Head to the rear for a striking reflective composition that will take your breath away. 


chicago art institute south garden

Highlights: Striking and unique view featuring both the city and lake. 

Good for: Natural Wedding, Engagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.

Access: 3

This small park, built just north of Navy Pier is the only spot in the city where you can walk beneath a tunnel of trees while also having both the lake and skyline in your background. Visit toward sunset during which time the water turns into an iridescent scene of shimmering colors and the buildings provide a beautiful rim light for your images.  

Highlights: Architecture, urban, and river all in one. 

Good for: Wedding, Engagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.

Access: 3

The Riverwalk has a quintessential Chicago feel to it thanks to the local restaurants, breweries, and historic landmarks along the 1.5-mile stretch. Enjoy a Fist City Chicago-inspired Pale Ale at the Brewhouse while watching kayakers and double-decker boats drift past. Walk beneath the many (18 in all) that still operate on a daily basis and experience this bustling destination. 



  • 7. Montrose Harbor

Highlights:  One of the best spots in Chicago for both nature and a skyline view. 

Good for: Engagements and portraits. 

If you’re looking for that famous view of downtown Chicago, but don’t want to fight the crowds, head north about six miles to Montrose harbor. This man-made area is not only a safe haven for boat lovers but also bird watchers, who reverently explore the magic hedge that attracts thousands of migratory birds each spring and fall. Just be aware, that many enthusiasts feel a sense of protection for the space. So if you find yourself at odds with a territorial bird watcher, don’t worry, just head toward the public beach or the stone steps for a scenic lookout.


Montrose-harbor- Chicago-outdoor-locations-_0160



Highlights: Stunning architecture and landscape create an elegant setting in the middle of downtown Chicago. 

Good for: Engagements and portraits. Best when you make an appointment. Permit cost: $150.

Like New York’s Central Park, Grant Park is one of the most well-known features of the city. If you were to look at a map, the park is home to many of the spots on this list, including the Art Institute of Chicago and Millenium Park, and even more, I have yet to write about. These pictures however were taken along Jackson Boulevard and just south, where the park has classical architecture that feels like many parts of Europe. 



Highlights: Natural light. Hip, vintage.

Good for: Wedding, Engagements, and portraits.

Highlights: Natural light indoors. Architecture, Unique Backgrounds. Historic steps

Good for: Natural FamilyEngagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.

Access: Inside 4 (call ahead) outdoors 2

No others on this list even come close to the sheer amount of natural light pouring through the mostly glass modern wing of the Chicago Art Institute.  A favorite among local photographers, with colorful artwork and skyline views that make for a perfect opportunity for silhouettes. Just know that inside access can be spotty. Like many locations on this list, discretion is key. Have a plan B, just in case. Or better yet, recreate an old-Hollywood picture on the classic steps outside.



Highlights: Natural light. Hip, vintage.

Good for: WeddingEngagements, and portraits.

Access: 1

For nature lovers in a city full of concrete, visit the West Ridge Nature Center, where you’ll forget you just parked on a crowded, noisy street. Until recently, this spot was an underdeveloped area in Rosehill Cemetary (don’t worry, no one was ever buried here). In 2015, Chicago Park District began restoring the 21-acre space into an ecological parkland with native species, winding pathways, and multiple water features.







Highlights: Fun. Unique.

Good for: Engagements, family, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.

Access: 2

Along the 606 trail, you’ll find miles of bike paths, art installations, and unique tree-top views of Chicago. Originally an industrial train line, it is now a high-traffic destination for locals out for a ride or resting among its many landscaped areas.

Highlights: Water Feature, Landscaping, Butterfly Garden, Fieldhouse

Good for: Wedding, Engagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.

Access: 2

Initially designed by William Le Baron Jenney, who is best known today as the father of the skyscraper, but later expanded upon by Jens Jensen who added unique waterway features, this sprawling park on the southwest side of Chicago is a historic destination. Among its nearly 20 acres, you’ll find twisting trails snaking past weeping willows, rolling hills, and one of Chicago’s classic fieldhouses. 

humboldt park -chicago-outdoor-photoshoot-locations


Highlights: Natural light. Architecture. Covered outdoor section.

Good for: Wedding, Engagements, and portraits. Requires permits for special events, e.g., weddings.

Access: 2

There are so many more places around Chicago to explore and consider for your photography needs. I’ll keep this updated as new ideas pop up. If you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments below. If you’re interested in booking your own portrait or engagement session, contact me here, call 402-304-4057, or email

For a few of my favorite outdoor photo locations, check out the links below:

Then when Chicago cools off, here are a few indoor photography locations I love:

  • 1. Garfield Park Conservatory: Like many on this list, this indoor photo location doesn’t “officially” allow professional photography, but with a bit of discretion and courtesy to other guests, you can take advantage of this indoor oasis.  Built between 1906 and 1907, this is one of the largest conservatories in the nation. Designed by renowned architect  William LeBaron Jenney, a.k.a. the father of the American Skyscraper, this 4.5-acre greenhouse is a masterpiece of landscaping designed beneath an equally breathtaking glass structure. Stepping inside from a gray, dry, freezing January day feels like you’ve been transported to an exotic destination full of verdant pathways, earthy aromas, and layers upon layers of stunning greenscapes.
  • Union Station: Avoid rush hour and you’ll hear your footsteps echoing off the limestone walls of the Great Hall. Designed by one of Chicago’s most famous architects Daniel Burham in the Beaux-Arts style, it reflects the predominant architecture throughout Chicago. Inspired by Roman and Greek forms, you’ll find plenty of cornices, arches, and pediments to pose in front of for a classic, timeless background. The skylight ceiling creates soft, even light, diffused by the limestone walls harvested from quarries in neighboring Indiana. If you do run into issues taking pictures inside, head to the entrance on the west side of the canal where you’ll find cover from wind, rain, and snow among rows of columns.
  • The Chicago Cultural Center: Walking beneath the 38-foot Tiffany Glass Dome designed by J. A. Holzer feels like being inside a scene from a fairy tale story. The Chicago Cultural Center is a breathtaking five-story building with neoclassical Italian Elements. You’ll find plenty of backgrounds to pose against from winding staircases with intricate detailing to echoing hallways and arched windows.


Plus a list of my top 20 favorite Chicago places:

  • Headquarters Arcade Bar – Fun, arcade bar
  • Beatnik – Morrocan decor and lush greenery
  • Scofflaw – Cozy, Southern Formal
  • The Freeze – Throwback vintage ice cream and hotdog stand
  • Tied House
  • Mason
  • Ferns Coffee Shop – Electric and vintage.
  • Plein Air Cafe – French workshop inspired. Bright, white, light.
  • The Original Pancake House – Throwback retro.
  • Three Arts Cafe – Ornate and opulent.
  • SuperDawg – Casual, retro.
  • Fat Rice – Hip, Asian-inspired.
  • Three Dots and a Dash – Fun Tikki Bar
  • Fulton Market Kitchen – Eclectic & artsy
  • The Whale Chicago – Art Deco, old Hollywood
  • Etta – High ceilings, open, industrial
  • Bang Bang Pie and Biscuit – Cozy, Farmhouse vintage
  • The Warbler – Mid-century modern, art deco
  • Lonesome Rose – Mid-century modern, light and airy
  • The Hampton Social – California, beach-inspired

Chicago has limitless places to photograph memories. Bad weather? No problem! Our grand city has got you covered with many indoor locations to get you that idyllic picture. Good weather? Of course, that’s not a problem either. With our urban, lakeside, and greenscape areas surrounding us, you’re sure to find an ultimate spot for photographic perfection.

If you do take photos at any of these Chicago locations, I’d love to see what you captured. Feel free to share @maggierifeponce on Instagram. Happy photographing!


Front Porch Photography: “Porchraits” Captured Moments of People and Their Families

Front Porch Photography: “Porchraits” Captured Moments of People and Their Families

Front Porch Pictures, showing life during coronavirus.

Covid-19 is turning our world upside. Everyone is touched by this pandemic in one way or another. During this time of family isolation, it’s important to embrace the moments we have with our loved ones. We’re all a part of an American unprecedented time right now, and it’s a golden opportunity to embrace the all-American porch pictures. Decades from now, front porch pictures, or “porchtraits,” will bring a visual to stories that we’ll share from the days of “the virus.”


To me, photos are time capsules, because, through them, we can time travel. They allow us to connect with moments that affect us in many ways.  After my mom passed away when I was seven, I’d flip through page after page of my parent’s photo albums. It wasn’t just that I wanted to see her again; I wanted more details alongside the stories I was told.

As an adult, I still enjoy going through photo albums to learn about my loved ones. Take my husband, for example. I’ve learned so much about him and his family’s history just by looking at pictures his mom, who is a fellow “archivist,” has shared. Thanks to her, I get to step into my husband’s family time capsule. 


Porchtraits” more than family photos…Time capsules

The front porch portraits “movement” is sure to become a staple associated with this historic time of Covid. With more families having to stay home, they are getting more family time than ever before. With everyone home inside, taking a breath of fresh air on the front porch has become a regular thing. And why not capture those moments on the porch?

“Porchtraits” are a fun way to connect with your family all why telling your quarantine story. Here you are in your environment where you and your family are your authentic selves. Are you staying home all day in your pajamas? Kick back on your porch, in your jammies, with a cup coffee, and capture that essence of your quarantine days.

Maybe you’re getting tired of seeing your kids in wrinkled clothes pulled from the laundry basket and your spouse wearing those old shorts and ratty t-shirt from their college days. Get them dressed up and out on the porch for some fun pictures.

Bring out your pets, or wear costumes, or just chill on your porch or front yard with your favorite drink and snack. People are enjoying many different ways to capture their “porchtraits.”

Decades from now, we’ll all have tales from this time. I started doing front porch pictures for the same reason I looked through all those old family photos. They are a way for people to document this unusual, historical moment in time.

I can imagine how conversations might go:

“Remember when you lost your two front teeth during Quarantine?”


 “It was so hard, but there are moments I wish I could be quarantined with my kids again”

“I didn’t know if my business would make it through…”


“A friend sent us margaritas in a bag, which we shared on the front porch….”

front-porch-photography-_0024“We didn’t have reasons to dress up because we couldn’t go anywhere, so we decided to wear fancy clothes just because….”


“We had the time, so we got a new puppy….”

front-porch-photography-_0017“Your dad was laid off, so he homeschooled you while I did therapy sessions in the bedroom with my patients….”


This time in history is calling all of us to make changes in our lives. For most, it’s forcing us to slow down, whether we like it or not. I may be projecting, but the families I met during these “porchraits” are radiating a current of strength and resilience. Maybe it’s the shared bond of what they’re going through. Maybe it’s all that time together paying off. (I can sense that happening in my own family right now.) Who knows, but I’m encouraged by it, whatever the case.

Supporting our community through porch pictures

I’ve also felt so grateful to those who’ve donated sessions for people deeply impacted by this virus. Thank you for your support.


I am reminded each time I do a session that humankind is still at the mercy of powers beyond our control. For some, we have more options and support than others. I’m so grateful to see those who are able to generously reach out to help their neighbors and community at large.

Staying safe while capturing “stay-at-home”

Everyone’s health is my first priority. During your “porchtrait” session, every precaution will be taken. First, social distancing is a must, and I will keep my distance by staying on the sidewalk, or even further, and use a long lens to take pictures. I will always have a mask on, and I’ll have disinfectant and gloves accessible.

If you’d like to use pieces of your furniture, maybe chairs and tables or picnic blankets on the front lawn, I can direct you on how they may best be positioned. Keeping to social distancing, I won’t touch your belongings, but I promise that my directions will be super easy to follow.

When you schedule your photo session, we’ll discuss (via phone or email) a checklist of anything that may be needed from both you and me, and we’ll review the process for the portrait session before, during, and after the photo shoot.

It’s best for me to do a “drive-by” to see the area where we’ll be doing the pictures, so this is something I’ll do after we talk. No worries, though. You don’t even have to be home when I do this. I’m just going to do a slow drive-by to get my mind in gear for things like what will be the best time due to light, where I’ll be able to stand to take the pictures, and if there are any obstacles I may need to discuss with you.

Sessions usually last between 15 to 30 minutes. To be accessible for all people, I’m offering these at a sliding scale between $25 and $200.

If you’re interested in scheduling a front-porch session or would like to donate for someone else in need, please reach out to me here, email me directly at, or call 402-304-4057. 

I’m also still scheduling full family pictures outdoors and indoor family photos with necessary precautions.

Good luck! Quarantine is rough, but you’re loved.

Also, if you’re alone or especially struggling right now, you can call The Samaritans anytime (with services for the hearing impaired) and find other sources for help, including free online services here.

The Samaritans: (877) 870-4673 (HOPE)



In Home Newborn Photos

Document your growing family with in-home newborn photos

in-home-newborn-session-_0039At a time when each moment is new and precious, in-home newborn photos are a wonderful way to remember the first with your infant. As a mother myself, I understand how wonderful and overwhelming those first few weeks with your little one can be. You want to hold on to every second with your new babe, but it can all pass by in a blur. To help you celebrate your growing family, I’ll come to your home and photograph those first few days with pictures in a natural, storytelling way.


How long are in-home newborn sessions?

There’s a lot happening in those first few weeks of life. Your learning what it means to be a new parent. Diaper changes, feedings, and of course inevitable spit. I want to give you one less thing to worry about, so when it comes to timing, a session can last between 30 minutes and two hours. I always try to make things as quick and easy as possible to let you get back to cuddling your babe. But, if there are interruptions, no stress.  I understand!  The most important thing is for you to feel relaxed and in the moment.

How many pictures are included in my newborn photo shoot?

I’ll snap away throughout our time together in a more documentary way, while also incorporating some dedicated “just baby” time that includes those sweet, simple, little up wrap like a baby burrito or snug as a bug with a lovey. After your session, I’ll go through all the pics and select the ones that best showcase our time together. Typically sessions include at least 70 pictures, but some might include more.  You’ll have photos of not just baby, but also any other family member who might want to be captured with the star of the show.

Are pets welcome in the photos?

Absolutely!  In fact, they’re encouraged!  They’re part of your family and I want to make sure they get the same attention as everyone else.  Just make sure to have a few treats handy, which always makes things flow smoother.

Lurie Gardens family photos with the Sutherlands

Living up the last days of summer with Lurie Gardens family photos

lurie gardens family photosIt’s been such a joy watching the Sutherlands family grown. I first met Engy and Jason years ago when they hired me to be their wedding photographer. Seven or so years and three kiddos between us, I now think of them more as friends than clients.

This year Engy was hoping for a summery, fun outdoor family session. Originally we talked about the beach, but with busy schedules and a rainstorm the night before, we opted to stick to our date and stay land-bound. Thankfully the Lurie Gardens at Millenium Park was super picturesque on this first day of September. In fact, I think the pink, purple, and white flowers still in bloom in the background is pretty much perfect with their outfits. I guess it was meant to be 🙂

Bonus stop-through at The Art Institute

Make sure to scroll to the bottom for the pictures from the Art Institue north-side garden (post-bathroom break).

lurie gardens family photos


lurie gardens family photos

lurie gardens family photos

lurie gardens family photos

lurie gardens family photos

Art Institute of Chicago family photos

Art Institute of Chicago family photos

Art Institute of Chicago family photos

Art Institute of Chicago family photos

For more family sessions, check out the links below:

Interested in taking your own family photos? Contact me today here, call 402-304-4057 or email I’d love to hear from you!

Studio newborn photos – Sample Gallery by Maggie Rife Ponce

Welcome a new addition to your family with studio newborn photos

Having a new baby is so amazing, but also a big change! The first few weeks after birth can be a lot. Constant visitors, never-ending loads of laundry and sleepless nights. I’ve been there! An in-home newborn session can feel daunting if your home isn’t exactly the way you’d like it to look. Take the stress off your shoulders with studio newborn photos.

You’ll get two-three hours of dedicated time in my bright, light-filled lofted studio. I’ll dedicate time to those sweet newborn, sleepy baby poses as well as pictures of your family welcoming the baby altogether.

If you are interested in an at-home newborn session, you can view a sample gallery here. Or learn more about my sessions here.




Studio Mini Newborn Session – Sample Gallery

A baby focused mini newborn session to capture the birth of your little one

mini-newborn photosCelebrate the birth of your baby with a mini newborn session. This option is perfect for the parent who loves those sweet, sleeping infant pictures. With gentle hands, I’ll capture your baby in a variety of poses. You’re welcome to bring your own props and wraps or choose from my own supply of wraps, swaddles, loveys, and headpieces.

Baby focused newborn photos

Unlike a full session, this one highlights just your baby. Lasting up to an hour, I’ll have the studio toasty warm with soft music or a noisemaker on to lull your little love into a peaceful slumber as we capture their week(s) of their life.

Schedule within the first few weeks of birth

One of the most commonly asked questions is when is the best time to have your newborn photographed. I find the sweet spot is within 10 days of birth. From my experience, this is when your baby will still be sleeping the most, and therefore easiest to move into different positions. I love an awake newborn too–but the more awake the baby, the more prone objective they become to being moved and changed.

Interested in your own newborn session?  Visit my contact page or call 402-304-4057.  Want to see more examples?  Check out these links below:

About those poses…

Wondering how those darlings newborn poses are achieved? Lots of practice and patience. While newborns are fragile, they’re also incredibly flexible. With the right touch, you can help guide their hands over each other or fold their form into a darling bundled form.

mini-newborn photos
mini-newborn photos
mini-newborn photos
mini-newborn photos
mini-newborn photos


mini-newborn photos



Embracing the silliness

The Brown’s are back for more! 2017 Holiday Family Portraits

I’ve had the joy of photographing the Brown’s on two other occasions.  For their latest holiday family portraits, we ran into some difficult weather, so opted to do this year’s Christmas card at the studio and beneath the train tracks outside.

The Brown’s are the nicest–their boys are so much fun and had me cracking up the whole time.  I love that Rachel and Carl embraced their silliness!

Wanna see more? Visit my family portfolio page or click the links below for other sessions.  Interested in scheduling your own session?  Drop me a line at my contact page.  Learn more about pricing here.

Northerly Island Family Session

Northerly Island Family Session with the Trowbridges

I’ve had the pleasure of taking family pictures for the Trowbridges for the past few years. Christine is a big believe in scheduling family photos each year rather than buying the school pictures of the boys. In the past we’ve taken pictures in Lincoln Park and at my studio, but this year she wanted a spot that had both nature and skyline.

We decided on Burnham Park, but when the day arrived, unseasonably hot temperatures meant evvvvveryone in the city had the same idea of heading to the beach.  Every single parking spot within blocks of the park was taken, so we called an audible and headed toward Northerly Island.  It turned out to be a great change of plans.  The island was virtually empty. The light was dreamy that afternoon and the rocky shores along the lake made for a fun landscape for the boys to explore. If you’re considering a location for your family photos, put this spot on the list of options. I promise you won’t regret it!



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Wanna see more? Visit my family portfolio page or click the links below for other sessions.  Interested in scheduling your own session?  Drop me a line at my contact page.  Learn more about pricing here.


Foster Ave Beach Family Photos with the Tanners

A perfect late summer afternoon for relaxed family photos at Foster Ave Beach

I’ve had the please of taking family photos of the Tanner’s throughout the past three years, from the birth of their first son Noland to this most recent session which included their second little love, Miles at Foster Ave Beach.

I love seeing them each time, especially because at this point we feel like old friends, me even carrying Noland, talking about magical lions hiding in the lighthouse while Lisa pushes the stroller with my camera bag and Weston soothes Miles. All the ease and all the comfort of a session like this is more than I could hope for in my work. I’m a lucky lady.

Wanna see more? Visit my family portfolio page or click the links below for other sessions.  Interested in scheduling your own session?  Drop me a line at my contact page.  Learn more about pricing here.











Three’s a crowd? Not when you’re boys are this adorable.

Candid, in-home newborn photos with the Ponzios

I’ve decided Kimi and Michael can’t stop having babies.  I mean it.  Really. They can’t.  I mean, look at these boys in this unscripted, joint in home newborn photos and family photo shoot. They owe it to the world to keep making these beautiful, darling, charming children. They’re three boys are absolutely irresistible. If they aren’t careful, next time I see them they might be missing one of their little guys.

I gotta also give them a big slow clap for officially having three boys under three.  I don’t know how they’re surviving, but wow, they doing an amazing job.

Meet their newest addition, little Ben Ponzio.  Cute as can be with the temperament of a third (meaning he takes his big brother’s jostles and tumbles in stride).

in home newborn photos

in home newborn photos

in home newborn photos

in home newborn photos

in home newborn photos

in home newborn photos

in home newborn photos

in home newborn photos

in home newborn photos

in home newborn photos

Wanna see more? Visit my family portfolio page or click the links below for other sessions.  Interested in scheduling your own session?  Drop me a line at my contact page.  Learn more about pricing here.